There's been so many comments in here about Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull and my daughter gave it to so many of her friends over Christmas that I dug out my old copy and sat down to experience it again. (Read the entire text here.)
My copy is one of the earliest, from 1971. It includes black & white seagull photos, along with a section of parchment pages with bird-in-flight images that functions like a flipbook. If you flip the pages real fast, you can see the bird landing on the rocky shore. I remember this fascinating me when I was ten. I would flip and flip again.
In the story, Jonathan pushes himself to achieve something none of the other gulls around him are attempting. In doing so, he catapults himself to a different level of consciousness, where he finds other birds who have gone before. Eventually he yearns to go back to where he came from, to teach other gulls how to fly. He does so and finds a student, and then more students, and he shows them what he's learned. They learn it too, and become teachers in their turn.
Jonathan's story of breaking through limitations and then going back to coach others on how to do the same remains a terrific metaphor for spiritual growth. Once we overcome a specific spiritual hurdle, the sometimes astonishing results make perfect sense to us, although they may still seem strange to those still have this hurdle to overcome. We yearn for others to experience the same blessings we have, so we share what we've learned.
The only thing I might add to that from my vantage point of today is the idea that everyone has something to teach me, no matter what I've already overcome. Jonathan's story is somewhat linear, meaning progression comes in an orderly fashion and all who are growing take the same path. At different rates, perhaps, but they move "ahead" through the same steps. Teachers are always teachers, and students are alway students.
But what seems to be happening in my life anyway is breakthroughs of all kinds are occurring in everyone, all the time. I can learn from another's breakthrough even as I'm having my own. One is not more advanced than the other. We're all moving forward together.
Of course there have been Christ figures like Jonathan throughout human history, towering examples of extreme spiritual breakthrough that we can all learn from. Yet I might make the case for it being even more important to the spiritual progress of the race that each and every one of us—the little people, if you will—continually make our own breakthroughs, bit by little bit. We need to take it on individually to encourage humanity's advance collectively.
For most of us, we're neither exclusively the teacher nor the student. We're learning and teaching simultaneously. We have much to contribute and much to gain from this spiritual dialog. We can learn by doing, we can learn from others, we can learn by being teachers ourselves.
The important thing, I think, is to be constantly breaking through.
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