After Ecstasy, The Laundry
After Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path was written by Jack Kornfield and it came out in 2000. Drawing on the experiences and insights of leaders and practitioners within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions, this book offers a uniquely intimate and honest understanding of how the modern spiritual journey unfolds and how we can prepare our hearts for awakening.
“We all after the honeymoon comes marriage, after the election comes the hard task of governance. In spiritual life it is the same: After Ecstasy comes the laundry,” Kornfield begins. We want to be enlightened as grapes want to become wine. It is natural. Sufis call this “the voice of the beloved.” We are born into this world with the song of enlightenment and wholeness in our ears, but we may first come to know it by its absence in our lives.
Inner growth requires the inspiration of angels. It requires diving into the ocean of tears. We may begin our journey to enlightenment in the dark woods. Our messengers of suffering come in the form of alcoholic or abusive parents or simply a rough family life.But each time we blame and fight the world around us, we reject and cut off parts of ourselves.
A great loss, crisis or illness tended to wisely will cause our hearts to grow. When disenchantment arises, the very suffering and struggle it causes brings us to courage to question in the face of all odds. Kabir, the Indian Mystic said, “It is the intensity of the longing that does all the work.”
To forgive we must face the pain and sorrow of our betrayal and disappointment, and discover the movement of heart that opens to forgive in spite of it all. Overcome any bitterness. Like the mother of the world you are carrying the pain of the world in your heart. Sometimes mercy is learned in the loneliness of our cell, other times we cannot do it ourselves. We need another human being to witness our sorrows—to touch what is closed in us.
You live in illusion and the appearance of things. There is a reality, but you do not know this. When you understand this, you will see that you are nothing. And being nothing, you are everything says Kalu Rinpoche. In the emptiness of self the world becomes transparent, clear, uncomplicated. We realize that our sense of separate self is untrue.
Poetry has a mysterious power in its ability to hold meanings almost impossible to speak directly. Zen writings offer almost no literal description of the stages of enlightenment, only metaphors and images.
Leaving maps and expectations behind in the then end we must turn our hearts in the direction of love and awareness, come what may. In living form this awakened heart we become bodhisattvas, all servants of the divine.
Permanence is not true freedom. It is not the sure heart’s release. Every wise voyage learns that we cannot hold onto the last port of call, no matter how beautiful. To do so would be like holding our breath, creating a prison from our past. All spiritual life in transition from one circumstance to another. These ordinary cycles of opening and closing are necessary medicine for our heart’s integration. In some cases though there are not just cycles, there is a crash. As far as we ascend, so far as we can fall. This too needs to be included in our maps of spiritual life—honored as more natural part of the cycle.
Julian Norwich said, “In falling and rising again, we are held in that same precious love.” Only to the extent that we let go into chang3e can we live in harmony with those around us and with our own true nature. No matter what the situation, awakening requires trust—trust that something new will eventually be born, trust whatever is perfect. Wise letting go is not detached removal from life. It is the heart’s embrace of life itself. A willing heart opens to the full reality of the present.
Though it sounds simple, letting go is really an advanced process. Letting go can be summed up as Not Always So. It is a truth of the heart that we resist what makes us frightened, hard and inflexible but we if we embrace it we become transformed. And having entered the stream of dharma, the practitioner regularly examines her own and sees this is the freedom one and these are the fetters, the entanglements still to be released in me.
Certain brilliant intellectuals may suffer from ignorance and disregard for their bodies and their emotions. Other people, quite conscious of their feelings and experts in human relationships, may be utterly unconscious of the thought constructs and beliefs that limit them.
The middle path embraces opposites. It rests between them, acknowledging both truths, caught by neither side. Awakening dissolves the labels we have put on our experience. The wise heart brings compassion to imperfection itself. The wise heart is at peace with the way things are. The heart becomes clear and able to understand the world rather than struggle with it.
Before enlightenment we have to live with our body. After enlightenment we still have to live with our body. While we knew that wise sexuality cane bring intimacy, connection and surrender, wise and holy celibacy can do the same. Both choices can be an expression of love and awareness. The Zen master Dinan Katagiri says, “The important point of spiritual practice is not to try and escape your life, but to face it—exactly and completely.” No matter where we are on the journey of awakening, our body must be included.
Some people believe that emotions are dangerous. But the emotions themselves are rarely a problem. It is our lack of awareness of them or the stories that we believe about them that creates suffering. Simone Weil, a Christian mystic said, “The danger is not that the soul should doubt that there is any bread, but that by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” Awakening to the emotions means to feel them—nothing less and nothing more. It does not require changing our feelings—feelings change all the time on their own. We fear the destructive power of our emotions when we have seen them for what they really are. We confuse allowing ourselves to be aware of them with necessity to act them out.
The emotional wisdom of the heart is simple. When we accept our human feelings, a remarkable transformation occurs. Tenderness and wisdom arise naturally and spontaneously. Where we once sought strength over others now our strength our own. Where once sought to defend ourselves, we laugh…Happiness and love come naturally in letting go of fear.
Our sacred longing is to return to where we are and know the place for the first time. Then we are coming back to our own true nature. In Buddhist tradition, a Bodhisattva is a being dedicated to universal awakening—to having compassion and wisdom to all that lives—how ever long it takes.