I have just started reading a book by Jack Kornfield titled, After the Ecstasy, The Laundry. It was recommended to me by quite a few people, and while I have owned it for the 6 months or so, I am only getting to it now. However, picking up this book in the month of January feels like providence. Like the spiritual laundry that Kornfield speaks about, January can feel a bit humdrum. In fact, I feel sorry for January-it cannot be easy following the ‘ding-dong merrily on high’ magic-filled month of December.
Like the holiday season, Kornfield explains that “[e]nlightenment does exist. It is possible to awaken. Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the Divine, awakening into a state of timeless grace—these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away. There is one further truth, however: They don’t last” (p.xiii).
‘What??’ I can hear people gasp. It doesn’t last? Well, what he means is that anyone who has experienced these enlightened states doesn’t just remain in a state of unadulterated bliss. Indeed, life gets in the way. Like any meditation where one has moments of clarity alongside periods of chaos, ecstatic spiritual awakenings are followed by the monotony of everyday life. Even the Buddha returned to monastic life after reaching enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
Moreover, for many, January can feel a bit similar. While December has the propensity to deliver good will and images of ‘silent nights’ filled with hope and light, January can be grey and disappointing. So how can we cope with this pile of laundry? This aftermath?
Rumi wrote a famous poem that helps to remind us that being human means experiencing a range of cyclical emotions.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
If we can learn to allow our changing moods to exist within us, their power over us dissipates. And as their power dissipates, these emotions slowly move on, making room for our next moment of awakened enlightenment. So with a little patience and acceptance, this too shall pass. For every season has a turn….