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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Openng the Door to a More Fulfilling Life, January 16, 2010
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This review is from: Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness (Hardcover)
Here's a book that works like a master locksmith's pick: it opens a door into a more fulfilling life. An outgrowth of James Baraz's successful online course of the same name, Awakening Joy: Ten Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Happiness is an accessible, anecdote-rich guide filled with valuable tips to understanding both the roadblocks challenging our lives and the open road inviting us for a drive on the freeway of our own personal happiness.

As a longtime meditation teacher, Baraz distills three decades of inquiry into the mind into this down-to-earth primer. Written with the gifted editor Shoshana Alexander,
the book evokes the warmth of a satisfying conversation--actually a series of conversations--with a wise friend. And make no mistake: Baraz is wise. And compassionate, giving and optimistic. He's also a gifted teacher. Among his gifts? Advocating joy as a gateway to pass through on the journey to self-awareness.

To those readers brought up believing in narrow-minded, "should-"oriented approaches to living, awakening joy as a means of achieving personal growth might seem contraindicated--somehow jumping ahead of struggle, pain and suffering (the trinity of stages personal growth many believe we must first pass through to reach higher states of happiness). Such an approach misses the mark--by a wide margin. Baraz is not so much suggesting an "eat dessert first" approach to living as much as saying dessert is available all the time in succulent, small bites. If we pay attention enough to notice.

Rooted in mindfulness meditation practice, which Baraz has been practicing and teaching since the seventies (he is one of the founding teachers of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California), the book is peppered with quotes from a range of teachers, as well as participants in the Awakening Joy course. The book also draws on paths to happiness found in a range of spiritual traditions. Another of its strengths is its gentle introduction to Buddhism, presented in an accessible, open-minded and open-hearted way.

While dealing with life's adversity is certainly addressed in the book--we appreciate Baraz all the more for being open and vulnerable in sharing painful episodes in his own life--time and again he brings the reader back to an appreciation for wholesome states of living. After an eye operation left him with seriously compromised vision--"the world looked like a Jacque Cousteau underwater documentary filmed on a cloudy day"--Baraz relied on his meditation practice to see him through. When a risky operation eventually restored his vision, he felt a surge of gratitude that didn't subside. "... [T]he gratitude I felt at my good fortune became a continuous backdrop to everything else in my life," he wrote.

Over the years Baraz has trained himself to examine his experiences carefully, "not only for my own spiritual growth but also to share my findings with students." As a result of the appreciation he felt at his clear vision, he became fascinated with the question, "What is gratitude?" In many ways, his book answers the question,. It is Baraz's report on his experiences as "an explorer of the landscape of the grateful heart."
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Location: Massachusetts, USA

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