What goes up ...
It’s exhilarating when we drop our defences and open up. We are lucky to have so many places where we can have these ‘expansive experiences’: from the wild spontaneous creativity of burningman (and its many satellites), through sex-positive events like The Summerhouse Weekend or Xplore, to the personal growth workshops that Sacred Pleasures and others offer. The content may be different but the end result is the same: you feel expanded, fearlessly vulnerable and vulnerably fearless. Wide open.
Returning to the ‘default world’ after one of these events can be tricky. In these spaces we glimpse how we can be with others and how groups of people can be together – and it’s often breathtakingly beautiful. We dare to do things we wouldn’t otherwise, stretching boundaries, pushing out of our comfort zone, showing up with more of ourselves than we usually do.
Then it’s time to return and we realise that, even though we’ve changed, the world around us has stayed the same. What the fuck? As well as this realisation, there’s a natural come-down from getting so open and high – whether that’s been achieved naturally or by other means. This article gives a few tips for riding ‘the drop’ and coming out the other side with the learnings integrated, ready to expand and open up once more.
As with any advice, it’s general and not every point will apply to every person. So if there’s something here that doesn’t work for you, please ignore it – you know what you need better than I do. Still, I hope that there’s something here that’ll support you through those tender droppy feelings.
(Note: some years ago I wrote an article about ‘the drop’ from a more spiritual perspective. If you want to read that one, you’ll find it here.)
I really welcome your thoughts on this article and also any strategies you’ve found more or less effective for dealing with the drop. Please post at the bottom if you feel like it.
Know that the drop is normal
There’s nothing weird about feeling a drop – in fact, it would be weird if you didn’t. Why? Because you just let your guard down, opened yourself up, dared to take risks and had new experiences. Just this alone would be enough, but you might also have generated (or ingested) chemicals that put you into an altered, ecstatic state. (Cool aside: research found that yogis who do ecstatic meditations showed very similar neurochemical patterns to those who take ecstasy. There are many ways up the mountain.)
After a high there comes a low; after expansion there comes contraction.This is normal and natural, it’s the Law of Return. We can’t go out there without coming back, but it’s helpful to know and recognise that the journey back is uncomfortable, even painful at times. Knowing that this is normal and not beating yourself up about it (“why can’t I just stay like this forever?”) is a great place to start.
Be kind to yourself, do lots of self-care
There are many ways to be kind to yourself. Self-care is a highly personal business and it’s important. For some folks, it’s holing up at home and not speaking to anyone for three days. For some it’s meeting up with friends to share the experience. For some a hot bath is pure heaven; for others a dip in cold water does the trick.
Although there are no hard and fast rules about self-care, there are a few things worth mentioning:
- try to eat nutritious and tasty food regularly
- do something to get your heart-rate up – whether that’s a trip down to the gym, a walk in the park or a playfight
- avoid emotionally-draining people and situations
- don’t overpack your schedule
Whatever makes you feel nourished and loved is worth doing in the days following an expansive experience. Not only does self-care make you feel better in itself, but you also feel better about yourself for doing it – so it’s a double-win.
Reflect on what you’ve experienced
One of the things that really helps us to integrate a big experience is to reflect on it consciously. This can take many forms, including creative ones. I love to share my experiences, as talking about what I’ve done helps me to cement the memories and provides me with learnings I might’ve missed during the experiences themselves. (An important note: please be aware of what you say as many of the experiences you’ve shared involve others. Talk about your own experience but don’t breach confidentiality.)
You might like to draw, paint, write, dance or sing your reflections. The medium doesn’t matter as long as it helps you reflect on what’s happened.
As well as reflecting on all the amazing things that happened, it’s worth going back over the challenges you faced. I’ve had a lot of expansive experiences over the past 15 years, and I notice a pattern: at each event there’s a moment when things become really tough, then there’s a big letting-go (usually a cry) and then I’m ‘there’. After a few times of reflecting on my experience I spotted the pattern – and as a result I’m able to move through the sticky moments quicker and find that valuable let-go with less struggle and resistance.
Whatever you’ve experienced, there’ll be some gifts in it for you to take into the rest of your life. Reflection helps you to harvest these gifts.
Reach out & connect
One of the things I find hardest after an expansive experience is being alone in the days that follow. It’s not surprising: I’ve just spent several days with wonderful people, all of us letting our guards down and being as authentic as we can. Now I’m back in my flat in Dalston and it can feel lonely on my own there. (Of course this isn’t true for everyone, some people are overjoyed to have alone-time after all that people-ing. I talk about this more in the next part.)
It’s a great idea to reach out and connect with people if that feels supportive for you. This could be a bunch of people you went to the event with, the wider community via FB groups or just a few friends who ‘get it’ and will give you space to be yourself while you navigate the drop. I find it helpful to share a bit about my experience and to allow myself to be vulnerable about how I’m feeling now. But you might find that just hanging out and talking about other stuff works well too.
I really like to arrange an Afterglow, a little gathering for me and some friends I hung out with at the event. This is a great chance to reflect together on what you’ve experienced, get some oxytocin flowing and share some mellow times together a few days after the event.
Many of us are blessed with an emotional support network to help us through the drop; however if you don’t have that or you feel nervous about burdening friends, there are other ways. A lot of events offer post-event support structures: for example, The Summerhouse has a Wellbeing Team who are available after as well as during the event. So if you don’t find you’re getting the emotional support you need from those around you, please reach out to whatever support the event offers. Whatever happens, I recommend not suffering alone.
Take time for yourself
Reaching out is very important. So is me-time. For those who are more introverted (i.e. those who recharge their energy by being alone), this is pretty obvious. For those who mostly get energy from being around people, it can sometimes be harder to see how valuable this me-time is.
Although there’s a temptation to crave more and more contact after an expansive experience, taking time for yourself supports the contraction that naturally wants to happen. Expansion isn’t inherently good and contraction isn’t inherently bad – though you might have a preference for one over the other. What’s important here is balance, the recognition that ‘what goes up must come down’.
Finding the right balance between reaching-out and drawing-in is highly personal. There are no right or wrong answers here and it might vary from event to event even for the same person. The key is to bring attention to what you’re doing and try to find the right balance for yourself.
Feel your feelings
I hate it when people give this advice so I forgive you for getting annoyed with me at this point! However it’s generally true that feeling your feelings is the quickest way for them to move through you and not get stuck.
For the past few months I’ve been using the metaphor of rooms in a house. When difficult feelings come up, I often sit in the room next door to them. This means that I can hear them banging away and they disturb me, but I’m not able to engage with them fully and find ways to befriend them.
What I’ve been practising lately – though it’s still very much a work-in-progress – is to get into the same room as my feelings and allow myself to be deeply engaged with them. I was a bit skeptical about this at first, fearing that it might feel like wallowing in negativity. But in practice I’ve been finding it surprisingly effective: when I let myself feel the feelings more intensely, they pass quicker.
You’ll have your own way of feeling your feelings and I’m sure you’ll know some of the ways in which you might avoid or numb them. (I wrote more about this here.) As you’re navigating the drop, I recommend finding ways to feel your feelings so they can move through you.
Seek out the next adventure
As I wrote this headline I wondered if it’s good advice or not, since there can be a compulsivity to rushing onto the next thing. However, done right it can be powerful to begin looking for the next expansive experience as part of ‘coming down’ from this one.
One of the reasons for this is that it gets easier to have these expansive experiences the more (and more often) we do it. I have often used the metaphor of big iron gates. The first time we try to open up, our gates are rusty and heavy from having not moved for many years. (Most of us develop fears around opening up through painful experiences and learn to keep our gates closed. The default world supports this.)
As we open up more often, it’s like we’re oiling the gates, cleaning up the rust and helping them to open and close more smoothly and with less effort.
As well as being a valuable way to step in and out of expansive experiences more easily, this skill of opening and closing your emotional gates yields other gifts. It means that, when there’s a possibility for deeper connection to happen (either with one person or in a group) you can open just the right amount. By working those gates regularly, it becomes second nature to drop-in with just the right amount of openness. But this takes practice and going through the cycle of opening-up and closing-down regularly helps with that. (I wrote more about this in a previous article, which you’ll find here.)
This too shall pass
There are very few things that are universally true, but this adage seems to be one of them. Whatever is happening right now, it shall pass. Whatever you’re feeling right now, it shall pass. In the end, you too shall pass. Nothing stays the same forever – particularly not our emotions!
The cycle of expanding, revelling in our expanded self, contracting and assimilating the experience is normal, though each person experiences it differently. This too shall pass. You’ll find your way back to somewhere similar to where you were before the event, with hopefully a bit of extra joy and wisdom from the experience you’ve had. And just as this drop will pass, the next expansion will pass too. These ebbs and flows are completely natural and the best way to ride them is to accept the inevitability of the passing rather than grasping and holding on.
Meditation and mindfulness help to live ‘this too shall pass’ as a daily practice. These practices teach you to observe things as they are, and through this observation you learn how often and quickly things change. This ‘witnessing’ enables you to create a bit of space from your emotions, so you can observe them without being ruled by them. By doing this you keep a bit of yourself still and calm, even when it hurts, knowing that this too shall pass.
There’s always more to say but hopefully you’ll find something in these suggestions to navigate the drop more smoothly. The drop is an inevitable part of the process, but it doesn’t need to be torture. As you cultivate more skill at navigating the difficult emotions that arise after an expansive experience, you’ll feel more confident to dive in deeper, knowing that you can hold yourself through the drop that inevitably follows.
And in case you’re having a particularly tough moment and forgetting why you keep doing this to yourself, let me share this beautiful passage from Jeanette Leblanc’s article Let Yourself Be Moved:
We all have moments of brilliance – experiences that wake us up to the sheer beauty of the universe and chip away at our cynicism and distrust. Interactions that feed our souls, open our hearts and convince us that just possibly-maybe-perhaps life really is inherently good. And those moments, my sweet friends, only occur under certain circumstances. When we are safe, or brave, or distracted, or bad-ass-crazy-enough to lower the veils, dismantle the walls, and blast the hell through that numbness into a place of deep feeling.
Brilliance never settles for superficial. Brilliance only happens when we let ourselves be moved. And brilliance rarely feels entirely gentle. Yes, it can be transcendent and awe-inspiring and all kinds of fabulous. But it can also be utterly terrifying.” (Read the full article here.)
You were brave enough to step into an expansive experience. If right now you feel bad, remember that any high is accompanied by a balancing low. You can’t have one without the other: you’ve let yourself be moved and life won’t be quite the same again. Thank you for daring to do it and good luck with navigating the drop. This too shall pass!
As I said earlier, I really welcome your feedback and any strategies you’ve found to be more or less effective for dealing with the drop. Please post below if you want to, to support yourself and others to navigate the drop.