After enlightenment, the laundry

by Gilbert Ross

photo by elaine faith

photo by elaine faith


As I was reading the article “A gentle honesty” on the blog ‘Beyond Karma’ the other day, the Zen saying “After Enlightenment, the Laundry” came to mind.


In the article, Kaushik, the author of the blog and the post in question, was asking how it is that sometimes after some experience of deep inner awareness that awakens us from our limited patterns of thinking, we return back to our same old selves?


To quote Kaushik’s own opening lines:

“A strange thing about awakening is frequently we feel we are very conscious, but then life throws something at us and we react in the same conditioned way we always did. It’s a humbling experience, and that’s the point of it.”


How is it that after some brief moment of enlightenment we relapse back to the same old habits and limited views?


This naturally leads to other questions such as “is enlightenment or spiritual awakening ephemeral”? Is it some short excursion beyond our boundaries just to give us a taste of what it’s like to be in a higher state of consciousness?



From the divine to the mundane


I find these questions to be genuinely pertinent and important.


Did this ever happen to you? Did you ever experience those rare and beautiful moments at some point in your life when you suddenly see things with perfect clarity? A sort of a blissful moment accompanied by deep insights that reveal different depths of you inner and outer reality?


Such experiences make you feel you are well beyond your everyday perception of your existence.  In actual fact you truly are. This is why it is called a transcendental experience because it transcends beyond the limits of the self-centered ego and connects with the higher states of your consciousness, the divine aspect of yourself.


Some time after the experience has gone, however, we feel sucked back into our normal mundane reality and back to our average worldly experiences and petty everyday problems. We find ourselves on the merry-go-round again with others going hectically about their busy daily life without any hint of that spiritual spark we just held in our hands just some time before.


Some things start tasting a little bit bitter when the sweet after taste in your mouth starts to fade away doesn’t it? It’s like finding yourself doing the dishes or taking out the garbage after a few weeks of mind-expanding traveling. Or as the saying itself goes, finding yourself doing the laundry after a moment of enlightenment.  It just feels like one reality shatters the other.



The illusion of the two realities


Here is where we should be careful. Actually it’s not one reality shattering the other in the sense that entering one state annihilates the existence of the other. They truly are one and the same reality although one aspect of it is more conditioned than the other.


The sense behind ‘after enlightenment, the laundry’ is actually mirroring this little dilemma but in the same breath also prescribing a way out of it.


The dilemma arises because we tend to see everything from a particular point of view. This is an inescapable position for every sentient being. So, when we change our point of view or our depth of perception and state of consciousness, we feel that one ‘reality’ started where the other stopped.


This is not truly the case. The statement ‘after enlightenment, the laundry’ can be seen as being said by a third-person who objectively observes that both states are actually the same from his point of view. Nothing really changed. That observer can be our inner self – the core of our being.


Another thing the Zen saying points at is that sometimes we are slaves and victims of our own expectations when we think that these enlightened states of mind are a one way ticket – a point of no return. Even life-changing experiences such as transcendental states of consciousness brought about by meditation, near death experiences, big transitions in life or just simple contemplations are just moments in time.


On some level these experiences are irreversible. They have changed us forever or at least opened some door in our reality which will remain open.


On some other level, however, the experience is transitory and finite. At one moment we are elated with the transcendental state of mind, soon after we are carrying on with our normal daily agenda.



Embracing the continuum



Accepting this continuum with grace is the solution behind the apparent dilemma. If we get entrapped in the expectation that some brief moment of enlightenment will change us into a super version of ourselves is what brings forth the disappointment.


It’s a truly liberating notion to grasp that the core of our being, that undercurrent that lies beneath our thinking and perception, is the same whether we are in a state of enlightenment or doing the laundry. If we understand this, and feel it with our hearts, we have escaped the dilemma and accept our ‘mundane reality’ with peace and enthusiasm.


Accepting the mundane more open-heartedly however does not mean denying or forgetting your spiritual self. You have to cultivate it and keep the spark shining through.


As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the sensational best-seller ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ said when asked about how she felt when returning to America after a year of travel on a spiritual quest to find God:


“There is a small, new, holy part of me which I hold onto and treasure very carefully – cupping it in my hands like a freshly lit match. I try to protect that new part of me as much as possible from the sheering winds of 21st Century America. (Generally, this means avoiding particularly spastic invasions of too much television, consumer debt, competition, over-consumption, success-pressure, greed and other forms of our daily cultural life.) This is not to say that I walk around in constant, perfect bliss, or that I’m not still capable of exploding with rage at minor frustrations, but I do live differently now. “

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

govind August 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm

: ) the beautiful pointlessness of life…it just is….isn’t it?

Gilbert Ross October 3, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Hi Kaushik,

Thanks for your valuable comment. I will read Adyashanti’s ‘End of your world’….thanks for the tip. What you are saying is an important truth. In a way expectations are an obstacle to our awakening but in some other way they are an important part of the way we operate in this world. They are necessary because they are an integral part of any intelligent system. If we didn’t have expectations and anticipate things around us we wouldn’t be as intelligent as we are. Yet the next step to awakening and living consciously is letting go of some of those expectations.

I particularly like the sensible comment that there is nothing good or bad about expectations. It’s just the way we are set up.

Thanks again for your comment

Gilbert Ross October 3, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Thanks Dani!!! I’m delighted you liked it.

Kaushik October 3, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Hi Gilbert,

Thanks for the mention.

It’s funny, I’m reading Adyashanti’s End of Your World (or something like that) and what you say here is an important part of Adya’s message. Awakening is a continuum. We can’t help but have expectations–these can be the desire to come out of misery or the reaching for bliss or power, and there is nothing wrong or right about this. When expectations are dropped, the journey flows better.
.-= Kaushik´s last blog ..Floating… =-.

Positively Present October 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Really great post!!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..becoming the me i want to be =-.

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