I'm writing this because I am realizing we're at the cusp of the end of a very long "retreat."
At MAPLE (Monastic Academy), we go on retreat once a month, and so we exit retreat once a month.
This can be quite a shock to the system, so we deliberately set aside a day for integration purposes, where we slowly transition out of retreat into our normal work period.
For those of you who are chomping on the bit for in-person, social interaction, I would advise using intentionality about how you go about this.
It might be good if people made deliberate efforts to emphasize integration, as part of their transition process. It might be worthwhile to think through how you want your "integration rituals" to go.
Consideration for Rituals
I advocate for rituals—they seem to be an unintended victim of our modern age. We have forgotten about them. They hold no space in our minds as a thing to value. In the past, we wouldn't really have to think about our rituals; they would just happen as part of traditions passed down to us. Since we are in somewhat of a "tradition-scarce" age, it takes activation energy to prioritize things like intentional rituals.
However, this pandemic has meaning to people on every level. To the individual, to the family, to the group house, to the community, to the workplace, to the globe.
And so it is obviously a meaningful event for it to end. For the enforced retreat to come to a close, however gradually or unevenly the vaccination phase may take place across groups, states, and nations.
What kinds of meanings would you want to symbolically acknowledge? What would help your body, heart, and mind through this transition? What things need to be set aside now? What things need to be seeded and fostered now? What things need to be remembered? What things need to be envisioned for the future?
Who should be involved? Who do we acknowledge? Perhaps our own selves, having gone through this process. Perhaps the people we've lost. Perhaps the new life that has emerged. Perhaps the people we've been together with through this period. Perhaps the people we now are able to connect with in person.
Who is coming back together for this integration? Who is the new "we"? Who are we now?
The Integration Period
The other consideration here is how to integrate in such a way you don't:
- Burn out on too much social interaction all at once
- Get too disoriented
- Destabilize or harm others
- Rush unskillfully or heedlessly forward
- Stay stuck in a dead past with old assumptions
I'd consider doing an integration event with other people—the people you love or the people you plan on communing with.
Integration events can include:
- Shared meals with intentional topics of conversation
- This can include norms for taking turns or only one person speaking at a time
- Circling or other group practices
- Fire rituals / letting go rituals
- Singing or chanting together
- Sharing intentions about the future
- Creating accountability or sharing commitments; each person shares how they want to show up in the next day, week, or month*
- Sharing stories or expressions*
- Each person takes X minutes asking for something from the whole group (e.g. touch, listening, fun group activity, etc.)*
- Each person shares a song with the group (using Spotify or something), and everyone listens
- Whatever other ways you come up with to create common knowledge about what just happened, where we are, and where we're going
*I have specific examples on how to do these in particular. Feel free to ask me for details.
Consider how you can facilitate workplace integrations to occur. This may require some leadership on your part. How can you lead the way forward in a way that promotes emotional health in the workplace? How do you lead people through a group process that allows people to settle in, to orient, and not "pretend" like everything is the same as it was? Because it probably is not the same as it was! But also not everything is different, either. What is the same? What is different? Honor both.
People will need time to orient, adjust, and stabilize.
Even if some people are quick and others are slow, everyone should acknowledge this is a group process. This isn't something anyone is going through alone. I'd emphasize interconnection and interdependence, while honoring the individuality and uniqueness of each person's experience.
We should acknowledge that some people may have quite a difficult time with this transition—they may need extra care and attention.
Please consider how to best take care of yourselves and others. This may be a confusing and destabilizing phase. Or it may lead to a manic release of energy that results in regrettable actions and breaking things unnecessarily. Can we leave room for certain mistakes while minimizing harm?
If you have leadership capacity, or space for holding others, now seems like a good time to be available.
I seem personally more worried about "too fast" than "too slow." People moving too quickly to the next phase without reflection. People pretending that things are "back to normal." People acting like everything is OK or that nothing significant happened. People wanting to escape into work, activity, social energy, mania.
"Too slow" or "getting stuck" may also be quite a problem however. Like people who've lived in a cave emerging into bright light—if they get stunned or pained, they might curl back into their caves or get frozen in immobility. Residual fears may create a more paranoid atmosphere, a mistrusting atmosphere. It may take time to rebuild social cohesion, comfort, trust.
Whatever ways people can stay connected to themselves and each other seems good. Whatever ways you can cultivate a sense of calm ease, appreciation, and purpose seems good.
You may want to deliberately take time to appreciate this past period of time. No matter how hard it was or how miserable it was. It's generally a healthy approach to find ways to appreciate your lives, your efforts, and that of others. I recommend taking time (individually or as a group) to do gratitude rituals.
This post doesn't contain that many specific prescriptions on how to go about this. It's more a way to open up the conversation in case you haven't already done that.
I think many, if not all, of us will need to step into our own forms of leadership in this whole process, and this may be a good opportunity for practicing leadership qualities and skills. I believe it is needed now, so I invite you to take the opportunity.