Taking Victory from the Jaws of Defeat
Having finished the delightful book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach left me with my dreams in full flight of wanting to make them a reality but, it is the extraordinary goal that gives fright. In the mirth of appreciating the protagonist, J.L.S, I smiled upon the world knowing that so many have lost the opportunity of making their own rules and here I am making rules of engagement on the parchment of Stories. The Parchment of Stories has its own life and when it is given a new story it nurtures it like a mother and gives it to the world. In the world the story grows and as the years tarry on like you and I. The story grows its own legacy. The start to the legacy was the first word on Story’s Parchment.
The story of J.L.S is full of fervour far from been asinine. Jonathan Livingston Seagull challenges the flock and becomes the outcast all because he followed his dream of flight. J.LS. becomes this master flight teacher and inspires thousands of seagulls to his flying prowess that astounds all. Practicing nose dives, finding the right stream, using the wind, embracing fear, fleeing from fright, impelled for more speed and an insuperable love for flying, J.L.C charms the faint hearted to action and emboldens the risk takers to become the architects of their own destiny. Champions of the air and lovers of flight, the seagulls have a story to tell.
The fable of Jonathan Livingston Seagull is full of lessons for learning to know thyself as opposed to Orwell’s fable, Animal Farm, that teaches us about the treachery of ill fated revolutions and human right violations that are internecine. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is part of the flock but carves his own future by taking risks that run contrary to that of the flock. His consistency at practicing makes him stand out yet, for a long time always seen as an outcast. Flight is the metaphor for striving to achieve life goals and like how in flight you soar to new heights, have the thrill of death defying nose dives and reaching speeds that makes the G-Force aggressive; it magnifies the importance of being different.
Being different is volitional therefore, it cannot be that the will of others should determine your thoughts and actions. Our actions today seem to be determined by the omnipresence of social media and this has stalled us to live in the present. The present is the magnificent moment if seized with zeal propels you beyond the caprice of idle minds. ‘Seagulls, as you know, never falter, never stall. To stall in the air is for them disgrace and it is dishonour.’ writes Richard Bach and for me, humans can be substituted for seagulls because, we are of superior intelligence, form and design. The marvel of the human body is beyond what science can never create the like thereof. Observing the seagulls on the one hand and humans on the other the result is not stochastic.
When each outcome of an independent observation show no signs of random probability of likeness for example, it stands to reason that each observation is a telling sign that each has a lesson to learn from and to teach as well. In the fable, humans will learn from Jonathan Livingston Seagull because he epitomises what humans are striving for and getting entrapped in. J.L.C appears like a CEO of a Seagull flying academy because when you first meet him you think of him teaching you the following:
- Have fierce resolve in everything you do.
- Demonstrate determination, resiliency and tenacity.
- Do not let temporary setbacks become permanent issues.
- Use mistakes to get better – not reasons to quit.
The above is the teaching of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase cited by Angela Duckworth in her book, GRIT. J.L.C is this young seagull who takes to the mentoring of Chiang an elder of the flock of wiser foundations and experience where he learns the power of the self. His first lesson for J.L.C was to make him fathom that he had ‘to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a forty-two inch wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time.’ Heaven then meant the perfect speed and not a place or time as Chiang wanted J.L.C to learn because in chasing something you cannot conceive is a consequence of not knowing its true existence in the first place. This giving over oneself to a mentor to learn, take instruction and follow on advice to the letter is determination and grit. Today, we don’t want to take advice easily because of access to online platforms like Google and, we want speedy results like food put into a microwave oven. We are not prepared to make time for ourselves to learn or to master a craft because, best for us has deteriorated to be mediocre. J.L.C had this attitude of kaizen where every flight had to be better than the last and never an effort but an enjoyment. This enjoyment is what we don’t have anymore in general because we have given our soul to the whims and fancies of social media where we appear as fans on the stands, making noise but not affecting the game at all. We have to be in the game to be a game changer therefore, it means leaving the stands to begin with and to start learning anew. There is this story of Ibrahim Ibn Adham who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat of the self by becoming an ascetic.
Ibrahim Ibn Adham’s story goes like this recorded by The Morgan Library and Museum (https://www.themorgan.org.) There is a painting that depicts this great ascetic and the appeal of the painting is left for the connoisseur of artwork. Lets introduce the painting:
After a spiritual awakening, Ibrāhīm Ibn Adham (d. 798), an eighth-century ruler of Balkh, renounced his kingdom and wealth to become a wandering dervish. Part of his spiritual awakening happened one night when he heard people on the roof of his palace. When he made inquiry, a man told him they were looking for a lost camel. Ibrāhīm then replied it was ridiculous to expect that the camel would be on the roof of his palace. The man then said it was equally crazy to expect to find Allah in the lap of luxury. Ibrāhīm then realized that his hope of finding Allah in his present surroundings was as futile as searching for a camel on his roof.
Rūmī (1207–1273), a later Sufi mystic, also born in Balkh, recounted Ibrāhīm’s story in his six-volume poetic work, the Masnavī. Legend has it that Khiżr, the immortal guide of the Sufi, played a role and that Ibrāhīm, regarded as a spiritual ancestor of the Chrishtī Sufi order, was fed by angels. Here the haloed Sufi shaikh (spiritual master) sits at the right, with eyes closed and supported by a staff. Seven angels have already arrived, and an eighth is en route. A pensive man, at the far left, echoes the figure of Ibrāhīm.
Ibrahim Ibn Adham of Balkh’s life is a telling saga of getting out in the real world and doing what you want to do. In fact, his legacy details him living in stable for more than a decade and he learnt the finer points of Sufism from his ascetic master. The lesson is that he gave up so much to learn and become connected with life. His connection with life began with redefining is relationship with Allah, the High the Great through. The door he walked through was self-denial in the face of the Eternal Everlasting Being, Allah. This was no easy feat but, a truly difficult one. The question that burns my mind is: What are we willing to give up to learn? For me it is time. The time I could use for so many other pursuits, I dedicate to keeping this website alive. It is not easy but, the enjoyment of publishing each article is like each flight of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the metaphor of subservience to a teacher. How much do we serve the person who teaches us even one thing that is of benevolent benefit? We need to learn the greatness of service, generosity, courage and pure etiquette at the feet of those who teach us life.
J.L.S became the servant of his teacher and became the legend of his flock forever.
The delightful book of J.L.C ends when his protege, Fletcher, takes charge of the flight school as I perceive it. Fletcher then has his maiden words of wisdom that overwhelms me because, it is what his teacher taught him save that it is own words. His own words but, anointed with his teacher’s depth of wisdom. Fletcher takes flight to train his many apprentices and says:
“To begin with,” he said heavily, “you’ve got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull, and your body, from wingtip to wingtip, is nothing more than your thought itself.”Richard Bach. Jonathan Livingston Seagull a story. Great Britain. Turnstone Press. 1972
Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat that visit you as despair, hopelessness, sadness, depression, suicide, jealousy, avarice and many more. To do this find the J.L.C in you and the Ibrahim Ibn Adham in you. The start is to say this yourself:
It is only in action that the glory of thought can manifest itself. – Yawar Baig.
Your wings of change are now flapping against your body and its time to take flight. The open skies await your presence to give you dominance over your negative and inhibited self. You are unique and the time to differentiate is now! Your life then should be eudaemonic so much so that when you are in the presence of people, you are conducive to happiness because your entire being is in harmony with your innate goodness. Flight or Fright – the decision is yours!