The True Healing Begins
Over the course of the past few years, more times than I could count, I’ve been told that the healing that comes from Mother Ayahuasca doesn’t end when the ceremony is over. Some of the greatest insights and transformations will happen after the ceremonies, with proper integration.
Over and over again I was reminded of the importance of integration…during my first ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica, my second one in Mexico, and for the ten months I worked as a facilitator at a plant medicine retreat in Peru.
I understood it conceptually, but I wasn’t able to truly grasp the magnitude of this statement until I went through it myself. Now that I’ve returned home and some time has passed, I’ve been able to revisit and more fully process the entirety of my ayahuasca journeys, providing me with a more holistic understanding of what I experienced and how to continue integrating it into my life.
What is Integration?
In Shamanism, the ‘post ayahuasca phase’, also known as integration, is actually the most important part of your ayahuasca journey. Integration refers to the process of becoming ‘whole’, of taking the knowledge and lessons learned during your ritual experience and putting them into practice in your life.
In their article on psychedelic integration, Frontiers in Psychology defined integration as “a process in which a person revisits and actively engages in making sense of, working through, translating, and processing the content of their psychedelic experience. Through intentional effort and supportive practices, this process allows one to gradually capture and incorporate the emergent lessons and insights into their lives, thus moving toward greater balance and wholeness, both internally (mind, body, and spirit) and externally (lifestyle, social relations, and the natural world).”
Integration is what brings your lessons and realizations into your reality once you return to your day to day life, ensuring that your experience translates into long term, positive changes in your life.
Here are some of the main lessons I’ve learned, and the practices that have best supported me as I continue along the path to authentic wholeness:
Ayahuasca is Not a Magic Pill
Ayahuasca is a profoundly powerful medicine, but that doesn't mean it’s a cure-all. On a physical level, ayahuasca rewires our neural pathways, providing us with a beautiful opportunity to reprogram our subconscious mind. But it is an opportunity, not a guarantee – sitting with ayahuasca doesn’t mean our old conditioning and habits are erased forever. We still have to do the work to wire in the new programming that’s more in alignment with our higher self.
After my first ayahuasca retreat, I barely implemented any sort of integration practice. My ceremonies were beautiful and healing, and at the time I believed that my experience, in and of itself, was enough.
It wasn’t until I had a more challenging (and honestly, quite traumatic) ayahuasca journey that I recognized not only that ayahuasca is not a “magic pill”, but also that healing doesn’t always arrive in ways we consciously understand. Sometimes, it can leave us feeling more confused, scared, or disappointed, especially if our journey didn’t touch on our intentions in the way we had hoped.
To this day, there are aspects of some ceremonies I’m unable to rationalize or explain, and it’s possible that I’ll never fully understand them (at least not with my analytical mind). Not all of my intentions were resolved or even addressed in the ways I expected. Which leads to my next point…
Acceptance is Key
“My dear…one day you’ll look back and laugh at the things that seemed so dark and painful, realizing that they were only parts and pieces of a divine cosmic plan. A diving cosmic plan that sprung forth long before this moment, and one that travels on long after. One day you’ll look back with the wisdom of hindsight of lessons long integrated. Of pain alchemized. Of darkness reborn as light. Know now, it’s all part of the divine journey. A journey home. A cosmic gift, which sometimes tastes bitter before it tastes sweet. Remember now – this is your awakening. The path of fire. The one you chose in the lifetimes gone by, as you birth yourself and the world all over again, anew.”
– Jessica Jordan
While some of my journeys have been difficult to understand…some were just plain hard to accept. My ego mind didn’t ‘like’ the experiences I had, and at times I even wished they hadn't happened. But this in and of itself was a valuable part of my integration journey. It provided me with the opportunity to look at the situations in my life I have trouble accepting. Why was I so ashamed of having a ‘dark’ journey? Where within my psyche do I still shame myself for feelings and emotions I deem to be unacceptable? What aspects of my shadow are still longing to be accepted?
Through integration and reinterpreting my ceremonies, I have been able to reframe the more difficult experiences as healing, revealing and ultimately positive in the grander scheme of things.
More so than my positive journeys, the more challenging ones have led me to a deeper understanding around the importance of ‘feeling it all’ and releasing judgment. I realized how quick I was to shame myself and that I had been, in a way, spiritually bypassing any feelings that weren't love, light and positivity.
Many of my ayahuasca journeys forced me to sit with uncomfortable, dark, and sometimes scary emotions and energy. At first I wanted to escape or push it away, but eventually I understood that I just had to sit with it and send it love.
Since coming home, and throughout my integration process, I still have moments where I notice that judgment resurfacing. I feel myself saying what I ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling, and I believe this is one of the biggest traps that can occur after a spiritual journey with ayahuasca (or any plant medicine). Because we’ve had such profound realizations, often encountering unconditional love and oneness, we believe we should be ‘past’ certain emotions or feelings.
When unwanted situations arise, we feel like we’re falling backwards or not as ‘spiritual’ as we should be. This is when we have the chance to choose to be more loving, forgiving, and accepting of ourselves. In those moments, I grant myself the gift of grace – remembering that I don’t have to be perfect. I allow myself to feel whatever it is that I’m feeling, and accept it all as a worthy part of my human experience.
"True emotional healing doesn't happen without feeling. The only way out is through."
– Jessica Moore
Along the lines of acceptance, it’s also important to release any judgment or expectations around others. It’s easy to come back home and want our loved ones to ‘fit in’ to our new understanding of reality. But they haven’t been through the same experience. They may not understand or even accept our new way of being, and that’s ok. Everyone is on their own journey, doing the best they can with the level of consciousness they’re at.
Connection is Essential
Many of my ayahuasca journeys came with such profound downloads and understandings, that to this day it’s nearly impossible to put them into words. After a life-changing psychedelic experience, what we’ve witnessed can, at times, be almost too much to handle. We reach a new level of consciousness that has yet to be integrated into our body and mind, and it can feel overwhelming at times.
Multiple studies have shown that inadequate social and psychological support can lead to an inability to gain insight or work through more challenging content after an intense plant medicine journey. It is easy to feel like no one will resonate or understand what you’re going through. And it is in these exact moments that community and social support becomes so important. Conscious relationships and conversations have provided some of my biggest breakthroughs throughout my integration process, and have helped me feel more connected and supported when I could have felt very alone.
Beyond connection with others, we must also connect with ourselves. Some of the most impactful practices throughout my integration journey have been those that help me reconnect with my own feelings, emotions, body, and creative expression. I commit to my meditation and breathwork practices, moving my body mindfully, nourishing myself with healthy foods, journaling, singing, and spending time outside to connect with Mother Nature.
“The core of trauma is disconnection; wherever there’s disconnect, fear dominates – the bigger the disconnect, the more intense and dominant the fear. This is why healing trauma and restoring safety and regulation happen within the context of reconnection…of coming closer to our body, needs, limits, truth, pleasures, and Nature. More connection, less panic, anxiety and fear.”
A note on journaling: In my options, journaling is an absolutely essential practice to implement during integration, and throughout life in general. By journaling my key takeaways after ceremonies, and continuing to journal my feelings and revelations on an ongoing basis, my own writing becomes a form of support and advice when I need it most. At times, I look back through my journal, and somehow it ends up being exactly what I need to hear in that moment, every time.
Integration is a Lifelong Journey
As I stated before, integration is a healing process that continues beyond the ceremony – one that may take significant time and effort. Without active effort, many insights and lessons are likely to fade without producing meaningful change, and difficult experiences can actually reinforce traumas, limiting beliefs, or patterns that do not serve us.
Integration is not an event or brief phase, but a long-term process. Although I’ve noticed that some changes may occur more quickly, many aspects of my journeys have continued to unfold gradually, over the course of multiple years. They continue to evolve and provide new or different realizations as my life unfolds, or when the time is right for me to fully understand their meaning.
Again, this is where supportive practices become so crucial. Without intentional lifestyle changes that allow time to reflect, one is unlikely to have an adequate container in which to hold and work with the entirety of their psychedelic experiences.
It All Comes Back to Love
At the end of the day, it’s not just about the ayahuasca experience, it’s about what you do with it. It’s about remembering the truth of who you are…of who we ALL are. For me, the whole point is to reconnect with love. To recognize and remember that on the deepest level, everything and everyone is love. Love is all there is…all there has ever been and all that will ever be.
If we return home from a powerful ayahuasca journey, but are unable to show ourselves and others the love that is the basis for all of life, what have we really achieved?
It always comes back to love, because love is the most powerful force in the universe.
Love is the mother of all medicine.
“That love is all there is, is all we know of love.”
– Emily Dickinson
Note: For more background on my personal experience with ayahuasca, you can read my blogs on 30 Powerful Lessons from Mother Ayahuasca and What I Learned from my Worst Ayahuasca Experience.