Group takes philosophy literally
Group ponders works of writer Vernon Howard
By Martin S. Johncox, The Idaho Statesman
Eagle is known for its small-town charm, good outdoor recreation and upscale homes. Now, you can add philosophers to the list.
The Eagle Literary Foundation has become a way for people from Boise and western Ada County to meet and discuss topics as grand as the meaning of life and as relevant as how to cope with anger in traffic confrontation.
For now, most of the weekly discussion groups take place in the living room of Mark and Linda Butler. They discuss contemporary thinkers such as Vernon Howard and P.D. Ouspensky, and more traditional ones like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Socrates and Plato. They also study the New Testament.
“It’s about how to understand daily living and dealing with yourself,” said Linda Butler, 37, who founded the Eagle Literary Foundation with her husband Mark.
The foundation began at the end of September, with a meeting that drew 43 people to the Boise Public Library. About a half-dozen people usually attend the meeting in the Butlers’ home, but they are currently negotiating with a seller for a 3,000-square-foot building in Eagle where they can hold regular meetings.
Much of the studies involve the works of Vernon Howard, a philosopher, lecturer and writer who died in 1992. Nationally, there are dozens of Vernon Howard study groups, and his books have sold about 7 million copies. Mark Butler said he began studying Howard as a teen-ager.
Howard’s approach to life is to consider the conscious mind as a tool of the higher spiritual self. From the minute people are born, they are forming associations, placing labels and isolating themselves. This keeps people from understanding their “true nature” and denies them people and security.
Howard’s wisdom is often humorous: “Men who fall from a canoe while standing up to attract attention always claim someone pushed them,” or “A truly happy man is one who feels no different when the party ends than he did while it was going on.”
“He’s a wise man who presents the truth without any sugar coating,” said Mark Butler, 36. “He had a Volkswagen for 12 years, he wore casual clothes. He was a very simple person.”
But Howard’s teachings may not be for everyone. While most self-help groups these days tell people that anger is normal and they should express it, Howard’s approach is different: anger is harmful and unnatural.
“What we’re saying is not to repress anger and not to express it, but rather transcend it through understanding,” Mark Butler said. “The whole bottom line is self-change, and it’s something people really don’t want on the psychological level.”
The Butlers came from Boulder City, Nev., near Las Vegas. But they felt the area was becoming too unsafe and difficult to raise a family in, so they did some research and chose Eagle as the place to live. The couple has an 11-year-old daughter and a 2 ½-year-old son.
“People here are very courteous,” Mark Butler said. “Once I was trying to pull out of a parking lot, and a car stopped in the middle of the street to let me get into traffic. At first, I didn’t know why they stopped.”
Mark butler was a city planner in Henderson, and just started a job as a planner with the Ada County Highway District. Linda Butler teaches dance with Ballet Idaho.
The discussions usually follow a certain topic related to the reading, such as the perception that you are missing out on things in life, how to deal with anger or how to handle difficult people.
“A lot of it is self-observation. People react unconsciously, without observing themselves and seeing what’s going on,” said Linda Butler. “If you are conscious, you can see you have a choice. Anger can even give you a sense of identity.”
At a discussion group this week, one man said the writings have taught him to better deal with anger.
“I read a few books and understood my anger, and now I’ve mellowed out a lot,” said Larry, a 46-year-old house remodeler who declined to give his last name. “People often set the tempo for how you feel, and it shouldn’t be like that.”