Did you have a psychedelic or other consciousness-expanding experience and are wondering what to do with it now? Then read on – and talk to me.
In the wave of psychedelic renaissance washing over us as I’m writing these lines, the word ‘Integration’ is frequently heard. It is part of the triad of ‘Preparation, Journey, Integration’, in other words – the before, during and after of a psychedelic experience.
The deep and meaningful insights gained while in a non-ordinary state of being, especially when this state is engaged with the concrete purpose of healing and transformation, are potentially life-changing. Research shows that these experiences are considered by participants to be among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives. A great promise indeed.
Your ability to draw significant insights from your psychedelic experiences (or other, non-ordinary state modalities) may depend greatly on
- the set – your mindset preparing for and going into the experience
- the setting – the format of the experience itself (the location, guide, how safe you feel etc.)
- the integration – the ability to make sense of your insights and incorporate them into your everyday life
I write ‘may depend’, because many people engage successfully in non-recreational, psychedelic-assisted self-exploration even without the assistance of a trained sitter, the energy of a jungle retreat or the post-journey artistic expression of their feelings. Without a doubt, set, setting and integration can contribute to, augment and solidify the experience, but if you have trodden yourself the path of non-ordinary states of mind, you know well that nothing is set in stone. The totality of possibilities is endless, including how one experiences and learns from psychedelics.
Consider integration, then, to be an advanced toolbox. You may be able to fix a nail in the wall or use a hammer to assemble two pieces of wood, but that’s as far as your maintenance skills take you, and sometimes that’s good enough. Similarly, you may be able to grasp what you experienced, saw or understood in your psychedelic session on your own, and that, too, could be enough. An experienced psychedelic coach, sitter, guide or therapist (choose your favourite word) may however help you make more sense of your journey and anchor it better in your life, especially if you struggle to do it yourself.
Making sense of psychedelic experiences and suggesting ways to anchor them in your life requires an open-minded, receptive and non-judgemental coach, preferably one with her/his own psychedelic experience. I wouldn’t want to take an advanced culinary course with a chef who only studied recipes from cookbooks, but never cooked himself. Psychedelic experiences are non-ordinary, expansive and non-rational – they are felt rather than theorized. They also fall outside the common models of psychology and psychiatry, where even Jungian dream interpretation may be regarded suspiciously. They often include visions, symbols and insights that may seem ridiculously simple but make complete sense to the individual – the ‘aha’ perceptions. They can include images from previous lives; sensations from the womb, the birth canal, the crib; or identification with an animal or a mythological figure. All of them and more are the ways your psyche speaks to you and releases whatever needs releasing. If you are going to digest this rich inside information with someone and work it into your daily life, make sure you do this with an open-minded, unprejudiced and accepting human being whose only goal is to assist you in your transformation, mindfully and lovingly.