Facilitating awareness, compassion and grace in the ayahuasca integration process.
A full immersive experience with ayahuasca, or other plant-spirit medicines such as iboga, is a game changer for many people. The old rules governing consensus reality – and linear cause and effect – are subject to a radical revision. Just as the subjective experiences in ceremony can be confounding, the ongoing integration of those experiences at home can also be confusing because the process challenges our core structures.
As a metaphor, ayahuasca can help clear the lens of our perception that had been distorted by conditioning and embedded trauma. Two things commonly happen in ceremony and then in integration: the imprinted conditioning is cleared, and a more clear-sighted vision of reality emerges. In both cases, the process can be deeply uncomfortable.
Following my own experiences in 70-plus ayahuasca ceremonies, as well as retreats with iboga, huachuma (San Pedro), and the bufo alvarius toad (5MeO-DMT), I offer pre- and post-retreat integration sessions aimed at:
—Providing a safe container for the integration experience;
—Identifying patterns of belief and behaviour being worked through;
—Clarifying the integration process, so there is no confusion between what is being released and any perceived regression;
—Cultivating trust in one’s own inner guidance and innate wisdom;
—Cultivating self-compassion based on a more precise awareness of the process;
—Releasing self-judgment based on the faulty idea that a difficult experience is the product of a ‘mistake’ or a ‘failure’;
—Facilitating spontaneous clearings by bringing awareness to lost or fragmented aspects of consciousness;
—Harnessing the power of one’s innate capacity for self-healing.
In the pathology model of medicine, precedence is given to pharmacological interventions aimed at immediate relief. It is an ayahuasca truism that in the world of plant-spirit medicines, we often feel worse before we feel better. This is also true of the spiritual awakening process, which can be catalysed by psychotropic medicines.
In many senses, once that door to greater consciousness is opened, it cannot be closed.
People return from plant-spirit retreats vastly different from when they arrived. Yet they often return to a cultural and familial environment that appears the same. Relationships come under pressure as others may still relate to the person who left, not the person who returned. It is also difficult to articulate the depth of the experience even to our loved ones.
The discordance between the ayahuasca experience and the familiar routines, habits, and coping mechanisms can be jarring. Sometimes that dissonance can even spiral into a crisis of transformation, as old and new worldviews are drawn into conflict.
A good retreat centre provides a supportive structure for the shifts in awareness and in the energy field to be safely integrated in the moment. They also offer the tools and practices to continue that integration at home. However, sometimes we need help gaining clarity and perspective on the nature of the transformation we are undergoing. It is very easy to mistake the clearing of conditioning as a form of regression as old symptoms reappear.
Integration sessions use cards as placeholders on a map of consciousness. Layer by layer, we explore the origins of an issue or issues, the means of their clearing or unravelling, and how to facilitate that process. Together, we cultivate awareness and compassion as the ground on which the integration can unfold with grace.
Why pre-retreat sessions?
In ceremony, we step outside of time. In that same spirit of transcendence, the actual retreat experience begins the moment we fully commit to the course of medicine. Many people report a more florid dreamscape, physiological reactions, and old issues rearing their head in the lead-up to the retreat. It is all preparation.
All good ayahuasca centres emphasise the need for a strict diet in the days and weeks leading into a retreat. Diet in this sense encompasses everything we ‘feed’ our mind, body and spirit. Its purpose is to maximise the ayahuasca experience and minimise the need for energetic and physiological purification.
The cleaner we are before we arrive, the deeper the healing.
Pre-integration sessions facilitate this purification, as well as calm any potential fears and minimise the instinct to control that prevent the medicine penetrating deeply into our consciousness.