Top positive review
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Doubts overcome, this book is transformative. At least for me.
on May 6, 2012
"Oh hellll motha f''ing no." That's a sanitized version of what I thought when my coworker invited me to read this book, and join her for the Awakening Joy class. Wanting to be polite, what came out was more like a skeptical, "I don't think I'd be interested." She patiently suggested that I simply preview the book, and give it a chance because she had heard good things.
Although clearly predisposed to doubt, I started reading Awakening Joy on Amazon, checking out the first chapter for free, and to my surprise I was hooked. So much that I got the book AND signed up for the class. In case you haven't figured it out yet, there is a class you can take that goes with the book, and each month one chapter is covered. I'll write a little more about the class at the end of this review. For now, just the book...
If you are like I was, and not sure whether to read this book, definitely start with the free preview on Amazon, and see what you think. I have noticed some reviewers who think the writing style is too cheesy. Well I anticipated exactly that. But to me, it does not read that way. I can see how this book might not be for everyone, but like my coworker said, do give it a chance.
My concern was there because 1.) it was written by a Buddhist practitioner, 2) it is called Awakening Joy, and 3) the very fact that there is a class that goes with the book. I even wondered if this program was an entry into some kind of cult! (of course it's not!)
Regarding the religious part - Being raised in a Buddhist/Jewish family, on one hand I have an affinity toward Buddhist philosophy. On the other, I am a devout agnostic who does not wish to commit to any religion. I have a hard time with any practice that requires me to have "faith" or what feels to me like superstition. Knowing this book was written by James Baraz, a Buddhist my parents respect, I felt inviting of the philosophy, but worried that the book would expect me to believe in things like reincarnation, karma, deities, etc. Luckily, while the philosophy is most definitely there, the parts I struggle with are not. James Baraz did a good job with making this a book that is not religious.
The title bothered me because life is about more than just Joy, and I thought this would be some kind of "learn how to be a fake Californian who puts on a smile" kind of deal. This is not the case at all. While Awakening Joy is focused on how to bring more enjoyment into life, it recognizes that there are struggles, and discusses techniques for handling difficult times. The book doesn't make me feel pressured to "be happy" all the time, nor ashamed that I'm not. But it does help me to develop awareness, comfort, and compassion with all of my emotions.
As for the cult concerns, those are squashed, and I think it's funny I even entertained that notion. There is a community that gathers to discuss ways of thinking that bring more happiness into one's life, but there is no worship, indoctrination, nor a commune to live in! But the reason I was worried had to do with there being a class, which leads into a brief intro to what happens there.
The course, which meets monthly, is in Berkeley, which luckily for me is nearby, but can also be taken online from all around the world. In the class we arrive, sit quietly for a moment to get focused, discuss the reading from the month before, learn about the upcoming chapter, hear dynamic guest speakers talk on the topic, enjoy music by a a guest singer, and then we all have fun singing a song together - one that most people would know and it varies each month. I find it helpful to hear how others are relating to the book. We talk about what is working, and what challenges people have with the materials so that various approaches can be considered. The website for the class has forums so folks can continue to discuss the material. Those taking the course online can watch recordings. Students taking either version (live, recorded, or just simply reading the book) are encouraged to find buddies or form small groups to discuss the reading. Each month James Baraz writes his students a letter on the topic of the month. And there are bunch of other resources provided to help you stay focused. I won't give them all away here!
But if the class is not for you, no big deal. You can definitely enjoy this book thoroughly without taking the accompanying course. Ultimately, If you do get the book, I hope you enjoy it as much as me! I really like focusing on one chapter per month. It gives time to contemplate the lessons at a good pace. If you do get the book, and don't do the class, you might consider approaching the reading at the same pace, and working through it with a partner. Either way, if you are curious, but have doubts, just take it one step at a time and see if its right for you. If it is, you could find yourself increasingly aware of life's many gifts! That's how I feel.
At this point, my feelings about this book and the class have moved from "Oh hellll motha f''ing no" to something more like "Oh hellll motha f''ing yeah!"