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by Jack Kornfield
Bantam Doubleday Dell, 2000
Review by Wanda Y. Johnson, Ph.D. on Oct 16th 2001

After the Ecstasy, the LaundryIn After the Ecstasy, the Laundry--How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, Dr. Jack Kornfield offers an excellent guide for those seeking spiritual understanding and spiritual growth. Kornfield's writing style, and the personal accounts of spiritual travelers in all religious faiths provide a compelling account of incorporating experiences of spiritual ecstasy into enlightenment. Spiritual enlightenment or wisdom makes bearable and even enriches the nitty-gritty everyday life in the trenches.

Kornfield relates experience after experience of people who were perplexed and disturbed when holy moments, extreme spiritual highs, visited their lives. Often the people who experienced such spiritual highs were not conscious seekers of spiritual growth. Even more disturbing than the visitation of spiritual ecstasy was the depressed, or down time which frequently followed these experiences of oneness with the Divine. As spiritual seekers stayed with their faith and worked through such down times, they became aware of the strength and meaning which spiritual growth added to all aspects of life. Times of woe and distress could be regarded with serenity and empathy for themselves and for others.

Kornfield divides the book into four parts: Preparation for the Ecstasy; The Gates of Awakening; No Enlightened Retirement; and Awakening in the Laundry. By recounting descriptions of growth in each of these stages, Kornfield presents a guide for continuous growth for all spiritual seekers. In a coherent, readable style, Kornfield adeptly weaves together traditions from Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sufi and Buddhism. These travelers found that as attitudes towards God, themselves and humanity change, life becomes less of an antagonistic challenge and more one of accepting, letting go of negativity and honoring and living in the present.

Kornfield, himself a Buddhist Monk, presents an excellent example of growth by a simple change in attitude when he described his experience of learning to bow to his elders in his initial training as a Buddhist Monk. It was, he explains, a practice of reverence and mindfulness to respectfully bow upon encountering any elder. Elders were everyone older than he in ordination time and in the beginning of his training, that meant everyone else at the monastery. Kornfield worked through feelings of injured pride by learning to recognize traits or characteristics to respect in each person to whom he bowed, and with this recognition, he offered genuine respect in each bow. "The true task of spiritual life is not found in faraway places or unusual states of consciousness, it is here in the present. Learning to live joyfully in the present, to 'let go', to accept whatever comes our way, to live in the moment, is the journey inward toward spiritual enlightenment."

This book provides entertaining reading which artfully leads toward changes in concepts preventing us from acceptance and joy. It is delightful to read, and a useful reference to be reread over and over. Though the concepts are simple, easily understood, they are amazingly difficult to master.

© 2001 Wanda Y. Johnson

Wanda Y. Johnson, Ph.D. is a therapist in Arlington, Texas.

This review first appeared online Sept 1, 2001