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After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path

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“Enlightenment does exist,” internationally renowned author and meditation master Jack Kornfield assures us. “Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the divine ... these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away.”

But even after achieving such realization — after the ecstasy — we are faced with the day-to-day task of translating that freedom into our imperfect lives. We are faced with the laundry.

Drawing on the experiences and insights of leaders and practitioners within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions, this book offers a uniquely intimate and honest understanding of how the modern spiritual journey unfolds — and how we can prepare our hearts for awakening.

Through moving personal stories and traditional tales, we learn how the enlightened heart navigates the real world of family relationships, emotional pain, earning a living, sickness, loss, and death.

336 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Jack Kornfield

152 books1,196 followers
Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, India and Burma. He has taught meditation internationally since 1974 and is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He began his training after graduating from Dartmouth College in Asian Studies in 1967. Then he joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to the Public Health Service in northeast Thailand, which is home to several of the world’s oldest Buddhist forest monasteries. He met and studied under the Buddhist master Ven. Ajahn Chah, as well as the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. After returning to the United States, Jack co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, with fellow meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein. He is also a founding teacher of the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California, where he currently lives and teaches. Over the years, Jack has taught in centers and universities worldwide, led International Buddhist Teacher meetings with the Dalai Lama and worked with many of the great teachers of our time. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is a husband, father and an activist.

His books have been translated into 20 languages and sold more than a million copies. They include, A Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, A Path with Heart; After the Ecstasy, the Laundry; Teachings of the Buddha; Seeking the Heart of Wisdom; Living Dharma; A Still Forest Pool; Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart; Buddha’s Little Instruction Book; The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness and Peace, Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are, and his most recent book, No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 293 reviews
Profile Image for Steve Woods.
618 reviews61 followers
February 19, 2014
This is a great book. Kornfield has written quite a lot and it's all quality. This book will mean most to those who have been on "the path" for a while; who have struggled with the sense of confusion and doubt from time to time, just not knowing where they are or what they are doing there. That the journey is consistent for all (though not exactly the same) no matter what their tradition is reassuring in many ways. The orientation this work provides and the relaxed way in which it is presented have been of great help to me. It came to me at yet another turning point and helped to push me forward into the place where divisions and differences are melting away. It has been timely.
Profile Image for Robert Day.
Author 5 books31 followers
December 29, 2014
So, I started reading this about 5 years back and reached the end of chapter 13, then stopped. It was too deep and too fast for me to keep up, so back on the shelf it went.
Then, about 2 years ago it came back off the shelf, and, because I enjoyed it so much the first time, I started reading from the beginning. I reached chapter 7, and back it went on the shelf. Can't remember why; I probably started reading something else instead knowing me.
A couple of weeks ago I started to keep track of the books I have and have read using Goodreads, and I discovered several unfinished books; and because the website allows me to rank books according to the Average Rating, I started reading the unfinished books again by rating order - best rating first.
I have really, really struggled to finish this book off, and I'm not sure why. I love the little stories and quotes the author uses to illustrate the various points he makes, but at the same time I find this method to be contrived and artificial. It's a bit like the way that statistics can be used to prove pretty much anything. The author picks the points that support his point of view.
Who am I to criticise, not being as enlightened as the author must surely be, but at times I just simply didn't agree with some of his points of view. I found myself looking forward to the quotes and then wading my way painfully through the rest of the sticky, sickly sweet prose in-between them.
Maybe I'll pick this book up in another 5 or 10 years time and 'get it', but for now.. I just don't - sorry.
Profile Image for Camilla Lombard.
74 reviews1 follower
March 11, 2017
I've read this book a few times and now I enjoy picking it up at random like an oracle: it is always spot on and devastatingly true (in a good way). Definitely a desert island book for me, and it continues to provide great perspective on this human experience. And Jack is funny! That always helps.
Profile Image for James.
373 reviews20 followers
October 17, 2018
I'd shelve After the Ecstacy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield next to Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind Beginners Mind.

"Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, there are only enlightened events" (Shunryu Suzuki, xx-xxi). "In awakening, our whole sense of identity shifts. We let go our small sense of self and enter the unbounded consciousness out of which we come. What becomes known with absolute certainty is that we are not and never have been separate from the world. . . . When our identity expands to include everything, we find peace with the dance of the world. The ocean of life rises and falls within us--birth and death, joy and pain, it is all ours, and our heart is full and empty, large enough to embrace it all" (92-3). "Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity. . . . What we are speaking about is moment-to-moment enlightenment, one enlightenment after another" (Shunryu Suzuki, 122) "Since everything is none other than exactly as it is, one may well just break out in laughter" Long Chen Pa, (281).
Profile Image for Meredith.
131 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2020
The flavor of the lessons in this book by Jack Kornfield reminds me of the song at the end of The Hobbit 3, "The Last Goodbye" (https://youtu.be/q8ir8rVl2Z4):

"...Over hill and under tree,
through lands where never light has shone,
by silver streams that run down to the sea,
under cloud, beneath the stars,
over snow on winter's morn –
I turn at last to paths that lead home.
And though, where the road now takes me, I cannot tell,
We came all this way, but now comes the day to bid you farewell.
Many places I have been.
Many sorrows I have seen.
But I don't regret, nor will I forget
all who traveled with me.
Night is now falling.
So ends this day.
The road is now calling, and I must away...
...I bid you all a very fond farewell."

In 'After the Ecstasy, the Laundry,' Jack Kornfield writes poetry, literature, lore, and advice on what it's like to embark on the hero's journey of a spiritual awakening. He also excerpts accounts from mystics, nuns, monks, and other spiritual pathfinders on their experience. And, reassuringly, they all describe what a struggle it is to get back to day-to-day reality after they've been to the mountaintop.
After the ecstasy, there's the laundry.

I've always admired how hobbits are exceedingly good at getting back to the laundry. I think it's tied up in the same qualities that convince Gandalf they're the best of Middle Earth, and most resistant to corruption by the One Ring. I'm just human, though, not a hobbit, and reading how even Super Nuns lose their temper or resolve sometimes when faced with the daily task of living and other people... well, what a relief!

I mean, even Bilbo Baggins struggles a bit with the whole post-awakening thing. He gets home after his adventure to find that he's been declared 'Presumed Dead,' and his property's being auctioned off! Most of his silver spoons are never really recovered (we all suspect the Sackville-Bagginses were responsible). And more:

"Indeed Bilbo found he had lost more than spoons – he had lost his reputation. It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way; but he was no longer quite respectable. He was in fact held by all the hobbits of the neighbourhood to be 'queer'-except by his nephews and nieces on the Took side, but even they were not encouraged in their friendship by their elders."

But, despite the petty dramas and perpetual getting-on (with or without spoons) of The Shire, Bilbo maintains the magic he got from his quest to the Misty Mountain and carries it with him and lets it transform the rest of his life into something quite beautiful (even though, and maybe because, it's ordinary):

"I am sorry to say he did not mind. He was quite content; and the sound of the kettle on his hearth was ever after more musical than it had been even in the quiet days before the Unexpected Party. His sword he hung over the mantelpiece. His coat of mail was arranged on a stand in the hall (until he lent it to a Museum). His gold and silver was largely spent in presents, both useful and extravagant – which to a certain extent accounts for the affection of his nephews and his nieces. His magic ring he kept a great secret, for he chiefly used it when unpleasant callers came [until, y'know, he gave it to Frodo, of course]. He took to writing poetry and visiting the elves; and though many shook their heads and touched their foreheads and said "Poor old Baggins!" and though few believed any of his tales, he remained very happy to the end of his days, and those were extraordinarily long."

May we all have the courage to step beyond our front doors, get swept up into an adventure, risk losing our reputation (be notorious! as Rumi would say), and get us some ecstasy. May we all do laundry like hobbits afterwards – and, failing that, take comfort from the accounts in this book that we're in good company.
Profile Image for Bish Denham.
Author 7 books36 followers
October 24, 2015
This is not a "how-to" book on how to attain enlightenment, meditate, or become a Buddhist. What it is can best be described by what is written on the back cover. "Drawing on the experiences and insights of leaders and practitioners within the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Sufi traditions, this book offers a uniquely intimate and honest understanding of how the modern spiritual journey unfolds -- and how we can prepare our hearts for awaking. Through moving personal stories and traditional tales, we learn how the enlightened heart navigates the real world of family relationships, emotional pain, earning a living, sickness, loss and death."

What became abundantly and wonderfully clear to me as I read this book is that we are all the same. How we choose to make the journey (whether as Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu, etc.) is not important. What is important is that we make the journey. There is no SINGLE way, there is no WRONG way for, it seems, that ALL ways lead us to the same place where we discover we are all ONE and where we have a very similar experience (whether it's called enlightenment, Buddha nature, Christ consciousness, God etc.) If each of us came to understand this single basic truth there would be peace on earth.

Profile Image for Rachel.
460 reviews7 followers
October 9, 2010
I didn't like the beginning of the book where Kornfield provides many different accounts of enlightenment. I am not going to reach enlightenment, or go on a week-long meditation retreat, or join a monastery for years. I am just trying to meditate regularly and be here now and see the world for what it is, rather than what I want it to be. The second half of the book was better, but I found that the first person narratives interspersed throughout the book took away from the lesson as often as they added. I think I'll try another of the author's books, and see if I like them better.
Profile Image for Belikin Ilya.
9 reviews
October 10, 2022
I enjoyed it! I love how many familiar aspects it touches and how grounded the offered reflections are. It is interesting to read it immediately after Waking Up by Sam Harris, who shares a different point of view on the unity of spiritual paths between religions, religions as institutions, and near-death experiences. While advocating for similar practices of mindfulness.

The reality of laundry 🧺 after ecstasy 🤩 is universal and profound. It is common to see people cling to extreme experiences insisting that they are always very close to staying there forever.

Letting go and discovering the wisdom of a middle path might be challenging when what drives us is an attempt to escape where we are. Both trauma and passion, success and failure, might trap 🪤 us in longing for what is not.

A "stable manic" seems to be a common desire. It could be pretty confusing when a manic state is framed as "spiritual awakening" while depression portrayed as "lost oneself". I know it was confusing for me when my rather "spiritual" friends only acknowledged me as me in a state they prefer, saying presumably inspiring things like "ah, I see you found yourself again."

I love how gently this book points to another perspective: humility and gratefulness—a possibility of accepting where we are and its beauty.
Profile Image for Kaye.
Author 6 books34 followers
May 26, 2022
Highly recommended for anyone who has had a spiritual experience and who is working through how to integrate it into their life.

Reading this book has been a pressing to-do item looming over me precisely for what it is about — a multifaith discussion of what happens after the peak experiences that many of us have. In modern paganism and polytheism, we often take these experiences to be life-changing, as if we are living in The Matrix or the Harry Potter series, when in fact many of us have ordinary lives — a rhythmic quotidian and a banal life-path. I have seen so much pressure on the one hand from people to turn a spiritual experience into something, claiming authority to teach or to be a leader, and on the other from people pointing out that peak experiences are not meant to be the sole thing on which we base our practice. How do traditions that have a less toxic relationship to peak experiences, with many generations of tradition, handle these things?

My first thought on picking up this book on Saturday was a sense of self-betrayal for having held off from reading it for so long. Already by page 38, I had been given better spiritual advice by someone ossified in 2000 than living people in the 2020s. Due to reading Platonic commentaries instead, though, I had a running commentary in my mind of statements in Damascius’ Phaedo commentary and some earworms of sentences in Platonic dialogues. Reflexively — and here the benefit of immersion into a specific school comes in — I was able to orient myself with respect to what I actually practice. Kornfield is a Buddhist (Zen, I think) who orients the excerpts from a variety of faith traditions in terms of the terminology and psychological-to-spiritual landscapes he knows from Buddhist teachings, much like how I wrote The Soul’s Inner Statues as a beginner’s guide to prayer, but cannot separate my advice from my Platonizing practice.

People who reviewed this book badly on Amazon (where it has 4.xx stars) often call it unrelatable because most practitioner narratives that Kornfield pulls for case examples involve some form of temporary or long-term asceticism, retreating, or other secluded experience. I spend 30 minutes praying every morning and work a 9-5, and I still had a spiritual experience that pulled the rug out from under me while reading Hermias. Regardless of someone’s lived context, the advice on how to approach experiences and build them into one’s life instead of reifying them, how to live in the world after them, and so on, are important pieces of information for all of us. I read this book very fast, and yet I will hopefully savor it — I’m already finding myself more present in quotidian things that have been challenging for me to value since 2019, and I needed Kornfield’s reality check.

Outdated words are used on occasion — for example, the Inuit are referred to with a term that is now understood to be a pejorative. Thinking back to 2000, the year I turned 13, almost nobody knew that at the time, and the replacement of that term with Inuit, Iñupiat, Yupik, and so on, was gradual in the 2010s. There are, however, some places where we can see striking similarities to the world of today. Kornfield was active in a Buddhist response to racism in the 1990s in California, as just one example. His discussion of how to bring awakened compassion to issues like racism, the climate crisis, gender equality, &c. show just how little has changed in human societies, especially the United States. Those passages could be at home in any current events opinion piece.
Profile Image for Angelica Taggart.
Author 2 books17 followers
July 17, 2012
This is my current spiritual book circle read ... and the first time I've read Kornfield. We've gotten lots of discussion from each of the chapters. I really like it!
Today we finished the book -- excellent!! (Took us 17 weeks as we did a chapter a week - each one was meaty!) I'm going to find some of Kornfield's other works ... loved the simplicity and the stories.

Profile Image for Nancy.
6 reviews
February 7, 2019
This book has been a constant go-to for strength and inspiration since I first read it years ago. It's filled with countless stories and examples of patience, perseverance and grace through the eyes of a man owning his spiritual path. A must-read for anyone that is exploring buddhism or just merely a more spiritual way to life without dogma of a Religion and the social stigmas that go with it.
Profile Image for Martin Denton.
Author 17 books18 followers
December 27, 2022
Sometimes the book you need just magically comes to you; reader's karma or something. That was the case for me with this book. In it, Jack Kornfield explores paths toward enlightenment and, more importantly, living with what you've learned and discovered once you've arrived near or at enlightenment.

This book is mostly a collection of reflections and anecdotes, ranging from the kinds of koans and tales you often find in books about Zen or Tao, to the honest and often heart-wrenching testimonies of masters and practitioners who have made profound discoveries about themselves. One of the most important aspects of After the Ecstasy is Kornfield's conflation of practices from many different faiths--he brings the stories of Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sufis, Muslims, and Christians together in this book, and allows us to see that all of these belief systems ultimately share a core commonality. Throughout the book, various routes to arriving at illumination are explored, and various approaches to sustaining that illuminated state are considered.

I found much wisdom here, and much to inspire me. And, as I mentioned at the top of the review, much that I am able to bring immediately into the place I am in my own life right now. I'll close with a quote from Kornfield that felt particularly apt to me: "The wise heart is not one that understands everything--it is the heart that can tolerate the truth of not knowing."
Profile Image for Sabrina.
348 reviews7 followers
February 19, 2020

To bow to everything that is.
The heart holds more freedom and compassion that ever imagined.


Awaken to the perfection all around us


What happens after the enlightenment?
To live our understanding with a full heart.
True path of compassion

Plant a tree for every five years of life

A mirror for self understanding

Buddhism practiced in modern world

Letting go and opening the heart is special but can happen to anyone.

Birth process
Breaking apart

False ego

Flow of our karma
Nirvana is so much more you done renounce the world you gain the world

Baba Yaga


We are not just here to toil in our work

The gateway opens through loss or despair grows them to look for solace

The original mystery of childhood


Rumi poem the guest house

Near death experiences
Opens to spiritual awakening
Finding the light that makes us all
Children -see angels
Never afraid again


We live in complication, distracting and demanding.
Quiet ourselves enough to listen to the voices of our hearts beyond our daily affairs. Prayer or meditation.

Native American
Small stone around big during fasting

The silence of the forest

The dragon scales removed
The hectic energy inside us
Open our hearts

Learning to die before death

Death is our constant companion
Turn to him to ask advice



Personification of source of creation
Allah, god
Sacred emptiness or great void
Cannot visit god if you are there.
Nothingness. Selflessness. Egoless.
“I am nobody. Who are you? Are you nobody too?”
Emptiness or self via meditation
Emptiness of the void


A solitude so deep we become transparent

Vast peace

The understanding of Emptiness is contagious
Emotions presence effect others
Masters opening students just with their presence

We share the air with trees
Breathe trees breath
Drink the clouds


Empty and full
Winter cool and warm summer at once


Emotions like ripples that come and go
Not solid self

Not about gaining knowledge but to love. Gain in the midst of things. The illumination of the sun every morning.

The fall
The descent
God’s will
Our shadow comes into the light
The raw aspects of ourselves
Expansion and contraction

Honor and recognition of the demons
Shatter only our illusions
Embrace them and they turn into a rainbow
Stop grasping and let things go their course
Let go is to embrace that what is true

When the fall occurs
Akito- embrace the aggression and move with it

“When a dog is chasing after you, whistle for him.” Emerson

What we resist makes us frightened. What we embrace becomes transformative

Healthy attachments

Market “I love to go and see all the things I am happy without.”

Love of the self we have rejected
Wise heart compassion to imperfection
Content with changing of the seasons
Accept our place in the mandala of life

The sorrow beneath our busy consumer lives

Tibetan lamas melting snow with inner heat

Spirit and instinct in sync

The church says the body is a sin. Science says it’s a machine. Advertising says body is a business. The body says I am a fiesta.

The point of illness as a gateway and invitation to wake us up to bring us back to what is important.

The point of spiritual practice is not to wait for illness. Draw on life and health we have now.

It is illness that makes us recognize that we do not live in isolation but are chained to a being from a different realm, worlds apart from us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body. Were we to meet a brigand on the road, we might manage to make him conscious of his own personal interest if not our plight. But to ask pity of our body is like talking to an octopus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the sea, and with which we should be terrified to find ourselves condemned to live.
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (In Search of Lost Time, #3)

The simplest physical task are entry
Each act done for the beloved

Monks and San Quentin

Out of touch with feeling

Running from your shadow
False emptiness
Can’t escape family background


Tolerance and respect in familial relationships

Tolerance and you will see beauty of their hearts

Territorial and defensive

Eating the blame
Strength and compassion

All that lives. Our true family


The Buddha the Dharma the Sangha

Modern American individualism
Key-spiritual friendships

Store clerk and the baby

Mother of the murdered child

Potatoes in a pot-community

Love god by loving your neighbor

Tge cause and result of every action
Kind intentions-karmic result
Our hearts are seismicgraphs
ReSet heart compass

Period of rest

Trim tabs to change our course

Awaken a benevolent heart despite everything

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nicole.
368 reviews22 followers
July 7, 2020
More of us have experienced moments of enlightenment awakening than we think. The thing is that after we have that moment of transcendence, that feeling of connection to limitless cosmos, that divine love, we're...still ourselves. Because of that, and because so often these moments don't contain an external witness, we might feel we have less experience of spiritual awareness than we do.

This book is a wonderful affirmation of these moments from a wide range of spiritual traditions, though Buddhism remains at the heart. Jack Kornfield's writing and presence in that writing is tremendously loving and compassionate. "After the Ecstasy..." strives to present "enlightenment" as something that is actually quite accessible, and by stripping it of its romanticization, make us realize that we've likely stumbled across it, or at least near it, before.

When I was in my early and mid-twenties, I was thoroughly miserable, both to be around and in my own mind. Every so often, however, the clouds would burst, and I would have a moment of illumination, where everything fit into a harmonious cosmic whole that I was seamlessly a part of. These moments were horribly brief, and after, I would go back to being a mess. I finally understand now that I had yet to do the therapeutic work I needed to hold onto this feeling, and hadn't wanted to face the trauma I was carrying. I've grateful to it for giving me the insight to realize that I was capable of something beyond feeling shitty about myself, but still clung to the wish that it had stuck. Kornfield reassures us that the transience of that blissful state is normal, and I love him for it.

The great teachers of each spiritual traditions are not the exception. We can all experience the mystic, and probably have. It's the everyday that we struggle with, the forgetting of the whole outside the myriad. Still, it's there, whenever we take a moment to tune into whatever brings us closer to it.
Profile Image for Mati.
989 reviews1 follower
November 8, 2010
Meditation and recognition of inner self can be the basic stone of every religion and every philosophical movement. The book is just about that. Finding inner self, calm and the satori or whatever you call it in different ways from Hindu, Jewish to Christianity way. The author put synthesis of the movements and religions only to show how one can reach the ecstasy but also that after touching the peak, there is always the day after which is demanding in the same ways as reaching. However when you know bliss of your awaking there is always some craving to touch it again. The book of calm, I would call it. It was interesting to read.
Profile Image for Heidi The Reader.
1,389 reviews1,470 followers
August 27, 2013
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry is a masterpiece. Kornfield outlines the shifts of consciousness that we all make each day and how even enlightened monks struggle with their spirituality and families. He brings examples from different religions to create a unified picture of enlightened spirituality and expresses the hope that by raising our own individual consciousness that we may in time change the world. May it be so.

This was the first book that I have read by Jack Kornfield. I may need to pick up A Path with Heart now because I enjoyed this one so much.
Profile Image for Joan.
7 reviews
September 23, 2012
This book, along with everything I've ever read or listened to by Pema Chodron, has added so much to my serenity! Thank goodness for these gentle and fearless souls who attempt to make the philosophy of Buddhism available to the western mind and heart!
Profile Image for Amy Beth.
97 reviews1 follower
March 7, 2018
This is one I will be reading again. Packed with juicy wisdom. It should be savored.
Profile Image for Sam.
23 reviews14 followers
December 22, 2020
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (2000) is a book by Jack Kornfield, a renowned Buddhist and meditation teacher. This is the second book I’ve read by Kornfield, the first being the best-selling A Path With Heart (1993), which I’d highly recommend as an introduction to Buddhism and a practical guide to Buddhist meditation, including the practices of mindfulness and metta.

In the late 60s, after graduating from Dartmouth College, Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in the monasteries of Thailand, Myanmar, and India, first as a student of the well-respected Thai Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah (whose insights are included in After the Ecstasy). Chah was a founder of two monasteries in the Thai Forest Tradition, a branch of Theravada Buddhist monasticism, Theravada being the oldest school of Buddhism, tending to be more conservative in its doctrine and monastic discipline than Mahayana or Vajrayana (or Tantric) Buddhism. The Thai Forest Tradition – with monasteries located in the forests of Thailand, as the name suggests – aims to practise Buddhism in accordance with pre-sectarian Buddhism, that is, Buddhism as it is thought to have existed before it was divided into its various subsects.

After spending several years living as a monk in various monasteries, Kornfield brought the teachings of Buddhism and the practice of meditation back to the West, as did his friends who also travelled to the East, including Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg. In 1975, he co-founded the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts with Goldstein and Salzberg; this centre was based on the Theravada tradition of Buddhism and as such offered retreats based around vipassana (or insight) meditation, a meditation that involves the cultivation of mindfulness in order to gain insight into the true nature of reality or what is known as the ‘three marks of conditioned existence’ in the Theravada tradition: dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anatta (non-self), and anicca (impermanence). These terms come from the Pali language, the classical language of Theravada Buddhism, which the earliest Buddhist texts were written in. Through the Buddhist and meditation centres he set up, the talks he gave, and the books he wrote, Kornfield stands as one of the key popularisers of Buddhism and meditation in the West, alongside Goldstein and Salzberg, as well as teachers like Ram Dass and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I first heard of After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, when someone on Twitter posted a screenshot of its introduction, where the author states that the experience of enlightenment exists but these states pass – and so what happens to people after such experiences? That’s the focus of this book.

Kornfield emphasises we should be wary of romantic accounts of “fully enlightened sages in Asia or of wholly unblemished saints and mystics in the West”. These accounts can be enticing and promising but they are ultimately misleading, as “there is no such thing as enlightened retirement,” Kornfield says. So while enlightenment experiences are certainly possible, I have often doubted whether a state of permanent, inviolate enlightenment is possible, as Buddhism traditionally teaches. I wanted to read this book so I could find out how people’s lives changed – and didn’t change – after one or more mystical experiences.

What I discovered was a refreshing realisation: following an enlightenment experience, life’s problems are the same; these highly meaningful peak experiences don’t suddenly make everything in life easy to deal with. This humanisation of spirituality is important, as all too often, there can be a tendency to treat spiritual experiences as a sign of someone’s more-than-human status or think that decades of contemplative practice and self-discipline make someone preternaturally immune to hardship. But this isn’t so. As Kornfield shows, in spite of ideal narratives suggesting otherwise, spirituality cannot rid us of our humanness, and all the foibles and vulnerabilities that entails.

This more down-to-earth perspective recognises that enlightenment experiences can be transformative, beneficial, and life-changing, but they don’t fix suffering, they don’t eradicate the ego; neuroses remain intact, and ways of handling difficulties – both interior and exterior – are imperfect from time to time. Indeed, Kornfield stresses that there is no state of perfection following an enlightenment experience. And he clarifies this by providing personal (and anonymous) accounts from those who have spent decades of their life dedicated to spiritual principles and practices, with much of this time being involved in intensive retreats or monastic life.

Kornfield spoke with teachers and practitioners from a vast assortment of spiritual traditions, including Buddhism (Theravada, Tibetan, Zen), Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sufism, and yoga. In his conversations with teachers, masters, lamas, mystics, abbots, monks, nuns, and psychologists, Kornfield uncovers what these various people’s ecstatic experiences were like and the lessons that followed. Voices from both the East and the West are included (although accounts from Western teachers and practitioners predominate, which was Kornfield’s intention).

Many practitioners talk about the intense difficulties of re-entering modern life following ecstatic experiences, and all the concomitant stresses involved. These accounts speak to the hard task of applying acceptance, compassion, and kindness to one’s family relationships, emotional pain, career, finances, illness, loss, and death. In terms of the structure of the book, Kornfield divides it into four sections: the first offers descriptions of what draws people to spiritual life; the second details the different routes to ecstatic experiences or “gates of awakening”; the third provides an explanation of why awakening is only the beginning of a lifelong process; and the fourth notes all the aspects of experience which must be included in a mature spiritual life, these being the physical body, the emotions, our family, our community, societal and global issues, non-human beings, and the environment.

This book is filled with invaluable wisdom from the teachings and stories of the world religions, the great mystics, poets, philosophers, and leaders of the past, and the personal narratives of people that Kornfield interviewed. Kornfield himself writes in a way that is informed by the wisdom of his own life experiences, training, and teaching. His style of writing, which I came to admire in A Path With Heart, is often warm, compassionate, and poetic, although I can understand that at times his writing may feel hippy-dippy or too touchy-feely for some readers, such as those who are purely interested in secular Buddhism or secularised meditation; the repeated use of undefined terms such as ‘sacred’, ‘holy’, ‘divine’, ‘grace’, ‘awakening’, ‘enlightenment’, and ‘spiritual’ may be off-putting to some, and to be honest, I would have appreciated a clarification of these terms. It would be useful to know how Kornfield interprets these concepts and if they can be meaningfully applied to a more secular form of ‘spirituality’ (it’s a shame that an equivalent term doesn’t really exist to refer to so-called spiritual principles and practices, although terms like ‘self-realisation’ can sometimes suffice).

I think this book would appeal to those who have had powerful altered states of consciousness they are trying to make sense of, those who haven’t had those experiences but are interested in them, those interested in the world’s wisdom traditions, and those who are looking for some practical wisdom for living. This is not a book, however, suited for readers who want to learn how to meditate or deepen a meditation practice. For that, I would recommend A Path With Heart. I think After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, on the other hand, will be helpful to flip through time and time again, as there are many thought-provoking and illuminating messages and lessons contained in it. While the book is highly readable, it’s perhaps best to read it slowly or in short bursts in order to fully digest all the nuggets of wisdom.

Profile Image for Lisa Shultz.
Author 14 books81 followers
October 31, 2019
I started this book years ago and didn't finish it but I kept it. I tried again this year and finished it. I had to sometimes force myself to read not because it wasn't well-written but rather because it is best to read it slowly and contemplate along the way.
I found the gates of awakening of value and in particular the gate of sorrow. It explained my a growing compassion for those who are suffering. "It is as if our consciousness has broken open to the struggles of humanity and the earth itself."

I sometimes fight change. I felt a sense of peace when I read, "The deeper our bow to the awesome changing powers of life, the wiser we will be, and when we embrace them, they turn into a rainbow. Every color shines in the awakened heart."

There are many nuggets of wisdom that resonated with me and I will review the notes I took in the future to refresh myself when needed.
And finally, I leave you with this quote: "To use our life to move the world toward compassion and away from suffering is the only thing that matters."
Profile Image for Sara.
573 reviews14 followers
December 21, 2020
This is a grounding, generous-hearted book perfect for the come-down from a huge spiritual experience. It reminds us that all people--and especially those who've dedicated themselves to spirituality--are still messy humans, and that compassion and acceptance is meant to be practiced not just on retreat or on the cushion, but in our regular, everyday lives. Kornfield manages to instill forgiveness for one's all too human foibles, while still holding unethical spiritual leaders (such as those who sexually abuse their students) responsible for their actions. If you've ever felt bad for getting mad or confused, even after you've seen the face of your God of choice, then this book is for you.
Profile Image for Shandril.
139 reviews
January 28, 2023
This is my first Jack Kornfield book. I bought the book awhile ago, but finish it via audio, read by Jack. It is a gentle yet straightforward discussion about blending one's spirituality and daily life. How to contend with the rollercoaster of feeling ecstatic joy and understanding in the face of living in mundanity. I definitely recommend this book to all those people who are finding their own awakenings difficult to integrate in our topsy-turvy world.
Profile Image for Joseph Gendron.
242 reviews
May 23, 2020
Good stuff from a knowledgeable and experienced teacher.
"Enlightenment is our Inherent State"
"Spiritual Practice is only What You are Doing Now"
"The Wise Heart is at Peace with the Way Things Are"
Profile Image for Jenni Clark.
186 reviews2 followers
February 16, 2021
Loved some of the chapters/thoughts but others were a little hokey for me. It wouldn't be one I would suggest for everyone.
Profile Image for Kay Zhang.
28 reviews4 followers
February 25, 2023
What a life changing book! Life is for living regardless you are in Ashrams, mountain caves, or the laundry. I’ve learned to be in peace with myself, in this human form, with human limitations and all the beauties it brings. Embrace everything moments with love and Grace!
Profile Image for Lisa.
133 reviews4 followers
September 10, 2017
My thoughts, on After the Ecstasy, the Laundry by Jack Kornfield.

Okay, first of all I only got to page 105 out of 305 and I renewed it once. So, I'm going to admit this wasn't my kind of book. I didn't look forward to reading it. In fact, I avoided it at times. That being said, I did try and I made quite a few notes.

On page 26, is the story of a girl being married to a fearsome dragon. She goes to a wise woman for advice. The wise woman tells her to wear ten beautiful wedding gowns. As she takes off a layer, she must insist the dragon does as well. The first layer is easy but each layer after that hurts more and more. At the end, the scales and fearsomeness of the dragon is gone and she has a human prince groom. I like this story. It's pretty cool, IMO.

On page 36, the author uses Carlos Castaneda's work as a reference. My issue with this is that Castanda's work is considered fiction. To me that's a bit "off" to do for a "truth seeker."

On page 43, talks about the difficult question of forgiveness. I'm not into forgiving. I don't buy into the idea that it's poison to not forgive at all. However, I do like the idea and term of "making peace" with the past. That is something I do very well and find healthy.

On pages 52 and 53, it talks about achieving "clarity for days", this, to me is not meditation at all but rather being sheep like and seeking an altered state.

On pages 54 and 55, the book talks about "who am I" being the core. I think it's a useless searching. The book goes on to ask, "Is to become nothing the true state what we need and seek?" I'd have to say no. It might be a ridiculous trip not unlike one that drugs produce. The book continues, "All the stories we tell ourselves can be over written if they are not useful to us." Now THIS I do agree with. It's simple but very difficult to overwrite and at times, essential. Often people think they are lying to themselves in doing this. No. You are more likely lying to yourself NOW with your limitations that you falsely placed on yourself.

On page 61, "Awakened from our usual dreamlike state to a sacred way of being?" Okay I don't think that I live in a dreamlike state and I don't believe in the sacred at all. "Eternal wisdom of the heart." I don't believe in the "eternal wisdom of anything." Is this supposed to be some kind of sacred thing? Or is it supposed to be about genetic memories?

On page 64, Tara the Goddess of Compassion? I had to look that one up. Cool. Love the story about the tears of the Buddha springing to life and making Tara.

On page 79, Trying not to move or react to anything isn't my way. Action is needed while inner peace is maintained. When you allow yourself to be affected by the being of others what they have said and felt, it can consume you. Long ago, even as a child I sought balance by projecting the opposite emotions. Even now while I am touched by others I don't let them flood me.

On page 92, "Even within the great openness, the limitations must absolutely be respected." This I agree with. "Everything is alright just as it is." Yes! "I didn't need to do anything. I didn't need to try so hard." Exactly! "My whole body dropped away . . ." Yeah. Not so much. This is going overboard IMO. The body is important and should be well taken care of, not denied.

Profile Image for Lucy McCoskey.
384 reviews1 follower
October 12, 2018
at last, common sense advocating living here & now & just plain loving instead of spending the equivalent of 20 years in a cave. as Kornfield points out, you have to deal with the real world & its & your issues eventually. reality happens
Profile Image for Jason.
56 reviews5 followers
November 7, 2007
Jack Kornfield has a great knack for writing in a meaningful, pleasant way. You don't get the feeling that he is arrogant or pretentious despite having great knowledge in an assortment of different spiritual disciplines, primarily Buddhism. The basic premise of this book is that even though it's possible to obtain a fantastic sense of enlightenment and bliss on the spiritual path, we eventually have to come back down to our day-to-day lives. After the Ecstasy the Laundry.

This book has numerous snippets from spiritual masters that pertain to the current subject. It's refreshing to hear stories from people experienced not only in Zen, but Judaism, Sufi, and Christian mysticism. As you read this you'll get the sense and depth of Kornfield's skill as a story teller. Not only does he interject these snippets that he obtained from interviewing several teachers, but he also inserts several quotes from mystics like Rumi and Kabir.

One of the things that touched me the most in this book was how human even the wisest of sages turn out to be. Yes, they have experienced profound levels of enlightenment and yes they are wise. However, they still have to deal with family life, children, bills, stress etc. Many have also suffered relationship difficulties as they tried to juggle their spiritual lives with the compromising you have to do in a committed relationship.

Kornfield does a good job of offering practical advice on how to get over spiritual humps in the road. He suggests that we need to look at things with an open heart, an enhanced sense of compassion, and tolerance for others. This is especially poignant considering the fact that so many other people share different opinions than the ones we do. He also admonishes us to enjoy the mystery of life and to live in the present moment. Only by living in the present can we truly experience life and realize the wonder of it all.

What I have described above remains just a glimpse of the things covered in this book. I feel anyone, regardless of religious persuasion, can gain benefit by reading and contemplating the timeless advice contained within it. Read it for yourself and see if you don't agree.
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