Friday, June 29, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: After The Ecstasy, The Laundry

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

After The Ecstasy, The Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path by Jack Kornfield

Yup. A spiritual book. DON'T RUN AWAY IT DOESN'T SUCK. This Friday, in the midst of the mess of moving that has recently become my life, a book about spirituality seems like the right choice. Especially this book. Because this book isn't like other touchy-feely oovy-groovy books about the Spirit and the Heart and the Whatnot Behind the Spleen that Feels Funny When You're Sad. It's way cooler than that. It was, yes, a little life-changing for me, and not in the I've-seen-the-light-and-it-is-telling-me-to-go-to-India-and-become-Enlightened way. In the most awesome, practical, and helpful of ways. So:

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it?

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
Yup. That's me. Via The Compassion Project. You know, it's
kind of surprising, but when I google "meditation is hard" or
"I suck at meditating" I STILL only get pictures of happy
calm lotus-positioned people. PROPAGANDA, I say.
This book was written by a very nice dude named Jack Kornfield. He's a pretty famous Western Buddhist, and he cofounded a meditation center called Spirit Rock not far from where I'll be going in California. He's pretty well known for his book A Path With Heart, which is all about learning to meditate, if you like that kind of thing. Let me set the record straight right away: I don't like meditating. I suck at it. I know that I probably wouldn't suck at it if I actually practiced, just like I probably wouldn't suck at playing the piano or making any dish involving ham, but the point is I don't want to. So, my dear darling cantankerous readers, rest assured, I would not be recommending this book if that was what it was about. He is, however, a very well-spoken, straight-forward, clear-minded writer and thinker, which is not surprising because he, unlike me, is good at meditating and it shows, even though he doesn't brag about it because being a Buddhist mostly means not being an arrogant self-righteous dick. (Somehow, though, I meet a lot of people who seem to have missed the memo on this. "I AM MORE ENLIGHTENED THAN YOU" is, well, not not a thing I've heard before.)

2. What the f!#& is it about?
Talk about speshul-snowflake-land. I actually - to my complete
surprise - enjoyed Eat Pray Love - the book, that is, not the movie.
Gilbert's writing was actually pretty damn funny, but GODDAMIT
tourism is still the same thing - "finding yourself" is all about
how to become magical ALL THE DAMN TIME so you
don't have to do the laundry. You know who NEVER
does the laundry? JULIA ROBERTS, THAT'S WHO*.
Via Salon: "The New Colonialism of Eat, Pray Love".
*See note about my lack of compassion in #5. 
After the Ecstasy, The Laundry is basically about something totally awesome: the idea that, well, we all want to get enlightened and have spiritually meaningful experiences and whatnot, but somehow nobody ever talks about the fact that after you find God or experience Nirvana or whatever, the real world is still there. And it's still boring and frustrating and full of things that don't feel magic and special and sparkly with the joy of existence. And a lot of people have a very hard time with spirituality of any kind because they're seeking an experience that will take them out of the ordinary world into speshul-snowflake-land where everything is easy and beautiful all the damn time. And, well, that doesn't f!#&ing happen, obviously, and this book is about that - about the search for it, and the myth that it exists, and how to deal with it. And basically, it says, when you stop searching for the totally transcendent experience that will make everything wonderful 4 EVAH, it turns out that meaningful spiritual experience tends to show up a lot more and be a whole bunch easier to get to. In short, it's a book about spiritual experience in a world where it's a lot harder to live in the woods and think deep thoughts, and where most of us still have to do the laundry whether or not enlightenment decides to show its face.

3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
This is a really great book to read when things feel like they suck a lot. Jack Kornfield is a very reassuring writer. He's got this nice, slightly rueful, gentle way of talking that makes you (well, me, anyway) feel like he knows what frustration feels like, he understands the feeling of being far away and estranged from meaning, he gets what betrayal by a teacher or mentor is like. He's been there. He's not so smug and enlightened himself that he's unwilling to talk about his own mistakes, short-sightedness, dashed expectations, fears, and anxieties. But the book itself is so warm and delicately written that it's hard, for me at least, to read it without feeling my heart soften and hope enter.

4. When the f!#& is it set?
It's about modern spirituality, and it's not limited to Buddhism by any means - he talks about the spiritual experiences of Sufi mystics, Jewish rabbis (is that redundant? it's totally redundant), Christian saints, etc etc. And he brings in modern events (for example, the sexism of the Dalai Lama's administration) as well as the writings of ancient sages and visionaries. He's not one of those obnoxious writers who flattens all spiritual traditions into one big "love thy neighbor" theme, but he does point out that the frustrations of trying to integrate a healthy spirit into ordinary modern life is hard for just about everybody, even those who can afford to do things like wander around Nepal or go to ashrams in India or join a cult.

5. Why the f!#& should I read it?
I'm not sure why, but I really, really love this. Via My Ego Traps.
Well, see, this book is helpful. Especially if you're a snarky, suspicious, modern gal like me, who kind of desperately would like to have a rich spiritual life but has no idea how to do it without ascribing to some kind of dogma that seems patently ridiculous. It's a book about being an ordinary person and trying to find meaning that makes sense in the context of a life that is scrambled, confusing, and often full of ugly things. The hardest thing for me in seeking out a spiritual life has always been that, well, ordinary life is still there. No matter how much I try, I can't see the beauty of a laundromat or a strip mall or Mitt Romney. I have a really hard time feeling compassion for people who order small half-caf lattes with extra foam - not too hot! - in a large cup when there are a dozen people in line and only one barista and then don't tip. I just can't seem to hold the vast harmony of the universe inside me all the time and I don't have time to practice. I don't want a mentor because I'm suspicious of people who claim to have answers, the people I admire the most still sometimes act like dickbags, everyone I've encountered who is very spiritual seems also to be totally cray cray, and well...this book calms me the heck down. Every time I read it, I remember - oh, right. I'm not doing it wrong. And you know, that's a f!#&ing great thing to be reminded of. Jack Kornfield makes me feel like there's not actually such a crazy dichotomy between the weird and miraculous and wonderful aspects of existence and the dull, boring, apathetic, tedious things. You don't have to suddenly start seeing all of ordinary life as magical in order to validate your extraordinary magical experiences. The hardest part of spirituality, this book says, lies not in finding spiritual experiences to have, but rather in finding a way for the fragments of beauty and meaning we do encounter to make sense in the context of our daily lives. And it's possible. It really is. You don't need to meditate to do that (although I'm told it helps). I don't know about you, friends, but me? When it comes to making sense of the mess of wonder and horror and general f!#&ing tedium that is the human condition, I need all the help I can get.


  1. Okay, this book sounds really interesting to me. In light of my post today, maybe you can understand why.

    I can't meditate. Honestly, I just have better things to do. Meditating (in our culture) seems to me to be an indulgence, mostly of the rich (1%). Like people who go and work out for 3 hours a day.

    My actual issue is with the "pursuit of happiness," of which spiritual enlightenment is a part. Happiness, contrary to popular belief, is not a destination, so pursuing it is pointless. Happiness is a by-product. If more people would realize that, more people would be happy.

    Oh, and just for the record, I am more enlightened than you. :P
    Well, not more than -you- but more than most yews. heh
    No, I'm not arrogant at all.

  2. I think that meditation, like yoga, has been very much taken out of context in the West, and is seen as a kind of "wellness" or "wellbeing" practice (I have an allergic reaction to both those terms at this point, rather as I do to "eco-friendly consumerism") designed to Make Your Life Better rather than being a practice of devotion to humility and compassion for others. Sigh.

    That being said, even in the East, Buddhists aren't all fat gentle smiling monks, oh dear me no. Monasteries went to war, yo. How dearly we love our stereotypes.

  3. Oh, certainly. Because, here, it's all about "me," just like everything is about "me."

    I think people forget that meditating monks invented martial arts. heh


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