Integration is a common buzzword, but what does it really mean? Join Cherie Felzer as we learn about the process of integration and how to support it.
As more and more people are experimenting with using psychedelics for healing, there is a greater need for experienced practitioners to help integrate the experience into ordinary reality.
So what is integration?
After transformative experiences, the path towards healing really depends on how well you can integrate the encounters from psychedelic and peak experiences into your daily life.
Oftentimes, without properly integrating the material, the transformative aspect of the experience remains stagnant in the experience, rather than transforming the individual.
We may need to make meaning of an experience, or apply and incorporate the teachings and lessons learned into daily life, thus fully embodying your experience and making it a part of you.
Just like traditional medicine, psychedelic medicine experiences are not magic pills where healing occurs overnight. Sometimes it can, but that is rare. For most of us, we will need to find a way to maintain the sudden shifts and awareness. If you are unsure how to do this for yourself, an integration support provider may be of use.
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Working with psychedelics, especially powerful visionary plants, such as ayahuasca, maybe you have had a big experience that rocked your world – one that you don’t know how to make sense of. Or, you may have had one that was so expansive and beautiful where you touched into a life and a part of yourself that had long been gone, or reawakened.
Often people will return to ceremonies again and again to feel that again, to touch it, to learn the lesson.
While there are some who may choose to return as a spiritual path, how can we change the habitual addictive quality, chasing that initial high – that peak experience – and offer tools to feel that way all the time, without the next substance or sacrament.
Support from an Integration Provider
An integration provider can also help with preparing before an experience, such as helping to craft an intention, and prepare your heart, mind and body for the experience.
We may often experience our highest self, our best self, a world in which we want to live, feel alive, compassionate, connected. Psychedelics offer this, a way back home.
But after the ceremony ends, we may slowly slide back to our old ways.
Like any diet, how can we make it our lifestyle?
Often our journeys will give us hints on how we can do this. I like to call these ‘homework assignments’.
Beyond the insights and learnings that come, there are also transpersonal experiences, such as experiencing an ‘ego death’ or communing with ancestors or guides, and coming out the other side with greater faith, trust, belief, and/or knowing in the deeper sense that there is something larger to fall back on. Integration supports us to be able to call upon that in other moments in life.
Or maybe you’ve had an experience that is very scary, dysregulating, unsettling, or so far outside your current worldview and understanding, that you require specific support to help come back to yourself after an experience.
This is where an integration provider, therapist, coach, or support person can help. These providers are not adding more psychedelics to the mix to open up what needs/wants to be worked on. Instead, they are taking the next step to help you embody, settle, and complete the healing that the psychedelics may have catalyzed or set into motion.
Just for a little further clarification, I want to also acknowledge briefly the title of integration provider, as there are some practitioners who may call themselves integration specialists, coaches, or therapists, who all provide support in preparation, and integration, as well as sometimes supporting navigation during sacred space, but with different training and credentials.
Lorna Liana at the Plant Spirit Summit did a good job at having panels discuss some of the differences here. Please seek out her work for further discussion.
Integration Beyond Psychedelic Experiences
Also, it not just only with psychedelics, integration support may be helpful after any peak or expansive experience, such as after a meditation retreat, a holotropic breathwork retreat, after receiving transmissions from master teachers, or after a transformational festival like Burning Man (with or without the use of psychedelics).
I saw the true value of integration first hand. In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a time when in-person gatherings were not happening.
Some people who had been relying on regular group experiences with psychedelics, namely ayahuasca circles, had a very difficult time.
Those who had previously spent the time and energy to integrate their experiences before jumping into new material had embodied the prior teachings and knew what they needed during a challenging time when the psychedelics weren’t there. Those who went back to circles again and again without spending the time and energy on integration did not have access to the tools needed to get them through a challenging time.
Some may say that one ayahuasca experience is like 80 therapy sessions.
That may be true, but how can we maintain such a large amount of personal work and healing in just one sitting?
This is where integration can come in helpful.
Integration may look like putting into practice some of the ‘homework assignments’ received in sacred space, trying out new ways of being in the world, such as people to connect with, movies to watch, subjects to study, etc. Integration is taking the next step in everyday life towards those things.
Integration also offers space in between experiences; a time to let the magic settle before offering more into the mix, before jumping into the next big experience.
It can also help support the continued processing and healing of any traumatic past experiences that are revealed in the psychedelic space.
In the few days following a ceremony or experience, we are especially malleable and can sometimes more easily make small changes, change our way of thinking, and have lasting effects.
Conversely, any big decisions may be best guided to wait, as the medicines are still working on you on a deep level, and you’re still making sense of what happened; the meaning can continue to change.
Think of a dream and how as we look at it, the symbols can change and mean something different the more we look at it and attempt to analyze it. Once we name something out loud or do something about it, it has the potential to stagnate, and leaves the symbolism or the experience in that place.
Choosing an Integration Provider
Some providers may also have a specialty that they work with. Some have more experience with ayahuasca, and some may have more experience with psilocybin to give two examples. It may be a good idea to seek out an integration provider who has personal experience with the entheogen that you are also working to integrate your experience from.
What integration looks like for each individual is going to be different, and what integration looks like after each individual experience is also going to be different.
Some may turn to writing/journaling, art making, movement/yoga/dance, singing, talking about the experience in a peer support group, finding a therapist to process old traumas, and for some it is simply time to allow the subtle shifts to become a part of you.
What does it look like for you?