Integration is as important – if not more important – than the healing that happens in an ayahuasca ceremony. Integration is what happens after your retreat. It’s what you do with the teachings and insights that you get from the medicine, as well as how you take care of yourself and make changes in your life that are consistent with your continued healing.
Integration starts with good preparation. The earlier in your healing process you can start to work with intention, start following the dietary guidelines, start training your mind, and really engaging in your own healing process, the better. Integration also happens during your retreat, in between ceremonies, as the medicine continues to work and as insights continue to arise. There can be a very intuitive piece to integration, paying attention to what your body needs and asks for throughout the retreat and in the weeks after. For many of us, the jungle is a magical place full of deep connection, meaning, and healing. We spend all our time in open air, and sleep to the sounds of the insects at night. We spend time being vulnerable with other human beings, share delicious meals, and face the deepest darkest parts of ourselves together.
And then we go home.
The medicine does not stop working when the ceremony ends or when the retreat is over. Ayahuasca initiates a healing process deep within our soul that unfolds over time, and can take months or years. The goal of integration is to maximize that healing process.
It is guaranteed that we will face challenges on our return home. They may be big or small, difficult or easy to navigate, but there will for sure be challenges. In the Amazon, traditional healers working with plant spirit medicine talk about the plants ‘testing’ us. These are the teachings of the plants. These life challenges or upsets can be perfect opportunities to practice what we’ve learned and to relate to old situations in new ways. Navigating the integration process while also trying to live life, with work, kids, family, relationships, and everything else to manage can be extremely challenging.
Integration is really what grounds your healing: where YOU take the reins in implementing the lessons from the medicine, taking steps forward in your life as an empowered being, consciously guiding and practicing the positive changes you want to make in your life. There are a few things you can do to help yourself through this process of continued healing.
Here are some integration basics to consider:
Follow the Post-Ayahuasca Dietary Suggestions
The dietary guidelines after the retreat are there for your benefit, and are there based on what is traditionally known to maximize the effects of ayahuasca healing. Going into a workshop is like going into open heart surgery. It is in your best interest to follow the rest and recuperate instructions of your doctor, so that the stitches can heal and your body can adjust. Similarly, it is in your best interest to follow the dietary suggestions; in the same way as an open heart surgery, we need time after ayahuasca surgery for the work to set into our body and for the spiritual stitches to heal.
The diet guidelines can also serve as a catalyst to help bring our insights into reality. As we go back into the world, back into life with our friends and family and jobs, it can be quite shocking. If we dive too quickly back into old behaviors, it doesn’t give us a chance to see what really shifted. Following the diet is a physical, real thing that we can do as a reminder that we’re still extra sensitive after a workshop, and as a way to create new relationships with the important people in our lives.
Have a Practice
It’s important to carve out space in your day to still your mind. This can be a seated meditation practice, or it can be watching your thoughts as you do the dishes. However, especially in the early weeks after your workshop, you may find it helpful or necessary to do more than just watch your thoughts. Carving out some time in your day to dedicate simply to feeling your feelings can be very helpful. This may flow naturally with meditation, or may require more active participation to find whatever feelings are there.
A practice can also be anything that you do with regularity, especially one that encourages reflection and introspection. A yoga practice, an art practice, a journaling practice, a cooking practice – any activity can be done with intention. It’s important to carve out space in your day to still your mind and devote a little time to an activity that nurtures the connection to self.
Find a Community
One of the biggest challenges that people face with integrating ayahuasca is a lack of community. People come to the jungle and experience authentic connections, develop lifelong friendships, and are surrounded by a community of people who are as deeply committed to their own healing as you are. Then back at home, it’s not as easy to talk about what you experienced, especially with people who have not had similar experiences. It can be difficult for people to relate to, and the lack of understanding and connection can have a negative impact on your continued healing process.
Finding ways to communicate authentically, and to have friends who are doing similar work, is unbelievably helpful. More and more people are open to talking about ayahuasca, so you may be surprised who you find. If you can’t find local ayahuasca communities in your area, you might try communities that are focused on other kinds of spirituality or personal work. Yoga studios and meditation groups are good places to start. Reaching out to people who were on your retreat with you is another good place to start.
Get into Nature
Find time in your day to spend in nature, even if it’s just the little park down the street. Of course, the bigger and wilder, the better. Get out into fresh air and include all your senses: touch the grass and the tree bark, breathe deeply of the fresh mountain air, dip your toes in the stream, and look out at the horizon and up at the birds in the sky. There is plenty of good research that shows the calming effect that nature has on your nervous system. And after working in a shamanic health- and spirit-care tradition, where nature is an inextricable part of healing and of daily existence, and where plant spirits continue to work with you well after you leave the jungle, paying your respects to the natural environment of your home is a good way to honour the work you’ve received. You can express gratitude to the land by offering some tobacco to a tree or a plant, or simply by saying or thinking thank you.
Take Care of Your Body
It sounds simple, and it seems obvious, but it’s often the first thing to go in times of stress or difficulty. You have to take care of your body if you want your healing to continue. This includes eating well even after the diet restrictions, and finding ways to make healthier choices on a daily basis. Be kind to yourself. As energetic beings, we literally are what we eat. Cut down on junk food, cut down on red and processed meat, increase your vegetables, go easy on refined and processed flours and sugars. Be conscious about your caffeine and alcohol intake, and pay attention to how quickly you eat.
Exercise is an important part of taking care of your body. It doesn’t need to be vigorous, but you do need to move around. Yoga, especially yin yoga, is a great way to stay connected to ceremony experiences and to continue to learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings and sensations. Walking, swimming, biking, running, hiking, team sports – whatever gets you moving at a slightly uncomfortable but not acutely painful level. It helps move energy through and out of your body, which in turn helps your mind calm down. It’s best to sweat a bit, and if actually moving around is too much to manage, try a sauna or steamroom to stimulate sweating and promote physical relaxation.
Much more information is provided to guests at the Temple both during and after retreats. In addition, we will be launching our Continuing Care Program in the fall of 2016 which all Temple guests will be invited to, consisting of a road map for integration after retreats: videos, meditations, exercises and 12 weekly emails offering a comprehensive resource of over 60 articles discussing integration from physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual levels.
Booking Follow-Up Integration Sessions
All of the suggestions here are relatively simple and important pieces of integrating well, but just because they’re simple and important does not mean that they are easy to implement into your daily life. It can be really hard to meditate, or to eat well, or to exercise, or to spend 5 minutes a day outside. It shouldn’t be – it really shouldn’t be – but it is. A little accountability can go a long way, as can some guidance around specific practices that may be better suited to our individual lifestyle.
Sometimes, things get really hard after an ayahuasca retreat. For some of us, there is a continued purging process that happens well after the ceremony is closed, where emotions like fear or anger that had been suppressed for a long time are still coming out. This can be confusing, overwhelming, and difficult to manage on our own. It’s also totally normal, and getting reconnected to the insights and teachings from our own ceremony experiences, and getting reconnected to our path and our way forward, can make a world of difference.
It’s also common to find that we just don’t relate to things in the same way as before working with ayahuasca. This can be wonderful and freeing, and can also be confusing and challenging. Relationships, friendships, jobs – all can lose their appeal, and it is common to want to change in many areas of our lives. This can be an incredibly destructive process, and it can also be approached with curiosity, patience, and grace; we aim to support you to gracefully approach all of these challenges, and to help you maximize your healing.
We have a team of integration facilitators that we work with, led by Dr. Tanya Maté, our Integration Director. Each of these facilitators is qualified in their own way to offer the kind of support you may want or need after your retreat. Each of them has been through their own deep process with ayahuasca, and is able to draw on personal experience to help you with your own journey. Most of them are trained therapists or other healthcare professionals; some are qualified in other ways; and all of them are compassionate, skilled, and hand-chosen for their dedication to helping people with ayahuasca integration.
In integration sessions, you can expect to be listened to compassionately by someone who has been there themselves, and who can understand what you are going through. You can also expect to be expertly guided to reconnect with your own inner guidance. Integration sessions may include elements of processing and inquiry, so you can understand your ceremony experiences more clearly, or discover what teachings are hidden in challenging life experiences.
For more information and to book either pre-retreat or post-retreat sessions with an integration facilitator, please contact Tanya Maté at [email protected]
Integration Facilitators Videos
Please check out these videos from Dr. Tanya Maté and Julie Megler MSN, NP-BC, discussing integration. Tanya and Julie are two of a total of seven integration facilitators located in the US, Canada and UK who are now working with Temple guests.