Going on retreat can be deeply impactful. It is time spent outside the ordinary rhythms of life and often also outside ordinary states of mind. Coming back after a retreat can therefore be a challenging time, although one that’s full of opportunity. Below are some suggestions on how best to care for yourself post-retreat, while respecting the experience you’ve just had.
First off, don’t expect loved ones to understand. You may feel you’ve made important realizations or changed in significant ways that need to be communicated right away. But someone who wasn’t on the same retreat as you were (and it’s often said that no two people will ever have the same retreat) will only be able to get an approximate idea of what you’re talking about — and to be misunderstood on something you feel to be profound can lead to disappointment and loneliness. On the other hand, discussing with a spiritual teacher, mentor, or friends who are practising in the same system as you are can be helpful.
You should also remember you are likely to still be in an altered state of consciousness — the home you return to is the same, but your mind is different. You might find yourself questioning your current situation. You might be tempted to take dramatic action based on a new perspective. This new perspective may indeed be valid. But still, give it time!
A baseline shift from a retreat will only begin to be obvious after some time — two weeks or more — has passed. So, do not make any big decisions such as changing job, ending a relationship, or making any confessions or confrontations. Such decisions can still be made when the dust has settled.
Also, consider journaling. Journaling helps you track the arc of the days and weeks post-retreat. While this leaves you with a record of any important ideas, emotions, memories, or potential plans for the future, journaling can also be an effective practice by itself. Verbalising your thoughts and feelings, externalising them and seeing them on paper can lead to positive outcomes such as clarity, relief, and catharsis.
In the course of your reflections, you might notice the benefits. You might feel more peaceful, happy, optimistic. This is a result of the work you did. This can be an opportunity to rejoice in your work and develop a sense of agency and self esteem.
Since the time following a retreat is when its benefits are most clear in awareness, motivation and inspiration are likely to be high. Set intentions for what you deem important:
- increasing the time you devote to practice
- thinking ahead and organising your next retreat
- making small changes that will lead to your happiness and the happiness of those around you
Unless you’re sustaining a consistently high level of frequent practice, things will gradually tend back towards the status quo after a retreat finishes– even if the status quo may have shifted slightly. This can be expected as work, relationships, and old habits begin to tread their well worn pathways of the mind.
However, this presents a new opportunity for understanding if you can notice old conditioning re-emerging. It can seem easy post-retreat to think we’ll never have arguments like we used to, or that we won’t be bothered by the small stuff anymore. Bringing awareness to these old patterns as they begin to play themselves out again can help us to see more clearly that we always have a choice in how we respond.
Or you can take the advice of Adyashanti: stay on retreat! He doesn’t mean not coming home; rather, he means bringing the retreat home with us so that it doesn’t need to end. You can hear him talk more about this here.
Finally, whatever happened on retreat, hold it lightly. Maybe this is a real insight into yourself or reality, and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s a passing mood, or else it might be a more permanent shift in consciousness. Whatever it is, by not grasping the results of retreat too tightly, you protect yourself from creating any expectations. Whatever you are feeling after a retreat, take it with a pinch of salt and keep an eye on it — this means the fruits of your work can ripen in their own way, in their own time.