Saturday, February 6, 2016

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (by Jack Kornfield) is a book about spiritual development that focuses on the fact that, in spite of whatever insights or bliss states or peak experiences people get from doing the work, in the end your stuff doesn’t change that much.  What seems to change is your relationship with your stuff.

The author claims to have interviewed nearly a hundred experienced practitioners from various Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, and Jewish paths.  One Buddhist teacher described his slow transformation this way: “If my life was like a crowded garage where I kept bumping into the furniture and judging myself, it’s now like I’ve moved into an airplane hangar with the doors left open.  I’ve got the old stuff there, but it doesn’t limit me like before.”

It’s a useful spiritual read, full of people’s experiences and teaching stories, but what interested me was the title.  It reminded me of a Doonesbury comic from the seventies (and this is from memory) where a member of the Walden commune was being asked to do the dishes.  She asked why the men didn’t have to do the dishes and the older woman asking her pointed out that the men did do the dishes, but this time it was her turn.  As the younger woman walked away, she muttered something about “After the revolution...” and the older woman said, “After the revolution, we’ll still need to do the dishes.”

After the ecstasy, the laundry.  After the revolution, the dishes.  I have two takeaways from this:

The first is the simple fact that no matter what transformation we go through, we still will have to do the work.  In fact, the work is just part of the process and the most revolutionary thing we can do is to make sure that the work is being done by everybody, more or less equally.

The second is to question the place of laundry and dishes in a future sustainable culture.  After the Great Turning (to use Joanna Macy’s term), will we still do laundry and dishes?  We are, after all, the only animals to wear clothes and eat off of plates.

However, except in some tropical paradise, I can’t imagine that very many people will be able to go naked (especially in colder climates) and live off of fruits and berries.  But will we clean our clothes and dishes (and bodies) in the river?  Will we have a sci-fi future where we use sonic devices for our cleaning?  As Niels Bohr is supposed to have pointed out, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.”

In any case, no matter what happens, there will still be work to do.   What the work is, isn’t as clear but clearly we will still need people to do it.

Quote of the Day:  “To sustain spiritual life, we need each other’s eyes and hearts as surely as we need help creating food and shelter.  This reflection and encouragement is no small thing. …
“The experience of being truly seen and honored by another reminds us of who we are.  We cannot underestimate the importance of the awakening we bring to one another.”  - Jack Kornfield