By Arun Chitnis
Who of us has not wondered, at some point in life, if we really are living to our fullest potential? That we are really experiencing all that we are capable of experiencing?
Every human being has been given the capacity to live abundantly, without boundaries. But the scope of this freedom is too large for most of us. We cringe from the vastness of all that is possible. We prefer to hide behind artificial limitations instead.
We hear of the frog in the pond that steadfastly refuses to believe that there were limitless oceans out there. For him, his pond is all that there is in the world. We also hear of the worm in the apple who believes that the whole world is its apple, nothing more.
Scientists tell us that when an ant looks at the toenail of an elephant, it sees a complex network of cells in that small area of the whole. It is probably amazed and intimidated by the sight. Would that ant be comfortable if it would see the whole elephant? Probably not.
And because the length, breadth and width of all that life has to offer is so perplexing, so intimidating and so fear-inducing, we tend to pretend that what we have now is all that we could – or should – have.
And yet, the human spirit was meant to strive and achieve great things. There is, in each of us, a still, small voice that tells us – “No. That’s not all there is to it. You were meant to live life to the fullest. Abundantly.”
When we hear that voice, we feel cheated. We realize the truth of it, but we feel helpless to obey the implied message.
In 1976, the American author Richard Bach published an amazing book that has captured the imagination of a worldwide readership ever since. Have you read it? Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a simple story with a profound message.
The message is that we can all be so much more than we believe, or are given to believe. That God – or fortune, if you wish – is on the side of the bold, the adventurous and the free in spirit.
Have you ever heard of the expression ‘thinking out of the box?’ It means going beyond the accepted limits of imagination and daring to explore new possibilities. Jonathan Livingston Seagull was such an out-of-the-box thinker.
He discovered that for those who dare to dream, even the sky is not the limit. Jonathan lived as all seagulls do – in a flock. This flock was quite unremarkable. Seagulls are basically scavengers that inhabit the seashore, feeding off the debris that the sea throws out. Like all other seagulls, the members of this flock fed, bred and flew south in the cold winter months.
But Jonathan sensed, in the core of his being, that there could be more to life. Much more.
Deep in its communal heart, the flock knew that it was living below its full potential. It consoled itself with a vaguely remembered Promise, passed down various generations of seagulls. That Promise spoke of a Great Seagull – a supernaturally gifted bird that would come and deliver it from the chains of self-imposed mediocrity.
The Great Seagull was supposed to have secrets of limitless flight and a superior existence.
That discovering the Great Seagull’s secrets could have been the result of diligent effort and seeking did not occur to these seagulls. They preferred to put the responsibility of their future on a Being which they did not understand and did not try to emulate. The Great Seagull, however, did not come.
But maybe – just maybe – every seagull in that flock sometimes wondered if it was they were missing the point of this legend …
Jonathan had heard of the Great Seagull, of course. It meant nothing to him, but there was a question that did haunt him – the question that haunts us all when we have nothing to distract ourselves with. The question we ask ourselves when, for some reason or the other, we find ourselves sleepless at night.
Can I fly higher? Can I fly farther? Is there more?
The flock asked itself no such questions. The mundane preoccupations of life had them too much in thrall to consider deeper questions. But Jonathan knew that he could drink deeper of life than they did.
One day, he announced that he intended to fly higher and further than any seagull before him. The effect of his words on the flock was interesting, to say the least:
“Seagulls are not meant to fly higher than this,” is what they said. “What makes you think you’re different from us?”
Jonathan’s answer was that he was not content with mediocrity, especially if he knew that he could attain greater heights. The rest of the flock became very angry with him – they called him a dreamer who did not know the realities of life. When he insisted on pursuing his vision, they cast him out of the flock.
Doesn’t this ring a bell in most of our minds? Doesn’t it remind us of times when we have been told – or even told ourselves – that we should realize our limits? Well, who sets those limits?
The human being has limited capabilities – but then, we only think of the capabilities we have actually demonstrated. We never think of the possibility of hidden capabilities that never see the light of day because they are not called upon.
Have you never heard of the true-life stories of people who overcame impossible odds – achieved impossible tasks – when they stopped relying solely on what they knew about themselves?
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that anonymous bird in an anonymous flock, decided that he wanted to claim the Promise now. He wanted the power to fly higher than he had ever flown, to see sights he had never seen.
He decided that if the Great Seagull was real enough and powerful enough, it would help him achieve these goals in the Here and Now. Not in some vaguely conceived Hereafter, but in real time. In this present lifetime.
Did he turn to the Great Seagull in prayer? Or did he just draw inspiration from the fact that such a Seagull could and did exist? Richard Bach’s book remains silent on this issue. But from the moment Jonathan decided to claim the Promise, his life changed drastically.
Are you now waiting for the part where Jonathan was suddenly given miraculous spiritual and physical powers to make his dreams of impossible flight come true? Sorry, that is not what happened…
Instead, Jonathan’s belief in the Promise convinced him that the power to achieve his dream would be given to him if he put in diligent effort. He was a changed bird – he suddenly felt that he was no longer alone. And so he practiced flying higher. It was a painstaking process, but something had changed.
He no longer despaired when he considered his feeble seagull wings. He no longer doubted when he considered the fact that no seagull had ever flown as high as he wanted to fly.
This new-found assurance was not what is commonly known as ‘self-confidence’. It was confidence in something beyond him – a Higher Power, if you will. He called it the Great Seagull. Some call it God. But whatever we call it, it is a Power outside of ourselves. We cannot generate it, but we can still claim it.
And guess what? Jonathan Livingston Seagull soared. He eventually flew higher than any seagull ever had. And he finally met the Great Seagull.
Yes, he actually met the legendary Being. He basked in its approval and was given the power and privilege to lead others from the barren, empty path of self-effort to a mind-bogglingly rewarding partnership with Something Better.
We can achieve anything if we’re willing to abandon our own delusional, self-limiting story and tune into a higher bandwidth. We have the option to live our lives beyond a flock that is bound by chains of fearful, intimidated limitations. We can be super-charged by empowerment from beyond ourselves.
Read the book sometime. Enjoy the story, and be inspired by its message.