A brief look at what ayahuasca integration is and how it can dramatically change your post ayahuasca experience....
Over the last few years the world's awareness of Ayahuasca has grown considerably. With many new retreat centres opening in Peruvian hotspots such as Cusco, Pucullpa and Iquitos, not to mention the hundreds of 'medicine circles' popping up all over Europe, the USA and Australia. There is a growing need for structured support for people who have drunk and returned home.
I spent nearly 3 years in Peru studying with a shaman and assisting in the 'gringo retreats' which would be anything from 2 weeks to 10 weeks in length. The healing results were incredible for physical, emotional and psycho/spiritual issues and I was absolutely blessed to be part of so many people's incredible journeys towards health and wellbeing. However, having stayed in touch with program participants, and experiencing my own struggles on return to 'normal life' (whatever that means), I have come to realise that after care is a vital component of the process that is often totally neglected.
Lots of people are called to drink ayahuasca in strange ways, meaning that it is a complete break from their 'norm' and very far outside their field of experience, and also outside the comfort zone of their friends and family when it comes to topics they may like to discuss. This can result in people feeling extremely isolated when they get home and questioning the validity everything that they learned or felt during the retreat. That isn't to say that everything that happened there will have been absolute truth, but the process towards health can be a delicate one, and harsh words at the wrong time from a trusted, but afraid confidante can seriously undermine the whole experience.
Imagine that you are a seed. You contain absolute potential and a blueprint for life. After many years stored in a jar, you think that there is more to life than being a small ball and feel ready to start growing and discover the next phase of life... Given the right conditions, water, warmth, good soil, and such, you sprout, and become a delicate shoot, fresh with vigour, but also vulnerable. Nurturing and care are required to get this beautiful young sprout strong enough, with good roots to become a strong sapling and eventually an incredible tree.
The retreat process, whether it be a weekend close to home, or a month abroad in the Amazon, can often be the catalysing influence to break out of one's confines and sprout. But the delicacy of the result is not an exaggeration. It takes time to form new habits and ways of being, and if the correct support network and resources are not around it can be very easy to shift back into old patterns and the process can take on the quality of a dream, where we remember a vague impression of us feeling and being different, but when we try to reach out for it, the idea fades and then vanishes. Another issue can be that now, you are also conscious of your habits and patterns, and so when you notice them re-surfacing you may think you are going backwards instead of forwards. This is not the case and a normal part of the process, but learning how to recognise this, deal with it and have tools to move past it is something that a good integration therapist will be able to help you with.
Journaling or in some way recording the process can be extremely helpful to refer back to when the doubts kick in, but sometimes we really do need community and somebody to talk to, someone who is going to listen with and open heart and mind, not be judgemental that you have 'taken drugs' and who can empathise with your experience.
So how does it feel to re-enter the world after profound experiences, not just due to the medicine, but often because for the first time in forever, we are around people who are open, who care and who share some kind of connection with us which runs deeper than discussing what was on TV last night or which series we happen to be binge-watching? For me, one of the most healing aspects of my initial 6 week immersive retreat was being really listened to and as a result learning that it was safe to express myself fully and to be open.
Sitting in a cafe in London SW1, 3 years and 3 months after my first entry into the jungles of Peru, I find myself and my life to be radically different to how it used to be. I am more confident, more honest and don't edit myself as much as I used to. I have learned to look for people with common interests and accept myself when I don't feel like doing something. I am meeting people who resonate with who I am now and feel freer for it. But I do find it hard at times. I lived in a place where people are willing to step out of their conditioning and into a new, brighter version of themselves and who are quite frankly willing to look at their shit, take responsibility for it and choose to change it (or at least that was the aim, it didn’t always happen of course!). It was so refreshing.
Here, I often find that blame is much more the order of the day and people are tentative when it comes to trying to solve long standing problems, just in case it rocks the boat – even though they continually complain that they dislike the boat and that many aspects of it need a refit.
I am lucky though, I had three years there to really allow the changes and lessons to settle and grow strong roots inside me and so, despite the occasional swaying, I feel that I can weather any storm that comes my way and not lose that core essence of myself which I have found and continue to nurture. There are certain practices which help too such as taking time to be grateful for my experiences in Peru regularly, revisiting my journals or connecting with friends that I made there, and a daily commitment to lead the life that I choose and design, instead of feeling pressured into conforming to convention and a mindset based on scarcity and fear.
People who have only had short experiences may find this solidity and strength harder to come by. So, what can they do? I have found the website and app 'meetup' to be extremely helpful. It is designed to bring like-minded people together to participate in group gatherings or activities. This has opened up a whole new world of contacts and connections to me. Some retreats create Facebook community for people who have participated in their programs and so provide some mutual support. It can be really important to reach out when struggling, touching base with a familiar person who was with you in the setting that the changes occurred, can trigger a memory cascade and in turn a hormonal cascade which reminds the body of how it was feeling during the program, instead of how it feels now, in its old, familiar surroundings.
I also offer integration counselling. Having witnessed and supported over 100 participants through their processes, and worked with medicinal plants as well as a number of other healing modalities for many years, I can help provide insights and grounding and understanding when it feels like other people just don't 'get it'.
My top tips for anyone in this situation are to trust the process and be kind to yourself. If you feel like being isolated from your friends, family and normal routines, that's ok. Listen to your body, and know that this too will pass in its own time. Let your own innate wisdom take over and do the things that feel good and right. Try not to be judgemental of yourself. You may have gone through a massive change, and if people don't accept that you are different, or are going through a period of integration, it is important for you to tell them that you need space and time. And also, remember that this is a dynamic process - what may be good for you today doesn't feel right tomorrow and the lessens will deepen and change as you proceed along the path. Let it unfold, pay attention to your inner landscape and let your innate wisdom help you through.
And most importantly - Enjoy it !!