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Preface
Author, "Minding the Body, Mending the Mind"
and "A Woman’s Book of Life"

We live in a culture where stress has supplanted happiness as the most common state of mind. Despite the rapid growth in technology and availability of material goods, polls indicate that the typical mid-life American is ten times more likely to be depressed than our grandparents were. The very things that are supposed to save time and give us the opportunity to relax and enjoy life are too often the cause of hassle and worry. The profusion of mail, both paper and electronic, the abundance of information can be overwhelming. The realization that the earths resources are perilously close to depletion and that population growth is now exponential fills many of us with angst. The response to this situation has largely been one of denial and "business as usual." Run faster, work harder, distract ourselves with television and movies, stimulants and exercise regimens that are meant to relax us but often feel like one more task to fit into an overflowing schedule.

The simple truth is that we won't be able to create a sustainable way of life, heal the world until we can come to balance within ourselves. We can't even use our full creative potential, or enjoy the blessing of intimate relationships when we are chronically worried and on overload. In the early 1900's two Harvard physiologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson discovered that a little bit of stress enhanced performance, but too much stress was paralyzing. I ran a stress-disorders clinic at one of the Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals during the 1980’s. Many of our clients came from the corporate world and were afraid that if they learned to relax and meditate, they would lose their edge. Most were surprised that their performance improved dramatically as they learned the kind of simple exercises that Joel and Michelle Levey describe so brilliantly in this book. Working at our edge means learning the tools for preventing ourselves from going over the edge. And in the process, we learn unexpected and invaluable lessons about the nature of the mind and the deep web of interconnections in which we live and move and have our being. As we learn to clear and focus the mind, senses become sharp and fresh, creativity explodes, we find ourselves inexplicably joyful, and come to realize that life is an inexpressibly awesome and sacred gift. We learn to see with new eyes and recover the sense of wonder that we had as children.

Every spiritual leader has given similar advice. All human beings are alike. We all want to be happy. The road to happiness is a simple path, paved with actions that arise from the powerful intention to be kind and compassionate, just as we would wish others to behave toward us. A detractor once asked the first century Rabbi Akiva to summarize the entire teaching of the Torah while standing on one foot. He replied that we should be kind to others and refrain from doing to them what we wouldn't want done to ourselves. Jesus, another first century rabbi, gave exactly the same teaching. We know this as the Golden Rule, and while most of us would agree that it is a great idea, it is often hard to act with this degree of consciousness and caring. The true value of meditation and mental discipline becomes apparent over time, as kindness and caring become second nature. The fruits of practice are much more beneficial than lowered anxiety, better health and enhanced performance. As we learn to let go of the extraneous chatter that clutters our mind, we discover that our true nature- our essential self- is actually a center of awareness, peace and compassion. Acting with lovingkindness toward others becomes our authentic state of being rather than an external, though valued ideal.

The Lakota holy man Black Elk said, "There can never be peace between nations until we know the true peace which is in the souls of men. This comes when men realize their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and that the Great Spirit is at its center; that all things are his works, and that this center is really everywhere. It is within each of us." Joel and Michelle echo this powerful teaching of Black Elk when they remind us that "relaxation is not something that you do. It is a natural response that you allow to happen. Relaxation is what is left when you stop creating tension." When the tension melts away, we discover that we are at peace, at the center and naturally in sympathy with all creation. I used to tell my clients that they were already whole and healed- words that come from the same root as holy. The purpose of the tools they would learn in our clinic was to peel away the layers of stress that covered their naturally wise, peaceful and compassionate hearts.

As I read this book, I was struck by the humble clarity with which very powerful teachings are given. I have known Joel and Michelle for a decade, admiring their strong and unwavering intention to be of service to others by sharing the wisdom they have learned from some of the most luminous spiritual teachers of our time. Their authentic, compassionate presence is always a joy to experience and a reminder that through time-tested practices we, too, can recover peace and happiness. It was a great honor to be asked to write the foreword to this "simple" book, which is, I believe, the most complete primer of meditation and spirituality that has ever been written.

You hold in your hand a precious jewel, a treasure with the power to transform your life and to heal the world. If it were the only book you had to study and work with for the rest of your life, it would be all that you needed. Use it well and share it with others. We have all been blessed that such profound teachings from the world’s great spiritual traditions have been rendered with such stunning simplicity, beauty and grace. In a time when so many superficial books are being published, it is a rare opportunity to own a book of this depth and breadth, written in a way that allows each of us to develop our minds and hearts at exactly the pace we need.