Donald Shimoda: Life lessons from a fictional messiah.

Richard Bach in the cockpit of a biplane circa 1972.

Richard Bach in the cockpit of a biplane circa 1972.

Over the past few years, I’ve written almost 100 blog posts on all types of spirituality-related subjects. But week after week one of my oldest columns gets the most Web hits—double and triple the number of views as my next most popular post. It’s called “The Wisdom of Donald Shimoda”.

Shimoda is one of two main characters in the book Illusions by Richard Bach, an author best known for his more popular (and I think less compelling) Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I’ve read Illusions a half-dozen times and after bouncing around various travel bags, my paperback copy is now coming apart at the seams, held together by a rubber band.

Every person, all the events in your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.

The book revolves around a guy identified only as Richard who at some undefined time in the past is traversing the country as a “barnstormer”, offering joy rides on his biplane for cash. During his travels he crosses paths with Donald Shimoda who works the same trade and they quickly become friends.

As they begin flying together from town to town, Shimoda reveals himself to be more than just an extraordinary pilot. He possesses preternatural powers and dispenses an unusual brand of wisdom, much of it related to challenging the status quo and dispelling the “illusions” we buy into during our lives.

In order to live free and happily, you must sacrifice boredom. It is not always an easy sacrifice.

Eventually, Shimoda is revealed to be a “messiah” who has lived many lifetimes. He shares his wisdom with Richard, who in fact may be a messiah-in-training. They have some fascinating conversations though some of the most interesting insights come from a book within the book titled the “The Messiah’s Handbook, Reminders for the Advanced Soul”.

Believe you know all answers, and you know all answers.

So why has Donald Shimoda struck such a chord that hundreds of people have tried to find this fictional character online? Well, I just re-read Illusions and it is crisply written, a quick read, with just the right blend of story-telling and inspirational prose. Like my all-time spiritual fiction favorite, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, it gets you to see the world from a fresh perspective, looking at seemingly ordinary events in a new way.

There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.

The book also gets across the important point that wisdom that is gained is not to be coveted by its owners, but needs to be shared with others. And that appears to be the reason for Shimoda’s presence in this book. He has come from another plane of existence to pass along life lessons to Richard.

I’m the son of God, but so are we all; I’m the savior, but so are you!

There’s also an ingenious device where the last page of the book, a handwritten note, brings you full circle back to the first page, something you have to see to fully appreciate. But what brings me back to Illusions again and again are the small truths scattered throughout the book that get you thinking about life and your place in it.

Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.

This post originally appeared on Wake Up Call, my Patheos Spirituality column, on 2/8/13.

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4 responses to “Donald Shimoda: Life lessons from a fictional messiah.

  1. kalikamaliyavala

    this bit from the beginning of the book is quite possibly the most important thing i have ever read:: “And the one carried in the current said, ‘I am no more messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.’

    But they cried the more, ‘Savior!’ all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a savior.”

  2. Yes, I love that part as well! It’s a great “story-within-a-story” and that whole device where that passage begins and ends the book is so very cool. ~Tom

  3. Thanks for reminding me of Donald Shimoda. This quote has stayed with me since I read the book; There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.

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