Creativity for the Rest of Us



Photo by Lila Danielle

I’m just finding my feet again after two back-to-back retreats. The first was a heart opening experience at Mending in the Mountains – a retreat for women who have experienced cancer. The second was Patti Digh’s Life Is A Verb Camp – a summer camp for adults focused on creativity, courage, community, and compassion.

They both took place in beautiful, natural surroundings – a Montana ranch just west of Yellowstone and Asilomar, a conference center on the Monterey Peninsula in Northern California. Nature is one of the best co-conspirators when it comes to opening our hearts to creative and inner personal work.

I enjoy retreats. Whether leading or attending, the good ones combine a mash up of my favorite things – learning, connecting with others, stretching myself in new ways, with practical tools to take home.

The most challenging stage, every single time, is re-entry. That time when we return to our homes, work, and families feeling in an altered state. This can be challenging for many reasons. Our families and friends haven’t shared in our experience. We may have experienced a breakthrough, deep personal insight, or profound healing experience that we are unable to put into words. Even if we can articulate it, they may have no idea what we’re talking about, really.

As a leader of retreats and participant in many, here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years that are helpful with re-entry.

1. Go slow. If you’ve been in nature or other slower rhythms, take it easy. Nature’s rhythm is medium to slow. The fastest way to blow your “Yo” is to race home, start the laundry, and dive back into the frenzied pace you left behind. Attend to your pacing and take it easy. Savor the experience as long as you can. Enjoy naps.

2. Be gentle. With yourself and others. For those in families – with partners, children, roommates and others who have supported or been affected by our being away – there can be a desire from them to get back to normal as soon as possible. This sets up a conflict when we want to savor our experience as long as we can. “What’s for dinner?” is probably not what you want to hear when you come in the door. If you are the primary doer in the household or office, your absence has created a disturbance in “the way we usually do things.” Ask about their time while you were away. Appreciate how they stepped up to support your ability to go. Meet any upset with equanimity. You have nothing to apologize for or feel guilty about. Don’t let anyone suggest otherwise.

3. Don’t spend it. Don’t waste your words on vain attempts to describe to others a heart opening experience you may have had. There is no way they can fully understand. Hold off on any rush to share all the great things you’ve learned and your ideas on how things are going to be different now. You’ll only succeed in scaring them and cause potential anxiety the next time you go away. Give it some time. Let things settle in. Go ahead and make the changes you’d like to initiate for yourself. Leave them out of it, at least for a while.

This has been a big learning edge for me. I spent many years and lots of money going to workshops and retreats, ostensibly for my own development. Truth be told, I was more often than not listening for what I thought would be helpful for my spouse and daughter. My family learned to be suspicious, waiting for the latest new idea I wanted to institute that they hadn’t signed on for.

4. Make time for integration. Transformative experiences require integration time. Make time for silence, reflection, journaling, creative expression, and moving your body in ways that you enjoy. They are all useful tools to help incorporate and embody the experience. Taking time in nature works well for me. If you work in an office, take a walk outside by yourself at some point in the day. If we rush right back to work and our to do list, the experience doesn’t have a chance to fully land in us and won’t last.

5. Ask for what you need. I have learned over the years not to schedule anything important the day after my return, especially if I’ve been teaching. I need the down time to integrate and rest. You may want nothing more than an hour for a hot bath while they want your attention. Negotiate. As a family, we’ve learned this the hard way. It took a lot of frustration, disappointment, and irritation to get there. We now know what to ask for and give that to each other. We remind each other that we are all in re-entry.

6. Let stuff go. Be aware of your expectations. If you’re the type who likes things to be exactly as you left them when you return, you are setting yourself up for disappointment – unless you live alone. We may not like it if the dishes aren’t done or the house isn’t as tidy as we would like. We get angry if homework isn’t done or the list we left behind isn’t complete. Relax. Nothing eternal is at stake here. They took the weekend without you for their own retreat. Respect each others process.

There is a natural resting place that comes after a spiritual and creative expansion that can happen on retreat. An ebb and flow – like breathing out and breathing in. We’ve been listening more intently, holding space for each other and expanding ourselves. Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re sleep walking for a few days. Our bodies need rest from all the stimulation. The glow may fade. The experience doesn’t have to. We may need some work to protect it. It’s all part of the practice.

7 Responses to “Re-entry”

  1. Tammy Vitale says:

    Lovely process – thanks for sharing! and: two retreats back to back! Strong Woman!

  2. I love this helpful article. It can apply to so many experiences. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Mary!

  3. Grace Bower says:

    Great post with well-earned wisdom. I forgot one of my usual self-care practices that will go to the top of the list again.Make sure there are snack meals, comfort food and healthy options in the freezer and minimum preparation ingredients – and some snacks of both the indulgent and healthy kind as you transition into your family and work life.

    I have been profoundly affected by the re-entry support of our Asilomar group through the Eversnap photos and the postings of personal experiences so we get to say “Me too” – or “I never thought of it that way until now”.

    Thank you for sharing YOU at camp.

  4. Ellen says:

    This is exactly what I am going through! Thanks for sharing Mary Corrigan 🙂

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