The Challenges of Ayahuasca Integration
You will notice that some of the common themes of psychedelic integration involve challenging questions and negative emotions.
Kerry Moran, a psychotherapist who focuses on ayahuasca integration, notes some of the likely challenges that can occur in the days and weeks after an ayahuasca retreat:
You may feel more sensitive to your environment, sensations, and other people, meaning that you experience life more intensely. This can feel isolating if others around you don’t feel the same.
You may need emotional support, but when re-entering modern society and culture, you may encounter a conflict – you can’t find the support you’re looking for. Loved ones may not understand what you experienced, and it can be challenging to explain your journey to others. Others may also not be that interested in your story or, worse yet, may express judgment or negative interpretations.
What seemed crystal clear on retreat may seem less certain back home, making it easier to fall back into destructive mental patterns and behaviors. As a result, you may question whether you can change and start to view your ayahuasca visions and insights as mere hallucinations and delusional thoughts.
Making sense of your experiences:
The messages received during the ayahuasca experience can be meaningful but not necessarily straightforward. Insights may emerge weeks, months, and perhaps even years after your journey.
After a cataclysmic ayahuasca experience, you may experience a feeling of rapid personal transformation. This may lead to reverse culture shock when you re-enter society. Modern materialistic life, the city’s stimulating nature, and rapid pace, and little time for reflection can feel jarring after a profound psychedelic retreat in nature. You may be left feeling alienated and out of place, but this is often a temporary phase that will pass.
Other Challenges for Ayahuasca Integration…
There are other challenges that you may face during ayahuasca integration. If aspects of your personality, worldview, attitudes, and values change after working with ayahuasca, you may find it harder to relate to some of your friends. In some cases, this might mean “shedding” old friends.
Nevertheless, the upside is that there are always opportunities to make new connections with people who better understand you. Moreover, it’s always possible that the changes you go through lead to deeper connections with your loved ones.
Another potential challenge is feeling a strong conviction that the personal changes or realizations you’ve had due to ayahuasca make your existing career seem unsuited to you. This can make continuing to follow that career path inauthentic and unfulfilling. Or you may decide to switch careers, which can be quite stressful and anxiety-inducing. Nonetheless, making the right career change can feel like a satisfying form of integration.
Effective Techniques for Ayahuasca Integration
Now that we’ve looked at some of the common themes and challenges of ayahuasca integration, you may now be wondering what steps you can take to incorporate the lessons of ayahuasca into your life.
Let’s explore the techniques that attendees find most helpful.
The Power of Patience in Ayahuasca Integration
Since many positive changes that may result from an ayahuasca experience can take weeks, months, or even years to manifest, it’s crucial to be patient about the changes you want to see. You can practice patience during the process of ayahuasca integration in several ways:
The afterglow is the period following a psychedelic journey where you feel a heightened sense of joy, gratitude, contentment, peacefulness, confidence, and social connectedness.
The world may also seem more vivid and interesting. Stay present with this experience and focus on the emotional aspects you’d like to continue to cultivate.
Learn to embrace the material, emotions, and sensitivities that arise in the days and weeks following an ayahuasca retreat, rather than resisting, rejecting, or avoiding them.
It may be tempting to view an ayahuasca retreat as a quick fix and that you can instantly return to your normal routine when you get home. However, it’s important to set aside time for reflection, focus on sleeping well, and take things slow.
This patient attitude will allow you to give time and attention to your psychedelic insights.
Don’t make sudden changes:
You might also have a strong sense of major changes you want to make following an ayahuasca journey.
Nevertheless, it’s best to wait weeks or perhaps months before committing to any big decision. This will ensure that any major life change is based on careful consideration of your authentic values rather than impulsivity.
Come back to your original intentions:
It’s understandable to become impatient if old fears and self-limiting beliefs return following a therapeutic ayahuasca journey and afterglow period. This is why it’s vital to remember and focus on actualizing your original intentions.
With patience, old habits can be replaced with new ones.
Reminder Practices for Ayahuasca Integration
We define “reminder practices” as anything that helps to remind you of a valuable state associated with your plant medicine ceremony.
The more you do this by habit, the more likely you will think, feel, and act in ways consistent with the lessons you learned during an ayahuasca journey.
Reminder practices include:
1. Picking up a meditative practice
There are meditation practices that can help to cultivate certain positive states of mind that you may experience during and after an ayahuasca experience, such as mindfulness, loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity practices.
2. Being creative
Creating art in whatever medium you like can be a unique way of representing the visionary, emotional, or somatic aspects of your ayahuasca journey.
In order to keep your memories of your ayahuasca experience fresh and detailed, it can be helpful to record them in a journal. It can also be helpful to write down questions and interpretations surrounding the material that came up and how you would like to move forward.
4. Being mindful
Practicing mindfulness occurs not just on the mat when we meditate but also throughout daily life when we eat, move, spend time with others, and consume news and information online. Research has shown that in the ayahuasca afterglow, levels of mindfulness increase.
Having a daily mindfulness meditation practice may prove beneficial in the long term as well. As the authors of research on the ayahuasca afterglow declare, “This period may offer a window of increased therapeutic potential.”
Psychedelic researcher Rick Strassman points out in The Psychedelic Handbook (2022) that the afterglow is the “critical period” in which the effects of positive intervention may be especially powerful. This is because, as Strassman says, the afterglow period (a couple of weeks to a month) corresponds to the neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) and neuroplasticity (the growth in the number of connections between neurons) that continue after the psychedelic experience is over.
If you had an insight when sitting with ayahuasca that being more present in all your experience is important for well-being, being committed to developing mindfulness can help you integrate this insight.
5. Replaying music from your experiences
If you listened to certain music or a playlist during your ayahuasca journey, re-listening to it can bring back important memories and details.
6. Spending time in nature:
One common report from ayahuasca retreat participants is feeling an increased connection to nature (also called nature-relatedness). Research has found that these increases are significant.
Nature-relatedness is linked to reductions in depression and anxiety and increases in mindfulness. You can enhance your connection to nature – and, therefore, the associated mental health benefits, by spending lots of time outside after an ayahuasca retreat.
7. Gratitude practices:
Many ayahuasca retreat participants experience intense gratitude and appreciation during and after their journeys. You can maintain and strengthen these feelings through practices like keeping a gratitude journal, engaging in gratitude meditation, or expressing appreciation to others in your life.
8. Pursuing a healthy lifestyle:
As we’ve seen, a common theme in ayahuasca experiences is self-love. And caring for yourself should have practical consequences, like leading a lifestyle that protects your physical and mental health.
Self-love lifestyles include having beneficial morning and evening habits, eating well, exercising regularly, and practicing good sleep hygiene.