The term for the period after a psychedelic experience, Integration is the process of reflection that can lead to action and change. Oftentimes, our psychedelic experiences can be abstract and nuanced. Sometimes we come out of a psychedelic experience with clarity around lifestyle changes we’d like to make, conversations we’d like to have, or things we’d like to do differently. Without a process of distillation and reflection we may lose the lessons and insights from our experience, staying in or reverting back to the same behavioral patterns as before. Integration is how we take what we learned in our experience and turn that learning into new habits and behaviors, in turn creating new ways of being in the world.
The Foundation of Integration
Integration is specific to the individual, based on what we need coming out of our experience. It’s also ongoing. Something we learn in a journey may be immediately relevant, or it may take years to understand the lesson and for it to be applicable to our lives. During a psychedelic experience we may be presented with an opportunity to view a behavioral pattern, perhaps one that is not serving or benefiting us. These patterns can take a long time to shift, especially if this is a behavior or way of being that has been with us since childhood. Just like habits, which take days and weeks to form, this type of change necessitates time and consistency.
“Integration is specific to the individual, based on what we need coming out of our experience. It’s also ongoing. Something we learn in a journey may be immediately relevant, or it may take years to understand the lesson and for it to be applicable to our lives.”
Creating space on either end of your experience is important. Integration can be a very inward process, so making time to be reflective, quiet, and slow is helpful. For example, scheduling your journey on a Saturday, so that you have Sunday to rest and reflect would likely be more supportive than going back to work the day after your experience. Jumping directly back into being busy and online in the digital world might feel disorienting if done directly after a journey.
Practices and Actions that Support Integration
Working with an integration therapist or coach before and after your journey is recommended. A professional can offer you somatic practices to support a grounded nervous system, diet guidance to ensure an energized body, frameworks to navigate emotions that arise as behavioral patterns are identified. Integration is oftentimes a very vulnerable period, so having someone to speak with who understands the intricacies of that period can be deeply impactful.
Movement practices are very important for the integration process, as a psychedelic or plant medicine journey is a deeply somatic experience. Movement, like yoga or breathwork for example, allows the body to process and metabolize the learnings. The more self-aware we are of our somatic experience the more we are able to communicate with and understand the signals our nervous system is sending us. Embodiment and movement practices offer us a deeper connection with our physical bodies, supporting our process by activating our many sensory systems.
Diet is also a key factor of integration. Eating clean and healthy, low salt, sugar, oil, no fried foods, minimal meat, supports the metabolization process of our experience. Working with psychedelics and plant medicine can often change our appetite for certain things, substances like salt, sugar, alcohol, etc…. It’s normal for your relationship with other substances to change after a psychedelic experience. The opportunity here is to create a deeper connection and relationship with your body, respecting what it wants and doesn’t want.
Writing is another important piece of the integration process. Writing gives us access to feelings and thoughts in a unique way, and has been shown to support mental health by encouraging awareness and regulating emotions. It also gives us the opportunity to routinely engage with the material from our journey via a new perspective.
Nuances of Integration
We bring intentions into psychedelic medicine work to guide our experience. We can prepare an intention for our experience and be given something completely different in our journey. Approach this with curiosity. What’s there for you in your journey that was unexpected? What might it offer you that you were not anticipating? Sometimes there are hidden threads that connect back to our original intention if we look deeper.
Integration can be challenging in that we’re asked to look inward at ourselves and reflect honestly on our behavioral patterns, thoughts, and actions. Working with psychedelic medicine can bring up feelings that we’ve not allowed ourselves to feel before, illuminating things about us and our lives that we may not enjoy looking at. In our experience we may see hard truths about ourselves. Perhaps an energy center in our body opens for the first time and now we feel things more deeply than before. Or maybe a memory arises that we haven’t thought about in years and it brings up feelings that we’ve never felt. Know that all of this is normal and it’s part of the journey.
This is where having support comes in – your coach or therapist will create space for you to share honestly, your movement practice will support the processing of emotion, your writing will allow for continued reflection. All of these things will support your ability to move through what can sometimes be a challenging and raw moment in time.
“Working with psychedelic medicine can bring up feelings that we’ve not allowed ourselves to feel before, illuminating things about us and our lives that we may not enjoy looking at. In our experience we may see hard truths about ourselves.”
A general rule of thumb on adding other substances back in is that the time that you took in preparation, removing things from your diet, abstaining from alcohol, etc… should be matched on this end of your experience. Often our experiences with psychedelic medicine will change our relationship with things like sugar, tobacco, and alcohol. It’s recommended to add them back in slowly, to understand if they are still appealing to you and see what may have shifted in your body in relation to them.
Not being able to convey the nuance of our experience to those we love can be frustrating. Language is limiting and therefore you’ll likely never be able to share every detail about your experience with someone else. Instead of trying to describe the experience, share what it meant for you. What has it changed about how you see the world? What new points of view might you have? Did it change anything about how you want to take care of your body? Or how you think about the natural world? Get to the emotion of your experience and share the impact it had on you. This will be much easier for people to connect with.
As you think about your next experience, ask yourself why you want it and how you intend to use it. If you’re working with a facilitator and guide they will likely have guidance on frequency of use. If you’re working on your own, take your time. You might want to work with psychedelics again right away, or maybe you feel complete with your experience.
Altered states of consciousness are akin to a doorway. They give us the potential to unearth what has been buried and to reconnect to our natural state of being. The opportunity of integration lies in the way we reflect, observe, and action what we unearth in those altered states of consciousness, allowing the innate healing wisdom within our bodies to lead the way.