Integration: the Trip after The Trip
Integration: the Trip after The Trip
Integration is the word that is often used to describe what it means to effectively process psychedelic or plant medicine experiences and all that came with them. It can also mean the process of recording and/or recognizing the lessons and insights gleaned from these experiences and then deciding how to apply them in our lives or deciding if that’s something we want to do. It can mean all of these things, or some version of them. Sometimes, even if we choose to apply what we’ve learned through these experiences and continue on that path by learning more, applying and so on, it can take years. Integration can also involve the way we respond to these experiences – how we adjust to life afterwards. Like most important words, integration, in this context, means different things to different people and as with the wisdom we glean from these experiences, the meaning is often simple but the application is where the complexity lies.
Psychedelics and plant medicines can dramatically change the way we see ourselves, our lives and our world. There are many changes they can bring about and the period following the experience is just as important as the experience itself, in fact, it could be argued that it’s far more important. These journeys within can change our understanding of our very existence. They often call into question many commonly held
The meaning is often simple but the application is where the complexity lies.
beliefs, and this can be a profound experience. It can also be a disturbing one, not only because of the deeply personal insights often revealed through these experiences, but also because this shift in perspective can disturb the rhythm our lives and the way that we think. Within this disturbance lies the possibility for change. The desire for change is often what leads us to these experiences in the first place.
The plant medicine/psychedelic experience can be the beginning of “The Work”. It’s a personal choice to do this work which can entail making changes (inner and outer), working through the resistance and limiting beliefs that intervene and discovering what they may teach us about ourselves so that we may continue to grow. Themes for this work can be as simple as self-love. Many of us learn about the importance of self-love through these experiences and may begin to apply it with a small step like taking more time out for ourselves. This may sound easy but it’s often more difficult than it seems. Just beginning to contemplate how we have regarded ourselves throughout our lives and why can be a deeply emotional and transformational experience. It can be met with all kinds of resistance both inner and outer. It’s a process, a path and a journey. Even the language we use coming out of these experiences, can change abruptly. ‘Path’ and ‘Journey’ were not part of my everyday language before I began to delve into shamanism. I know I’m not alone in this and adjusting to this simple change and how it impacts our idea of our own identity can be an aspect of integration.
Processing what we discover through these experiences takes time and taking time out to do this without all of the usual daily demands of life, is important.
Although everyone’s experiences may differ, there are underlying universal lessons and changes in perspective that help each person, in their own way, to improve their lives. Love and compassion, for ourselves and for others, are familiar themes to most. How one integrates these themes into one’s life is the unique path that unfolds for each of us. Sometimes, there are particular issues that become apparent through integration that help us to unravel what has prevented us from being truly well in our lives. We may even begin to gain an understanding of what it really means to be well and recognize it as something we weren’t aware of in the past. So much of what unfolds corresponds to our intentions, our state and underlying needs, some of which we may be unaware of before engaging with psychedelics and plant medicines. For many of us, integration practices help us to become more self-aware.
With every shift and change comes adjustment. I have been engaging in shamanism and working with plant medicines for almost 10 years now and during the first 5 years I worked solely and intensively on integrating these experiences into my daily life. It’s been a wild ride but it changed everything. It improved my outlook, mood and relationships exponentially. However, there are many hills and valleys in between and that journey continues to this day. There’s always a new phase to this work and the beginning of each phase can be signaled by uncomfortable, if not painful events. There can and will be weirdness too. Sometimes this actually helps. I began my integration journey by experiencing a ‘break up’ with a harmful part of myself. It was the most astonishing experience to know that part of what I had considered to be
Integration practices help us to become more self-aware.
‘myself’ had to leave and that I was feeling all of the same feelings I normally would with the break up of a romantic relationship. I instinctively knew that this part of myself was causing problems in my life. I knew it had to go but it was a wrench to experience it. Somehow, the universe managed to arrange the perfect background music for this break up healing event: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. I cried and laughed at the ridiculousness of it all but, at the same time, I recognized that I was being freed from something that had been weighing me down for years.
Other aspects of ‘the work’ of integration can be learning about harmful personal behaviors that may take a long time to change. We may struggle and be released from this struggle many times over before the change takes hold. During this time, we can learn a lot about ourselves and only when we are completely ready does the deep change take place. An example of this for me was my relationship with the intellect. I used my intellect as a sword for a long time and it was a long process to change that due to my own fears but I felt progress along the way, in stages. It was first introduced through a Peyote ceremony in the form of a ‘bad trip’ because wielding my intellectual sword was in itself a ‘bad trip’. I opened up and began to learn about how this affected my life and relationships. The corresponding insights and healing happened over a very long period and finally, when I was ready to let go, I purged this harmful energy all night long in an Ayahuasca ceremony. What I experienced that night sounded like a nightmare to everyone else in the room but for me, it was such a relief and in the morning, all of my exhaustion was mingled with immense gratitude that I was able to let it go.
A new phase can also be signaled by opportunities that come our way. We may not always be open to these opportunities or feel ready for them and how we respond to them can provide a theme for healing. I remember sharing my story of this extraordinary and ongoing spiritual connection I have with someone I met not long after returning from Peru – from my first Ayahuasca retreat. When this new friend offered to put me in touch with her agent friend to assist in publishing my book, what did I do? Did I thank her profusely and agree? No. I coldly and casually suggested I might be open to it and then later, going home, the realization of what I did landed on me like a lead weight. It was an introduction to another behavior that I needed to understand and heal. During these times, it’s helpful to have support and community. Because these experiences are so unique, the kind of help and support that we need can also be unique.
One of the more universal insights that come with these experiences is the appreciation for how unique we all are. We are all connected and part of a whole, but appreciating our individuality is important. This individuality means that how we integrate can be different for each of us. A one size fits all solution may not be appropriate when entering the realm of plant medicine/psychedelic/shamanic work and may help us to re-evaluate many ‘one size fits all’ solutions in our society. For some people, their first experience(s) can introduce them to an important gift that
One of the more universal insights that come with these experiences is the appreciation for how unique we all are.
they possess, such as art. If this person grew up in a situation where their greatest gift was not valued, this can be a highly significant discovery even though, deep inside, they may have known this all along. Pursuing art in this case may be an essential part of integration but the effort it takes to do this, because of all of the negative programming around it, and how one works through these challenges can be as significant as the goal itself.
Many of us have intentions going into these experiences. They often pertain to wanting a better life – better health and well-being, relationships, prosperity, a sense of purpose. The list goes on but these are the main ones. We all want to be happy. Through these experiences we often learn about what is compromising our ability to achieve these things and of course the startling fact that they are completely doable. The stumbling blocks to our success in these areas are rarely someone or something else. Even if they are, it’s our participation in these situations or relationships that must change. In some cases, we discover that we are the creators of these stumbling blocks and of our own reality. This is one of the biggest revelations that occur through these experiences and once we understand this, we also realize that we are responsible for our own happiness and success. There are many layers to these revelations and even more to integrating them. Honoring these insights and acting upon them takes effort. This is the beginning of ‘The Work’.
The author getting hugged by a sloth in Peru
Sometimes these messages/themes that come up in ceremony or during psychedelic experiences are familiar to us. We’re often presented with aspects of ourselves or behaviors that need to change. It’s not always easy to witness this but very important and integral to healing and change. Most of us sense the importance of certain universal ideals that we all admire and believe that we represent such as integrity, compassion etc. What we’re often faced with is the fact that living these values can be far more challenging than we realize. The integration path can teach us about the ideas or beliefs we have unwittingly adopted that prevent us from embodying the ideals we identify with and respect.
When we’re faced with situations like this, there can be an inner knee-jerk reaction that wants to defend ourselves from wrongdoing. Sometimes there’s a common belief that if we admit to having behaved in ways we’re not proud of, we’re not worthy of love. These are deep seated fears that are often based on how we were disciplined as children. In these altered states, we often experience a knowing that
The integration path can teach us about the ideas or beliefs we have unwittingly adopted that prevent us from embodying the ideals we identify with and respect.
penetrates these defences– but not always. If these insights get through and we manage to confront these issues, there’s so much value in understanding what led to this behavior and so much power in changing it. A potential super power within that requires humility to unlock its secrets.
Over and over again, on this path, we come up against ourselves and this is a signal that you’re doing it right. Even if you’re doing it wrong, it’s part of the path. There’s actually no wrong. The idea of judgment around this is part of the illness of society that can be transformed by this work. When kids fall down and scrape their knees, it’s an essential part of learning to navigate their world. There’s an opportunity to do it differently to avoid these consequences but doing it again doesn’t mean they have failed. It’s all part of the experience of growing. It’s the same with the path of integration. Many of us have tremendously awkward and painful experiences because we’re agreeing to delve into areas of experience that have been guarded by familiar behaviors, patterns and beliefs. Those of us who choose to get in there and disrupt what has been in place for so long, understand that this is the extreme sport of the spiritual world. Once we have ‘wins’ there’s even a sense of having climbed a mountain but often with less fanfare. Instead of fanfare, our lives change for the better and that is far more valuable. It takes courage, compassion and humility to do this work, but the rewards are substantial and truly life-changing.
Rebecca Hayden is a certified hypnosis practitioner and psychedelic/plant medicine integration coach. She assists clients remotely through customized hypnotic journeying sessions that provide insight, support, healing, and help people to live better lives. Rebecca hosts an integration podcast called Ayahuasca Talks. You can reach her at email@example.com.