I wrote a review of this book in April of 2001. Here it is January 2002 and I'm writing a second review for this book.
I haven't re-read or revisited it, but it's wisdom stays with me. I'm concerned with my thinning hair, have troubled relations with friends, am pulled into politics at work. My apartment is a mess, my finances aren't in much better shape, I don't go out as much as I would like, I'm not making art as much as I would like. I get angry, tired, frustrated, upset, bored, all within the course of a day.
There's a book out there "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A book that changes lives." I read it despite it's silly name and silly cover. It didn't do much to change my life.
Then there's "After the Ectacy the Laundry." Has it changed my life? No, it hasn't either.
I can almost see you, the reader of this review saying "It didn't change your life? And you're still giving it 5 stars?" and in that, I see myself a just a year ago.
Our society makes too much of escaping the every day: The Laundry, the chores, work, commuting, cooking, cleaning, strained relationships with parents, family, and friends, guilt, anger, frustration, fear, and worry. We seek to escape these things into the magical world of unlimited money and advanced spirituality.
Advertising is based almost entirely on this aspect of our lives. "Buy my product and your life will change" each commercial seems to say. Buy a book by Dan Millman to become a Peaceful Warrior. Buy a sneaker by Nike and escape into a world of physical perfection and love of challenge. Buy some real estate (or a book on buying real estate by Robert Kiyosaki) and become financially independant. Everyone, every single one of us wants to escape.
The book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn states that the hippies of the 60s were trying to escape, but they couldn't because they couldn't identify the bars of the prison. So then what are the bars of the prison?
I have a phrase that I like to use lately. "Salvation tends to be in the opposite direction of where you're looking." Most people get angry when I say that to them. What do I mean by that? What is the opposite direction of the one they're looking in?
I had a friend named Liza who was very into the spiritual journey. She wanted to escape this world. She thought LSD "showed you the other side, but never let you through" and read books by Carlos Casteneda. She believed that there was an escape, but it required a shift too subtle to grasp.
I agree, the shift is too subtle for most people to grasp. Most seekers never find it because it lies in the opposite direction of seeking. What is the opposite of seeking? Being present. Seeking splits you in two, and that split makes you vulnerable to many, many things. Seeking means that half of you is looking for something. I can almost see it, a neurotic half of you running around the attic of your brain trying to find something you misplaced that, if found, will make you whole again.
Being present, ah, now that's entirely different.
Will being present end anxiety? I doubt it. Will being present pay for your new Jetta? No. Then what does being present do for you?
My girlfriend is seeing a therapist. I barely talk to someone who was at one point my closest friend. I no longer call things "mistakes" I call it "being human." We are all human. The belief that you are somehow flawed is wrong because it implies that there is an "opposite of flawed" that you can be. You are not flawed, you are human.
Many of our problems stem from thinking we are different from other people and that other people are different from us. My girlfriend sees a therapist because she believes she is different from other people, that she is flawed. My ex-best friend and I rarely talk because we each believe the other is different, somehow selfish or manipulative.
After the Ecstacy the Laundry does something no other book I've read has done. It's turned my spiritual journey on it's head. I look now at other spiritual seekers and think "The integration that you seek can only be found if you stop seeking. It is the proverbial goal that prevents you from understanding the journey."
Jack Kornfield's book is amazingly human. It makes no promises and offers no illusions. It says "this oatmeal is oatmeal. your thinning hairline is a thinning hairline. your friday night is your friday night. your job is your job. the politics at your job are politics at your job. your insecurities are your insecurities. your worries are your worries. your ego is your ego."
I wonder, sometimes, where Liza is now. The last time I saw her she told me she was living in a neighborhood that's very trendy right now. She was dressed in the latest underground style. I didn't get a chance to talk to her about her journey, or my own.
There's a phrase that captures the truth of spiritual enlightenment presented in this book. "What is the difference between a Buddhist and a non Buddhist? The non-Buddhist think's there's a difference."
What is the difference between an enlightened person and a non-enlightened person? The non-enlightened person think's that there's an "enlightenment."
One of the stories relayed in this book is that of a spiritual seeker who goes to find a master who lives on the mountain. He tracks down this master while he is carring a heavy burden to his home higher on the mountain. The seeker asks "What is the way of Enlightenment?" and the master puts his burden down. The seeker instantly understands, and thanks the master asking "Now what?" and the master picks up his burden and continues walking up the mountain.
Life is not easy. I don't think entering a spiritual practice will make it any easier. Work will still be work, family will still be family, and bills will still be bills. What we can hope to change is the constant chatter of our minds, and the worry of what tomorrow will bring.
I always thought that a spiritual life meant escaping the world and living in a monestary, or a small mountain community where I would meditate and live simply. I thought it meant giving up all of my earthly wants and desires. Now I'm faced with the odd realization that my life is perfect just the way it is. That I need only to slow down and appreciate what is around me.
I also thought a spiritual life would end suffering for me - the anxiety, and the avoidance of discomfort. That life would become stress free because I would be unattached to everything. That I would have no neurosis, and that I would be able to let everything slide off my back. Now I realize that that too isn't the purpose of spiritual practice. Spiritual practice doesn't help you escape your life, but helps you face it head on. The analogy I've begun to use is that enlightenment is like living with a great insult. The refusal to run away from that which is painful or cling to that which is comforting is what spirituality has become for me.
This book helped put spirituality within my reach. I no longer had to run away to the mountains, or give up my life. I could engage in spiritual practice in my living room, at my job, in my relationships. I could simply be who I am and where I am, and more honestly than I had been willing to before.
Shortly after finishing this book I started to experience tremendous anxiety. I was unhappy at my job, I wasn't performing well, and I was looking for a way out. It took me a few weeks to realize that I was identifying with the stress and looking for a way to solve it. I tried noticing the stress as something "outside of myself", a feeling like hunger, or the pain of a scraped knee, and not who I am. This went a great way towards releiving the stress, but more importantly, I began to accept the stress, and my job, and the responsibilities of my life.
This book also did a lot to dispell the illusions I may have had (even though I knew they were wrong) about what a spiritual life is. The Dalai Lama says that the meaning of life is to be happy. Until now I viewed spirituality as an escape from pain. I thought that that was the path to happiness. But as the story goes, the Buddha became friends with anger and envy. So must I become friends with my life. "Ah, my old friend pain. I see you've come to keep me company again."
Acceptance of these truths, and the courage to live honestly are the most difficult lessons I've ever had to learn. I reccomend this book to anyone who wishes to dispell the illusions, the comforting ones as well as the difficult ones, and begin to face life honestly. For those who wish to maintain their illusions (and I can't blame you for wanting this) do not read this book. To quote Carolyn Myss (who was quoting someone else) "I was not ready for the way that that man would have changed my life."