When thinking about integrating any profound experience, such as a return to life after a pandemic, we’re going from a slower, deeply internal place to a much faster external space.
Do you remember what it’s like to return home from a retreat?
For me, what often arises is the feeling of everything moving too quickly, that there’s too much to do, and that I must remember all the lessons I learned from the retreat and put them all into practice immediately. I’ve taken hundreds of retreats in my life—from dancing at Esalen Institute in Big Sur with Vincent Martínez-Grieco, Jonathan Horan, or Andrea Juhan, to manifesting my destiny with Tony Robbins and seven thousand other people in a hotel ballroom in Chicago, to drinking Ayahuasca deep in the jungles of Peru and dancing with my demons. One thing all these experiences had in common is that at some point, I had to go home and try to integrate what I learned into my daily life.
In the past, I’ve tried to jump back into my old life as if nothing had changed; as if I could just restart the movie from where I left off. This had the opposite effect from what I’d intended. Instead of re-entering my old life as a stronger, more whole person, I flailed about. I crashed from exhaustion. I got overwhelmed. My old life didn’t seem to fit anymore. My old life wasn’t different, but I was, and I had to learn to adjust.
I’ve learned over the years that the transition, if done with intention and mindfulness, has the potential to be one that can serve my growth rather than cause me harm.
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Here are seven ways to manage the shift that you might find helpful as you re-enter the new, changed world in your new, changed form:
1. Go slowly. Go more slowly than you think you need to. And then slow down more.
Whether or not you realize it, your life has slowed down and your nervous system has acclimated to a slower pace. The buzziness of your old life has become a faint memory to your nervous system. Be prepared for everything to feel like it’s moving at high speed as you venture out. Titrate this pace by planning to do only half of what you used to do. Then hack that in half, so you’re only doing one quarter of what you used to do.
2. Do less. Don’t plan anything extra.
Don’t plan anything that’s not absolutely necessary at first. You may be tempted to shout “Yeehaw, I’m free!” and go about your normal summer frolicking or manic errand running. Resist the urge. During a visit to Peru, after a two week immersion into being turned inside out and put back together by Ayahuasca and the skilled maestros, I found myself just two hours from Machu Picchu. Everyone said I needed to go—it’s freaking Machu Picchu after all, and I am a lifelong adventurer! But I boarded my plane home without making the extra trip because I knew that in the process of going there, I would lose some of the lessons I’d learned during my journeys. I’d lose the chance to integrate a new open state of being into my life. So I didn’t go, even though I wanted to, because integrating the lessons I learned during my journeys was more important to me.
3. Be ruthless about managing your attention.
Everyone wants your attention. It’s your most valuable commodity, and marketers everywhere are vying for it. You have a choice where your attention goes. Learn to focus it on places that feel good to you. This is especially important if you’re an extra sensitive person like me. One lifesaving trick I have is to put on my noise canceling headphones and play soothing music. Those suckers put me in my own blissed out world, regardless of what’s going on around me. I particularly love listening to Ayla Nereo in my private world inside my headphones.
4. When in doubt, self soothe.
The world can feel like a bristly pine cone when we’re especially sensitive. What can you do to make it feel like a warm bath? Try drinking a cup of chamomile tea instead of a cup of coffee (bring it with you in a thermos so you can avoid one more stop). Wear clothes that feel delicious on your skin, like a flowy silk dress or your most comfy t-shirt, instead of something more restrictive. Put a few drops of your favorite essential oil in your palms, rub together, and inhale deeply (or put a drop inside your face mask).
5. Be your own best friend.
If you’re out and about and you get overwhelmed, speak to yourself like you would a dear friend. Place your hand on your heart, say your own name, acknowledge your feelings, and speak kindly to yourself. I might say something like this to myself, “Oh, Donna. I notice you’re picking at your nails. What is it you’re feeling anxious about? How can I help you relax?” And if I pause and listen, my body will tell me what to do. My mind may want to say, “Oh, come on. Suck it up. You’ve done this a million times and never felt anxious before. Can’t you just get over it? We have too much to do today to take time to deal with your issues.” But that would just escalate the anxiety. If I take a minute to really be with myself with kindness, I become a kinder person, little by little, and then can be kinder to others.
6. Move your body regularly.
There may be some emotions or fears that have lodged themselves in your body recently. One of the easiest (and most pleasurable) ways I’ve found to let the emotions and fears flow through me is dancing. Regular dancing creates a fluid, flexible state of being. Dancing is like doing a cleanse for your psyche.
7. Don’t try to make sense of it all too soon.
Let it be amorphous. Let it unveil itself to you as you need it. If you try to create structure from the unstructured time that just occurred too soon, you will be creating it from the same mind you’ve always used. But your mind is in a more fluid state now, and the potential for change is great. Have the courage to take the time to allow the lessons to unfold rather than going out and naming them too soon.
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Keep in mind a transition period isn't forever. Putting these measures in place, or at least being mindful that we’re entering into a transition phase, will not only help you feel better, it will also help you grow and integrate the experience into your life in a way that serves humanity.