Psychedelic experiences offer us the opportunity to connect with our inner reality, let go of the mundane experience and unplug from our regularly scheduled programming. The necessity of incorporating integration as a fundamental part of working with entheogens of any kind has now come to the forefront of the global psychedelic community. Taking care of yourself and taking care of each other as we journey into these cosmic frontiers is just part of the practice.
A client once told me she was surprised her life was in such upheaval after a week-long Ayahuasca retreat. “I didn’t think it would affect me so much this time. I mean, it’s not my first time doing this,” she said. To those who’ve sat with plant medicine that might sound like a funny thing to say, and perhaps a bit naïve. But you might be surprised how many people I’ve heard say this when seeking help after their psychedelic experience.
In my healing practice, clients often need follow-up support when they return from plant medicine retreats. Life can still be turned upside down after working with plants, no matter how many times you have participated in ceremony. The times I have seen it most intensely affect people afterwards is when they aren’t doing their work in-between ceremonies. Integration is a big piece of this work.
After the Ceremony
Many years ago, after my first weekend of ayahuasca ceremonies, I got home and immediately made the decision to move in with my boyfriend of only a couple months. Then slowly my whole world felt like it was falling apart. I lost my job; I was crying a lot and I couldn’t get grounded or focused. So much energy was moving, and deep internal shifts were happening, but I had no one to talk with about it. At the retreat weekend, there was little advice for how to take care of ourselves once we got home. We received counsel to follow the basic rules of dieta for two weeks: No alcohol, no sex, no meat, try not to watch too much TV. That was it. Since that time, I have heard some ayahuasca facilitators say to follow these protocols for only three days – which is not much time at all for the body and mind to integrate.
In those early years of participating in ceremonies, none of the facilitators mentioned the common pitfalls and challenges that can happen after a psychedelic experience. Plant medicine ceremonies and psychedelics can bring up deep shadow material and uncomfortable emotions, yet there is often a lack of follow-up with ceremony participants once they return home. The concept of integration is not always discussed in a way that is tangible for people once they return to their daily their lives.
“When I first started drinking ayahuasca, I found that it took about six months for me to really have a sense of integration with what was brought up through ceremony,” says Dave, an American medicine practitioner who lives in Peru in order to work with entheogenic plants. “After years of working with the medicine more consistently, my integration time is quicker due to my deep connection with the plants. But I always have integration time afterwards, no matter how long I’ve sat with medicine. The closer you stay to the dieta parameters, the gentler the integration can be.”
The Shifts Don’t Stop
Research shows that psilocybin can continue to affect our brains for at least one month after ingesting and it is most likely similar with other entheogens that affect the neuroplasticity of the brain. Cell.com reports: “Serotonergic psychedelics are capable of robustly increasing neuritogenesis and/or spinogenesis both in vitro and in vivo. These changes in neuronal structure are accompanied by increased synapse number and function, as measured by fluorescence microscopy and electrophysiology. The structural changes induced by psychedelics appear to result from stimulation of the TrkB, mTOR, and 5-HT2A signaling pathways and could possibly explain the clinical effectiveness of these compounds.”
Science is affirming what many who’ve had psychedelic experiences already know: the shifts don’t stop when the experience is over. Fortunately, the need for follow-up support and integration after a psychedelic experience is being recognized by facilitators, health professionals and participants. Finding help online is easier than ever before and there are numerous ways to go about your integration experience with support.
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has a link dedicated to “individuals and organizations in the mental health field who help people integrate past psychedelic experiences:” https://integration.maps.org/ More health professionals, as well as those with entheogenic experience, are understanding the importance of supporting those who work with psychedelics. On Amazon, I easily found a variety of books offering integration information and resources. Community support is gaining momentum as well. I even found a listing for a psychedelic support group on Eventbrite.
Psychedelic.Support is a website that shares various integration support articles and resources, post-psychedelic experience. In an article titled, A Guide To Starting A Community Psychedelic Integration Circle, author Sherree M. Godasi discusses the high demand for support circles in the psychedelic community. Using meetings in Los Angeles as a template for starting your own, she admits that these public meetings “are completely out of the psychedelic closet,” and a bit of a subculture unto themselves. Though structured, the meetings are never the same, and members are allowed to share “experiences, stories, dilemmas, concerns, hesitations, ideas, questions, information and news.”
In another part of the Psychedelic.Support website there is a listing of resources for those seeking integration support circles. In-person community circles are listed across the United States, as well as London and Amsterdam. Numerous online groups are offered and the desire for community connection and support while navigating psychedelic shifts is clear: https://psychedelic.support/community-groups/
As psychedelics continue to move into the mainstream the community support needed to help integrate is expanding. There are many simple strategies for getting the most out of your experience and how to take care of yourself in a grounded way.
Ways to integrate after ceremony
Be prepared for changes, regardless of how many times you’ve sat with plant medicine. The psychedelic experience is only a part of the process. The deeper work takes place when you work with what you received and bring it into your daily life. The shifts and changes started in ceremony can last for years. If you don’t do your healing work in-between psychedelic experiences, the medicine will bring it up for you. Don’t assume that because you had one experience where everything was relaxed and easeful that you no longer have work to do. There is always more to learn.
Make sure you have a support team
A support team is vital, and if you can find someone who has ceremony or psychedelic experience, it’s great to have the help of someone who understands your experience first-hand. However, anyone who can be of support is necessary when integrating after ceremonies and they do not need experience in order to help. Friends, family, therapists, mentors, community members. Link in before you head to ceremony and let them know you’ll be calling on them when you return. Make sure you’re not alone in your process.
Retreat and ceremony leaders are not always available for follow-up support. Many retreats will not offer integration support. Don’t expect lots of follow-up from the leaders, especially if you are in a foreign country and not able to see them in person.
Give yourself time before jumping back into busy-ness
Coming home from ceremony, sleeping one night, and then diving back into your full-time job is hard. It can be very surreal to go from a medicine retreat into the matrix. It’s best if you can schedule at least a couple of days off once you get home. If that’s not possible, see if you can do part-time and ease yourself back in. The energetic shifts can get pushed down quickly when you go straight into a hectic pace.
Self-care is vital
Meditation, massage, Epsom salt baths, taking a walk, hiking, rest – these are but a few examples of self-care that can support your integration. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy to keep the energy clear and help the experience stay present for your longer.
Be aware and intentional about what you are bringing into your system
Most medicine retreats tell you to stay off of alcohol, eat healthy and abstain from sex for a period of time after ceremonies. I personally think that a minimum 30 days is best, and I also encourage staying offline and away from social media as much as possible. Be intentional of what movies or TV you are watching as you are more sensitive to the vibrations you are receiving from the media.
Just as importantly, be intentional about who you surround yourself with. Everything around you comes into your system one way or another. Psychedelic experiences are supposed to help us see beyond our mundane and connect with a broader understanding. People who have not had this experience may not feel as resonant for you after your experience. This is completely normal.
It’s a great practice to be as mindful as possible of your time of integration, while walking in the world and being around those who are in a different vibe. Have fun with it, instead of feeling like you need to avoid others. If someone doesn’t feel good to be around, limit your exposure to them. A big part of medicine work is bringing the lessons into your life and integrating new insights and awareness into your daily walk.
Do not make big, life-changing decisions until you’ve had time to integrate
Just don’t. Trust me on this one. If you get a big download in ceremony and want to completely turn your life upside down, sleep on it. Give it some time to percolate. If it’s what you are meant to do, it will work out without rushing it.
I spent three years in ceremonies receiving counsel to move to a different state. It felt like I had given it lots of time and wasn’t making a rash decision, so I finally moved. Within two months, I was moving back to where I had lived before. It was a huge pain in my ass to move halfway across the country and back within two months, moving all my stuff, putting things in storage, staying with friends until I could find places to live. Even though it didn’t work out as I had hoped, I can look back and see that it wasn’t a failure. I didn’t do it on a whim, and I learned what I needed to learn, that I don’t believe could have happened any other way.
Sometimes the life-changing wisdom we receive in a psychedelic experience works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But giving yourself time to integrate before jumping off the cliff into the unknown is always a good idea.
Write about your experience
Take time to journal and record what you can of your experience. This allows space to process and also helps you remember details. There are often insights that you’ll want to hold onto and having them written down for later reference is crucial.
Be creative to reconnect with your experience
Utilize creative expressions that resonate for you. Painting, drawing, collage, crafting of any kind, dance, movement, ritual. Creativity can be heightened after a psychedelic experience, even if you don’t consider yourself a creative person. Allow yourself to reconnect with your experience through tangible creative outlets.
If you feel despondent, depressed or are having suicidal thoughts, reach out to a therapist, doctor, or other support
Working with shadow can be an intense process and it’s possible that you may feel worse after medicine work as your internal landscape gets stirred up. It’s important to reach out for help if you are not feeling able to cope. This is not a failure of your experience; this means the medicine is working at a deep level and you are simply needing support to continue to excavate what needs healing.
Though some of these suggestions may seem like common sense, many ceremony participants return home from medicine retreat and either forget or simply don’t make the time. Integration practices are vitally important as the medicine continues to work and move throughout your life both physically and energetically. It’s not the typical western mindset to give ourselves time to slow down, be intentional and thoughtful about each moment. We tend to be focused on our outer reality.
Being intentional to pro-actively integrate your experience and embody the gifts/lessons in daily life is a practice. Ceremony offers a wonderful mirror for us to begin the healing process, but the plants cannot do all the work. Transformation is a co-creation between us and the plants.
Bloom Post is a freelance writer, ceremonialist, teacher, and author of the books Shaman’s Toolbox: Practical Tools for Powerful Transformation and Plant Spirit Totems. For more information: www.BloomPost.com