Another view of freedom

Photo credit: bertknot / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: bertknot / Foter / CC BY-SA

Being in the company of a messiah, according to Richard Bach’s Illusions, is as natural as a couple of guys talking and bonding over their antique biplanes.

One of the guys is the author himself, burned-out writer and itinerant barnstorming pilot Richard Bach. The other is Donald Shimoda, mechanic and “a master come unto the earth, born in the holy land of Indiana, raised in the mystical hills east of Fort Wayne.” He was a product of the public schools but had learnings from “other schools” and other lives he’d lived. His strength, easy manner, and healing presence drew others to him — in increasingly desperate crowds. Then he quit. Now he’s flying around the Midwest like Richard, offering $3 plane rides.

The two pilots travel together for a time. Richard, who thought he had nothing left to say after Jonathan Livingston Seagull, finds not only a learning curve but his own voice and volition. Flying, as they both do, is all about freedom and finding perspective, and Richard realizes his consciousness has been stuck on the runway.

Don is often maddeningly cryptic with his answers, but he teaches a skeptical Richard to walk on water and swim on land. Yes, you can, he urges his friend — if and only if you choose. He even shares his “master’s manual,” a book with no page numbers, because wherever you open the book is where you find what you need. One of the first passages Richard encounters is this: “Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah.”

Of course, being a fake messiah, and a dangerously radical, smart-ass one at that, is how Donald Shimoda ends up being viewed. As a guest on a radio talk show, he enrages callers by dismissing talk of evil and the necessity of suffering. “We see just one little fleck of the whole that is life, and that one fleck is fake,” he tells one woman. “Everything balances, and nobody suffers and nobody dies without their consent. Nobody does what they don’t want to do. There is no good and there is no evil, outside of what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy.”

The way I see it, Jesus — Christians’ capital-M Messiah — came to get it through our heads that, yes, it all comes down to loving God and loving one another the best way we know how. We put ourselves and one another through hell in the name of doing what God wants — but much of that is about us, not God.

Intellectually, I get that. Putting it into practice is something else entirely. When I judge myself harshly, I know deep down this is not what being a good person is about. But those proverbial old habits are hard to break. Besides, if we subscribe to the theory that life is a bitch and we have to suffer because that’s what we deserve, we can maintain some illusion of mastery.

But it is, according to Don Shimoda, indeed an illusion. Even the way Don’s story ends in this lifetime is, in many ways, an illusion, as Richard learns.

This book, first published in 1977, is billed as a spiritual classic. I had not read it before, and it will continue to sink in. In the meantime, can anyone tell me where the “mystical hills east of Fort Wayne” are?

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