top of page


Easing the Journey Through Shadow & Light

  • Dawn

Healing into the New Normal: Gentle Re-Entry as the Pandemic Begins (we hope) to Ease

Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: Ahhhhhhh...with the Sky

If you've followed my blog for a while, you'll know that I've shared a number of Julie Henderson's "zapchen" exercises, which are usually very simple breathing and movement techniques designed to help you "feel as good as you can in spite of everything."

Ahhhhhhh is one of the simplest of these and is just what it looks like—a long, relaxed, verbalized sigh.

It can be really helpful to look at the sky while you are doing this, if you can do so without straining or twisting you body. Stand, sit or lie down, and voice or whisper ahhhhhhh, while you take in all the openness the sky can offer. Repeat as often as you like, keeping it simple and relaxed. Allow and enjoy any feelings of ease, peace and expansiveness that might arise.

Healing into the New Normal: Gentle Re-Entry as the Pandemic Begins (we hope) to Ease

When astronauts come back from their journeys through the heavens--those lonely regions outside of their normal sphere of experience, where they live radically different lives than usual--their vehicles have to have very special protection to endure re-entry. They may be coming back home to some semblance of "normal" life but no one expects re-entry to be simple or easy.

This is an apt metaphor for so many of us these days. I read that 50% of adults in the US admit to having moderate to significant anxiety about "returning to normal" as the pandemic eases. This is one aspect of what Dr. Vivek Murthy, our newly reappointed U.S. Surgeon General, described as the "social recession.”

As we begin to cautiously open up we need to acknowledge that a year of isolating and protecting ourselves has taken its toll. Over millions of years our brains have developed a survival bias towards noticing negative, dangerous things. Since we have lived with fearful triggers about social distancing that have been repeated many, many times over the course of a year plus, it's not surprising that our social relationships, and our brains, have changed in some not so healthy ways. (The good news is that though stress, trauma and drama can negatively affect our brains, there is also something neuroscientists call positive neuroplasticity--that is, we can learn to help our brains change in healthy ways.)

Bonnie Tsui, author of Why We Swim, has a great article about re-entry in the New York Times, "Need to Dust Off Your Social Skills?" Based on advice from several social scientists, including Dacher Keltner, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and consultant on emotions for the Pixar film “Inside Out”, Tsui offers eight suggestions for easing yourself back into connections with (virus-safe) people. Some of my favorites include telling someone a joke, sharing a meal, and literally moving with someone. "Dance, walk, run, swim, bike," says Tsui. "Or even do the dishes and fold the laundry together."

Tsui passes on another re-entry analogy, offered by Debra Kaysen, a clinical psychologist and a professor at Stanford University: the Japanese technique of kintsugi (literally "golden joinery). Kintsugi artists repair broken pottery; but instead of trying to hide the cracks, they use lacquer dusted or mixed with gold or other precious metals to repair--and feature--the cracks, thereby celebrating the true history of the piece and the resulting new form.

"Recovering doesn’t mean you go back to the way you were before," Dr. Kaysen says. Kintsugi can be "an analogy for coming out of hard times with awareness of the change, and stronger than create a new normal, one that’s functional and beautiful--and different.”

One more metaphor that may help with re-entry: unfolding (which is also the overall title of my blog). As I noted in my second post, "unfolding is what a rose does when it’s been nourished by earth and rain and sunlight. What a down comforter does—one that has been packed away for the summer months—when you pull it out of storage on that first really cold night. What a baby does as it is being born. Or a newly hatched butterfly. Easing into space. Expanding. Slowly moving beyond the confines of the container it has been in for so long. Into a whole new world."

Until next time,


Photo credits:

Big sky, Andreas M, unSplash

Spacecraft re-entry, NASA

Kintsugi pottery repair, Kanela Suri, Etsy

Butterfly, unknown


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page