Book Review: “After The Ecstasy, The Laundry” by Jack Kornfield

Kornfield wrote this book to address the expectation and misconceptions surrounding the attainment of enlightenment and what that means for a person and the remainder of life in this ordinary human world.



Kornfield interviews many people from a wide variety of spiritual disciplines including Zen masters, Buddhist meditation teachers, Lamas, Nuns, Monks, Priests, Rabbis, Swamis and their senior students and writes of accounts of life before, during, and after enlightenment to show real life examples of what enlightenment means, what it feels like, how it may be reached, and how life changes, or doesn’t change.

While the Ecstasy is the enlightenment, The Laudry refers to the nitty gritty real life details of human life that ever one of us must address every minute of everyday.  It is a mixture including our human emotions, out thoughts, our physical trials and pains, and our place in relationships to other sentient beings and to this Earth we inhabit.

In this readers’ understanding, many achieve a spiritual enlightenment that brings an other world experience where the meditator is engulfed in an awareness accompanied by bliss whereas many others experience enlightenment solely as a spiritual maturation.  Neither experience of enlightenment is more profound and real than the other.  Either path enables the person to realize they no longer need to strive toward a spiritual destination grasping for anything, anywhere, or anyone different from what we have/are.  Enlightenment is a coming home.  And in this home, within our selves, or non-self for self-care and self-love.  And we happily do the laundry.  Enlightenment is not the end.  It is just one step in the journey of this life.


A spiritual life practiced with a form of meditation can have a profound effect upon not only the practitioner but also those beings around her/him and the world as a whole that we know.  Very often something happens, providing a catalyst, quite possibly some form of trauma or loss.  This return to innocence sheds a new skin of judgment or desire.  The path to enlightenment is circular.  This requires tremendous courage bowing to everyone finding a redeeming quality in everyone.  One moment, we feel light as a feather, enlightened, the next moment; we lose it and only feel that we are facing the laundry.

This recognition either brings up fear or ecstasy depending upon how we choose to see.  In letting go, we release a great feeling of ecstasy and in keeping the same familiar story going, of grasping or clinging, it is there that we cause ourself and the world more suffering.

As human beings, we are prone and social conditioned to negative patterns of judgment, grasping, and ambition, telling ourselves “stories” of who we are and what our world should be.  An aversion to discomfort and to inevitable change leaves us with delusions of control and non-acceptance.

Enlightenment is about coming home to the self, though there is no self as a separate construct, only a contact with the ONE.  The realization that we are all one.  Mindfulness is about checking in with these potential destructive patterns of mind and circumventing great suffering by finding the peace, freedom and stillness within.  It is there that we feel both emotionally and physically a part of our “true selves” and a consequence at one with everyone and everything.

Additional context

Kornfield struggled with the question for what is the true task of spiritual life while he was becoming a Buddhist monk in a forest monastery in Thailand.  In having to bow to all those around him including those who seems “lesser” than himself, he found grace in this practice by finding a worthy aspect of all those around him and thus the bows took on a new meaning.  He found that the true task of spiritual life is not found far away or in unusual states of consciousness, but instead is found right her right now, in both the beauty and the suffering,.  That by honoring this truth, we may find the way to the pat of freedom.  Kornfield was trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma, and India and has taught around the world since 1974.  He holds a PhD in clinical psychology and is the co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society of Sprit Rock Center.

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