If you’re interested or experienced in psychedelic journeys, you’ve probably come across the term integration. And maybe just like me, you’ve wondered what it means and how to best go about it.
What is psychedelic integration?
Psychedelic experiences, especially when approached from an intention of healing or personal development, often come with profound insights. You might experience a breakthrough or fundamental changes to your understanding of reality and your own situation. Integration is the process of translating these into your everyday life, possibly into long-term changes to the way you live and behave as a person. Just like coming home after traveling, you might need some time to re-adjust and this time is also a great chance to incorporate lasting changes into your life. This article aims to help with your own psychedelic integration process by explaining what to expect, how to approach integration and what practices can help you really make those learnings last and have an impact on your life.
When does the integration process start?
In my opinion, integration starts the moment you commit to a psychedelic experience. The moment you sign up for that ayahuasca retreat or when you decide to trip on LSD at home. It’s been said that the medicine starts working with you the moment you decide to take it. So even before the actual experience, there’s a few things you can do to help with integration afterwards.
Besides preparing well physically and mentally for your psychedelic journey, you might want to choose a clear intention. This could be a question to ask, problem to solve, decision to make, or just a general topic you’d like to explore with an open (and altered) mind. I like to write down my intention as a list of simple questions or even just a single word a few days before the trip itself. By giving my mind time to process these upfront, I feel I can go deeper during the experience itself and weed out any obvious answers before it even starts.
Also allow yourself some time for after the experience – ideally time when you don’t have to work, be on social media or otherwise fulfil external expectations. If you can take a day or two off from being fully functional in the world, that’s great. But even just a morning or a few hours to dedicate to integration is better than storming right back into your old rut.
How long does psychedelic integration take?
Allow yourself enough time and space to really integrate your experience without too many expectations of how long it should take or what it should look like.
The duration your integration process of a psychedelic experience will vary with:
- the intensity of the experience itself
- your own experience with psychedelics and personal development work
- your commitment to personal practices allowing space for integration to happen in the first place
- your intention in your psychedelic explorations
A strong, profound experience may take months or even years to integrate, whereas a “fun”, recreational trip might just take a few days. Trust your intuition on this and stick to your original intention.
Should you refrain from further psychedelics use while still integrating? Yes and no. The traditional use of plant medicines such as ayahuasca often entails five or more days of subsequent ceremonies, allowing you to go even deeper. Outside of a guided retreat context however, it is often better to space out your psychedelic trips enough to give yourself time to integrate. Don’t try to process your learnings by taking more psychedelics. Do the work of processing it in a sober state and be patient with the results.
As Alan Watts said: “Once you get the message, hang up the telephone.” The real work begins after you hang up the psychedelic telephone.
Tips and supporting practices for psychedelic integration
Naturally, your integration process is individual to you, and there is no general one-fits-all recipe. However, there are few practices and guidelines that will help you get started.
Rest & take care of yourself
If at all possible, take some time and space to yourself, even if it’s just a few hours. Enjoy some quietude and solitude to allow yourself to process without the influence or expectations of other people or media.
Sleep and rest well and nourish your body with healthy, natural foods. Psychedelic journeys can be quite exhausting mentally and physically, so make sure you recharge well.
Avoid social media, TV, news, and other “noise” for a while and just sit with your own thoughts and emotions.
Spend time in nature & grounding
Go for a walk in the woods, lay in the sun or go for a surf – connecting to the Earth’s surface allows for grounding. Earthing happens when your bare skin touches the dirt or grass on the ground or when you swim in natural waters such as lakes, rivers, and the ocean.
There’s a good chance your psychedelic journey has left you feeling more connected to nature, so now is a great time to explore that. Plus, spending time in nature can help you feel relaxed and inspired.
After using psychedelics, I find it particularly easy to drop back into that altered state in meditation and can extend the benefits of the trip just a bit longer without any additional substance.
Meditating also helps calming the mind and detaching ourselves from our emotions and general idea of who we are – which can be very helpful in processing the experience and any learnings that might have come up.
Move your body
Move that energy and get the juices flowing by doing some gentle exercise, yoga, or breathwork. Chances are you didn’t move much during your trip, so now is the time to catch up. Notice if your body feels different or whether you long for different types of movement. Maybe go for a swim in the lake for a change?
Reflect on your experience, intentions, or anything else that comes to mind. You could write about the experience itself and any thoughts or ideas you had under the influence. Maybe you want to review your original intention and journal on any new insights you gained about it.
Notice how you’ve changed & keep an open mind
Any profound psychedelic experience, particularly one with sacred plant medicine, likely leaves you a changed person. Your preferences, personality, and understanding of reality may have changed in ways that are not immediately obvious. Allow yourself the space and freedom to observe and notice how you’ve changed. Maybe you feel different towards certain foods, people, or your work.
Observe, but don’t draw the consequences immediately – as a guide don’t make any dramatic life decisions within two weeks of an intense psychedelic experience. Give yourself time to adjust and process, and if you still feel the same way after some time has passed – go ahead and make those changes. Journaling can help you further process and explore these changes and decisions.
Form new habits & drop bad ones
Just after a psychedelic experience is a great time to start new healthy habits and abandon old ones that aren’t serving you. Your brain is slightly re-wired and your normal stream of consciousness was heavily interrupted. Chances are you’ve also changed your opinions and preferences about certain foods, substances, or habits. There’s a reason psychedelics have been shown to be powerful tools in healing addiction and overcoming trauma.
But don’t try to change your entirely life all at once and overwhelming yourself in the process. Make a few small changes at a time and stay kind and patient with yourself.
Make music or art
Artistic expression can be special and feel completely different right after a strong psychedelic experience. Not only is it a great way to tap into your creativity, but it can also help you process and drop back into that state of flow and inspiration that you may have experienced while on psychedelics. If done regularly, creating art is also a great long-term practice to connect with altered states of minds, just like meditation.
Share your experience with others
Sometimes, verbal expression does best in processing a psychedelic experience. Ideally with someone who has used psychedelics themselves and understand what you are going through. Find a trusted friend or family member, or a professional integration coach to talk to.
Pay attention to your dreams
Dreams are a powerful way of connecting with your intuition and subconscious. It is not uncommon for psychedelic experiences to continue in your dreams shortly after the actual experience. Tap into them and embrace the processing in your sleep. You can set an intention before you go to sleep, and, you guessed it, more journaling to process and document helps.
Where to find help if you have trouble integrating
If you feel overwhelmed or need help integrating your experience, consider reaching out to a therapist or psychedelic integration coach. Psychedelic professionals can help you in a confidential, safe manner that most friends and family members cannot. If you had a facilitator, guide, or shaman, they are likely a good starting point for advice or referrals.
Many cities also have regular integration circles where psychedelic explorers can exchange their experiences and help each other integrate.
Take integration seriously – it is the most important part of any psychedelic experience. It can also be a powerful and enjoyable way of cementing your personal practices and processing what you’ve learned. Many of the practices mentioned in this article aren’t just great for psychedelic integration but can build a powerful foundation for your life in general.
And does integration ever really end? Since you are still reading this, I assume you are committed to the ongoing, deep work of personal development and healing. From that perspective, integration will last for the rest of your life, for anything worthwhile you learn really, not just psychedelics. For it is all ceremony.