Happiness Lessons 

Joy is a choice, says Buddhist teacher James Baraz.

For many of us, the very idea of joy presents a challenge. "Perhaps you can't imagine yourself skipping through a meadow with childlike exuberance," James Baraz writes. "Don't worry. Truly happy people are not happy all the time. They feel sad and angry and have the whole range of human emotions." In the "Awakening Joy" course he created and for which he is best known, Baraz isn't "talking about having a syrupy facade or being in denial," but rather invoking "a general feeling of aliveness and well-being that is characterized by engagement with life, meeting its ups and downs with authenticity and perspective. It can look very different from person to person, from a quiet sense of contentment to bubbly enthusiasm."

A cofounder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, Baraz has practiced Vipassana meditation since 1974. And right about now, "the planet is ready for a change of consciousness." As others throughout the burgeoning happiness movement avow, that change is in the smiling-and-laughing direction.

"Nobody can bring you happiness," Baraz warns. "Nobody can manufacture happiness for you. You can't get it outside of yourself. There are things that will trigger it," but it nonetheless comes from within: "The happiness and joy that you're looking for are right inside you. We were born into this world with it." The longtime teacher points out that when babies' basic needs have been met, "they squeal with delight," gazing around happily. "We were all like that at some point — so what we need to do is remember how to access it."

Baraz's day-long meditation retreat on Sunday, July 12 at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery (2304 McKinley Ave., Berkeley) is based on mudita, which translates to "sympathetic joy" or "joy in the happiness of others." Its activities include silent sitting and walking meditation along with discussion of daily practices to help cultivate this kind of delight — which is basically the diametric opposite of envy. Participants are asked to bring their own lunches; in keeping with the monastery's traditions, these must be devoid of meat, onions, and garlic. Tea is provided, but participants must bring their own cups.

Learning to be happy sounds simple, but it's often difficult: "If you're going to be stretching yourself, if you're going to be finding new ways of being, then you're getting out of your comfort zone," Baraz concedes. "But that's how you grow. And it's worth it, because it might be awkward now, but you keep on doing it and you keep on doing it and then it just becomes something that's more natural to you." After all, we weren't born with guilt, stress, or resentment, Baraz notes, yet those emotions feel natural to most of us now — and "it feels better to grow than to just stay the same and play it safe." 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., suggested donation $20-$40. BerkeleyMonastery.org

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