There is an excellent book called ‘After the Ecstasy, the Laundry’ by Jack Kornfield. The title captivated me the moment I laid eyes on it, and it did not disappoint.
The premise of the book concerns what one does after so called ‘enlightenment’. Books about spiritual epiphanies rarely follow up with what happens after such life altering moments. Our mundane tasks do not simply dissipate. The banality of life does not suddenly cease upon experiencing such moments of ecstasy.
With this in mind, I’d like to put forth the following hypothesis: one of the great achievements one can attain is the capacity to simultaneously and successfully cultivate both your inner spiritual world, and that of the external material world. The balancing act between these two (often) contradictory realms is where the sweet spot of life resides.
One of the skills I pride myself on most is my ability to entertain two diametrically opposing theories at the same time. This is a skill that most certainly can be cultivated, and is one that is increasingly beneficial in our modern society where people are becoming further entrenched in dogmatic ideologies. Nuanced opinions are becoming few and far between, to the detriment of the progression of our society. The skill to consider contradictory theories can also be applied in order that we cultivate our spiritual selves whilst simultaneously carving our paths in the material world, a path driven predominantly by ambition and achievement.
The caveat that comes with this is that the opposing forces at play (inner peace versus external achievement) can cause significant tension and conflicts of interest. With increasing practice comes the enhanced ability for such mental gymnastics. However if you have become very committed to your beliefs, opinions and personal identity it can represent a great deal more to admit that where you may be mistaken (one of the reasons Trump supporters are so resistant to acknowledging objective assessments regarding the incompetence of their choice of president — to admit their mistake would be a great indictment not just on their vote, but on the very nature of their characters).
Spectrum of Types
On one end of the spectrum we have the spiritual mystic who has chosen to live an ascetic life, having renounced all material possessions and relocated in isolation to meditate forever more. Although an incessantly tempting lifestyle (at least hypothetically), it feels as if it is the easier road to take — it avoids the test society and life places before us. In contrast we have the egotistical corporate individual pursuing all the trappings of the material world, recklessly engaging in hedonic pursuits in the futile hope that it will fill the gaping sense of longing in their life.
Our generation have been somewhat insulated from the realities of the real world because the traditional period for transition into adulthood has been extended, largely due to the security university provides us well into our twenties. This can result in a skewed or at least underappreciated expectation of the realities life entails. There is a significant difference between theoretical learning/posturing versus actually going out into the world and implementing what you have learned. The real world doesn’t give a s**t how Zen you are unless you can implement such calmness in pressure situations. This, however, is a good thing. It is immensely rewarding to see the work you’ve invested in yourself spiritually and emotionally manifest itself tangibly in the material world. This positive feedback loop provides the requisite motivation and navigation to keep going.
This is a reconciliation every single one of us has to make across the globe. It was reassuring reading the aforementioned book to hear stories of Western Zen masters, Buddhist monks, and Indian sages who experienced divorce, family struggles, and ordinary stresses themsleves. Nirvana is not a place we reside in eternally (at least not whilst occupying these physical bodies). Enlightenment is instead an experience rather than a state, one we can repeatedly experience. The preceding periods of adversity and hardship we inevitably all suffer allows us to fully appreciate those moments of bliss and inner peace that we so crave.
In A Nutshell
My suggestion is that the person who can pay their taxes, take care of their administrative tasks, go about their daily activities with conviction AND simultaneously adhere to a spiritual practice, cultivate their higher self, and explore experiences of bliss and ecstasy should be admired and emulated. It is a challenging but ultimately rewarding orientation for life.
The Ithaca Diaries
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