Jonathan Livingston Seagull Visits Biodesign

Jonathan Livingston Seagull Visits Biodesign



“How much more there is now to living! Instead of our drab slogging forth and back to the fishing boats, there’s 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!                       Jonathan Livingston Sea Gull,      by Richard Bach

One of the greatest synchronicities involving Biodesign occurred before I knew what the word meant.  I don’t know if Lettie had read, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” or not, before she asked her question that led to the birth of the class.  In the early ‘70s, Richard Bach’s little book became a huge hit, especially with young-adult readers.  To fully appreciate the book one must appreciate the context of bird evolution.

Birds have been flying for over 60 million years, and according to scientists, they fly for strictly practical reasons; gathering food, escaping predators, moving to and from nests, migrating etc.  They live in a “bird-brained” world, heavily controlled by instinct, generally lacking values, and involves very little “self-awareness.”  Having said all of that, Bach was able to figuratively help Jonathan break his genetic chains and shackles and discover that striving for perfect flight was nothing short of striving for character perfection.

The book became an instant favorite for the early Biodesign Classes who saw it as metaphor for striving for the perfection of love.  In nearly every class at least one member quoted St. John, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”  They generally thought that living without fear would be cool.  They would all discover that it was difficult and required much discipline.  I was often reminded of a friend who claimed that “all human actions are motivated by either love or fear.”  Originally, I thought it was a trite oversimplification, but have not found any exceptions yet.

Wile striving for perfect love sounds romantic; the similarities between the Biodesign class and Jonathan’s struggles could be terrifyingly similar.  He described trying to fly higher and higher and faster and faster, often resulting in crashes that could be excruciatingly painful.  On several occasions he crashed into the ocean so hard that he wished that he could sink to the bottom and die.  Countless times, after I “crashed,” in the class room or on the trips, I wished I could die rather than face the pain I caused or was experiencing.  I was not alone.  At any time the class could get embroiled in thorny issues.  Some were serious, some were silly.  One class got into a huge debate as to whether dogs could smile or not.  Amazingly, however, after each one of these crashes, we were able to fly to a higher level and experience a greater feeling of euphoria, joy and sense of accomplishment.

However, just as Bach described the group behavior of the “Breakfast Flock,” our “breakfast flock” of administrators, colleagues, some parents, school board members and local clergy, reacted with doubt, fear, even anger.  Like Jonathan, I was considered, by some, as an outcast from mainstream science education.

There was no refuge in the scientific world either.  The word “science,” derives from the Greek, “scientia” to know, and scientists continue to assume that if they name something, they know it (or even own it).  The more names you know (memorize) the greater the scientist you are.  In college I had to memorize thousands of terms and I never felt any wiser.  “Structure-function correlation” was, and remains, the order of the day; the logic being that if you know what a structure is you will understand its function and vice-versa.  This was a purely mental process involving physical structures with no room or reason for spirituality.  Additionally, a social movement known as “secular humanism” was growing and found widespread support from “secular scientists.”  They all agreed that there was no evidence of God and therefore the letters G-O-D should be avoided, expunged from laws and records, and banished from schools and other institutions.  This was the primary reason for the “train wreck” described in BOFAW chap 3, “Firestorm.”  In June of ’78, I felt like the Biodesign dream had become a terrible nightmare, and like Jonathan, it would be better to let the idea sink into oblivion.  However, just as in JLS, a miraculous “breakthrough” occurred in the form of the class of ’79.  Mysteriously, they were able to fly higher, faster and farther than any previous class.  They were open-minded, caring and eager to be challenged to strive for a higher level of existence.  In doing so, they created a foundation that would support nearly 20 more years of Biodesign.


Therefore, can any one out there fully comprehend the immensity of the 60-million-year time period that the birds lived without human company?  Doesn’t even comprehending 1 million years suggest that it is an unspeakably perfect miracle that we are ALIVE, at this very moment in the universe?  Does this not fill you with ecstasy and make you want to run naked in the rain, or do the dance of joy?

Or, have we all been blinded, like the sea turtles, by the very machines and monitors that we are using?

Even worse, are we all not in danger of failing to heed Albert Einstein’s warning:


“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”



One Comment

  1. Wayne Neller

    By 1979 I had lost count of the times I had read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I know it was upwards of the 100 mark. I have had the occasion over the years to stand and quote from memory the first several pages … “It was morning and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea … but off by himself, out beyond boat and shore, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was practicing.” I know Jonathan is merely a character in a book. But what drew me to Jonathan was his fearlessness — his willingness to keep trying even though he failed many times. Truth be told, it is what causes me to quote from the book … drawn to him even still.

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