After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield is a book I’d never heard of and passed on the shelves at my fave thrift store a dozen times. For one thing, I thought it was about marriage relations… you know, because of the title. For another thing… well, there *is* no other thing, actually. I just didn’t wanna. And then, one day, I opened the darned thing because it sat there mocking me… and was so pleasantly surprised by this statement in the Introduction… I bought it! Here’s what it said:
Most spiritual accounts end with illumination or enlightenment. But what if we ask what happens after that? What happens when the Zen master returns home to a spouse and children? What happens when the Christian mystic goes shopping? What is life like after the ecstasy?
Indeed! I know a thing or two about this! I’ve lived it! (I’ve talked about it in several places on this blog but it’s mostly HERE.) There is something about the group-think that occurs in a church camp, for instance, even for adults. I went to church camp as a teen (as mentioned in the post I referenced with the link) and as an adult. I remember things about both experiences but what stands out most is the feeling I had as we drove “down the hill”… both camps were in the San Bernardino forests. I was jazzed (I know, it was the 1970s) and enlightened (I know, it was the 1990s) and wanted to share my newfound faith and knowledge with the unknowing, unbelieving masses. I knocked on doors, I invited to church, I spoke at women’s meetings and at one point, was a church secretary extraordinaire. Oh, and I also worked at a Christian bookstore. Oh, how religious was I!
A little detour, if you’ll allow it, with a repeater alert. I have told this story before, though not in this blog. So, if it sounds familiar, it’s because you read it in one of my earlier blogs that have since bit the dust. Okay…
I was working part-time at a Christian bookstore in the California desert. I considered myself to be a good Christian, solid and true. A woman walked into the store with her husband. I still remember her… how she looked… she was what we (the desert community) called, a desert rat. She had frizzy blond/gray hair, no make-up, and was wearing jeans and a men’s white t-shirt (undershirt) as an actual shirt. Her husband is a blur to me. She walked straight to the back. She knew where she was going. She picked up a book and held it to her chest. Her husband joined her at the cash register.
“You need to hand her the book, honey,” the husband said.
“I don’t want to let go,” she replied.
“I need it to get the label,” I said, for the price.
She handed it to me. As she did, I looked into her eyes. She was weeping.
“It’s my birthday,” she said. “My husband said I can have anything I want!”
She beamed up at him.
“She wanted this book,” he said, as we all looked at the cover.
It was Rhinestone Cowboy, Glen Campbell’s autobiography.
I rang up the book and she said she didn’t want a bag. She picked it up… tenderly… and held it to her heart.
“I love this. Thank you,” she said to her husband, beaming.
They walked out and I went to the back room and cried. I also prayed. I asked Jesus to soften my heart.
“Desert Rat” indeed! These people were far more loving – a better example of Christ – than I was in all my finery and Churchiness.
I share this to say … it ain’t easy being spiritual. Books like this are needed.
This is a “spiritual” book, not a Christian one. There are stories and insights from within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Sufi traditions. I love that all of these beliefs are included, and in fact, I love that there is a section on the “circular and continuous” path to spiritual enlightenment. It so happens that I have landed *there* among the many tradtions… and I take what I want from each. Yes, even Christian. The Christ I know – and indeed have a relationship with – is a God of Love, not judgement. I respect the Bible (just as I respect other religious texts) but take very few of the stories within them literally. Sorry, I digressed again. This isn’t about me.
This book is wonderful, especially if you are among a community of believers. It is a guidebook for navigation that allows for … well, I’ve said it already … many paths. It is a comfortable read with poetry, quotes and emotional spaces, so you can put the book down and pick it up a month later and feel at home.
I will end with a few words about my favorite section of the book – Ordinary Perfection. It offers some words of encouragement for searchers (like me. Like you, too?):
Only our own searching for happiness prevents us from seeing it. It is like a vivid rainbow which you pursue without ever catching it. […] Wanting to grasp the ungraspable, you exhaust yourself in vain. As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping, infinite space is there – open, inviting, and comfortable. (Pages 205-206)
May we (you and I) learn when to open our hands… and accept the gifts that are given… every single moment of every single day!