I felt I was choking – the oxygen I needed was draining out of my body. And yet my body seemed to be alive and well in one country whilst my mind took a detour into what felt like outer space.
No worries – except that space felt more familiar, more normal and more real in so many ways. I had arrived “back home” and was sitting amid what I had assumed would be my new tribe, my soft landing – a group I had visited and identified with prior to my arrival.
They had courted me, right? They knew me, right? They had shared the secret bathroom code, right?
I was in the arrival stage of Re-entry after almost 20 years’ continuous years of living overseas. A seismic shift felt like it hit me like a bear raiding a campsite of fully stocked cars brimming with food.
My feeling of tribe changed from a calm, soft landing to feeling like I had slid through a black hole and was once more adrift as an alien with a very tenuous link to reality back home.
Supposedly I was “back home” whatever that meant. I was in our new chosen destination, a wee town in the Pacific North West almost on the Canadian border. I was at a community meeting; this was supposed to be my brand-new tribe, having visited many times over the last ten years – they knew me – or did they?
For the very first time I opened my mouth and contributed some ideas towards an event about to occur in the community. Apparently, they were “too far out, “unimaginable”, or lived in the land of “are you kidding?” I felt like I was in a space odyssey – again. Yuck – cultural dissonance – I felt I had been hit by a truck.
In my alien mind, these seemed small, possible and easy. “How on earth could I be thinking those sorts of things” – was the message I heard on my invisible headset.
Truly I was living in another atmosphere – one that didn’t relate, wasn’t acceptable and me and my ideas were in that moment totally unwelcome.
I felt crushed. Like the last 20 years away were invisible and the vast experience and learning I had enjoyed was simply a blip on an invisible radar screen, dissolving as I sat there.
“Ground control to Major Tom” Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear And I’m floating around my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do.”
I felt like all my experience – the invisible vault within – just didn’t exist, like I didn’t exist. I felt like oxygen was leaking through my spacesuit. I was completely untethered to either my old location or new geographical locations. The joys of inner-space travel.
In that one instant, what would have brought my global world-view into perspective?
Here are a few tips from the playbook of mindfulness to use when healing those cracks, when we feel like a cultural tsunami is about to overwhelm us, grab one of these tips from the toolbox. I have learned to use and apply frequently.
Take a deep breath – a fast and effective tool for stopping a reaction dead in its tracks; intercept that fight or flight response by breathing deeply and distracting the mind.
Remember you are walking around in a meat-suit called a body. Take a moment to notice that one common denominator everywhere you have been, is your body. The journeys you have had, the miracles you have enjoyed overseas are lodged in the cells – just gently take a moment to notice and connect. Wiggle your toes and fingers, notice your body – send it some love.
Choose each word carefully – like you are selecting the best peach out of a barrel at the supermarket. Be selective while being authentic. Get clear you’re in a seismic moment, that you have slipped into a cultural gap and pause before responding.
As you know when you have lived overseas and returned home, it’s not a question of “if” you will have these moments, it’s more like “when” and “how frequently”. To be ready, have some short 20-second-long responses. When people ask me a direct question like, “where are you from”, I don’t answer the question. I segue into “My home base is in Denver, Colorado – if there is still light in their eyes I add “and I was born in Glasgow, Scotland”. Communicating your life overseas in bite-sized pieces and taking things slowly helps to build your communication.
When we take these mini-steps to be quiet, to interrupt the pattern, barriers break down and conflict dissolves or dissipates faster.
Returning from overseas can catapult us into feeling adrift. Living a great life overseas required us to change our identity, now we are home we need to pivot to remain global. Bringing your fresh world-view to the party in every conversation will take some practice. Be mindful, use the tools and be fully present. Your alien self will be grateful! Mindfulness is a healing balm which when applied can soothe your soul and keep you calm mid the possible re-entry spaciness.
Keep in touch! Let us know how this works for you. Sounds easy – takes practice. We’d love your feedback.