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Follow The Joy: A Memoir Paperback – August 16, 2013
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About the Author
Jason Kurtz is the Director of Training at The Training Institute for Mental Health, as well as a psychotherapist in private practice. He has practiced Vipassana meditation since 1997, and believes in the synergy between meditation and psychotherapy. He is happily married and a proud father.
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The thing I loved about this book is that the recurrence of themes (poverty, purpose, relationship, etc.) serves the purpose of deepening the author’s understanding of the state of the world and his place in it. It was truly wonderful to come to these progressively more profound realizations as the character of the author in the book does. Too many stories of spiritual journeys start at the destination and the rest is a recollection. This book is altogether different.
What frustrated me about this book was that there are no real instructions about how to “follow the joy.” There is simply the unfolding of the path that happens when one is brutally honest with oneself and open to the growth that is available when we risk trusting our deeper, spiritual inclinations. What I came to understand by the end of the book is that there can’t be a recipe for joy-following. What the author shows us is an unrelenting process of self-examination with the sole purpose of self-improvement and ultimately self-actualization. So I take it back; it’s not that there are no instructions, he lays out how he does it on nearly every page. The frustrating part is that I still have to do my own work. I guess there is a reason the book is not called, “Follow My Joy.”
The best part about Follow the Joy: A Memoir is that I feel like I went to India for like ten dollars, in the same way that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance took me to Montana, or Dune takes us to Arrakis. In all of these, the landscape and the people are fully-fleshed; more than backdrop, they provide every twist in the path that engages us or throws us off our game or out of our comfort zone. Most importantly, in terms of setting, the particulars are fully realized without a hint of tedium in the description. What impressed me most is that it’s not just vivid visual descriptions (I could get that about India from the Discovery Channel), but I really came away with a sense of the experience of being in these far-off places. Mr. Kurtz brings us along for the cab ride, or up the mountain, or into his own emotional struggles, because ultimately, in all of these stories, the real journey is an interior one. Suffice it to say that I was riveted, and even found myself squeezing in a few chapters in the morning before running off to work, all the while considering in a very positive way, my own questions of direction and meaning in my life.
This is not a self-help book, nor is it the kind of book you read to find out how to live a more fulfilling life, or how to resolve your own personal issues. It is Jason's story about how he set this task for himself and (often painfully and sometimes bravely) made huge strides towards acceptance, self-knowledge and understanding how he could live in the world.
I would love to read the sequel.
Imagine traveling to Costa Rica without concrete plans. Imagine getting invited to an gathering of esteemed Costa Rican writers. Imagine wowing Laureano Alban, the famous poet. You would think that the author's youth and lack of self confidence would make that sort of story unlikely. Already deeply introspective, Jason impresses the Costa Rican poet. Early on the reader is treated to many pearls of wisdom that Jason never dares utter. As his wisdom and confidence develop, you will be compelled to continue reading to see until both Kurtz and the reader realize how much he has to offer by speaking his mind.
As I followed along on this journey with Kurtz, it was his stay in a Buddhist monastery which struck me passionately. His ability to improvise and teach language so successfully appealed to me intellectually. The fact that he was able to bring happiness to these men from the other side of the world would connect with anyone emotionally, and keep them reading for more.
If you gain self-confidence, you can use your inner strength to help others. Kurtz shows us this with the moving climax set in a Catholic mission for the sick and dying. He confronts his own worries about not being a Catholic, and about facing death and disease. With these tests passed, true joy is found by fully giving himself to helping others. It's a powerful lesson and an example we can all learn from.
Jason Kurtz went on a spiritual quest and ended up discovering his own abilities and his own calling. In an era when many of us struggle with life's hardest questions, "Follow The Joy" can serve as a beacon of hope and happiness. If you have ever wanted to find more contentment in your life, this is the book for you!