‘Integration’ is a word that gets a lot of attention in the ayahuasca community, but what exactly is integration and how can you benefit from it?
Simply put, integration is action that helps maximize the benefits of ayahuasca experiences once you return to ‘real life’.
Integration can be as simple as following through with the guidance given by ayahuasca. Perhaps you receive visions or messages regarding your health. You need to eat better, quit smoking, exercise more, make that doctor appointment that you’ve been avoiding, quit drinking, focus on your spiritual health etc. Integration can be as difficult as recalling deep-seated traumas or feelings of hopelessness and not knowing what to do or where to put those dark emotions.
Ayahuasca can give you a lot of information, even many tools, but she can not do the work for you. The healing initiated during ayahuasca experiences extends long after the ceremony is over and its up to you to build a foundation on which growth can continue to flourish.
After spending time at a retreat, surrounded by nature, like-minded people, with the support of the facilitators and backed by all your newly acquired knowledge, you might get a false sense of preparedness for returning home. Then, when the reality of Western life hits you in the face, the fast pace, the stress and the disconnect from community can feel overwhelming, even disorienting, especially when those close to you show little interest in what you experienced or even worse, think you’re crazy for the things you share!
You may have changed – but the world has not.
Imaging going to an ayahuasca retreat to get some clarity and guidance on your life specifically because you’re feeling disconnected, lost, unfulfilled in your job or relationships, exhausted from stress, and then returning to that exact environment after a potentially life-changing shift in perspective. Yikes!
For some fortunate people, integration is a seamless process of taking the information from an ayahuasca retreat and applying it to the life we return to. Unfortunately for many, the transition to ‘real life’ can be rife with challenges. It can feel isolating, confusing and even pointless in the shadow of intense spiritual revelations.
There is no one-sized fits all approach to integration. Some modalities might work better for one person, but fall short for another, but you can continue to try different integration techniques to see what works best for you, or even work with a therapist specialized in psychedelics that can help you navigate through the process.
Some retreats offer ‘integration circles’ - as if one collective group share can unpack the whole process. Many times, we see that those who have a difficult experience are the most reluctant to share in a group setting. Those who are eager to share, share organically - around the fire, at breakfast, etc. While there is certainly value in group sharing, it can have the unintended effect of pressuring those that aren’t ready, further isolating those that have difficult experiences or haven’t had enough time to process on their own first.
The truth is, the afterglow from an ayahuasca retreat will inevitably fade, but there are actions you can take to prolong it as much as possible. At New Life Ayahuasca, we feel the best option is to offer you guidance on tools that can help with the ayahuasca integration process, and offer a community you can turn to for support.
SITUATIONS WE ENCOUNTER AFTER AN AYAHUASCA RETREAT:
Having deeply profound and meaningful experiences but not knowing how to apply them into everyday life
Realizing or processing traumas accompanied by dark, painful or scary emotions and how to process them
Feeling isolated, no one in your social circles understands your experiences or why you tried ayahuasca in the first place, and you’re looking for community or support
TOOLS FOR INTEGRATION
Let’s break down a few elements for successful Ayahuasca integration -
BE PATIENT - Take time and be gentle with yourself. If you are able, avoid going right back into work or high-stress family situations. Take some days after the retreat to stay in Costa Rica, or a few days at home to settle in slowly. If you can, take a whole week. Things don’t always happen easily, or quickly and that’s okay. Understand that your process may be slow and difficult and it will not always be linear. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself and focus on each day instead of the long-term end goal.
FIND A COMMUNITY – Forge bonds with the people in your retreat group. Stay in contact with those that you shared your experience with. We have many guests who start WhatsApp groups or email chains and stay in touch for months or years, some even returning to retreat together again. New Life Ayahuasca offers a secret group on Facebook (meaning it is not discoverable or accessible to anyone that isn’t invited) in which former guests can share ideas, or ask questions. We also offer a newsletter where I share yoga videos and blogs that relate to ayahuasca or overall wellness. It is my hope that these can be valuable resources for you once you return home.
JOURNAL – Journal, journal, and journal some more. Journal before you attend a retreat, journal during the retreat, and journal after the retreat. Journaling has been shown to have a multitude of benefits. Writing in a stream of consciousness style can also help your brain recall and process parts of the experience you may have forgotten. Looking back and reading over your feelings and revelations can help you reconnect to those emotions and reignite them in your life back home. Journaling after the experience can help you become more aware of the areas you are struggling with; notice ways you are stagnant and help push you forward to change the things within your power.
EVALUATE WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY – Many people attend a retreat looking for guidance or answers because they feel unfilled in whatever life they came from. Going straight back to the same life will likely find you in the same mental state before too long. It is not encouraged that you make any huge life changes immediately following a retreat (quitting a job, leaving a partner, relocating, etc.) UNLESS these were already things that you had been considering seriously before the retreat and ayahuasca delivered clarity on. For example, if you’ve been in a happy marriage and all of a sudden you get a message during the ceremony that you’re not supposed to be with your partner, don’t panic and don’t make any rash decisions! (see more on this phenomenon under expectations) Instead, bring awareness to the areas of your life that make you feel the most fulfilled and make more time for those activities/people. Simultaneously, notice the activities/people that deplete you of energy, joy, and happiness. Come up with actionable ways to limit exposure to those things.
IMPLEMENT A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE – Of course, this comes up time and time again when it comes to mental health and it is just as relevant for ayahuasca integration. The benefits of having a regular spiritual practice in your life are almost limitless. Spiritual practice can be different for everyone, some examples include meditation, prayer, or yoga. Engaging in a daily spiritual practice can help you stay connected to the mystical, help you reflect on what you are prioritizing in your life, and gives yourself an opportunity for honest self-reflection.
SPEND TIME IN NATURE – Nature is healing! I recently wrote an entire article on the benefits of spending time in nature. To summarize, spending at least 20 minutes in nature per day can boost Serotonin, boost Vitamin D, lower the stress hormone cortisol, improve skin conditions, improve cognitive function, support better sleep and enhance natural healing. To explore these ideas in more depth, check out this blog post: Improving Health with Nature
BE MINDFUL OF WHAT YOU CONSUME – This applies both physically and mentally. First, consider your food. What we fuel our bodies will fuel our minds. If we put in junk, we’ll feel like junk. If we put in whole, nutritious foods and eat to support our body functions and balanced hormone levels, we will feel an incredible benefit. Part of the preparation for an ayahuasca retreat includes following the ayahuasca diet, during the retreat at New Life Ayahuasca we provide high quality, nutritious and organic foods, so you already have a head start on this one. You don’t have to be perfect, and everyone has their go-to ‘cheats’ but try to be extra mindful of the connection between your mental health and the foods you consume. The same goes for alcohol and other substances. Additionally, watch what you consume mentally. If watching the news or social media tends to get you down (as it does the majority of the population), limit your screen time. There are a ton of apps that can help you do this. Pick up a few books that can help you stay grounded. The Power of Now is one of my go-to favorites to pull me back into awareness and refocus. This concept extends to the people you have in your life, the interactions and conversations you have, yet another reason having a community to turn to is so valuable. Overall, be intentional about your physical and mental consumption.
LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS – Sometimes during ayahuasca ceremonies, we receive messages that seem so incredibly certain that we become frustrated or confused if they don’t come to fruition. Did ayahuasca lie to me? Try to take literal messages and translate them into figurative ideas. Ayahuasca is mysterious, sometimes direct, sometimes vague. Sometimes things happen exactly as we expect, but more often the message is veiled in ways that aren’t always obvious. For example, a few years ago, Matthew and I were trying to conceive via IVF. During the time leading up to and immediately after the embryo transfer, I had quite a few people tell me they had visions that I was pregnant (even though I wasn’t). One woman, in particular, followed up a few months after her retreat to ask how my pregnancy was coming along. I explained to her that I wasn’t pregnant at that the IVF was unsuccessful. She expressed her condolences but couldn’t understand, “I saw it will such certainty,” she said, “I don’t understand why ayahuasca would show me that if it wasn’t true.” She seemed rattled by it, but I tried to explain to her that maybe she was just picking up on my intention and energetic output at the time. Similarly, we may have visions like that directed toward ourselves or others in our lives that do not translate to exact reality. It could even be that the message was meant for someone else in your ceremony group or that you inadvertently picked up on someone else's energetic output. Things like that happen, and it is inevitable when a group of people are being deeply vulnerable together. Additionally, ayahuasca isn’t the only influence in these messages. The ‘I’ behind our thoughts is still there and it can influence the messages you receive, especially if you’re in a state of resistance or struggle with the experience. Try not to expect that any visions/messages will come to fruition as they were delivered. Try to think of them instead as nudges guiding you in a certain direction that is open to reevaluation and reinterpretation and life moves and changes.
WORK WITH A THERAPSIT OR COACH - Working with an integration therapist can be a great source of guidance and support. If you're someone who excels in more structured environment or struggles staying committed to regiments or implementing new habits, working with a therapist or a coach can be super valuable. Look for someone who has experience with psychedelics specifically.