Books: Jack Kornfield’s “After The Ecstasy, the Laundry”, as reviewed by Pranada Devi
Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield may be best known for his book “A Path With Heart: A Guide to the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life”. But you might not know that eight years after “A Path With Heart” he published a book called “After The Ecstasy, The Laundry: How The Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path” that merits a place on the bookshelf of any devoted spiritual seeker – or, indeed, of anyone who has had an opening experience and has discovered that life doesn’t just become blissful after the first “a-ha!” moment.
Those who have been on the path for a while, or who have had the grace to be around spiritual masters, or had a near death experience, or who simply were in the right place at the right time, may well experience a moment (or many moments) where the usual mind falls away and what remains is bliss, love and increased understanding of the meaning of one’s life. At first, it may seem as though the whole world is luminous and everything is simple. Yet, all too soon, we may feel that state ebbing from our consciousness as our habitual mind creeps back in and we seem to be just the same old person we were, in the same old life. How do we go on, knowing that we have touched something real and great, yet we continue to live our habits? This frustration can lead to anger, despair, fixating on trying to recreate the magical moment, denial of our current state, and more.
What Jack Kornfield skillfully and compassionately does in “After The Ecstasy, The Laundry” is help us to make peace with the fact that even after a peak experience, a satori, a glimpse of enlightenment, our work is still right here in our day-to-day lives, in our human bodies, in our families, in our communities. A peak experience doesn’t mean, for example, that we get to bypass the jealous feelings we have in a relationship, or an anxiety around authority figures. We still need to keep coming back day after day to the work of simply being aware and open in this moment, touching the roots of that jealousy or anxiety and not running away from it. And no amount of spiritual bliss justifies us closing our eyes to inappropriate behavior or giving away our power.
I first bought this book in 2001 when it was published, but did not get as much from it then as I do now. In 2001 I had yet to meet my spiritual teacher, let alone confront the challenges of re-entering my messy life after glimpses of divine bliss or satori experiences awakened in her presence. And even when I did start experiencing those challenges, I desperately wanted to bypass all the roiling mess I was beginning to sense in myself and stay in the bliss bubble. It would be years before I was willing to truly consider that I was not being present and that I could choose to just show up for my day to day life – that doing this was at least as spiritually powerful as blissing out.
As Kornfield points out, blissful experiences may come and go, and it’s just one more thing to let go of. Through “After the Ecstasy, The Laundry”, he creates a safe place for us to just keep moving forward, day by day, with the cooking and cleaning and driving and banking and everything else that seems so unsacred yet – in truth – is just exactly the spiritual ground we need to grow.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects. She is the editor for Parvati’s book “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie: A Revolutionary Life Makeover for the Sincere Spiritual Seeker”.