Questions Frequently Asked about Integration

How can I benefit from a pre Ayahuasca consultation?

We see that it is quite difficult for people who start feeling drawn to Ayahuasca, to find good and clear information and to be educated before actually deciding to enter any ceremony space at all. It can be confusing at times. Since the Ayahuasca brew is an illegal substance in most western countries, many facilitators operate their practices below the radar. Hence it is hard to find someone impartial and who has the right knowledge and skills to assist you in this decision-making and preparatory part of the process. Instead, you just have to find a facilitator, which is already a challenge in itself, and you just go with what he or she offers. In the best case this leaves you with feeling insecure or just a bit stressed. In worst case this might trigger anxiety and distress. Needless to say that this isn’t the best possible state to be in when embarking on an Ayahuasca journey. In our opinion integration already starts the moment you decide to drink Ayahuasca. By following a few basic steps in this first part of the process, it becomes more likely that you will have the most beneficial experience. A pre Ayahuasca consultation with us offers you the possibility to talk with someone impartial who has only your best interest at heart. So we have no commercial interest in whatever your decision may be. We are thoroughly trained and we have many years of experience in all parts of the process. So we can provide you with the information you need, answer your questions and address any concerns. We will inform you about all the important questions you need to ask to decide whether you want to drink Ayahuasca. And if so, why you would want to do it, when would be the right moment, where to drink it, with whom, with which brew and finally how to work with it during ceremony. Of course we cannot predict what you will experience internally during your journey. But if the right internal and external conditions are in place and you know you are taken care of in a way that matches your needs, and you know how to navigate the inner and outer spaces, you increase the chances of having an experience that meets your needs. And that helps you creating the outcome you are looking for. So investing in this first part of the process gives you more clarity, and makes you feel more secure about the journey that you may or may not embark on.

What do you mean by the integration process?

The online Cambridge English Dictionary defines integration as: “the action or process of combining two or more things in an effective way”. In the context of Ayahuasca integration, this would reflect the process of combining the experience of drinking Ayahuasca with one’s daily life. On the surface this may sound like a simple task, and yet the experiences elicited by Ayahuasca can be so transformational, profound, mysterious or challenging (or all of these at once) that figuring out where you fit it into your own day to day life can be difficult or become an issue if you lack support or if you do not understand the process. This is where integration counselling can be very helpful. You can talk to someone who has been there before and who is trained so he/she can assist you in locating yourself on the ‘map’. And give you a compass and a reference point towards which you can start walking. This can be extremely relieving and can save you from distress or even anxiety and fear.

What does integration involve?

The integration process is unique to everyone, but it usually involves a number of phases as the knowledge, insights and experience sink deeper into your reality. However, for many people, this is only possible when consciously ‘working with’ the Ayahuasca experience in various ways. These could range from meditating on the experience, to journaling, to observing personal patterns (e.g. thoughts, emotions, behaviours) and to adjusting them. Or to making bigger life changes such as changing your job or social circle or to going into therapy for a while. Again, it is different for everyone, but most of the time it does involve work and reflection. Otherwise the Ayahuasca experience can become a highlight or nice memory or something which now causes you pain to look back on, but not a catalyst for lasting change. Dr Gabor Maté, a renowned Canadian physician, explains that it “takes daily work. The post experience integration is at least as important as the experience itself. Otherwise you are just going to go back looking for the same experience over and over again, and nothing will have necessarily shifted for you. There are some people who are able to have transformative experiences that really rewire people. But I have met very few of those people, if any…. But for most of us, it’s on-going work”.

How long does integration take?

It is different for everyone and in some ways it is never done! From what we see in others and what we have experienced ourselves, it is quite normal if it takes months to years, just after one Ayahuasca ceremony. Let alone if you had several ceremonies in a row, for example during an Ayahuasca retreat. Factors that can affect the length of time it may take are:

  • The nature of the experience that you had.
  • How willing you are to put in the effort.
  • How skilfully or diligently you work with it.
  • If you are able to make some of the changes necessary in your external life situation to reflect the changes that are happening within.
There are layers to the process also, so you may have integrated part of the experience. And then as you continue to meditate on and work with the insights from the ceremony, deeper wisdom appears, and you need to integrate that. Some of the simplest lessons for Sophia have been the ones that keep revealing more and more, and that is driving her to change down to her very core. Sophia explains: for example, “I was given the visceral experience in ceremony of what my negative attitude towards myself was doing to my physical body. To say it was painful is a gross understatement as I writhed around in agony, tears and despair, right until the point I realised that this was the physical manifestation of my years of self-loathing. OUCH. That was back in 2015, and, as intense as that experience was, I still had times where I have been down right vicious in the way I chastise myself for ‘screwing up’ or not being good enough, not to mention becoming an observer of a myriad of behaviours that were unsupportive of myself, destructive or just uncaring. The Ayahuasca showed me what I needed to change, but it didn’t wave a magic wand and erase 32 years of negative programming that caused me to behave like that to myself. That has been my homework ever since, and I have made formidable progress, but it has taken about 4 years to really feel like I have almost mastered it. And still, if I am under pressure, these old patterns might pop up every now and then.”

Is integration the same for everyone?

No, it is not, and could not be the same for everyone. However there are often similarities in the kinds of issues that come up. There are also useful tools that can be applied to the process that are almost universal.

How does integration feel?

With Ayahuasca, integration is like a metaphorical journey, where you pass through a hilly and wooded landscape. At times you have a clear line of sight and at times but to make progress, you also have to pass through the tree filled valleys. When on top of the hills (the place where most people start from after a ceremony), you feel on top of the world. Things are clear, simple and obvious and you can see exactly where you want to go. But when you start to descend into the woods, the path is less clear-cut than you thought, and you start to doubt your way or hesitate. As you go even further, the density of the trees increases, and you wonder if you are ever going to emerge from them. You may even start to panic, or just sit down in a state of hopelessness, not knowing which direction to move in. That time when you feel lost or stuck, have forgotten what the clarity was about or how it felt, and have maybe forgotten that you are on a journey (or didn’t know you were on a journey) is where guidance and community support can be the most helpful. Also, if you had coaching prior to and just after drinking Ayahuasca and are well prepared for the journey afterwards, you will hopefully have lots of tools to help you find where you are. And maybe you will have even packed a flashlight, a compass and a few extra snacks to keep you going!

Are there different stages, and if so, what are they?

There are some fairly distinct stages in the process that seem to follow a similar trajectory for many people. However, for some they may be big obvious shifts in perspective, and for others they may be subtle, but with themes that are recognisable. The way I will outline them here will be in the most exaggerated form so that everyone can get the clearest picture of the process. 1. Fresh out of ceremony or retreat Things seem to be pretty clear and feel bright and optimistic. This can also be accompanied by some contrary sensations of being more sensitive than usual to foods, noises, people or environments and the desire to spend time alone. (You may have shifted a decade’s worth of stuff in a few days or weeks, but everyone else in your environment is unlikely to have done so, which can seem really weird and cause you to want to stay in your own love bubble for a while longer!) The flip side of this is of course, that if you experienced a very difficult ceremony and haven’t fully processed the feelings, sensations or mental hurricane that it caused by the time you leave the ceremony space, you may be feeling pretty lost and afraid and not have a clue where to turn. Advice for this time is to consolidate your notes. Try and get down on paper all of the key things that you were thinking and feeling. Meditate on some of the strongest positive feelings and states of being so that you can recall them in your body and mind at will. Make notes about ceremony experiences that you didn’t fully understand. Ask yourself these key questions:

  • What did that mean to me during ceremony?
  • What does it mean to me now that I’m home?
  • How does it apply to my life?
  • How can I use this in my life?
  • What can I do to consolidate this lesson?
Be kind to yourself. If you need to have an extended break from your normal habits, listen to your body. It’s pretty normal. Take walks outside in nature if you can. And if you can’t, get a houseplant to nurture indoors to keep that planty relationship going! 2. A few weeks after the experience (it takes usually 1 to 4 weeks) Limbo land! It’s that time when you are now definitely home. Possibly it doesn’t feel like home anymore, but the experience also feels a bit out of place and uncertain in your memories. Questions often start to arise. Was it real? How did I feel so clear on x when now it is just a blurry memory that feels more like a dream? Did anything really change? This fading feeling can be quite disconcerting if you aren’t expecting it. When we are fresh out of ceremony, things seem so obvious, but now our day to day life has kicked right back in and a sense of loss can overtake us if we aren’t vigilant. The sense of being between two realities is also quite tricky as we find it hard to take comfort in the things that used to give us that feeling. And we don’t know exactly where to turn or to find someone who isn’t going to judge us for being a nutcase or a druggie if we tell them what we are going through. Advice for this time is to go back over the notes you made during the previous stage, and reacquaint yourself with those thought patterns and states of being. Ask yourself that same set of questions and see if the answers have changed in any way. The key with this kind of work, and something which confuses many people who do it, is that the answers don’t always stay the same. As we evolve, so too does our understanding of a particular insight from ceremony. And what was true in the moment has subtly shifted to a new and deeper truth later down the line. This is not to say that one answer is now false, just that your understanding has changed and a different aspect of the lesson has revealed itself to you. Growth comes in layers, like an onion. Plants generally speak in metaphoric language and because of that, the interpretation is usually multifaceted and can take years to fully grasp as you find new ways to apply it and new ways in which it can make you grow. 3. Later! This can be a mixed bag. If you are continually working with your experience in some of the ways suggested above, you may have noticed that things have shifted in certain ways. And that you have made some definite progress towards integrating the lessons so that you now embody them, rather than just know them. And yet some things can happen that may catch you totally off guard. The most common is an old pattern or situation coming up AGAIN which you thought you had already dealt with. Not only does this bring a sense of anger, frustration, confusion and potentially rage, but possibly a sense of defeat or that you have just taken a massive jump backwards. Advice for this stage: keep on breathing and stay calm! Noticing the pattern as it arises is a massive step forward. Also, in noticing it, you have become an observer and are unlikely to make the same choices as last time. Seeing the pattern can bring up the old feelings, but pay close attention to how you act and see what’s different. This one for me was beyond frustrating, until I let go of the need not to have life shove the same thing in my face, and realise that it was just testing me to see how I would deal with the situation with my newly gained set of skills and insights. And you know what, I was acting differently; it just took me a long time to acknowledge that, thank the situation for showing me my changes and to move on.

How can you help?

That’s a good question. Regardless of wanting to drink Ayahuasca for spiritual, physical, mental or emotional reasons, this brew has life changing potential. So you really want to be well informed before deciding to embark on this journey. And if you decide you want to drink, you really want to have the best possible education and preparation. And this is where our mission comes into play. We can help you on this journey in various ways: Pre Ayahuasca counselling:

  • We provide information and education about Ayahuasca.
  • We can give you advice about how to best prepare for drinking Ayahuasca: mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
  • We can give you information about the Ayahuasca process and its different stages.
  • We can give you information about the legal risks of drinking Ayahuasca.
  • We can give you information about the medical risks of drinking Ayahuasca, like contra indications (physical and psychological conditions in you or your family members) and medication you already use. With this information you can check with your doctor whether it is safe for you to drink Ayahuasca, which we strongly recommend. Your doctor can also give you advice about your medication: whether it is safe for you to taper off the dosage and if so, guide you through that process.
  • We can provide you with a set of questions to ask yourself so you can decide for yourself whether you really want to drink Ayahuasca. So you will have more clarity about your motivation or specific goals for drinking Ayahuasca.
  • We can provide you with a set of questions to ask others to find the set, setting, location, facilitator, brew and style of ceremony (therapeutic, religious or shamanic) and style of work (hands on or hands off) that matches best with your specific needs.
Post Ayahuasca integration coaching and counselling
  • We provide information and education about Ayahuasca.
  • We can help you process specific events or experiences.
  • We listen to you and your story in a non-judgmental way. Having a witness, someone who holds space for you, can be key in connecting to yourself and to process the experiences you had.
  • We can acknowledge your experience and your sanity.
  • We provide integration coaching if you want to get the best out of your experience.
  • We can guide you through the different stages of the integration process.
  • We love to help you with the unboxing party: to unwrap all the gifts you received during previous ceremonies and to integrate them into you daily life.
  • We can provide you with knowledge and tools so you can decide for yourself when would be the right moment for you to drink again or to drink at all.
  • We can provide you with other empowering tools that might even replace drinking Ayahuasca or ingesting other psychedelics.
  • If you get stuck in your process, we can provide the tools to help you move through.
  • We provide a safe and secure online community space where you can share with and get care from your peers.
  • If you seek medical attention, we can connect you to psychotherapists or other health practitioners in your country who have experience with psychedelics.

What can I do to help myself?

That is a very important question. We strongly believe that, in order to make your life a success, you already have the right resources within you. And the definition of success is, of course, very personal. All you need to do, is to ask yourself the right – information rich – questions so the right – information rich – answers will come up. For example: Why is this happening to me? versus: How can I find the right support while I am going through this? Other things you can do, are:

  • Keep a journal.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Meditate.
  • Exercise: e.g. yoga, hiking, swimming, running, cycling, etc.
  • Indulge yourself in healthy and tasty homemade food. Make it yourself, so you really connect to it.
  • Take care of a good sleeping routine.
  • Take time to rest. Do nothing. You are a human BEing, not a human DOing.
  • Regardless of your circumstances, make yourself as comfortable as possible.
  • Reach out for support.
  • Ask for help. Really, people are hard wired to help each other. But if you do not ask, the other person will not know that he/she can be of service to you. If you find that you are resistant to asking for help, it may be fruitful to ask yourself what makes you reluctant to do so and where the resistance is coming from.
  • Join or create a local community. We are social beings, and one of our basic needs is to have a sense of belonging or community.
  • Help others, be of service. Depending on what type of person you are, you might get energy and a good feeling by helping others.
  • Be mindful of the way you talk to yourself. Make your inner dialogue sound like you are talking to and caring for your best friend.
  • Don’t believe everything you think. If your inner critic is haunting you, it is usually trying to protect you by judging your actions and telling you what to do and what not to do. Instead of believing it, or pushing it away, simply acknowledge its presence, say thank you for its intention and let go of what it says.
  • Keep a gratitude diary. Your mind has more capacity than you use, and it really wants to work for you. So if you do not give it an assignment, it will keep itself busy with problems, lack, shortage, the news, etc. Things that are not necessarily getting you in your best possible mood. By focussing on what you are grateful for, your mind capacity is busy with something that makes you feel good.

What can I do if I get lost or stuck on the journey?

As it says on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “DON’T PANIC!”. It is quite normal to get a little bit stuck or lost. Knowing in advance and then remembering that you are in a process can be a key factor in coping with the sense of stuck-ness. Trust the process, and start to pay attention to the things in your inner and outer worlds and how they affect your emotional states. Refer back to your Ayahuasca experiences and look for new layers of insight in the experience. Meditate on the most positive or clear states of being you experienced during or since your ceremony and feel it, re-experience it to the best of your ability. When you are in that state, ponder your current circumstances again and see what they mean to you. Continually ask the questions: What was my experience then? What does it mean to me right now? What have I learned up to this point? How can I apply what I have learned to my current situation? Ask for help! Don’t panic! Know that this too shall pass, but the only way out is usually through. This can be a big source of fear or procrastination as you can see the way, but are afraid to take it as you don’t know what the consequences will be if you do.

What are the most common integration problems that people face?

The most common integration problems we see in people seeking help with us, are:

  • Keeping your energy up.
  • Processing particular events.
  • Feeling worse after drinking Ayahuasca than before ceremony.
  • Feeling out of balance, overwhelmed or less happy with home life.
  • Not prepared for a soft landing: e.g. going straight to work on the day after returning home again.
  • Being surprised by or panicking about a pattern coming back because you thought you already dealt with it during ceremony. Witnessing this pattern and your feelings is already a huge step forward, and when that is acknowledged, you can realise that the pattern needed to show up again, so that you could track your progress – what choices did you make this time?
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the size or the impact of the change(s) you need to make to make your daily life match with your newly found life purpose or with who you deeply are.
  • Wanting to build upon that shift you felt during your ceremony, but not knowing how to do that or where to start.
  • Getting stuck, going to a coach or therapist you knew from before, getting judged, maybe even traumatised because they are not sympathetic with the idea of drinking Ayahuasca. It is beneficial to turn to someone who knows this path from their own experiences.
  • Going home, and everything still being the same, and yet you feel fundamentally different. This can feel uncomfortable and cause issues to arise in relationships, work, family and other aspects of life, and need to be handled delicately.
  • Sense of self is different. – Perception of others is different, you may not be sure where you fit in, how to fit in or if you even want to fit in. It can be quite confusing after such an opening and wonderful experience.
  • Not having built a new community around you yet, but your old community no longer feels as safe or supportive, resulting in feeling lost or isolated.
  • Feeling disconnected, starting to question the experience and the reality of it.
  • Wanting to connect to someone who validates the experience, making the experience come close again. It can be helpful to seek reassurance that you aren’t insane, especially if no one you know has had a similar experience and you find that you have no one to talk to.
  • Getting stuck, or old patterns coming back, which feels like moving backwards or feeling lost in a black hole.

What are the main things that contribute to problems with integration?

Not being prepared for integration!

  • Not knowing in advance that integration is a necessary part of ceremony work, that it can be hard work, and that it can take a long time. All of these can increase resistance and distress as the difficult parts of the process come up.
  • Not making a record of your thoughts and feelings during a ceremony or retreat can mean that you forget what happened, and what you felt before. This means that you can’t refer to that material when you are struggling. That seemingly obvious and infinite clarity is now a remote dream, and the harsh reality of planet normal is confusing all consuming, carrying you further away from your new way of being.
  • Not knowing that integration is a process can make it very disconcerting if you get stuck somewhere in it. At one point after her first Ayahuasca retreat, Cynthia felt stuck. “It felt as if I was on the bottom of a well. It felt terrible being stuck down there and I did not know how to get out. So I reached out for help, but I didn’t get it. I was even judged upon by my own life coach and she left me exactly where I was. When I finally talked with an Ayahuasca expert, I found out that I was actually in the integration part of my process. At that time, I wasn’t even aware of the existence of an integration process. I felt such a relief knowing that I was not meant to stay in the depth of that well. I even got some overview of the integration process and its steps. And knowing what the specific topic of my being stuck was, I found a Journey practitioner who works with that theme. There I found out at which point in the process I was stuck and what the next step would be. And then I could move through it at exactly the right pace.”
  • The belief that it is the job of Ayahuasca to fix these problems, and so not doing the homework, or any work for that matter.
  • Drinking more Ayahuasca again to get more insights. This can lead to an integration overload or to more frustration as the ceremony contents are just a rehashing of the last one, and you thought you had ‘done that’ or ‘dealt with that’ already.
  • Lack of support from friends, family, work colleagues or society in general.
  • Having to go back to work as soon as you get home.

Integration seems like a lot of work. Is that true?

Yes and no. We understand that you might feel a bit overwhelmed now that you have read what integration may entail. Especially if you thought that your process entirely takes place during the Ayahuasca ceremony. Even more so when you left the ceremony space in a state of bliss. So we do understand that it could be a bit of an unpleasant surprise that there is actually an integration process following after the process you already had during the Ayahuasca ceremony. And that it might take a lot of time. But hey, we have been there too. Integrating your insights, experiences and lessons learned into your daily life does not have to feel like a whole lot of hard work. It can even be a fun thing to do to create the life you deep down have always wanted. Although it can also feel scary to actually give yourself permission to have that awesome juicy life. The rewards of doing the work can be incredibly rich. It really helps if you take just one step at a time. Choose a specific topic or lesson for a while and play with it. Once you get the feeling that you have got this one, then take the next step. Choose another (aspect of the same) topic and start playing with that one. Practice in small and relatively safe situations. Break bigger changes down into smaller ones. And break those down into doable actions that you can plan. Then start doing them one by one. Because: ‘A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action becomes reality.’ Remember to give yourself time and space. And be gentle to yourself. Judgments belong to the past. Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend: with love, care and understanding. Give yourself praise for every little inch of progress. And sometimes progress means three steps forward, two steps back. And sometimes progress also means taking rest and not moving at all.

What happens if I just don’t do the integration part of the process?

As Gabor Maté, a renowned Canadian physician, states on Psychedelics in Modern Healing: “Psychedelic experiences are not transformative without integration.” So this means you would miss out the transformative part of your Ayahuasca journey. Which off course, in cases, can also be a valid choice. Skipping integration might leave you with just a vague memory of a non-ordinary experience. Skipping integration might drive you into feeling worse than before you drank Ayahuasca. Skipping integration might send you into an ongoing loop of attending ceremonies. At the risk of leaving you with a back log of unprocessed matter. Which can result in feeling stuck, heavy, drained, overwhelmed, disconnected, depressed, etc. Also see this FAQ: What are the most common integration problems that people face?

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