People sometimes tell me that following a powerful ceremony, they seemed to completely forget about it—almost as if they’d shut it off. Intense experiences can be disconcerting, yes—but isn’t this the point of medicine work, to break us out of our rut, to recast our mundane vision into a new light? In every difficult experience, it’s by directly facing the pain that we unlock the door to true magic. Remember that hoary therapeutic adage: It’s impossible to transform that which you don’t accept.
Having a few practices to consciously ground your ayahuasca experiences is an important element in the work. You can craft these integration “recipes,” as I call them, and re-use them over and over. Integration is a practice, after all, composed of multiple and diverse practices that we tailor to our own particular needs. Here are a few essential integration ingredients I’ve distilled from my own experiences:
Integration Ingredient #1: Create a Sacred Day
After a ceremony, take the entire next day off. Honor the work you’ve done and the messages you’ve received by creating a sacred time and space. The day after belongs to the realm of kairos (the liminal time in which inspiration dwells) not chronos (linear, clock-driven time). Stay away from your usual patterns, and turn the full force of your creativity into crafting a special day.
This means no work, no travel, no appointments, and no or very minimal Internet/media. Focus on rest, reflection, beauty, and nourishment, dietary and otherwise. Lie on the grass in the sun. Take a walk in nature. Listen to beautiful music, or play music yourself, and sing. Paint, draw, doodle, mold with clay. Dance. Cook yourself some nourishing high-vibration food, and savor it.
Savor your solitude, or spend some conscious time with people you love—not distracted time, but real soul-connection time. In other words, do things that are different from your normal routine, things that are creative and nurturing. And in all this, leave your mind open to reflect on and receive from the night before, so that you can incorporate and learn from it even more deeply.
When you organize your medicine work like this, you maximize the impact of your time with ayahuasca. You plan things in advance, so that a one-day ceremony becomes two days on your schedule; a weekend retreat becomes three days, and so on.
And just to note—absolutely, you can travel, work, see clients, do your whole normal routine the day after a ceremony. You are fully capable. But why trample on the sacred space you’ve so painstakingly created? Why contaminate the mind you’ve so thoroughly cleaned out? Taking the day after off is one way to maximize the value of your work, to honor the process and gather up all your learnings for further integration.
Ingredient #2: Journal Everything
The morning after a ceremony, write down everything you remember from the previous night. This means all your experiences, starting with what your intentions were. You don’t have to fit it into a sequential narrative—like dreams, ayahuasca experiences occur in non-linear time and space. Just write it all down in whatever order things arise within your mind.
In this process, you’ll likely receive new downloads and deeper understandings, perhaps coming to realisations that you didn’t know you knew. You can branch out to reflect more deeply on your experience, adding in questions for further inquiry, insights into practices you can explore, and perhaps intentions for future ceremony. If writing longhand isn’t your thing, type it into a computer file.
Keep the file or journal handy so you can add in thoughts and memories that arise throughout the day. Then continue this thread in the weeks to come, adding in reflections, hopes and fears, desires, dreams, experiences as they arise.
By journaling like this, you’re letting your experiences filter down through your being, taking deeper root in your psyche. You’re fashioning meaning from the pieces. You’re capturing your experiences so that you can make connections, see patterns, understand messages—and out of all these elements, craft your personal integration mission.
Ingredient #3: Track Your Dreams
Starting the night after a ceremony and for a good long while thereafter, keep a dream journal. Ayahuasca works in much the same space that dreams do, dredging up material from the unconscious and channeling it into our awareness, often in symbolic form.
Weaving together the languages of dreamwork and medicine work is a powerful way to continue your process without having to depend on more ceremonies. It’s an ancient method, too—the Amazonian practice of dieta, learning from the spirits of certain teacher plants, relies heavily on dreams. Learning the unique language of your personal unconscious over time will help you to navigate in ceremony and interpret your visions in the aftermath.
Ingredient #4: Listen to the Messages You Get
When ayahuasca tells me something, I feel it’s best to listen. And act accordingly. Sure, some things it brings up are optional, suggestions to fine-tune the system. But especially in the beginning, the messages you get may carry more weight.
Recently I heard similar stories from two different people: each had gotten the message in ceremony to quit drinking alcohol, but hadn’t paid attention. Each described experiencing several months of dramatic highs and lows following their ceremonies, full of internal chaos and overwhelming emotions. Sleeplessness, strange illnesses, and chronic arguments were other descriptors.
Piecing things together in our integration work, it became clear to both that they hadn’t listened to the original message—so ayahuasca (or their inner healing intelligence) upped the ante. “I didn’t realise I wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to my old ways of coping,” moaned one.
Bringing It All Together
When you add these ingredients to your medicine practice (particularly #1 and #2), you ready yourself to allow the full magnitude of what you’ve received to unfold. If preparation is the equivalent of tilling the soil of your psyche, and ceremony is like planting the seeds, what you do afterwards, in the integration phase, is watering those seeds and nurturing their growth with your warmth and attention.
There are many, many integration ingredients, many ways to fertilize, weed and water your inner garden. Integrating Ayahuasca, my ten-week online integration program, is almost ready to launch, and it offers lots more recipes. I’ll have more in future blog posts as well.