Post-Retreat Malaise. It’s a thing.

This is me on a retreat in Wisconsin. Don’t I look well-rested, vibrant, wise compassionate, and funny?

I have the ridiculously rich fortune of going on a wee retreat or a whole weekend every single month. How lucky am I, right? Last month I was in the mountains of Colorado for the weekend leading a yoga retreat. Dreamy. Yesterday I was on a wee retreat; a Saturday Morning Retreat in Philo, Illinois. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these retreats are a delightful way to spend a morning. Everyone wears comfy pants and sits on the floor. We do yoga. We ask big questions of ourselves without having to be totally sure of the answers. We eat snacks & everyone thinks the snacks I bring or make are A M A Z I N G. They rave over my random mix of nuts & raisins as if I am a freak-of-nature-child-prodigy snack provider.  People are quiet, not because I’ve asked them to but because everyone likes it that way. It’s not all serious and Oprah “AHA!” moments, but it is so darn nice to be together; think of a few things, move a little, and just shut up.

And then we all head home at noon. I like to drag out cleaning up my stuff in order to extend the transition between the retreat and going home. It’s tough to walk in the doors too soon after the retreat.  The kids see me coming and start yelling (YELLING!) moMmommOmMomoMommOmmmmmmMMMM.

They assume I really want to see the refrigerator box they brought home from the store and have placed in the living room, which they are now redesigning as their play house, bringing all their toys down, their pillows & bedspread because they are going to sleep in it tonight. I would have written that whole sentence in all CAPS to give you a better sense of how it feels, but that would make you stop reading and I wouldn’t blame you.

The dishes that I didn’t want to do the night before are still on the counter. My husbands asks what the plan is for dinner. I remember (again) that we don’t have any coffee or laundry soap and I have no idea where that movie from the library is that my kids never watched and was due a week ago.

Every retreat is a similar home-coming experience, whether a wee retreat or a weekend retreat. While I’m at the retreat I have a wonderfully spacious experience of gratitude, clarity, patience, and strength. And then pppbbbbththhthth. It’s over.

This is me post-retreat. I had to fake this selfie because no one was there to help me. The house was a mess. It was No Fun.

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist Meditation teacher that wrote a brilliantly titled book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry; How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path”. His words give me some serious relief that I’m not a horribly hypocritical person for my experience of Post-Retreat Malaise.

Times of profound peace and newfound love are often overtaken by periods of loss, by closing up, fear, or the discovery of betrayal, only to be followed again by equanimity or joy. In mysterious ways the heart reveals itself to be like a flower that opens and closes. This is our nature.

The only surprising thing is how unexpected this truth can be. It is as if deep down we all hope that some experience, some great realization, enough years of dedicated practice, might finally lift us beyond the touch of life, beyond the mundane struggles of the world. We cling to some hope that in spiritual life we can rise above the wounds of our human pain, never to have to suffer them again. We expect some experience to last.

Yesterday I tried everything to keep the wonderful feelings of the retreat going, despite the refrigerator box in my living room.  I made myself a cup of tea and sat on the front porch, hoping that if I gave myself a little distance I could draw out my sweet peace for 30 more minutes. But that plan turned in on itself. I got stuck behind my own effort, as I would say in a yoga class. I wasn’t ignoring them as much as I was giving them all my attention and pushing them away as hard as I could. My effort was going in the wrong direction. Guh. I gave up.

I loosened my grip on the retreat that was over and done with, and opened myself up to where I actually was in the present moment. I let the girls tell me about their trip to the appliance store and show me around their play house; oooohing and aaaaaahing at every magical window they drew.

The Meditation Mantra of the Month is the word “aparigraha”, which means loose grip, non-grasping, non-clinging. This grasping and tight-fisted grip might show up for you in your stuff, your work, your relationships, your emotions, whatever. Honestly, it shows up for me all over the place.

And the next retreat is November 17th, if you want to try out some of this post-retreat malaise I’m talking about. It’s worth it, I promise.

Peace on your head, you.



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