Book Review

Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness by James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander (Parallax Press, 2012)

Normally I’m not one to read self-help books. I came across this book in an email from the Christchurch Southern Insight group advertising a retreat by James Baraz, a founding teacher of Spirit Rock, a meditation centre in California. I had hoped to attend the retreat but this fell through, so despite my general misgivings of self-help books in general I did the next best thing which was to buy the book on the subject of his retreat, Awakening Joy.

I presented a review of this book to the local sitting group in Alexandra. Based on the feedback and the lively discussion that followed my presentation, I thought a short review on secularbuddhism.org.nz would benefit others around the country, and overseas.

Awakening Joy

Awakening Joy

Encouraging me to purchase the book were endorsements by well-known Buddhist teachers I follow, including Tara Brach, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Sylvia Boorstein, and even Bill Gates endorses it on the front cover.

Joy is a human condition we all strive for but not always achieve. Joy is not just for the few according to the book’s authors; it’s a choice anyone can make. In simple terms – and despite the difficulties one may face – we can decide to be happy. Sylvia Boorstein articulates this succinctly in a quote in the book, “Happiness is an inside job.”

Based on this premise and centred on simple Buddhist principles, the book offers ten steps or ingredients to cultivate joy and happiness. While it is difficult to do the book and the authors justice in a short review, here is my summary of the ten steps.

Step 1 – Make a clear intention to be happy, that you want joy to become part of your daily experience.

Step 2 – Be mindful. Put simply, mindfulness means present moment awareness. Being mindful allows you to enjoy more of what you are doing right now, to take notice of your world. Being mindful helps you make better choices rather than running on auto pilot, reacting to thoughts and emotions that may lead to suffering and unhappiness.

Step 3 – Cultivate gratitude, that is being thankful for what you do have. Just jotting down on a piece of paper the great things about your life can be rejuvenating.

Step 4 – Recognise suffering and stress are part of the fabric of life. The authors tell us that we have a choice how we deal with our suffering. Resent it and grow bitter, or embrace it and open yourself to wisdom. The book provides many examples of people who have faced suffering and stress, some very tragic, but grown from it.

Step 5 – Live your life with integrity. As the authors say, “Living with integrity aligns you with your highest values and frees you of remorse, creating the conditions for inner peace.”

Step 6 – Learn to let go. Letting go allows you to flow with the changes in life rather than holding onto something that leads to suffering.

Step 7 – Learn to love yourself. Loving oneself helps stop self-judgement, allowing you to accept who you are. Loving yourself also helps you love others. For this step, the authors reinforce the benefits of practicing loving kindness meditation.

Step 8 – See goodness in others. “If you want to be happy, love everyone,” the authors urge. For this step, the authors again reinforce the benefits of practicing loving kindness meditation and forgiveness meditation. Those not familiar with the practices should check out Jack Kornfield’s website at  www.jackkornfield.com.

Step 9 – Cultivate compassion through serving and helping others. People who show compassion and serve others generally live happier lives.

Step 10 – Take time out to relax and simply be. How often do we really do this in the mad rush of the modern world? To get some idea of what this means just watch a toddler at play.

I really enjoyed this book. The authors offer sound advice on how anyone can transform their lives towards joy and happiness despite the hardship they may suffer. I hope this short review has been helpful and leads you to greater joy and happiness.

For those interested in reading the book, it can be ordered from fishpond.co.nz, Whitcoulls and PaperPlus. Unfortunately, it is not in the Kindle store as yet. You can also take part in an online Awakening Joy course, information on which can be found at http://www.awakeningjoy.info.

You can buy a copy of Awakening Joy online through fishpond.com

• Reviewed by Jonathan Casbolt who runs the secular insight group in Alexandra

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One Comment

  1. Signe Christensen
    Posted March 12, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    James Baraz and his wife Jane recently offered a two day non-residential retreat here in Wellington NZ. He was one of my first spiritural/buddhist teachers and it was a real joy to see him and his wife again.

    James has a very simple uplifting style of teaching that is practical and also very wise. The “Awakening Joy” course that he teaches online has been going for years and I once again am involved in it, along with about six other folks from Wellington. There is always something new to learn as he has invited speakers for each of the topics which are taught by video or audio every two weeks.

    It’s lovely to take a course where self compassion and gentleness are regarded as the most important part of the learning process … no way you can fail!!

    If anyone has any questions about the course please feel free to contact me on 021 131 4920.

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