Jewish Journal


December 6, 2007

Serenity now—inside and out



Yes, take a breath.

"One, long deliberate breath that you feel from the very beginning of it until the end of it. Try it, really. You can do it with your eyes open. You can do it while reading these instructions. Do you notice that you can feel your body, and especially your chest expanding and relaxing to accommodate the air flowing in and out, without stopping reading?"

This is the advice of Sylvia Boorstein in her new book, "Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life" (Ballantine Books). It's the latest contribution to the ever-popular and growing happiness library -- books by religious leaders, self-help gurus, psychologists and doctors -- on how to live a more fulfilling life.

Every book seems to have its own prescription for the ways to lead a happier life, and for Boorstein -- a practicing psychotherapist, the co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre and author of the previous "Pay Attention for Goodness Sake," "It's Easier than You Think," and "Don't Just Do Something: Sit There!" -- it's Buddhism.

"Inside Job," like most happiness guides, advises practicing meditation, expressing gratitude and mindfulness as ways to happier life, but for Boorstein, it's the central tenet. Her book focuses on three Buddhist teachings to focus the mind and lead readers away from confusion, anger and anxiety into calmness and clarity: * Wise Effort -- when you intentionally choose to rid your mind of painful thoughts so that you can focus on positive thoughts which generates positive feelings; * Wise Mindfulness -- when you watch your mind's reactions to the events around it, thereby restoring balance, and * Wise Concentration -- when you focus on one thing (like breathing) to establish composure.

Unlike many of the recent offerings on happiness, which advise avoiding unpleasant situations or people so as not to bring yourself down, Boorstein's main focus, through telling stories that happened to her and at her seminars, is compassion and connectedness. Indifference, pity, envy and jealousy are all "near-enemies" of this, but if you are compassionate to yourself and to the world around you, you can deal with any problems that come your way. In any case, she said, "You never really know what the next minute is going to bring, so living fully in this moment is the only constantly reappearing option for happiness."

Dr. Sylvia Boorstein will be speaking on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 7 and 8, at Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills and on Friday, Dec. 14, at Kehilat Israel in the Palisades.

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