James Baraz, Mindfulness, and the Awakening of Joy

(*Note: This is part one in a five part series about amazing people doing amazing things with mindfulness.) 

Have you ever been around someone who just makes you feel good? Someone who delights you, brings you joy, makes the world a little spot of sunshine? 

Usually I count on old friends for this kind of uplift. But this weekend I spent some time with a guy I barely know and came away just filled with electricity. 

That guy is James Baraz. He wrote a book (with Shoshana Alexander) called Awakening Joy. He also has an online course called Awakening Joy. And now he's just published a second book (with Michele Lilyanna): Awakening Joy for Kids

Now, I'm from New York. Normally, I don't go in for this California stuff. When people put their hand on their heart and speak soulfully to me, I start looking for the nearest exit. 

But something about James is different. Even though he puts his hand on his heart, even though he speaks soulfully, there is an authority here that short-circuits my skepticism. Why? Maybe because he's not trying to be heartful. He just is. 

Also, what he says makes sense. The core message: Your mind is what it does. 

If you let the mind wander around and around negative states like anxiety, anger, or incessant wanting, that will become the habit of the mind. 

Likewise, if you invite the mind to gratitude, kindness, and integrity, that will become the habit of the mind.

Mindfulness, in James's telling, is a little like a friendly traffic cop, directing the intentions again and again toward states that lead to a joyful and fulfilling life. 

So if you have a negative feeling, you notice it, you hold it with warmth, you even investigate. But you don't let it run the show. And if you have a positive feeling, you also hold it and savor it and appreciate it, letting it grow and flourish. 

All this is well and good. During the three days I spent in retreat with James, I was already convinced. 

But then we drove him from the Methodist summer camp where we'd just sat the retreat to Madison, where he was to give a talk in the evening. 

And that's when things got interesting. Because it wasn't just that James was friendly (though he was) and it wasn't just that he was curious about my wife and me (though he seemed to be), it was that every moment we spent with James was like spending time with an old friend. An old friend who sees you and knows you and wants only the best for your life.

Alright, I'll say it: sitting in a car with James for an hour and a half was like standing in sunlight. 

My wife and I came away filled up, feeling better, inspired. We wanted to step out and do something, help someone, just radiate the brightness that James radiated to us. That warmth was infectious. And it makes me wonder how someone like that becomes someone like that.

He says it's mindfulness. He says it's just about turning the mind to the good again and again and again, moment by moment, day by day, patiently, like a carpenter planing a fine wood. 

I tend to believe him. Anyway, I think I'll give it a try. 

Craig Hase