Ayahuasca Integration – Adjusting to Life After Your Ayahuasca Retreat
Working with ayahuasca is a challenging process for many people; however, the actual medicine work is only the first part of the challenge. The second part of the challenge is going back home and integrating your experience within your normal daily life. For some people, this can be seriously hard work.
Despite the challenging nature of the process, ayahuasca retreats are often profoundly beautiful, consciousness expanding, heart-opening and life-changing experiences that you wish could go on forever. You can find yourself deeply connecting with a beautiful group of people on a similar wavelength, and you may feel like you want these people in your life forever, because you know that very few people back home will be able to understand what you have just experienced. How can you possibly explain to your friends back home that you have just spent time communing with a powerful and sacred plant consciousness that has healed you, nurtured you, taught you, and opened your heart to deep love?
The idea of going home after all that may feel a little depressing!
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The bright, natural colors of the jungle and feelings of deep love and serenity give way to a dull, grey and hectic jungle of a different kind. You may start to feel like you have not actually arrived home, but landed on an entirely different planet!
Everything seems unnatural and most people around you appear stressed out and unhappy. Yet they’re not interested in your kind words of advice on how to relax and trust in spirit. Nor do they seem remotely interested in your amazing tales of the jungle and the spiritual realities you experienced with the medicine. In fact, they look at you as if you’re the one who has gone completely stark raving mad.
“What’s wrong with all these stupid people!? Why can’t they get it!? Help! Get me out of here!” is a common cry from people who have returned home to the madhouse of western civilization.
You may also have a hard time adjusting back into your job if it is not something that brings any joy or meaning to your life. Who wants to spend 40+ hours a week doing work that serves nobody except corporate masters who make all the money and provide no benefit to the world? If ayahuasca didn’t show you the futility of that, it won’t be long before you figure it out for yourself.
Now of course not everyone will struggle after ayahuasca. If you already live close to nature, and/or have a close circle of friends who are also on a conscious/spiritual path then integrating back into life outside the jungle probably won’t cause you any serious problems. Your friends will hopefully be keen to hear all about your stories and they will at least somewhat be able to relate to your experiences. If you loved your job before the retreat, then you will most likely keep on loving it after you get home.
However, if you are someone who already feels alienated by western society, have a job you hate, and you lack supportive friends who share your spiritual yearnings, then your feelings of alienation and loneliness may become even more intense upon your return home.
So how do you avoid struggling with all that and start to thrive after your ayahuasca experience?
I do not claim to have all the answers here and I don’t claim to be an expert on ayahuasca integration. However, I do have some suggestions that I know many people have found useful. Much of it is just common sense.
1) Give yourself time
You should realize by now that life after ayahuasca can be quite a challenge for some people, at least initially. Ayahuasca can suddenly make you the square peg to ‘normal’ life’s round hole (if you didn’t feel that way already).
You cannot simply go back to how you once were, and you probably would not want to anyway. Just accept that you may feel a little disorientated and confused when you get back home and that it may take some time to find your bearings again.
If you have the luxury of time then I strongly advise that after your retreat you do not immediately fly home and go straight back to work within 3 days, particularly if you have a stressful job that you dislike.
Try to give yourself at least a week to relax and integrate your experience and then get back into your routines at a slow and comfortable pace.
2) Start a Daily Spiritual Practice
After experiencing several ayahuasca ceremonies, most people report feeling a deeper connection with God (or source, spirit, oneness – whatever you wish to call it). In fact, for many people ayahuasca is their first genuine experience of the divine. With an expanded consciousness, many people report feeling a profound sense of peace, indescribable bliss and a deep love and empathy for all life. Yes, ayahuasca can turn you into a bit of a hippie but that is surely a good thing!
Sadly, these incredibly positive feelings do not last forever and they can begin to fade quite fast – unless you consistently nurture them. So, how do you do that?
The most sure-fire way is to develop a daily spiritual connection practice. I cannot tell you what this is for you exactly, because it can be different for each person and you need to figure out what works for you. It essentially entails finding a practice that helps you feel more connected to a benevolent divine presence, or just the wonder and energy of life.
A few ideas that might help you do this include:
– Yoga, Tai Chi or Martial Arts
– Being in nature
– Watching a sunset
– Listening to a beautiful piece of music
– Reading or writing poetry, or journaling
– Playing with your children, or spending quality time with a loved one.
All of these things and much more can be gateways to the divine, but they will not all work for everyone. Experiment with different practices and find out what works best for you. Do not expect that any of these methods are going to give you a dramatic peak experience in the way that ayahuasca can, but they can certainly connect you to the gentle, benevolent hum of source energy.
When you have found what works for you, then my suggestion is that you do that thing every single day, or as often as you can. Probably the best time for most people is first thing in the morning because otherwise we tend to get distracted by the events of the day. So set aside time every day to connect with the divine and make that time sacred. I suggest at least 30 minutes a day.
3) Be mindful of what you eat
I’m sure you understand that eating a healthy diet is physically beneficial for your body. However, did you know that the foods you eat can also have quite a profound effect on your moods, your concentration, and your mental & emotional health?
Eating junk food puts many toxins in your body and leaves you feeling lethargic and crappy much of the time. If you’ve gone through a few heavy ayahuasca purges then you will have eliminated many of these toxins from your body, but do you want to put them straight back in again?
If you want to stay feeling positive – on all levels of your being, then it’s important to eat healthy foods. And by healthy foods, I refer to unprocessed foods that are locally sourced (when possible), fresh, natural and ideally organic (including meat).
I won’t tell you that every bit of food you put in your mouth should be healthy. Most of us have our guilty pleasures we don’t want to give up (like pizzas, burgers, beer, ice-cream… whatever). However, I do recommend using the 80/20 principle. If 80% of what you eat is healthy and good for you, then you can allow yourself your 20% of guilty pleasures without worrying about it too much.
In summary, my recommendation is to take a good look at your diet. If most of what you eat is unnatural, processed food then begin taking steps to change that as soon as you can. It’s a sad reflection of our world that it’s often a lot cheaper to eat junk food than food with positive health benefits. So expect that your grocery bill may increase. However, try to see it as an investment in your health and not an expense.
4) Choose your friends carefully
As they say, you cannot choose your family but you CAN choose your friends. I think that is important to remember.
Unfortunately, there are many deeply negative, even toxic people in this world and perhaps some of these people are your friends right now. Now, of course, we need to stay compassionate towards these people and understand that their negativity is almost certainly the result of many unhappy events or traumas in their lives that they have not healed from.
We may also desire to try and help or ‘rescue’ these lost souls, but that is almost always a lost cause. You can never help people until they are truly committed to helping themselves. That’s a painful lesson for many of us to learn.
Regularly socializing with negative people is usually going to result in you feeling unhappy, stressed and low on energy, and so I recommend reducing these types of social interactions to an absolute minimum.
A useful exercise that I recommend is to write down a list of all the people you socialize with on a regular or semi-regular basis. Then next to each name, write a few words about how you usually feel after interacting with each person. Do you usually feel happy, inspired and uplifted by that person? Or, do you generally feel unhappy, stressed or completely drained?
My advice is to spend a lot more time with the people who uplift and inspire you and a lot less time with the people who drain you!
After doing this exercise, you may realize that what you really need are some new friends! Unless you live in a small town out in the middle of nowhere, then this should not be as difficult as you imagine. However, you might just have to step outside your comfort zone a little and start meeting new people.
Look for events in your local area that will attract like-minded people. This could include lectures, workshops, conferences, meditation/yoga groups, or even local retreats. If you have a local new-age bookstore or conscious cafe (i.e. organic/veggie/vegan/juice bar, etc.) there are often notice boards advertising events, classes, and workshops. Also, make a point just to hang out at those places because you will find that you will often meet interesting like-minded people just by being there.
Also, check out websites such as Eventful.com, and Meetup.com to find events or groups of like-minded people. There is often more going on than you think, and you can always find opportunities to make new connections, but sometimes you have to put in a little effort into finding them.
Finally, keep in regular contact with the people on your retreat. Many of the groups I have worked with have set up private discussion groups on Facebook where they can keep on sharing and supporting each other long after the retreat ends.
5) Change your job/career
How do you currently feel about your job/career/business? Do you enjoy doing it? Does it inspire you? Or, do you do it for no other reason than the paycheck and security it provides?
Most people will spend approximately one-third of their adult lives at work. That is a serious chunk of your life. If what you do does not inspire you in any way, if you don’t enjoy it, and if it usually feels like a chore then you’re going to be miserable and stressed out for the rest of your life.
After experiencing ayahuasca, most people feel deeply inspired to live a life of purpose particularly relating to how they make a living.
Now I certainly do not recommend that you go home and immediately quit an unfulfilling job or career. We all need to eat and pay the bills and it is perhaps not realistic to think you can leave your job and immediately find something new that inspires you.
However, I recommend making it a priority in your life to find something you love doing that will also pay the bills – even if it takes you a few years to get there!
You might need to take some risks, you might even fail a few times – most self-made millionaires have been bankrupt at least once in their lives! In fact, most people who are successful at anything will tell you that they failed several times before they achieved their success. Accept that failure and rejection are often part of the journey to succeeding and living the life of your dreams, so embrace it and don’t fear it. Stay committed to achieving your dreams and never give up.
If you continually play safe, then you’re likely condemning yourself to a lifetime of drudgery and feeling uninspired!
6) Consider Relocating
Do you feel like you have completely outgrown the place where you live? Do you feel you have exhausted the opportunities to meet new people and/or find a more inspiring way of making a living?
Perhaps you need to move on. There is a whole world out there for you to explore and experience. Don’t be afraid of it!
Most people spend their entire lives living in the town or city where they were born. That is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if the place and people consistently inspire you. However, many people stay simply because of fear or misplaced loyalties.
Moving to a new location will almost certainly take you out of your comfort zone, but in my opinion, that is a good thing. One of my favorite quotes that I continually remind myself of is “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”.
Personally, I think that everyone should spend at least some part of his or her life living in a new location and ideally part of a different culture – because the amount of growth that you experience is tremendous and usually life changing.
Many people thought I was crazy when I made a sudden decision to leave everything and move to Peru. However, it turned into the greatest experience and greatest adventure of my life – and it’s still ongoing.
I’m sure moving to this part of the world is a little extreme for most people and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. However, I do recommend that everyone travel as often as they can afford. Whether that be within your own country or abroad and I’m confident that at some new place your soul will whisper, ‘this is home’.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ― Helen Keller
7) Regularly Spend Time in Nature
“Nature is a great healer of the soul. When we are immersed in nature, we tend to slow down and find a deeper connection with ourselves and the world around us.” ― Frederic Laloux
After ayahuasca, most people report feeling a much deeper connection with nature. I think this is partly to do with the effects of the medicine and partly to do with just being in the jungle for an extended period of time. Rarely do people have such an intense and prolonged exposure to nature without the distractions of phones, television, and the internet etc.
You will soon realize, possibly for the first time, that being surrounded by nature has immensely positive effects on your being.
Various scientific studies have also found that nature has positive healing effects. It has been linked to improved attention spans, increased levels of serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes you feel good). It also increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability and love.
The Japanese have a relatively new type of therapy they call Shinrin-yoku, which means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing”. It has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.
Research by Japanese scientists has proven that the benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:
- Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
- Reduced blood pressure
• Reduced stress
• Improved mood
• Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
• Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
• Increased energy level
• Improved sleep
Just as impressive are the results people experience as they make this part of their regular practice:
• Deeper and clearer intuition
• Increased flow of energy
• Increased capacity to communicate with the land and its species
• Increased flow of eros/life force
• Deepening of friendships
• Overall increase in sense of happiness
Learn more at http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/
Therefore, my advice is to stay connected with nature – surround yourself with nature at least once per week if you can. This should be possible wherever you live. Even if you live in the middle of a big city, there should be parks you can visit. Anywhere where there are trees and flowers and plants will do, but if you can get out into the wilderness then even better! Just do it!
8) Keep learning & Stay Inspired
Ayahuasca is known as a plant teacher for a good reason. This incredible medicine really does have endless wisdom and can continually provide us with lessons and inspiration.
However, my feeling about ayahuasca is that she doesn’t really teach us anything new. She simply reminds us of what we have forgotten or refuse to look at.
Ultimately, all answers are within ourselves and so it’s important we don’t become dependent on only using ayahuasca as a teacher. Most people will never have regular access to ayahuasca and so it is important we learn to be our own teachers and that we connect with our own innate wisdom. Find your ‘guru’ within.
If at first you have trouble accessing your own wisdom then make it a daily practice to read the wisdom of others until you integrate it within your own being and it becomes yours.
Keep reading books that challenge you, that cause you to think and question everything, or that just provide gentle reminders to your soul.
Timeless spiritual classics such as the Bhagavad Gita or the Tao Te Ching are good places to start. The poetry of Rumi is also something that helps me connect with God and wisdom within.
At the back of this book I’ve included a list of books that I’ve found to be the most useful over the last twenty years.
9) Live with love and gratitude in your heart
While ayahuasca can have a great many amazing lessons for us, in my mind it usually all boils down to a few very simple things. If I had to encapsulate all the lessons I’ve received from ayahuasca into a few short words, it would be something like – “Love is all that matters. Life is incredible and truly a gift. Live with peace, love and gratitude.”
It really is that simple. Unfortunately, our mind likes to disagree with that and insist it’s far more complicated. Your mind can easily find a thousand different problems with everything and provide you with unlimited reasons for why you should be unhappy and ungrateful.
Being conscious of how negative your mind can be, and overcoming the constant negativity, can take a lot of work. It is perhaps the most important work you will ever do if you want to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Sometimes you just have to tell your mind to shut the f― up! Make some time every single day to focus on gratitude and what you appreciate about your life. If you’re reading this book then you’re probably not a starving African or living in the middle of a war zone. You undoubtedly have many blessings in your life, comforts and things you can be truly thankful for. If you focus on gratitude, you will feel better.
However, don’t take my word for that. Several scientific studies researched the effects of gratitude. Studies have found that People who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they’re thankful for experience more positive emotions. They feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.