Integration is a foundational process used to maximize the impact and extend the benefits of healing with psychedelics and sacred plant medicines. Many practitioners today highlight the importance of integration in order to “metabolize” the healing and lessons from a psychedelic experience, especially with powerful teachers like Ayahuasca. Join Kerry Moran, MA, LPC, as we learn how with preparation and follow through, integration can help us live the learnings from psychedelic experiences far into the future. Learn more about the 10-week online Integrating Ayahuasca program below.
Integration is said to be the single most important element in working with ayahuasca—indeed, with all psychedelics. Yet all too often people find themselves completely unsupported in this process. Ceremony leaders are seldom experts in integration—it’s a different art altogether. Integration therapists like myself, experienced in the ways of both medicine and psyche, are exceedingly rare. The underground nature of ayahuasca work only adds to the confusion people often feel following a ceremony.
Sometimes I hear people say, “Yeah, we did an integration circle the morning after the ceremony,” as if that took care of the entire process. And absolutely, group sharing can deepen your understanding and kindle a sense of community (although I’ve noticed that people who’ve had a difficult ceremony can feel reluctant to talk about it in what often becomes a love-‘n-light fest).
But integration work extends far beyond a morning-after talk circle. It involves growing into new ways of being as you translate your insights into direct action. It requires tools and practices to support your transformation—real-world ways to work with your body, spirit, heart and mind.
At minimum, you need to know how to deal with difficult emotions and destructive mental patterns, and how to sustain a healthy body that is both grounded on Earth and connected with Spirit. If you have insufficiencies in these areas, ayahuasca will expose them. It’s not the medicine’s job to magically remedy these deficits: it’s your work—integration work—to grow into new ways of being.
Common Integration Themes
Working as an ayahuasca integration therapist since 2016, I marvel at the uniqueness of every session. Still, some common underlying themes come up over and over:
- My ceremonies were so amazing—I don’t want to lose this new sense of direction. How do I apply what I’ve learned? How can what I experienced make a difference in my life?
- Some really big, scary emotions are coming up in the aftermath. What’s happening, and how can I handle this?
- Ayahuasca showed me I need to up my game in ______ (life/love/work/health/spirituality). What are the best practices to support me?
- Whoa, that was bizarre! What happened, and what does it mean for me?
- I’m feeling alone and disconnected. Nobody at home understands my experiences. Where can I find support, like-minded community, and solid guidance?
But here’s the deal: integration work is not just about receiving new understandings—it’s about applying them; learning practical skills, and doing them over and over so that new ways of being take root in your life and become part of you.
Traditional Approaches to Integration
To understand what integration truly is, I turned first to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, who we look to for traditional wisdom regarding ayahuasca. What are some time-honored approaches to integration?
Oddly (or perhaps quite naturally), what we call “integration” doesn’t seem to exist in the indigenous context, at least not in any formal sense. A Shipiba maestra might integrate lying in her hammock, smoking her pipe. Kaxinawa men who drink ayahuasca together may discuss their visions to determine their meaning and any actions that should be taken (plant more crops, go hunting in three days, move the village), but there’s no specific structure to integration, nor practices beyond sharing. Of course, both the maestra and the men likely live within a community that shares their worldview and many of their experiences—and they also probably possess a much less fragmented self than you or I.
Disconnection and Distraction
The truth is that we messed-up modern people, born into traumatized societies that breed anxiety, shame, doubt, and dissociation, could use an extra degree of attention in working with sacred plant medicines. We’re likely disconnected from Nature, the Divine, one another, and ourselves, for a start, and we’re probably driven by hyperactive minds that need to chew on something. Conscious integration work gives our minds something to do, harnessing the intellect in the pursuit of growth. Quite often this process opens us up to right-brained ways of being that tap into emotion, intuition and gut wisdom.
The roots of ayahuasca integration lie not with indigenous cultures, but in modern psychedelic research—scientific and otherwise—that demonstrates how conscious processing after a session helps journeyers assimilate fresh insights and activate new potentials.
Fortunately, we WEIRD folk (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) have plenty of methods to bring to this kind of integration. We can create a magical cross-weave of integrative disciplines and skills that continue to open us to new understandings, long after the ceremony is over. I find this to be one of the most exciting aspects of working as an integration therapist: how can we combine modern and traditional practices to create an expansive, growth-filled, and grounded path of integration?
What Is Integration, Anyway?
Through conscious work with ayahuasca, we can become increasingly whole. But what does conscious work mean? There’s more to ayahuasca than “showing up and throwing up,” as the saying goes.
Integration is a vague word. In the context of ayahuasca, I’d describe it as the process of consciously receiving insights and translating them into direct action in our lives, so that we grow into new ways of being. “Integration” is an abstract term, but the practical actions in the steps we each need to take lie firmly in the realm of nuts-and-bolts reality.
These can involve surrendering an old habit or starting a new behavior; learning new skills or shifting our perspective to grow into new ways of being. Exactly what we need to do at any given moment is uniquely personal. The basic point here is discerning what we’ve learned from our experiences and applying these lessons to our daily life—in ways that allow us to “Do Different” (habits, patterns, actions) and “Be Different” (attitudes, perspectives). Integration, in my view, is all about what we bring back from the journey and make real in our lives.
A Few Things Integration Isn’t
Along this line of inquiry, it might be useful to explore some things integration is not. First off, integration is not a “should.” It’s not an item to cross off on a checklist, like flossing, or meditating, or eating less sugar. Integration doesn’t happen from a sense of duty, or because you’ve heard that it’s important. It only comes from the genuine desire to deepen into your own experience and connect with yourself more completely. It’s a process, not a thing. A verb, not a noun.
Integration is not a product, not a “thing” to obtain. To treat it as such is a not-so-subtle extension of how the Western mind has for centuries interacted with indigenous cultures and environments, colonizing and exploiting, as well as the extractive ideology that we modern people are using to plunder the Amazon. Only this time that exploitative attitude is turned inside, to one’s own psyche, as a resource to be manipulated and used in the quest for self-improvement.
Integration is Complex
Because it’s uniquely personal, there’s no set formula for integration—and from this arises a great deal of confusion. There are dozens of integrative practices: meditation, journaling, time in nature, breathwork (I list some of the best in this free PDF, 17 Ways to Integrate Ayahuasca). These are modalities, or means to an end. But there’s no standard sequence of integrative practices that applies to every person, each time. Your integration is as complex and unique as your psyche—as singular as your personal encounters with ayahuasca are.
Here’s a helpful way to think about it: What happens in ceremony is not an ayahuasca experience—it’s an experience of yourself, mediated by the medicine. (Thanks to Rick Doblin for elucidating this with regard to psychedelics.) Ayahuasca triggers the release of internal themes from your unconscious/subconscious, activating your personal history, ancestral lineage, DNA, soul karma, hidden traumas, inner healing intelligence, and who-knows-what else. What you do with all this is your personal integration work.
Some Integration Examples
We’ve come to the understanding that integration isn’t something to check off a list—that it can only be sourced from the inside, through your connection to yourself. Let’s take a deeper look at what integration can be.
Sometimes integration is simply about cleaning up your life. Maybe you get the message in ceremony to quit eating crap and clean up your diet. Ayahuasca isn’t giving you healthy recipes. It’s your work to bone up on the basics of nutrition, discern exactly what your body needs, and learn how to cook differently—or just plain learn how to cook.
Or, maybe you realize you need to connect more deeply with your partner, or sister, or teenage son. Again, ayahuasca doesn’t spell out exactly what you need to do. But with some reflection, you initiate a heartfelt conversation (maybe learning some Non-Violent Communication to help it flow more smoothly)—or reach out to smooth over the rift that happened last Christmas, or plan a camping trip together—whatever it takes to get that relationship back on track.
Assimilating into Consciousness
Sometimes integration means assimilating previously unconscious contents of your psyche. Ayahuasca is a potent activator of the unconscious, bringing buried traumas, forgotten experiences, and rejected aspects of self to the light. We need methods for first tolerating, then working with and understanding all of these. Integration is in large part the process of absorbing and digesting this raw material, quite literally integrating it into your consciousness. There are many, many practices that can help with this: shadow work, meditation, focusing, dreamwork, cultivating your intuitive powers, parts work, trauma healing, and tuning your emotional body are some of the ones we cover in the program.
For many of us, integration is about taking in the depths of previously unrecognized abuse or neglect we experienced when we were young (we’re talking developmental trauma here), and assimilating this deeply enough to create a new identity beyond victimhood. Ayahuasca can help you clearly see how your history shaped you, how you identified with those wounded parts, and, most amazing of all, how your true self is actually different than that. Integrating this kind of transformation takes time and is so worth it.
Meaning Making and Purpose
Sometimes integration is about “bringing soul to the world”—getting in touch with what really matters, tuning into a sense of meaning and purpose, and showing up as your true self. I know more than a few people whose ceremonies ignited a spark of activism that became their life’s work. Your path may lead in a different direction than a career. There are infinite ways to show up for what matters.
The fullest flowering of personal transformation is to give it back to the world. You find ways to honor your ayahuasca experience, paying it back to plant medicine as you pay it forward into the world.
Ayahuasca Integration and Integrity
The last thing I’ll add is: Integration is about the truth. It requires you be absolutely truthful with yourself—to take responsibility for your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions, both inside and out.
This kind of honesty is a core aspect of integrity as well—and you will note that both words share a Latin root, in tangare, that signifies “whole, entire, complete.” Integration is about coming into completeness within yourself. The truth encompasses dark and light, the things you like about yourself, and the things you don’t. It’s not about becoming perfect, or pretending to be perfect (no human is perfect). You could say that integration is about coming into your inner integrity and becoming more aligned within.
Ayahuasca (plant medicines, psychedelics) can accelerate this process, but it still takes the day-to-day practice of embodied awareness to ground its insights in your real life. When all the ceremonies are over, the real work ends up being right back here: this body, this lifetime, this world. Being a good human, living your incarnation as fully as you can, paying it back and moving it forward on this planet. Integration is this, no more and no less.
About the Integrating Ayahuasca Program
My work as an integration therapist inspired me to develop Integrating Ayahuasca, a 10-week online program designed to bring clarity, structure and purpose to the integration process. In creating this program, I’ve drawn on the wisdom of depth psychology, Tibetan Buddhist meditation, and my own intensive work with plant medicine, as well as the many healing methods and practices I’ve gathered in 20+ years as a psychotherapist.
I struggled with the uniquely personal nature of the integration process for months. Given the profoundly individual nature of ayahuasca and psyche, how could I design an integration program that would serve everybody? Then I realized: everyone’s process is absolutely unique, and that is okay. What this program does is suggest new paradigms, instigate inner exploration, support your intention-setting and commitment-making, and offer inspiration for walking your unique path. Ten weeks of material offers a lot of options to feast on over time, but the sense of knowing what you need in the moment has to come from you.
You can take a look at the program here. It’s packed with articles, videos, audios, interactive exercises and practices to help you translate your insights into direct action, and integrate your unique medicine experiences in ways that bring real change into your life. When you sign up, you also get membership in the private online Integrating Ayahuasca community, access to monthly live Q&A calls, and a 20% discount on individual sessions for the duration of your course. Integrating Ayahuasca is custom-designed to support you in facing the transformational challenges you’re likely to face in integration.