Book Review: Living Deliberately (2011)

Bridging self-help, popular, and mystical teachings
by Hrvoje Butkovic
Review by Brian Wright

Living_DeliberatelySeveral months ago, Mr. Butkovic sent me a note stating that he had read my review of the book The Secret on Amazon, and he wondered if I might do the same for his book, Living Deliberately. To which I responded, “Sure, but I would prefer to write a review on my own site, the Coffee Coaster. Hrvoje is I believe a Croatian name (not the easiest name for Americans to pronounce, but he tells me just call him ‘Groovy’), and the author makes his home in South Africa. I inform Hrvoje that in the grand scheme of the cosmos I, too, have recently become interested in the spiritual side of things, having started development on a spiritual philosophy I refer to as FLOW.

In a few email back and forths, I inquire whether he’s heard of the author Eckhart Tolle, who has come to occupy a significant ‘spiritual teacher’ role for me. I’m disappointed to learn that Hrvoje has not read The Power of Now.

“I decided not to after reading reviews that stated that he is not advancing a new idea, but rather the ancient idea of non-duality (Samadhi) that can be found in Hinduism and some other religions. I also think this approach is incomplete, as I explained in my review of Bill Plotkin’s book Nature and the Human Soul…”

This tells me two things about Groovy: a) he is in an entirely different league from ol’ BW when it comes to the literature of spirituality, and he is certainly far more widely read than I… and b) he seems overly reluctant to consider that a writer of Tolle’s worldwide popularity could have anything new and valuable to offer. Mr. Butkovic was kind enough to provide a review of my book The Sacred Nonaggression Principle, in which he made some great insights; in that review he diminished the ‘Objectivist’ (Ayn Rand) prescription for society, thereby further negating yet another one of my respected teachers.

But it was a fabulous review and I don’t sweat the small stuff, even though in the right circumstances I’d be happy to counter and discuss further several of Hrvoje’s points. Just as he was so kind to offer his perspective on my SNaP book, let shine a few rays of my view on his Living Deliberately. My first observation is that the author writes and reasons extremely well, but makes things too complicated, at least for me. For example, on the concept living deliberately, after disclaiming that no single definition exists, he writes:

Within the context of this book, deliberate living will be taken to mean living life in such a way that the protagonist is aware of what she is thinking, saying, or doing, understands why she is thinking, saying, or doing it, and approves of it being thought, said, or done, for every thought, word, and action of consequence.[1]

Whoa! This exacting definition tells me that the benefits from the book will only be gained by my getting through some rough analytical sledding… and having to noodle out much of the meaning by reference to other of the author’s strict constructions of concepts (many of which I will likely take exception to).

My own preference in spiritual learning and sharing is: “Hey, here’s a practice I found to bring inner peace, why don’t you give it a whirl?” [Hrvoje, who seems have considered every possible angle of looking at a subject, argues against solely following only one of three broad categories of books:

  • self-help books—books that aim to provide us with guidance regarding specific aspects of our daily lives
  • popular works rooted in ancient philosophical and religious traditions—they tend to focus on a single element, such as mindfulness, and provide a comprehensive guide of how to achieve it
  • mystical books—books that wrestle with the matter of ultimate reality and enlightenment, and cannot often be expressed in words very well]

He intends his book to bring these three categories together while filling in the gaps of each approach. Fair enough, so on we go. How shall I go about living deliberately? That’s Part 2, which breaks into the following chapters:

  • Placement of Responsibility
  • Cultivating Awareness of Our Conduct
  • Identifying Consequences of Our Conduct
  • Evaluating Consequences of Our Conduct
  • Expanding Our Knowledge Base
  • Tying Knowledge to Circumstances
  • Experimenting with Beliefs
  • Putting it All Together
  • When Things Fall Apart

And there are multiple subchapters. Fortunately, the author gives decent examples to help thread the matrix of concepts. Many help the reader understand—at least in the terms of the author’s moral universe—the particular conduct that a practice of deliberate living cultivates. With fitting caveats about human fallibility and imperfect knowledge.

The key phrase in the previous paragraph is “the author’s moral universe.” Candidly, while reading the book, I never made the grade into that universe with anything like easy comprehension; I repeatedly ‘kinda sorta’ followed the reasoning and usually agreed with any practical advice delivered in the examples. But nothing approaching a big-picture message gelled in my mind, nor can I state that my own stable of thoughts, choices, and actions have been affected noticeably one way or the other.

To use an analogy in the world of golf—which I apply to the development of my spiritual philosophy called FLOW—Butkovic’s system is like a combination of many of the popular golf teaching systems, say, from David Leadbetter, Jim McLean, or Rick Smith: these systems more or less attempt to idealize the golf swing, break it down, and have the student rigorously learn the swing piece by piece. By contrast, ‘my’ system (or the kind of spiritual philosophy I embrace) is aligned with David Lee’s Gravity Golf method. That approach is based on a key universal discovery of the physics of a proper golf swing, followed by ingenious drills that train and embed that swing into the unique physiology of the golfer… without deliberation of the conscious mind.

Both the piece-by-piece system(s) and Gravity Golf can make one a better golfer, but the latter provides an order of magnitude improvement for a fraction of the time and virtually complete ease of realization of par-level performance for average recreational golfers.[2]

By analogy, I’m saying that Living Deliberately is too much of a piece-by-piece, in-your-head book for my own instincts toward spiritual growth. I have a hard time getting into it, and only part of that ‘reluctance to delve’ stems from being intellectually lazy or preoccupied: rather, I simply know myself and I know that traveling down the path that Mr. Butkovic describes will not lead to satori or nirvana… for me. Still, as the author states, those of us who pursue the ‘effortless power and nothing feeling of the authentic spiritual perfect swing’ are all embarked on a common, yet wholly individual, journey. We need to be comfortable letting go of ego and sharing with one another as we go.

On the positive side, LD is an excellent reference for scholarship of the spiritual authors and teachings. And, most important, Hrvoje is a true warrior for psychological and intellectual independence… which is the gold standard currency of positive life transformation out here on the street. Reading between the lines, he has suffered, as all true intellectual and moral leaders have, from nonconformance to the expectations of others: From the Going it Alone subchapter in Part 3:

“Due to the conformist nature of our society, there is an additional challenge in the form of pressure to adhere to social norms that is exerted by the majority of people who have not made such a change [to deliberate living]. It is not easy for them to understand why I have no desire to support the home team or proclaim my nationality. Because they still derive their sense of identity from these organizations, [my] not partaking in them borders on an insult. It takes a great deal of care to avoid provoking defensive reactions while standing firm in one’s rejection of membership.”

Amen, brother! Thus speaketh a kindred soul. Who hopefully is not finished with his SunFLOWerauthoring and publishing. We’ll meet, I hope, in the New Paradigm world of both our dreams. Living Deliberately is a worthy contribution to taking us to the next stage, bringing on Benign Humanity+.

[1] Note the use of the feminine third person singular pronoun; many authors alternate between he and she (masculine and feminine) to represent neutral-gender third person. That approach seems a politically correct affectation to me… and misleading [because many readers—based on the historical standard of using the masculine form for a gender-neutral subject—tend to believe the person is necessarily female when the feminine form of the pronoun is used]. Small potatoes, but noteworthy.

[2] I don’t want to turn this review into an ad for Gravity Golf, but it’s absolutely true that anyone of average height and hand-eye coordination can become a par golfer within two to three years of average practice and play time. Further, because of the absence of body-internalization of force, performance does not decline with age, actually distance improves for most. David Lee’s system is an inspiration for my ideas on personal fulfillment.

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