On Jonathan Livingston Seagull: Posted by Jessica Pope

Hi All,

Parts of a paper I wrote that with a bunch of Jonathan references... :)


The traditional greetings of religious communities can offer some insight into the worldview of those communities. Greetings can illuminate the way in which human relationships are constituted within a specific religious framework. The Hindu’s traditional greeting, namaste, means “the Divine in me recognizes the Divine in you,” and suggests an imminent Creator that animates its creations. The Jews say shalom: offering “peace,” to those whom they greet, and the Islamic greeting of the same root, salaam – alaikum, translates into English as: “Peace be unto you”. These greetings suggest that it is right for one creation to wish the Creator’s good will and protection upon a fellow creation.

Likewise, the Protestant tradition gives the English goodbye, which is a contraction for “God be with you.”
Through greetings and other social customs, a religious tradition is able to regulate and govern the human relationships of its adherents. The tradition bestows meaning, value, and purpose to adherents’ social relationships. The role of human relationships in Christianity has been the subject of much discussion within both “believing” and “academic” circles, due to the seemingly contradictory nature of social relationships and a relationship with the Creator. Love of all humanity, for example, means love of no person in particular, for to love a particular means to favor a particular, to prefer one person above all other persons.

Transcendence from the bodily realm as a means of getting “closer to God” requires one to renounce earthly pleasures, and many saints have gone so far as to starve or torture themselves in the pursuit of transcendence. What, then, are we to make of human relationships in the context of divine purpose: is fellow man merely a distraction, or can we somehow find the divine through a specific enactment of our social relationships?

Richard Bach’s classic work Jonathan Livinsgton Seagull, the story of a seagull who learns to fly, sheds some light into the nature and purpose of social relationships for persons on the road to transcendence. I choose to read the story of Jonathan as an allegory for human transcendence through the religious experience, because it addresses the ideals of love, freedom, and the ultimate purpose of existence.

According to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, “Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight - how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly.”

“Eating” here, as the most basic requirement of sustaining earthly existence, represents sex, social relationships, and all activities necessary for survival. Conversely, “flight” represents a higher level of being, closeness to God, being God-like, etc. The use of “flight” as an allegorical equivalent to “transcendence” is substantiated by the actual experiences of mystics across the ages. Annie Besant of the world Theosophical movement, St. John of the Cross of the European Middle Ages, and the ancient mystic Vatsyana, are among the many mystics who report feelings of light-headedness and lightness during the mystical experience. Therefore, Jonathan's “flight” is a legitimate literary presentation of the mystic’s experience.

As Jonathan Seagull learns how to fly, he becomes more and more alienated from his clan. His family eventually disowns him for disgracing himself, as gulls are not to concern themselves with flying. While growing more distanced from the social relationships that define him as a member of the Brotherhood Gull community, Jonathan learns the true meaning of life: “How much more there is now to living!” Jonathan exclaims, “Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there's a reason to life! We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly!”

Eventually, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is excommunicated for this his commitment to fly. After he is banished, Jonathan continues to learn, free from distraction, reaching higher and higher levels of consciousness. In this story, it seems that the social relationships which regulate and govern Jonathan’s life are at best a distraction, at worst a major obstacle. Jonathan echoes the experiences of many mystics who, in their religious quest, have become totally alienated from their bretheren. There is no Eros in the lives of these mystics, no attachment to particular persons, and even Agape, the general love of all mankind, takes on a strained and distanced feel. Indeed, this may be one of the drawbacks of the traditionally mystical experience: it requires us to reject social relationships for a relationship with the divine.

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Comment by Clifford Black on August 12, 2015 at 11:01am

Another link that needs to be read and placed in the mental file!

Comment by Clifford Black on August 12, 2015 at 10:59am

Why Jonathan?, is the question! The question was asked by Al Lewis, and, in answer, I think it is important to realize that some questions cannot be so easy to address, and so, it may be better if we wait and try to have this discussion in class.!

Mr. Black

Comment by Clifford Black on April 15, 2013 at 2:08pm

This link is just in case the one below does not work. Good reading!

Comment by Clifford Black on April 15, 2013 at 1:25pm

Will address the last question about why, on my next post, in the mean time this is from TP to those who are doing the work.!


Comment by Aaron (Al) Lewis on February 14, 2012 at 5:23pm

Many times when reading stories directly related to them and that may be about a particular or behavior, the reader may disassociate themselves from the story believing that it is about somebody else with them being the exception. The brain has a peculiar way of blocking out any similarities. Anthropomorphic stories, such as the two outlined, can offer deep insight into human behavior by offering distance from the heat of the events being detailed. It is a trick of the brain, the brain loves to be tricked, because they offer a buffer from the reality of what may be.

JLS details the story of practice and the consequences of the quest for perfection. It outlines that there are no limits, that is always something more waiting to be learned. Animal Farm is a safe story for people of color to read in that it does not assault the brain in present time or human form. Instead it uses animals with very human characteristics. Too human in fact.

It requires courage as an after thought to ask oneself, "Exactly where do I or the people I am relative to fit in here"?  One does themselves a gross disservice avoiding the question and an honest answer. It is only by performing critical self analysis that one can become aware of their pitfalls, misconceptions and feckless beliefs. These books are masterful at placing up front some things one may want to consider about their individuality and their collective.. The courage to do so however is optional.

Comment by Clifford Black on February 14, 2012 at 4:27pm

Addressing the question that was asked by Al Lewis on September 24th, 2009 "Why Jonathan"?----Human events or actions that take place or have taken place, are, more times than not, very hard to comprehend.  A great deal of the information that is received in regard to events that shape our lives is no more than opinion or the afterlife of something that has been created out of fantasy. This process can lead to misconception. As a means to avoid misunderstanding, some time has to be applied to doing some basic foundational work.  It may be a wise thing for us to consider that we possibly do not know the difference between collective human dynamics and that of the indiviual. Out of all of the literature that I have come across in my lifetime these two books, "Jonathan and Animal Farm" have come quite close to giving some insight about the distinctive aspects of living this existence as an indiviual and as part of the collective. Al, if u are willing we will set a time for this topic as a discussion, if continued here this will become a book.


Comment by Charles Cartwright (Neo) on February 14, 2012 at 2:31pm

When I first spoke with Dr. Black about becoming a student with him, he suggested that I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I purchased the book I started to read I put it down for some time, When speaking with Dr. Black he would ask have you read the book , I would reply I have not finished the book  yet. Feeling quite bad for myself that a book with so few pages to give that retort. As time continued I picked the book up and started reading again this time I couldn’t stop, a few days past I was speaking with Dr. Black he ask again my heart started to smile and I retorted yes Sir Dr. Black I have and I have now learn that Living is more Important the Life. Wow I never had a feeling like that in my Life. So when ever ask to read Jonathan hopefully you find the reason and purpose, now that I am commenting I am going to give the book another read tonight and this will be my third time and I know I will gain more insight.


Comment by Clifford Black on February 14, 2012 at 9:51am

Namaska Cookie---try this and see if it may be some of what you are looking to understand.


Comment by Aaron (Al) Lewis on September 24, 2009 at 5:06am
Here is a piece I wrote years ago about Jonathan:

Mr. Black's organization is named Jonathon Airways. While I suspect I know why, I have never really asked him why he choose that particular book, out of others, that may have projected the same thought. After reading the book for the third time I began to see something’s and think some thoughts I had never considered. I discovered some natural by products to learning to fly and fly well.

I vividly remember a conversation I had with Mr. Black that kinda paralleled one contained in the book. I have known a long time I was kind of "out there" not only because I read and read a lot, but because I was never satisfied with what I thought I knew and somehow as egomaniacal as I can be, the one part of my ego in check was the part that refuses to be a fool. That is to act as if I know when I don't.

It is painful to not know and sometimes downright shameful, for me at least. Yet' I'd rather face the pain and shame of not knowing than face the consequence of being stupid. So after studying with Cliff a few months I saw him at lunch and he says to me in his unique voice and style, "So you ready to fly huh”? One on one with Mr. Black is an exercise in paying attention, close attention.

"What", I thought, "You mean after all these years, after all I have read and experienced this aint flying"? Of course I was too ashamed and I must admit a tad bit intimidated by him to say that out loud. So he pointed out a few observations he had of me and he was quite accurate at that. I wanted so badly to soar way above the clouds to limits of the stratosphere and obviously, somehow I at least had found the intellectual courage to challenge what I thought I knew, but I was a ways off from learning the real rudiments of flying, er learning or are they not both the same?

So let's ask him why Jonathan and next why Animal Farm? Why not books written by a black author or afro centered writer?

So Mr. Black, why Jonathon?

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