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Psychedelics and the continuous chase for healing
September 7, 2021
3 min read
In the proper set and setting, psychedelics can hold transformative power for helping us live better lives. Over the last years, I’ve been privileged to experience some of the most potent psychedelics in the world in both therapeutic and shamanic settings. It wasn’t always easy, but in the end, they’ve changed my life for the better on many levels. And yet, what I have found over time is that less psychedelic is often more.
Set + Setting + Frequency.
A personal flip out story
About three years ago, I was participating in an ayahuasca circle. As we shared our intentions to the group, I shared: “I want to connect with my higher self and the higher realms”… A lofty and optimistic goal for anyone, especially for me who was still holding on to so much trauma in myself (Spoiler: that journey never really ends…) My inner container at the time just wasn’t large enough to receive and then to hold on to so much light. As a result, I was naively skipping a few steps on the way to experiencing blissful nirvana.
When it came time for the practitioner to speak, she said: “To reach the higher realms with ayahuasca, often people must go through a purgatory phase first…” and then… she stared right at me. I had been found. I had never gone through purgatory or anything else but relatively positive experiences before. And now, it seemed like my psychically gifted friend had seen through my paper intentions. I wanted to jump out of the window. I knew I was in for a ride…Whoever wants to go through a “purgatory”? Sounds intense.
And I did get on one heck of a ride. I received a one-way ticket to what people call a “complete flip out.” Fliptown. After screaming, howling, rolling around, and disturbing the space for hours, I was escorted out by 3 people into the breakout room, safe and secure in my own private area and supported by a kind helper. At about the one-hour mark, I started to experience the most beautiful vision I had ever seen. Complete bliss was here….! And suddenly, just as I was entering the gates of what I assumed was heaven, the lights went off. I had blanked out completely. No nirvana for you. When I woke up the morning after, I couldn’t remember anything except the bump on my head, which felt quite real.
“[Integration] is the challenge of transforming flashes of illumination into abiding light.“ — Huston Smith
What I learned about psychedelic integration
That experience might sound terrible, but it was what I needed, and I am so grateful for the teaching of slowing down. I’m even glad I paid for it. I learned more from blanking out that night than I ever could have by having the full-blown mystical light journey I was seeking. Ayahuasca, the wise teacher that she is, was telling me to slow the heck down. A couple of years before that, I had attended multiple ceremonies and still hadn’t fully integrated even the very first ones. I was chasing “healing” and the medicine experience without doing the actual work of integrating the profound insights and lessons I was gathering in my journal. These were life-changing lessons that had the potential to alter the rest of my life if only they were respected and honoured for what they truly were. I was integrating some of it, and it was life-changing, but, in reality, it wasn’t nearly enough. I was going to ceremonies and disintegrating with peak experiences without properly re-integrating myself and the teachings into my everyday life.
This continuous chase for healing is a common occurrence in the psychedelic community. I’ve met people who have 200+ ayahuasca ceremonies under their belt, but they still act like jerks. I’ve met plenty of people who keep going to therapy and don’t have a robust integration process guiding them. They do get constant blasts of insights, but they go back home and are already looking forward to the next one. This is not just an inefficient way of experiencing psychedelics; it can be harmful. Doing fewer psychedelics should be a harm reduction practice for most people.
Over time, I have realized that developing new patterns and creating and maintaining meaningful change takes a lifetime. There’s no quick fix or shortcuts.
Every day is a ceremony
Today, my approach to integration and experiencing psychedelics has matured. It’s always a work in progress, but now I better understand that fewer psychedelics and more profound integration time is the path that works best for me. I now view everything I do in life as fertile grounds for integrating, practicing, and embodying the lessons shared to me by my community, my family, and the medicines.
Everything we do in life is a micro decision point in how we interface with it and show up for it. That collision between our awareness and our conscious and unconscious is where integration happens and does so millions of times a day. How we write emails, how we dress up for a meeting, how we talk to our kids, how we breathe, how we go to sleep, what words am I choosing to express… the list goes on and on. Each moment that arises is a new opportunity to apply the lessons, develop a practice, and add intention to our actions. For example, as I am writing this, I noticed I was bending my leg weirdly, causing a slight pain in my knee. Ahhh, here I am integrating lessons of body awareness and self-love I learned in psychedelic experiences years ago. Still integrating.
This rabbit hole of relating to each moment with deep awareness and intention can unfold in nearly infinite ways as we keep uncovering hidden pearls of wisdom on our path. This is the real work we must do. To integrate our psychedelic experiences, we must match the potency of their insights with an equally dedicated journey of integration based on action and a deep engagement with the process. We must get curious, dig deeper, re-evaluate, experiment, apply, learn, and repeat. And be kind to ourselves along the way.