Oct 16


Space Capsule Re-Entry

Imagine spending time in outer space for an extended time and now you are making your way back home to Mother Earth.  As you begin to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere your space capsule begins to experience resistance to your approach.  Continuing to plummet under the force of gravity this resistance increases and your capsule heats up to the point of flaring and giving off sparks.  If not perfectly aligned as you knife your way through the atmosphere you could become consumed by fire and blow up.  Home coming from a long journey is kind of like that.  As you return you experience re-entry friction.


Returning home from an extended journey can be more of a shock than what you experienced arriving in the country you visited.  I have found this to often be the case.  Too many times I have been full of excitement about what I have discovered and desirous to share this bounty with friends and family.  Seeing my self as the returning Hero my enthusiasm can easily be quashed.  What I thought my home was is no longer.  It is more like what Odysseus encountered when he had to be in disguise to even enter his house that had been taken over by a band of strangers. 


As much as I had changed because of my travels I didn’t take into account how the rest of the world had been changing.  Or how, in many cases, there has been a lack of change and your return is a reminder of this.  Either way you aren’t welcomed home the way you may have expected.  And this aspect of our travels is, too often, not addressed and can create a lot of disappointment and pain.


Take for instance your desire to share the great stories you have to tell.  Or the photographs you want to share.  On the positive side, family in particular, will often be polite and agree to listen or look.  However, unless it’s your Mom, most will quickly lose interest and even become fidgety.  There are remedies on how to avoid this and make your sharing more effective and I will refer to this later.


For a moment, let’s take a step back and think about who and what you are returning home to.  For starts, everybody you know, even if they have been regularly keeping up with your posts about your trip, are deeply immersed in their day-to-day lives.  There is a certain rhythm to this that helps maintain life.  As much as it is possible there is an imposed regularity that can be deadening for many.  (Taking a break from this is one reason why we take vacations in the first place). 


Returning home you find your self in the role of the Disturber.  The re-entry friction you experience isn’t felt just by you.  The community you return to see you as this disturbance to their status quo.  Your stories can disturb peoples’ comfort about staying at home.  They can awaken alternative views about things.


In Robert Greenway, The Wilderness Effect and Ecopsychology (p.133-135) he writes, “ A key issue becomes how to maintain, or integrate, wilderness-learned modes of knowing when living again within our culture. … Practices such as meditation, when seriously undertaken, are explicitly designed to facilitate the arousal of nonegoic awareness.  To be able to open to the same awareness that occurred in the wilderness through an ongoing practice could extend the transformations of consciousness into everyday life within the culture.  I think this an important key to minimizing reentry problems.”


“I also suggest coming back slowly as possible. A few days at a “half-way house” between wilderness and full cultural experience has been extremely helpful.  I counsel wilderness participants to leave the wilderness without regret, without holding on, to find healing in the transition, and also to plan for continuing transitions between wilderness and culture on a regular basis.  It also helps to establish political and cultural relationships with the wilderness visited.”


Greenway’s suggestions on how to manage returning from the wilderness can be extended to how we manage reentry shock.  Like “the wilderness experience” the “traveler’s experience” has become its own reinforcing process, which is felt as discrete from our normal home based cultural experience.  To bridge back to this requires integration to transfer the effects of what has been learned. With out that, what is gained is often lost.


I recommend the following points for returning from any journey: 


  1. It helps to maintain the meditative stance that served you through out your travels.  Such a practice is always foundational to anything else you do.
  2. It is useful to find an intermediate place to spend some time in before completely returning. (You can get off the plane and go right to some retreat on the beach, forest, or mountain.)  You can build this into how you developed your travel plans in the first place.
  3. Spend time to write, draw, and edit photos or some other activity that helps you both reflect on what has happened as well as documenting it.  This also gives structure to how you can share your experiences when the time comes.
  4. Slow things down.  Don’t attempt to immediately dive into home based activities.  So many of us take pride in “hitting the pavement running”.  To really be productive it will help to first stop and get grounded.
  5. Plan for times to return to the way you felt when traveling. Wander about by doing ‘mini-journeys’ around the neighborhood or near by places.  This will help exercise and keep alive that non-dual state of attending connected to the shifts in consciousness experienced at times when on the road. 
  6. Also plan on how you may establish a political or cultural relation to where you visited.  This can be as simple as reading news and journals about this place(s) or you could contribute to some cause affecting this place.  For instance, advocating for the elimination of clear cutting of the forests in Borneo.


Greenway, Robert.  “The Wilderness Effect and Ecopsychology.”  In Roszak,T., Gomes, M. and A. Kanner (eds.) Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind.  San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995.

1 comment

  1. Jonathan Bender

    Nice, Jeff. It took me a good month to integrate the 3 weeks I spent this summer in Bali. More so because it was a huge energetic shift, and coming back into my regular life was quite discombobulating – even though I had several days off scheduled in upon my return. I followed a lot of your steps, and it was helpful – but definitely took time!

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