Episode 39: Awakening Joy with James Baraz
Hear James Baraz, a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in San Francisco and the creator of a popular ten-month course called ‘Awakening Joy.‘ In this interview he talks about the highest happiness and how we are born with the innate capacity to reach this state. James defines joy and what it means to awaken joy within us. We learn that the most important aspect of awakening is having the intention to do so. He also talks about the practice of ‘sympathetic joy,’which is riding on the happiness and positive energy of others and allowing it to rub off on you. We also hear the important message of being in touch with truth as the key to opening the heart.
Woman: This program, brought to you by PersonalLifeMedia.com, is suitable for mature audiences only and may contain explicit sexual information.
Man: This show was recorded on December 11th, 2007 at the One Taste Center in San Francisco.
Harmony Niles: Hello, everyone. I'm Harmony Niles and this is “A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews” coming to you from the One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco. Every week, we hold a Tuesday Night Forum. You can come and hear eminent educators from the Bay Area and beyond, give their perspectives on topics that touch some of the most human parts of life - sexuality, relationship, communication, and spirituality. Our work at One Taste is to connect to what is, to strip away layers of story and falsehoods and be our true selves.
Our guest tonight has helped hundreds of people connect to their inner joy. We are joined by James Baraz. [musical interlude] James has been teaching meditations since 1980 and he's one of the founding teachers of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center here in California. He's also the creator of the popular “Awakening Joy” course. “Awakening Joy” is a 10-month course you can take in person or online. Seven hundred people participated in the last course and 1,500 are signed up for the next one. It's currently featured in the January, 2008 issue of “Oh!” magazine. James is also writing a book entitled “The Awakening Joy” which will come out in 2009.
Harmony Niles: James, thanks for joining us.
James Baraz: Hi. Good to be here.
Harmony Niles: Tell me, how did you come to this work?
James Baraz: Of developing “Awakening Joy” course? Well, I've been teaching Buddhist meditation and the interior life for a number of years. Although I've found a lot of peace and happiness within it, sometimes one can get a bit serious. I went through a serious path for a while and it took me a little while to realize I'd lost my joy. Then when I reclaimed it, I wanted to take a look at where I had gone. I had distorted teachings and started looking for what the Buddha was talking about which is about the highest happiness. I started to reframe some of the teachings and making them user-friendly and accessible so other people could see the wealth of possibilities of awakening joy by using these practices. It's been fun to turn people on to where I so yearn for and it works if you practice them because they're time tested and have a lot of wisdom in them.
Harmony Niles: How do you define joy in this work?
James Baraz: There's a lot of different facets or qualities that can be described as joy. As I say to people, sometimes the word “joy” is a bit of a stretch and it's not just about clicking your heels and skipping down through a meadow. Some people have a quality of inner peace and contentment and well being. For some people, there's an effervescence. For some people, it's a kind of serenity. But basically, what I'm calling joy is a feeling of aliveness, connection, well being, and ease which is innate to who we are.
Harmony Niles: So do you think we're all naturally happy deep down inside?
James Baraz: I think that we all come into this world with that capacity. If we're as babies fed and have our diapers changed and have everything taken care of, then a baby squeals with delight. We feel that when we're around them and we're reminded of that, that’s who we are. It's also now shown in brain science, modern neuroscience, that when they hook somebody up to electrodes and the person isn't stressed and feels safe and has their basic needs met, the brain is just humming with neurochemicals. The neuropathways are in a real state of well being, that’s quite measurable. So it's a matter of seeing what is obscuring that well being and cultivating, just setting up those pathways so they become more and more strong, the innate inherent feeling of well being and ease in that that can be developed. That’s what's the course is about.
Harmony Niles: Do you think this course also can help people suffering from depression?
James Baraz: Definitely. The key though is intention. It's not going to be a guarantee, not a panacea. It would be too much to say, “Oh, you come take this course and your depression is going to be cured” although it's been quite amazing to hearing the stories and seeing the changes and the possibilities that do happen. For some people though, they need some support whether it's some medication for a while or some other kind of support to get them stable enough so that they can incline towards this feeling of well being. But if there's a minimal degree of stability and a very strong intention to incline the mind towards this way of perceiving the world, changes can happen. It's been quite satisfying to see that actually happens many, many, many times.
Harmony Niles: That’s amazing.
James Baraz: Yes.
Harmony Niles: How do you do it, James? How do you awaken joy?
James Baraz: You incline towards what the Buddha talked about as wholesome states. There are lots of different states that when you practice them, you feel good and this is not mysterious or esoteric. When you're inclined, you feel good. When you're generous, you feel good. When you act with integrity, there's a quality of ease and openness. When you're feeling gratitude, all of these are states that naturally lead to happiness.
So what I've done is taken some of these basic principles of the Buddha’s teachings and have used different practices, there are lots of different practices. It's one of the really great things about Buddhist teachings, and developed both the states of well being and pay particular attention to how it feels when you're in the middle of it. Like for instance, I'll just ask you for a moment. You'll be a subject with me?
Harmony Niles: Of course.
James Baraz: All right. So think of something that’s a blessing in your life. You got it?
Harmony Niles: Yes.
James Baraz: OK. Have an image of it right now, in fact. If you just close your eyes for a moment, have an image of this blessing, and let yourself feel a gratitude in your heart. Do you feel it?
Harmony Niles: Yes.
James Baraz: As you feel it, put your attention on the quality of visceral, bodily experience of gratitude and just notice, what does gratitude feel like? In fact, if you could describe it, I'm curious. What does it feel like?
Harmony Niles: It feels light in a way, like a lightness in my chest and kind of like a warm and tingly feeling there.
James Baraz: Now, just let yourself really relaxed into it so it's not just an idea but a direct experience. As you do, you're giving focus on that feeling and as you become more and more familiar with it, it's like you start to reprogram and change your default settings. So you really recognize that quality of well being and that feeling of gladness and that’s one of the main principles. Can you feel that?
Harmony Niles: Yes.
James Baraz: Feel good, doesn’t it?
Harmony Niles: It does.
James Baraz: There you go. It's free, it's just one thought away. You can practice that more and more and have it very available to you. That’s the essence of it.
Harmony Niles: This is “A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews.” We're going to take a quick break then we'll be back to hear more from James Baraz.
Harmony Niles: Welcome back to “A Taste of Sex: Guest Speaker Interviews.” We're talking to James Baraz, creator of the “Awakening Joy” course. How do people participate in your classes? What does it look like?
James Baraz: So there are live classes in Berkeley that meet once a month, the next one starting at the very end of January. Then besides the people who come to the live classes, there are actually many more people who participate online from all over the world. It's kind of amazing how word has gotten out, but from places near and far - New Zealand and Africa and Europe and I don’t know how they found out about it but they do.
Everybody gets once a month practice letters, about 10 pages or so, with basic principles and practices. Then in the middle of the month, they get like a five-page booster letter and they can hear the audio of the class. Each month, they're focusing, they're looking at their life through a particular lens like gratitude, for instance, like we just did where anyone of the number of teams. And over the course of those 10 months, if you're continually at least inclining the mind towards that feeling of awakening joy, no matter what your experience is, there's no failing it. You just keep on inclining the mind that way and it feels over time.
Harmony Niles: Besides the exercise you just did with me, are there other practices that people can take home with them?
James Baraz: That’s the whole idea. Every month, there's a series of practices about that inclineness way. So, OK, you want another practice?
Harmony Niles: Yes.
James Baraz: All right. I got you--whetted your appetite for the first set. OK, all right, we'll have a little bit more. So one practice is called in Buddhism “mudita” or sympathetic joy where the happiness of others rubs off on you and it's called “happiness and happiness of others.” So instead of thinking, “Oh, gosh, they're happy and what about me?” It's like you can ride that energy and see others a bit more happiness in the world. So for instance in that practice, it's kind of hard to do as a dyad but let's see.
This would be a simple--the person who is doing the listening does the mudita practice. Now, if I were [hums]--no, let's do it the other way. Think of something that brings you joy and I'll do the mudita practice and then we can switch. So you got something that really brings you joy? OK. In the class, I'd have people list a number of things and then just pick one and describe to me what it is and why it brings you joy. We'll do this now for just a couple of minutes.
Harmony Niles: I love food and I work in an amazing restaurant and I just love to see people get excited about what we're serving. When I stop back on tables and talk to them about their dinner and they're so happy. Then I get so happy and I just want to be like, “Yes! Isn't it great? I'm so glad that you love it.” You know, “This mozzarella is from blah, blah, blah.” I like to talk about the food and I get a lot of joy out of that. I really love that feeling of giving people those simple pleasures in life. It's such a great thing.
James Baraz: Beautiful. Beautiful. I just really got it from you as you were saying that. Now, I was the one that got a chance to tune into your happiness and I just got uplifted from it right now. You do the mudita practice, while I'll think of something that brings me joy. While I'm saying it, all you need to do is tune in to my reality and just see, “Oh, there's a little bit more happiness in the world when that happens.” I know you're thinking of doing an interview as well, but just for a few moments, just tune in to what brings me happiness.
So let's see. One thing that brings me happiness is not only singing but getting everybody singing together. I play the guitar and I've been doing this for a while, just like to have everybody sing together in harmony, whether it's “This Little Light of Mine” or old Beatles songs or whatever. When I do that, it's so amazing where it's not even me playing. It's just kind of channeling this energy that allows everybody to just come into harmony together. There's one mind, one heart harmonizing and the energy in the room where everybody, who's willing to open up their mouth, just lets the light out. It's just one of the best things in the world. It feels so good to be able to do that.
So now, as you're doing that,
Harmony Niles: Yes, I really felt it, especially there at the end, I can hear the change in your voice. It's like it really came through to me.
James Baraz: So that’s mudita practice, and as you're going through say that month, you're looking for all the happiness around you and it's free. We used to call in the ‘60s a contact tai [sp] where you just see somebody’s happiness and feel “Oh, there's more happiness in the world.” As the Dalai Lama says, “If your happiness depends on your own well being, it's very limited. But if it can be activated by the happiness around you, you up your odds by six billion to one.” So doing mudita practice, it's like there's so much goodness around and as you start to tune in to it, it awakens that in you.
Harmony Niles: Here at One Taste, we talk a lot about stripping away story and getting to what is real. Your work kind of connect in this way, too.
James Baraz: Definitely. Definitely. Yes, because one of the things that gets in the way of well being is our beliefs and thoughts about who we are or how life is. If you're going to look at how life is disappointing and how everybody around is a jerk, you'll have ample evidence to collaborate your theory. So it's noticing the stories that you impose on reality and seeing through them and just seeing, “Oh, this is a story that I'm saying.” Seeing through the story, then what you have left is the truth. When you are really in touch with the truth, whether it's a pleasant moment or an unpleasant moment, when you're authentic and you're not laying on top of your own ideas about how things should be or what's going wrong, that is a direct or way to joy because the truth is what opens the heart.
Harmony Niles: James is speaking tonight as part of our Tuesday Night Forum here at One Taste Urban Retreat Center in San Francisco. We are at 1074 Folsom Street in the heart of the city. You could see other educators like him if you stop on by on a Tuesday night and check out our program for that evening. You can also find texts and transcripts from previous guest speaker interviews at PersonalLifeMedia.com or check out our website, OneTaste.us for information about our lectures and workshops. You can get more information about the “Awakening Joy” course at his website, AwakeningJoy. info.
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