“What choices in life made you who you are?” people sometimes ask me. Or, “Do you have a list of recommended books, lectures, videos?”
To answer such questions once and for all, I decided to tell the story of my life as a mosaic of all my key influences.
Alexander Bard talks about two essential inventions in human history: the event and the process. The first is about aligning with all the flows and cycles in nature and society. The second is about extraordinary shifts that alter everything we knew before. Every person undergoes cyclical processes and major events. To make sense of the world and find our way, there is a monomyth of the hero’s journey.
I write my story in the third person because that’s how such stories are best told.
Broad brush image
Nara is a bit of a Forrest Gump: naive and loyal through thick and thin, quick to jump to action without too much thought, and has an adventurous spirit—not by choice but by providence. Inner “weirdness” was there right from the beginning and allowing it to blossom as external weirdness was necessary for Nara to mature. Climbing trees is something Nara never grew out of, no wonder, as he read all the Tarzan books when he was around ten.
Nara’s worldview is a blend of East and West, esoterics and science, pragmatism and poetry. He moves smoothly between Alan Watts’ philosophy (as explained in the book The Way of Zen) and Christopher Hitchens’s smashing religious nonsense (as in his Google talk God Is Not Great); between Rumi’s subtle, timeless poetry and Jules Verne’s novelism fascinated with the advances of the 19th-century technology.
It was Jules Verne who opened Nara’s mind in his childhood to limitless imagination, starting with In Search of the Castaways and continuing with The Mysterious Island and many other of Verne’s books. (It goes without saying he was quite a bookworm!)
Nara would like to repeat to himself the words from Do you remember Dolly Bell?: Every day in every respect I’m getting better and better. (Svakoga dana u svakom pogledu sve više napredujem). He even tried to hypnotize a rabbit, admittedly without success. Ex-Yugoslavian movies enforced a shared identity but also brought an unease that was back then impossible to describe.
At the end of his teens, the 1990s Yugoslavian wars took place and added to the confusion of those fragile years. Two movies, The Wounds (Rane) and Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (Lepa sela lepo gore) illustrate well the confusion of those horrific years. By then Nara had a decade behind him of adoring Đorđe Balašević and when the album Panta rei came out in 1988, it cemented in his mind the premonition of the war, that was spelled out already in 1987 with the song Just let there be no war (Samo da rata ne bude). It isn’t easy to single one song that made the greatest impact, but if he had to, it would be Slovenska.
Comic books were of course something you couldn’t survive without in the 1980s! His favorites were Martin Mystere, Alan Ford, and a few of the Marvel characters, particularly Spiderman, Daredevil, and Silver Surfer. Spiderman’s superpowers seemed the most possible to attain and Peter Parker was a likable character living in similar circumstances as Nara did, so he dreamt of being bitten by such a spider and becoming a superhero!
Conan was another such possible character, especially after the movie came out with Arnold Schwarzenegger! Nara was only 8 but he wouldn’t stop nagging until his father carved him an approximate replica of Conan’s sword. Oh, how many swordplays did that sword go through before it broke!
Following all of Schwarzenegger’s movies led Nara to engage in a bit of weightlifting. But that wasn’t his cup of tea and it didn’t last very long.
Bruce Lee showed him that you don’t need to grow so much muscle to be strong and fight well, so Nara turned to martial arts. He would read every issue of “Black Belt” magazine (Crni pojas) and “Ninja roman“. He started doing Sankukai karate and did that for a few years in his early teens. That’s when he started using self-healing techniques he learned in the book “Ninjutsu for Women“.
He tried out almost everything he read about in the magazine Tajne (Mysteries) that his mother would regularly buy. In that magazine, there was everything that the esoteric “sciences” had to offer: radiesthesia, astrology, telepathy, bioenergy, occult teachings, and spirituality of all sorts.
It’s not sure how old exactly he was, but once in his mid-teens he took out the garbage and found a big box of books in the bin. He took them out and picked out a few that caught his attention. Among the books he found was Raja Vidya: The King of Knowledge (in Croatian). He read it and because he didn’t understand it he read it again — it was fascinating and when he found another book by Bhaktivedanta Swami on the bookshelf with a strange title Bhagavad-gita, he read it too.
He even shared these books with his friends in school and got some of them to read them while he was making his way through Srimad Bhagavatam’s 1st canto. These books are not easy to read and it wasn’t before he met the Hare Krishna devotees that he understood the meaning of what he read actually was.
But before he got that far, a few years of wild teenage self-seeking had to pass. Finding excuses for debauchery in the book by Vuk Vučo: How I stopped sucking my thumb (Kako sam prestao da sisam prst).
Listening to rock, hard rock, heavy metal, punk, and whatever rebellious music they could find, Nara and his friends got to know the most prominent bands of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Metallica and Iron Maiden were shaking the world then, but they loved Jimy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin too — hoping to reverse time and go back to the wild freedom of those years.
Nara’s rebellion was strengthened by reading core existentialist writers, especially Sartre and Camus. His favorite poet then was Lorca. He fell in love with the books by the author that his peers hated: Ivan Cankar.
One of the last books he read before his seven years of monastic life that blew him away was Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. He loved the book.
Hare Krishna – in and out
As Nara turned 19, he became a Hare Krishna devotee which meant he almost exclusively read books by Bhaktivendanta Swami Prabhupada. He didn’t only read them, he co-translated a few of them into Slovenian. During the 6 years of his monastic life, Nara studied Sanskrit and Vedic philosophy. In that time he read and re-read everything that Prabhupada ever wrote and dozens of other books on Vedic knowledge.
It wasn’t meant for Nara to stay in the ashram so when he turned 26 he left. It was then that he started reading books by Erich From (which he only tried reading in his teens), Scott Peck, and Alice Miller. Miller’s book For Your Own Good leashed Nara into scrutinizing his childhood. He read all of Miller’s books and was strongly impacted by Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled.
Nara was looking for ways to hold onto his spiritual core knowledge while opening up to the vast knowledge of the world. His greatest influence in that effort was Anthony De Mello, especially his book Awareness. Psychology and spirituality were a big thing in Nara’s late 20s and early 30s through Richard Bach’s Illusions and Jonathan Livingston Seagull (and many other Bach’s books).
Nara learned about the power of simplicity from Peace Pilgrim, about the dark power of religion from the book Alamut, about the wonders of tantra from Evald Flisar’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, about being a player instead of a pretender from John Maxwell.
Nara was discovering the world of gardening,, opened to him through the books by Vladimir Megre called Ringing Cedars of Russia. He co-translated all the books into Slovenian. This led Nara to come in contact with the Global Ecovillage Network, and that led to a radical shift in his life.
In ecovillages, Nara learned about Dragon Dreaming directly from the founder, John Croft. He also learned about Open Space Technology, World Cafe, Spiral Dynamics, and many other models that explain group dynamics. He used this knowledge during his 10 years of engaging with groups in facilitation in 45 countries.
The list of major influences could go on and on. In addition to the above-mentioned key figures, books, and movies, here are just a few more:
- A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander
- Humanure, Joseph Jenkins
- Summerhill, Alexander Neil
- One Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka
- God is not Great, Christopher Hichens
- A Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge
- Cradle to Cradle, William McDonnough and Michael Braungart
- Freak Out (Monte Veritas)
- The Biggest Little Farm
- The Salt of the Earth
- Spaceship Earth
- The Yes Men
- Duško Radović
- Bill Mollison
- Richard Feynman
- Kosha Joubert
- Bart Ehrman
- John Cleese
- Jonathan Haidt
- Margaret Wheatley
- Winin Pereira
- Janis Varoufakis
- Richard D. Wolff
- Chris Hedges
- Matt Dillahunty
- George Carlin
- Dave Allen
- Doug Stanhope
Etc., etc., etc.