How to Gracefully Reenter Life After a Retreat or Vacation


You are not a penitent.

Many years ago, I wrote in The Woman’s Retreat Book about reentry after a retreat. I’ve shared that content at every retreat I’ve led because reentry is often so difficult and so much can be lost through a careless return to ordinary life. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

We so love planning the retreat or vacation – or at least anticipating it – yet we may avoid endings (who likes to say goodbye?) so we ignore that things end. Which means we come home to chaos or loneliness, and perhaps both, and lose the benefits of the retreat or vacation more quickly, and maybe even convince ourselves it’s not worthwhile to ever leave. Let’s just stay home and work all the time. Or “It’s too threatening to my partner, too hard for my business, too much hassle to treat myself to a retreat.

Please don’t believe those lies. You simply need a more mindful reentry plan! Here’s a few ideas to consider:

1. Honor your reentry desires.

What would make your return to ordinary life easier? Jot down a quick desire list. Need to call a friend to put milk and gluten-free bread in the fridge? Make a dinner date with your BFF to share pictures and stories? Make clear requests from your kids or partner to clean up the kitchen before you return? Be willing to ask for what you want to ease back into life. This is not to be underestimated!

2. Reject Puritan Backlash.

Otherwise known as, “I did something fun for myself so now I will work 15 hours a day, eat only kale, exercise two hours starting at 4 am, launch a tech start-up, and repaint the Sistine Chapel by Thursday.” Please flush the superhuman act down the commode. Instead:

What can you cancel now that is scheduled during the first week? Wiggle out of? Let go of? One of my Taos writing retreat gals did not cancel helping her daughter with her garage sale the day after she returned. Not fun. Less is best the first week back. Especially if you say, “But I can’t cancel anything!”

3. Dissolve all big plans for change, especially the self-improvement kind.

Many of us leave our healthy habits on vacation and then get snarled up trying to get back to “normal” too fast. Start small. Instead, use Conditions of Enoughness and lower the bar on what new behaviors you will embark on. One small change at a time please. Five minutes of meditation, not twenty. Or even one minute! Ten minutes of writing into your project, not quit your job and write a mega best-seller by Saturday.

4. Touch the experience of your retreat or vacation often.

Put your hand on your heart and savor a memory – slipping into the moonlight ocean, your beloved’s face eyes crinkled laughing, the light in your eyes after a day following only your own desires. I call these “snapshots of the heart.” Thirty seconds reliving them while breathing in and out of your heart resets your nervous system.

5. Protect what’s sacred.

Especially after retreats, you may find people in your life wanting to pin you down on what happened, like a dead butterfly in a display box. After my Taos retreats, I’ve had bosses and co-workers corner women and demand, “Did you write your book!? Is it done??!!!” (In a week???) Have a tiny elevator speech ready for these needy souls (they want to be brave enough to do what you just did but they don’t know that so they try to take it from you). Talking about the food or the weather is often a great diversion: “Oh, the chocolate cream cheese muffins, you would have loved them!” Or asking how that difficult person in the office has been. Off they go!

If they persist, you need to be firm. “I’m not ready to talk about it yet but thank you so much for asking.” Protect what you nurtured into life.

6. Be greedy.

What will keep the spirit of the retreat/vacation alive? A massage? A Saturday hike? Extra noodling morning time over tea and your photos? Feed the goodness, feed the life you really want to build.



P.S. The more you say “not possible” when you read this, the more you proclaim how behind you are, the more you need to take a sliver of compassionate action on your own behalf. If reentering with others, share this post and brainstorm (as a family or roommates or even a team retreat): what would be a great reentry for all of us?

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[…] Reentering your life after a retreat or vacation. […]

Michele Engel - August 10, 2014

Thank you for this, Jen. I say that because I learned these things from you a long time ago (your books and then your Taos retreat about ten years ago), and I have put them into practice ever since. It has made the vacation/retreat time so much more satisfying knowing that I will be easing back into reality. I also make it a point to treat my self kindly the week BEFORE going away by protecting my schedule so that my leave taking doesn’t have to be frenzied and nerve wracking. I’m a recovering procrastinator (read “perfectionist”), so it doesn’t always work out great, but just setting the intention and making some effort towards that goal protects me from major bruising. 🙂

    jenniferlouden - August 17, 2014

    thanks Michele so good to hear!

What I did on my summer vacation (and how you can get the most out of yours) - August 12, 2014

[…] Be gentle and intentional when it comes time for re-entry. We all know about the crash that can come after a good vacation, when you have to return to work and routine and bills to pay and broken relationships to deal with and school to prepare for and… and… Be kind to yourself when you’re coming back home and be intentional about making this time as positive as possible. We built in a day of downtime (when we had very few expectations of each other) between arriving at home and having to be back at work. One of the other things I did this time around that helped make re-entry more gentle was a thorough housecleaning before we left. It was nice to return to a newly steam-cleaned carpet, some new-to-us furniture, and clutter-free space. For more on re-entry, read this helpful blog post from Jen Louden. […]

Weekend Treats | Visible and Real - August 16, 2014

[…] How to Gracefully Reenter Life after a Retreat or Vacation by Jennifer Louden Super duper helpful, and one that I will be thinking about as I prepare for a four day retreat next month. […]

How to Gracefully Reenter Life After a Retreat or Vacation - Eusophi - October 6, 2014

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Writing Marathon — Reentering | Sharon Wildwind - January 6, 2015

[…] Here’s Jennifer’s blog about how to gracefully reenter our life after taking time away. Reading what she has to say is a great way to start this new year. […]

Millie Hue - March 20, 2019

I like that you pointed out that we should be aware of the reason why we are going back to our normal lives since it is important to ease smoothly into it. I will share this tip with my sister before she even books a Christian retreat for herself so that she will not have the same issues after the trip. She just needs this space after she got divorced from her husband of ten years which is why the change is a really huge step for her.

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