Awakening Joy

James Baraz - About James

James Baraz

James has been a meditation teacher since 1978.

He is creator and teacher of the Awakening Joy course (since 2003).

He leads retreats, workshops and classes in U.S and abroad.

Co-founding Teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA.

Co-author of Awakening Joy, the book based on the course
(with Shoshana Alexander) and Awakening Joy for Kids (with Michele Lilyanna).

He is a Guiding Teacher for One Earth Sangha, a website devoted to expressing a Buddhist response to Climate Change.

James lives in Berkeley, California with his wife, Jane.
He has two sons and three grandchildren.

"I believe every person wants to be happy. At the core, all of our actions are motivated by a longing for genuine well-being. Our own well-being and joy have the capacity to awaken those qualities in others around us, becoming a gift to everyone we meet." -- James Baraz

In 2003, I started the Awakening Joy course so that the Buddhist teachings that I’ve so benefited from could be made accessible to and practiced by anyone whether or not they were interested in Buddhist philosophy. My approach has been to present these principles and practices with a particular emphasis on how they can lead to true happiness. I’m grateful that the course has become more popular than I ever could have imagined, with thousands of people from all over the world practicing the principles it offers.

I lead Awakening Joy workshops, often with my wife, Jane, at Esalen Institute, Omega Institute, and other venues in the United States and abroad. In 2010, with Shoshana Alexander as co-author, I wrote Awakening Joy, a book based on the course.

I would say that a central theme in my life has always been to find and experience true happiness and then share it with others. As an elementary school teacher for twelve years it was rewarding not only to help students learn the curriculum but, even more, to help them see their own goodness. Although teaching can be a very demanding job, I found that when I was able to be present for the students and encourage them to bring out the best in each other, it was a tremendously fulfilling experience. I'm happy to say that many decades later, since the arrival of Facebook, I'm still in touch with students who’ve contacted me with the query, “Could you be the Mr. Baraz who was my 6th grade teacher in Astoria, Queens?”

In 1974, I discovered mindfulness meditation and Buddhist philosophy. This was a turning point in my life. Because I was acutely aware of how my mind was so filled with confusion, insecurity and self-judgment, I started practicing in earnest as a way to find an inner peace that I longed for. It was clear early on that there was something to this meditation stuff. I was becoming more at ease and actually feeling good about life. I’d found something that was miraculously leading me toward more genuine well-being and happiness.

As I deepened my practice, I had a natural urge to share what I was discovering with others. I didn’t know how that would happen, but shortly after I moved to San Francisco in 1977, I was invited to teach a meditatio class at Holistic Life University. With the support of my teachers, Joseph Goldstein and Ram Dass, I began leading weekend retreats as well as starting one of the first insight meditation groups in the Bay Area. I also began to organize longer intensive meditation retreats for Joseph and Jack Kornfield, so that others could experience the same benefits I received from intensive meditation practice. With the encouragement of my teachers, I started teaching longer retreats myself in 1982 and have been doing that ever since.

In 1980, I met the love of my life, Jane, who has a similar dedication to conscious living. Our marriage has been based on our commitment to help each other grow and shine. Towards that end, I’ve been blessed with the perfect partner.

As interest in meditation grew in the 80s, I was part of a group that founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California, which has become one of the most respected mindfulness meditation centers, supporting thousands of practitioners since 1986. At Spirit Rock, besides serving on the Board of Directors and the Governing Teachers Council, I’ve been involved in a number of programs to support others in their practice.

Jane and I started Spirit Rock’s thriving Family Program in the early 90’s. In 1997, I created the Community Dharma Leader (CDL) program, leading the first three 2 1/2-year trainings (the last of those with Tara Brach as co-leader). Those programs trained over 200 senior students to teach meditation in their communities throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. After those first three trainings, other teachers from our community have subsequently trained hundreds more leaders in communities around the US and internationally.

I also started a network of meditation support groups (Kalyana Mitta Network) throughout the United States that have been a strong support since 1995 to many people in their meditation practice.
In addition to teaching at Spirit Rock, I've taught mindfulness meditation at Esalen Institute since 1983 and have led retreats and workshops throughout North America and internationally.

Besides focusing on being present for all the joys in life, I also feel it’s essential to deal skillfully with life’s challenges and sorrows. In the fall of 2013, I co-led a new two-year program exploring how we can become more conscious in working with aging, illness, and dying, (known in Buddhism as the Heavenly Messengers) to support personal exploration as well as service to others as they face these unavoidable facts of life.

I have two sons and three grandchildren, and live with Jane in Berkeley, California, where I also lead a meditation community, the Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley (IMCB). All in all, since I was first motivated to find happiness and share it with others, it’s been quite a journey. As my mother, Selma Baraz famously says, my life is truly blessed.

Ever since I discovered the power of mindfulness practices and principles in my own life, my vision has been to share them with others, not only for their own personal benefit, but as a way to bring more consciousness to humanity and our planet. As a friend says, “We’re in a race between fear and consciousness.” I believe that consciousness is stronger than fear and it is a joyful responsibility to awaken consciousness as much as we can in the world at this time. I invite you to see the Awakening Joy course in that context.