How a Seagull saved my life.

There is no one alive
who is Youer than you.
– Dr. Seuss.


It’s true that transformation and suffering go hand in hand, and this is perhaps why so many spiritual traditions value personal hardship, striving and effort against all odds. To breakthrough we must breakdown. To see the light, our tunnel must collapse.

Many years ago as a student in Bristol I found myself stranded in my own pit of despair. Of course, outwardly everything appeared to be fantastic, but there was something gnawing at me from the inside like a rot that nobody else could see: I hated myself and my ordinary existence.

This self-loathing was all the more debilitating because I had been on a spiritual path since my early teens and had at this point expected the glory of enlightenment, rather than crippling desperation and hopelessness.

One morning, I fell to my knees, mad with despair as tears of self-hatred and heart-wrenching confusion streamed down my face. As I sat there gazing out of my window, drenched in my misery, I could only hope for some kind of miracle to occur.

It did.

Suddenly a lone Seagull soared into view, effortlessly riding the breeze. I became mesmerised by this distant bird as it hovered, swooped and sailed through the vast blue sky.

Then the miracle happened, or rather, I realised that this was the miracle, already happening.

I suddenly understood that I was the only person on earth graced with this particular view of this particular bird. I was the only one out of eight billion people experiencing this particular moment which had never before occurred in the history of the universe.

Watching this seagull from my bedroom window was a unique and outstanding event in the cosmos, and in spite of my own abject misery, I was being gifted it for free.

But there was more; I also realised for the first time that there really was no universe but my own, there was no life to have but my own, there was no journey, no enlightenment, but my own, and because of this I was always in the right place.

My tears dried and I sat with eyes wide and mouth open, staring at the empty patch of blue sky where the seagull – like so many things in life – had now disappeared, leaving no trace.

I was calm, still and at ease. My misery and contraction had been replaced by a sense of quiet fulfilment and delicate wonder. My inner-war had ceased and I sat in the simplicity of my ordinary bedroom, surrounded by my ordinary things, in the centre of my ordinary life.

But of course, nothing would be ordinary ever again. Every mundane moment, every dirty dish, fallen leaf, cracked wall or wet bus journey, was now soaked in a glory I had somehow failed to see.

I had spent over a decade seeking the lives of other people, gurus, saviours and prophets, completely ignoring my own miraculous existence.

Without even having to ask, I had been given a free ticket to a private showing of an unfolding universe, which was completely unique to me, and I only had to sit back and enjoy the spectacle. Every moment was mine alone. Each experience was a revelation, a baptism, a new scene in a film being written as I watched.

How often do we wish we could trade our lives for another? How often do we live through comparison, not just in the world of cars and houses and washing machines, but in the so-called spiritual world where we strive to replicate our heroes enlightenment experience, a blissful state of mind, a life infused with all that we seemingly lack.

We travel the world searching for other peoples miracles missing the ordinary miracle of our very next moment, our very next breath, our very next sensation. Yes, Jesus turned water into wine, but don’t forget that we effortlessly turn wine back into water.

The gifts are all around us, the miracles appearing so thick and fast that we have forgotten to live in a constant state of awe.

And this forgetting is so dangerous, because we then abandon the one thing we have – the reality of our own life – in search of another. We try to become other people rather than settle into our own personhood. We live as if we know who we are and what everything is, rather than ride the unfolding edge of eternity.

It’s not that we need to become holy and wise in order to enter enlightenment but to stop and drop to our knees, in misery or in joy, and grace our own ordinary little lives with the spark of attention.

Then we can discover that this meagre speck of flesh contains infinity.

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