© 2016 JOHN K MCILWAIN.

Psychedelic Integration

"In conversation with many people about the topic of integration, I have discovered that this is a subject that is often only briefly addressed, although I consider it more important than the non-ordinary experience itself. The question is - how do we bring the non-ordinary into the ordinary?”   Personal email from a psychotherapist.

NOTE: There is an excellent new book by Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.  I highly recommend it for anyone considering exploring the use of psychedelics, or, for that matter, anyone who is just curious about the growing research into the beneficial uses of psychedelics.

The experiences we have in non-ordinary states of consciousness, whether achieved through the use of psychedelics and entheogens or various forms of breath work or meditation, can be powerful and beautiful, as well as unsettling or traumatic.  In either case, they can be deeply spiritual, and stimulate inner growth.  

If you are considering such an experience and are unfamiliar or uncertain how to approach it, I can discuss possible ways of approaching and setting up such an experience.  I do not provide psychoactive substances nor do I recommend their use (most of which are illegal in the U.S.), but if you do intend to journey into non-ordinary states of consciousness, I am willing to help you set it up and sit with you during the experience to make sure you are and feel safe.

The experience itself, however, is only the start, and in the views of most experts, not even the most significant or important part of working in altered conscious for personal growth.  The greatest value comes from exploring the experience as it unfolds over the following days, weeks, and months, and integrating it into our ordinary, daily consciousness; without this its impact disappears and loses its primal power.

The integration process begins as soon as we return to ordinary consciousness, generally the next morning.  Often, but by no means always, there is a gathering that first morning in which people that have participated in the previous night’s ceremony can share their experiences.  In the best run ceremonies, the guide will facilitate this integration and support participants in understanding their experiences, helping them to understand their experiences are normal, strange as they may be, and to accept them as part of the growth experience. 

When this is not offered, participants are left on their own to try and comprehend what they have experienced.  Since a powerful part of the integration process is speaking of the experience with understanding, supportive, and experienced people in a private, safe space, the absence of even this first session is unfortunate.

It is important to understand that the greatest impact of non-ordinary consciousness unfolds over time, and takes weeks, months, and even years to bring to fruition.  Indeed, shamans from traditional indigenous communities say that once you have ingested a medicine plant, the life and spirit of the plant continues to live in you from then on, quietly (or not so quietly) guiding you if you are open to its voice.

Unfortunately, at this time in the evolution of the use of psychedelics for personal and spiritual growth there are few structures in place yet to provide the kind of ongoing integration that supports this unfolding.  Some individuals may have the good fortune to work with a therapist knowledgeable about and experienced in non-ordinary consciousness; most people, however, do not.  (If you wish to find such a therapist, I have several I can refer you to).  Otherwise, there is little organized support. 

 

Note that for people living in the New York City area, the Center for Optimal Living is beginning to develop groups that can be helpful in supporting on-going integration.  There is also a list of professionals around the country who offer support for post-ceremony integration on the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) website (on which I am listed); to see it please click here.  Another helpful site to visit is ERIE (Entheogenic Research, Integration, and Research);  they have a good set of guidelines for the time before, during, and after a ceremony; to see it click here.

To help meet this need for integration following ceremonies, I offer both individual and group follow-on integration sessions.  These are not a replacement for your own individual work.  Instead I provide an opportunity for you to discuss your experiences and what you are learning with someone who is open to your experiences, whatever they are, and who is caring and experienced in this area.  This also supports you as you process the thoughts and feelings that have come up since the ceremony, including difficult reactions, such as anxiety or self-judgment.

During these integrative sessions, you will be invited, but not required, to talk more about some of the details of your experiences, to direct attention toward any insights or emotional shifts that may have resulted, and to consider how these changes may be integrated into your daily life.

Each integrative session is begun with an invitation for you to talk briefly about whatever is on your mind. The purpose is to ensure that it is your experience rather than mine that will direct the session.   My role is to listen, and to create and hold a safe space for the discussion, and to encourage you to trust your own inner healing intelligence.  Keep in mind the fact that you are the source of your own healing.  The ceremonies, the guides, and I in an integration session, are there to support your own access to the healing process, but are not the source of this healing.

To this end, I facilitate an active dialogue and elicit details as a means of allowing you to accomplish the following:

  • Review how you tolerated the ceremony, to discuss its content, and to talk about your emotional, intellectual, and physical response to it.  Integration includes creating ways to integrate new perceptions and insights gained from the ceremony.

  • Understand more deeply that the experiences catalyzed by the ceremony will likely continue to unfold and resolve over the following days, weeks, and months. This unfolding often happens in “waves” of memories, insights and/or emotions, some of which may be very affirming and pleasant and some may be difficult and challenging. It is important to be prepared for this unfolding and make time in daily life to attend to the unfolding process.

  • Process any emotional distress or cognitive dilemmas that may arise.

  • Validate any affirming experiences and insights that occurred during the ceremony and learn to re-connect with and continue to gain from these experiences.  These may occur as abnormal reactions or even weird when in truth they are normal ways humans react and grow.  They may elicit shame or other uncomfortable emotions.  Whatever it is you are feeling, it is in all likelihood within the normal range of human experience; knowing this can help you to relax and accept what otherwise might feel wrong or out of place.

  • To stay connected with your existing social support systems, but also to be prepared for the possibility that other people may not understand the depths of their experience and insights. For that reason it is advisable to be discriminating about the people with whom you share this sensitive material.

  • Discuss and reinforce activities, such as journaling or other creative expression, meditation, yoga, or other activities that, on a regular basis in daily life, will provide time for the quality of attention that is conducive to ongoing healing and self-awareness.

 

Important as it is to talk about your experiences, you may find at first that you would rather allow your inner experience to continue to unfold without attempting to put it into words. This is a valid choice especially soon after a session.  After a while, however, the use of language, oral or written (prose or poetry) is important to reify, remember, and delve more deeply into what is unfolding.

Some of the challenges during the integration period stem from the fact that negative thoughts and reactions may increase temporarily; it is all a part of the healing process and important to be aware of this possibility.  Ceremonies are times of great personal expansion, which is usually followed by a sense of contraction, when even the benefits of the ceremony may be negated and a sense of depression or even dislike may arise.  Again, this is normal, and exploring and processing these reactions is usually all that is needed for them to resolve, and additional insights, healing and growth typically arise as a result.

This is but a short summary of how I run integration sessions and the process of integration.  If you are interested in learning more about this and possibly working with me, whether one-on-one, or in a group, please contact me by clicking here.

By offering to support psychedelic integration, I am not recommending the use of psychedelics as their use is illegal in most US jurisdictions and the penalties can be severe.