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setting psychedelic intentions

Setting an intention is something every serious psychonaut does as part of their session preparation. The process of creating and setting intentions not only helps to gain clarity on our motivations, but also allows us to take an active part in setting course for the journey ahead. But how to set an intention? And how specific should one be?

Crafting An Intention

The process of creating an intention can be broken down into 3 steps:

  1. Start with your honest why

To start, we can simply ask:
‘Why am I doing this?’

The simple act of taking a moment to answer this will reveal basic motivations.

Try not to pass any judgement on the answer that comes up. All is valid.

If the answer that comes up seems shallow, overly specific, or otherwise inappropriate, this is the opportunity to change course or reframe. This might be a process of refining the motivation, or just looking at it from a different angle.

2. Use further whys to dig deeper

Maybe your intention is looking at a specific problem or area of your life where you would like some answers. When we start the process, it can be as specific as we like; continually asking more whys helps us get us to the root of it. The process here is digging deeper. Doing this, we uncover motivations that sound more and more general. 

3. Refine into a single, simple sentence

Once we have dug deeper, we can collate and distill our answers to form a single pithy line.

To illustrate, here is a rough walkthrough of a previous process of mine, when I was using psilocybin to quit smoking.

  1. Why am I doing this?

I want to quit smoking tobacco.

2. Why do I want to quit?

I am experiencing contradictory thoughts about my smoking habit. I feel guilty about smoking, but I still do it sometimes. There is a lack of clarity here. I want my mind to be clear. 

Quitting smoking is the #1 obvious thing I can do for my health. I enjoy leading a healthy lifestyle and place high value on my health. I want to be healthy. 

I’ve already quit twice in the past and the tobacco monster always finds a way to sneak his way back in. I’m tired of being on this merry go round and ending up back in a place where I’m doing something I don’t want to be doing. I experience a lack of self control and I feel ashamed of myself when I end up smoking in front of other people. I just want to be free from this addiction, once and for all.

3. Taking the key points from each of my reasons for wanting to quit, I ended up with my final intention:

‘I am clear, healthy and free’ 

Keeping an Open Intention

What we think might be the highest priority when we’re heading into ceremony might not be what is truly needed for us to work on. The depths of the unconscious that emerge in the session reveal to us what really needs to be addressed. These inner depths are known as our inner healing wisdom. Each and every one of us holds this within us.

What needs to come up will come up. Leaning into that trust is an important part of psychedelic work. 

Having thoughts like “this isn’t what I’m supposed to be thinking about” or “this session was not supposed to be about this, I wanted to work on x” are counterproductive. This is resisting the experience. This is not allowing, not being open, not letting go. It isn’t dropping into the flow of experience. It isn’t trusting our inner healer.

Consider that it may be happening for an important reason.”
– The Zendo project, on difficult experiences

Holding a more general and open intention allows space for a wider spectrum of experience to be fully embraced. It allows for a greater flexibility and a wider range of interpretation. 

Sometimes the meaning of the content will be clear and obvious. Other times it is less straightforward. It can also be downright confusing. Unpacking and integrating afterwards is especially necessary for more opaque experiences.

My Experience

A few years ago when I was working at Myco Meditations psilocybin retreat in Jamaica, I remember my old mushroom mentor Eric Osborne saying that he often heads into a session with the approach of: “show me what you got”. This is a casual way of putting it, but a general and open intention. 

To give a final personal example, my intention for my most recent session was: to listen and learn. Setting such a broad intention meant that there was no real way to fight the experience or not accept difficult parts when this was brought to mind. Whatever was going on, there would always be an opportunity for me to listen. This could be interpreted in many ways: redirecting my attention to the music, tuning in and ‘listening’ to my inner voice, listening to my body and the physical sensations I was experiencing. Including ‘to learn’ gave me a good reason why I should listen carefully. It helped me to hold and steady my focus at various points on the journey.

Intentions For Integration

Intentions can also be useful in the integration stage. After reflecting on the experience and identifying key themes, it can be worthwhile to set an intention for the next phase of life. This might be for the following days, weeks, or even months.

Some examples:

If you have realised you would like to be less guarded, you might make an intention to be more open.

If you have been keeping things to yourself; it might be to share more.

If you’ve been giving too much of yourself; to practice saying no.

If you take up a lot of space; to listen.

An intention might even be just for the day after. ‘Self care’ or something thereabouts is one I always use on the integration day directly after a session. This allows me to be kind to myself and prioritise self care, but also to do integration work such as journaling, as making that investment of energy when the experience is still fresh helps me to gain the most benefit from my session and therefore caring for my future self. 

These types of integration intentions help give us direction in our lives. Their looseness means they can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways and require us to use our intuition. They can be used as a compass for action in all kinds of situations throughout the days, weeks and months that make up our lives.

This is a guest post from the great Sam Woolfe.

One of the most common features (and frustrations) associated with the DMT experience is that despite being profound, it can also be very difficult to recall. DMT has a dream-like quality to it, in that you quickly lose your memory of the DMT trip as you return to normal waking consciousness. Terence McKenna drew attention to this quality of the experience when he said: “the way a dream melts away is the way a DMT trip melts away,” adding that “[t]here is a self-erasing mechanism in it”.


Image by Pretty Drug Things

Many people who experience DMT, especially at the breakthrough levels, will find that they simply can’t remember the bulk of what they experienced. This is something quite unique to the DMT flash and I think part of it comes down to the extremely ineffable nature of the DMT experience, which you could even call hyper-ineffable, with certain aspects not only being indescribable but also unrememberable.

Some people might accept this is a DMT quirk and think nothing of it, whereas others might feel that a lot of important knowledge and insight was lost when the amnesia set in. Whatever your attitude may be about DMT and memory loss, one challenge remains: how can you integrate a DMT experience that is difficult to remember?

In this article, I’d like to share my own experiences of DMT and memory loss, relating to one experience, in particular, that took place six years ago, but which I still mull over sometimes. This has been my most profound psychedelic experience to date, yet it has also been the most difficult to remember, with essentially most of the trip (apparently) erased from my memory. However, over the years, I have still been able to integrate the experience by way of helpful discussions, enlightening books, and productive introspection. First, here’s a brief description of what my experience was like.

My Mystical DMT Experience

One day, I decided to go on a solo psychedelic journey and took 430mg of mescaline HCL. This experience was highly profound in itself, with emotional and life-affirming insights. It felt like the negativity bias had been flushed out of me, replaced instead by existential joy. At the peak of the experience or perhaps just after, however, I had the thought of smoking DMT. I wanted to aim for a breakthrough.

I got everything ready and, for the first time, I had zero anticipatory fear or anxiety, something that was usually quite prominent any previous time before blasting off. I think the lack of pre-trip jitters (and the mescaline, no doubt) helped me to go deeper into the experience than I otherwise might have.

I was ‘congratulated’ for taking the last hit by some presence or presences, to my amusement. After that, I began to lay down and remember a tsunami of colour and patterns enveloping me. I’m not sure I even remember feeling my body completely lay down; my sense of self and body was snuffed out in an instant.

From this point on, the memories are hazy and sparse. My clearest memory was having what felt to be universal knowledge. Every question was answered. There were no mysteries left to be solved. These insights felt as clear as the understanding that follows when you finally solve a problem you’ve been working on for a long time: the immediate relief of clear understanding. There came a point though where I had to leave this realm of universal knowledge and I was told (or knew) that as I was leaving, I wouldn’t be able to bring this knowledge back with me. The cosmic secrets had to remain in this realm and this realm only. A pity, I thought.

I do have a snapshot memory of then travelling through a psychedelic wormhole or tunnel, ending up in a realm with ever-shifting activity. This activity was going on for what felt like an eternity – I definitely had the sense of being away for aeons and certainly could not imagine that there would be a time or place in which this experience was not happening.

But eventually, I gained some perception of my body, feeling the pressure of the floor against my back. At this point, though, my ‘body’ felt nothing more than pulsating, pleasurable energy – everything about me seemed to have melted into the totality of the experience. As I regained more bodily awareness, at a certain point I opened my eyes, as if in shock. I saw multi-layered DMT-like patterns above me, so I was half in my room, half in this heavenly realm. I closed my eyes again and I was still somewhat back in hyperspace. There were entities engaged in all sorts of frenzied, zany activities.

After opening my eyes a second time, I went into the fetal position and began sobbing, feeling like pure consciousness. I had felt the presence of the divine: this titanic, loving, and merciful force. I had the feeling of being shot out of some cosmic womb, reborn, and given a second chance at life. I was utterly stunned and in disbelief about the whole experience. Slowly, piece-by-piece, I regained my sense of identity and my memories, realising I had a life here on Earth and had returned to it.

After the Experience

I have thought about this experience a lot since it happened six years ago, but one of my personal frustrations has been how little I remember and whether my thoughts about the experience or what I wrote down some time after the experience even approaches what actually occurred.

There are many things, nonetheless, that have helped me to integrate this experience (and other DMT experiences), despite the gaps in memory. Before describing these techniques, I’d first like to touch on why integration has helped me and how it might benefit you, as well.

The Benefits of Integration

Integrating this particular experience has helped me to sort through some of the confusion, such as endless questions and doubts about what certain elements mean. You want to remain mindful after such an intense experience, as there is often a difference between healthy introspection and unhealthy obsessive thinking.

Integration, for me, has been a process of creating a clear and meaningful narrative that benefits my attitudes, beliefs, and actions, rather than forget about the experience as something ineffectual and inconsequential. If you are struggling with memory gaps and confusion about a DMT experience, you may find peace of mind by accepting that the experience is likely to remain deeply mysterious to some degree and will always be open to re-interpretation.

Integration has also motivated me to explore different ideas and belief systems, especially those relating to transpersonal, humanistic, and Jungian psychology, spirituality, mysticism, world religions, and wisdom traditions. In these explorations, I found connections to my DMT experience, which helped to add new meaning to the experience, by providing frameworks in which to interpret it and use it to benefit myself and others.

As an atheist confronted with ‘the divine’, I also felt a need to reconcile my atheistic worldview with this undeniable experience. This is not a process that has finished (which is true of integration, in general), but so far viewing this divine quality and experience as something human and interior (rather than necessarily exterior) has been productive. You may likewise discover that integration will allow you to find more wholeness, through the reconciliation of different aspects of yourself, as well as the expression of unrealised aspects.

6 Ways to Integrate a Difficult-to-Remember Experience

1. Let Integration Happen Organically

 What I’ve found is that the process of integrating a DMT experience will happen organically when I stop trying to force interpretations onto it and when I give up obsessing about what I might or might not remember. Often, more memories may arise further down the line or existing memories can become clarified or take on a new meaning.

Integrating a DMT experience that is hard to remember might just require patience, time, and being mindful of any new ways in which the experience seems to influence your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, choices, behaviour, and lifestyle. Integration can be organically going on without you even being aware of it.

2. Read Widely

For me personally, there have also been spontaneous moments of integration or clarity when reading a book, article, or someone else’s trip report. A word, phrase, or sentence can seem to bring a memory into focus, create an emotional reaction that feels meaningful, or elicit some sort of constructive thought or insight.

I can give a few examples of books that seemed to help with the process of integration. One was the sci-fi novel Star Maker (1937) by Olaf Stapledon. It tells the story of a nameless narrator who travels through the cosmos, eventually coming into contact with the ‘Star Maker’, the divine creator of everything. The description of this meeting with the Star Maker helped to clarify my own contact with ‘the divine’ during my DMT experience.

Another book was the novel Narcissus and Goldmund (1930), written by Hermann Hesse. There were just a couple of phrases that reignited my memory of the DMT experience:

“At any rate, Goldmund had shown him that a man destined for high things can dip into the lowest depths of the bloody, drunken chaos of life, and soil himself with much dust and blood, without becoming small and common, without killing the divine spark within himself, that he can err through the thickest darkness without extinguishing the divine light and the creative force inside the shrine of his soul.”

The phrases ‘divine spark’ and ‘divine light’ helped me to recall how, coming out of my DMT experience, I felt that ‘the divine’ was something in me. The reason these phrases stood out to me, pregnant with meaning, might have been because this aspect of ‘divinity’ in the self held some importance that I should pay attention to. While I am still unsure and sceptical about what this inner ‘divine’ quality actually is, I do believe it is a positive quality and that if I can focus on that feeling of the divine, it will lead to greater well-being and more positive experiences and actions.

One more book that I’ve come across that benefited the process of integration was The Idea of the Holy (1917), written by the philosopher and theologian Rudolf Otto. In this book, Otto introduces the concept of the numinous, which stands for ‘the holy’ or ‘the divine’, which Otto conceives in a particular way.

He argued, firstly, that this experience of the divine, the “wholly other”, was at the basis of all religions, something that I understood, based on my experience with DMT. I came out of the experience thinking that my encounter with this powerful force, this divine ‘other’, reminded me of descriptions of prophets or Biblical characters being overwhelmed by the presence of God, such as Moses’ vision of the burning bush and Saul’s Road to Damascus experience, when Jesus appears to him, an experience that was so overwhelmingly powerful it caused Saul to fall to his knees.

Otto describes the experience of the numinous as involving fear, mystery, and fascination. This mixture of fear and fascination towards the power of the divine was very relatable and Otto’s elaboration on the numinous helped me to further clarify my experience, although it still remains shrouded in mystery, which, after all, seems to be an essential quality of this divine presence. 

So, if you are struggling to both remember and integrate a DMT experience, I would recommend searching for books, articles, and trip reports that relate to the particular themes of your own experience. Reading fiction, non-fiction, and anecdotes can, when you least expect it, trigger some recall or allow you to look at your experience from a different light, helping you to make sense of it. While you may not remember much of your experience, what you do remember can, as it turns out, contain a great deal of potential for meaning and growth.

3. Talk Openly About It

Talk openly about it

One of the most effective ways to aid integration, when your experience is difficult to remember, is to talk about it openly with someone else. You can turn around an experience in your head for years and wonder about what it means, but sometimes the perspective of someone else can lead you to conclusions you might not have reached on your own. This is especially true when the person you’re talking to has had similar experiences, is aware of such experiences, or is knowledgeable about areas of psychology – such as transpersonal psychology – which deal with altered states of consciousness.

When I was seeking a therapist one time during a bout of depression, I found someone who specialised in transpersonal psychology and remember thinking this person could help me examine my DMT experiences in more depth. I believed the positive nature of the experience could help me in my depressive state. When I first met the therapist, however, and voiced this intention of mine, the reaction was not what I had hoped for. Rather than view these experiences as meaningful material that could benefit me, she stressed that because I had depression I should not have used psychedelics, that I put myself at risk of harm, and that if I were to continue therapy, I would have to avoid all drug use.

Not only was this response surprising, given her training as a transpersonal psychologist, but it was also anathema to the integration I needed, as it cast the experience in a negative light, with ‘wrongness’ attached to it. I did not see this therapist again. If you are trying to integrate a DMT experience, it is crucial to be selective of who you speak to and to avoid talking about it further if you are met with any judgement. Integration is a highly personal and vulnerable process and so, if other people are to help you in this process, they will need to be open, empathetic, and non-judgemental.

Fortunately, I have seen two other therapists whose attitudes about my DMT experiences were completely different. And I am grateful that I was able to discuss these experiences so openly, especially considering that these therapists were not specifically trained (as far as I’m aware) in psychedelic integration. I talked about some elements of my mystical experience with DMT and my frustration with being unable to remember much of it.

Interestingly, both therapists had similar responses to this frustration of mine. They said something to the effect of “you will remember what is most important about the experience”, with one therapist saying that I was lucky to have had it, as it is a rare experience. I think this helped to make the process of integration much smoother, as it made me realise I didn’t have to obsess about what I do and don’t remember, or regret not being able to remember more, as the most meaningful aspects are still there, and that the experience is something to be immensely grateful for.

Again, even if an experience is hard to remember, this doesn’t mean integration isn’t going on unconsciously, affecting the way you view yourself, others, and the world at large. However, because a lot of this process is unconscious, you may find it beneficial to seek out a therapist who can work with you in becoming aware of this material and processing it, which can be conducive to personal growth.

Others find that psychedelic integration circles offer the ideal environment in which to discuss and make sense of their psychedelic experiences.

4. Write About the Experience

Writing about DMT experiences that are difficult to remember is another great way of trying to integrate them. Fleshing out ideas in writing is a different process than speaking about those ideas. You can write in a stream of consciousness sort of way, writing down whatever thoughts about the experience arise moment-to-moment. You can write in a divergent, creative way, producing as many new and interesting avenues of interpretation as you can and seeing which interpretation for you, subjectively, holds the most meaning and significance.

For me personally, writing – whether that’s privately or publicly in the form of articles – has allowed me to make a lot more sense of my DMT experiences than I think I could achieve through just introspection and conversations with others. For example, when I get some moments of clarity – moments where memories of DMT experiences start flooding into conscious awareness – I have made sure to make a note of that memory, usually as notes on my phone, or in a notepad if I have one nearby. These moments of clarity are fleeting, but trying to capture them in written form can help you create a clearer picture of the DMT experience, even if what you write down seems harder to relate to once the memory fades again.

5. Recreate the Context of the Experience

Context-dependent memory refers to the phenomenon whereby it is easier to retrieve certain memories when the context in which the memory was formed is replicated. For example, if you are struggling to remember what a DMT experience felt like, but you were listening to particular music during the trip, re-listening to that music could help you to retrieve memories of the visual, emotional, and conceptual components of the experience. The more you can do to try to recall the experience, the easier it will be to integrate.

Another aspect of context-dependent memory is state-dependent memory: the phenomenon in which it is easier to recall a memory if you are in the same state – or a similar state – in which the memory was formed. One possible reason DMT experiences can be so hard to remember is that the memories relating to such experiences (or at least some aspects of them, anyway) are state-dependent. So, if you can put yourself in the same physical or mental state in which the memory was formed, or a similar state, you may find it easier to retrieve the memories of the experience in question, which may provide you with valuable information.

You can access state-dependent memories in a variety of ways. One way would be to use DMT again, as this would mentally and physically put you in the same state in which the memory was formed relating to a previous experience. You may not even need to take a high dose, as even a light DMT experience may be similar enough in its quality to trigger the retrieval of memories.

I have not used DMT since my experience six years ago, so I can’t personally speak on the effectiveness of using DMT again to retrieve memories. However, when I occasionally used cannabis in the past, I would have vivid memories – like snapshots of hyperspace, imbued with emotions – of previous DMT experiences (although it’s hard to say which particular experiences they relate to).

Of course, if you don’t use cannabis or don’t want to, this doesn’t mean you can’t retrieve the memories in other ways. I have also remembered DMT experiences under the influence of different psychedelics, as well as experienced short moments of remembering during meditation. It seems that the ‘similar’ state you need to be in to remember a DMT experience can encompass a range of altered states.

6. Prioritise the Emotional Dimension

While many aspects of the DMT experience can be difficult to remember (e.g. the sequence of events and various details), usually one of the strongest impressions of the experience is its emotional quality. It can be easier to question and interpret how the entities and hyperspace appeared to look than how one felt entering hyperspace, traversing hyperspace, and then coming out of hyperspace.

Many strong emotions and feelings may be involved in the DMT experience, such as awe, bliss, euphoria, joy, unconditional love, gratitude, fear, panic, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. By taking the time to really feel into the emotional aspect of these experiences, you can let your mind freely engage with them, seeing what meaning arises.

Emotionally-charged memories may be connected to important insights and lessons. For instance, you might recall how you felt when experiencing love and comfort from the entities during the experience. You may realise that this was connected to greater well-being and so decide for yourself that in order to experience this greater sense of well-being in daily life, it is wise to try to treat yourself just as the entities did. Part of integrating this lesson may involve more attention placed on self-care and self-compassion. This is just one possible interpretation, of course. Integrating the emotional aspect of the DMT experience will always be highly personal.

By prioritising the emotional dimension, you may find you can remember more details of your DMT experience, as well as make more sense of it, offering you some nuggets of wisdom when you least expect it.

A DMT experience might be brief and hard to remember, but it can also be extremely powerful and rich. With patience, self-awareness, and conscious effort, you can unearth meaning and benefits from a single experience over the course of many years.

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Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. You can follow him on Twitter and find more of his work at www.samwoolfe.com.

Self-care is an important part of integrating a psychedelic experience and in general some good practices are:

  • Spending time in nature
  • Meditation
  • Adequate sleep
  • Exercise
  • Clean diet
  • Journaling

However integration is an individual process and will work best if you personalise and find things that work best for you.

What is Self Care?

Self-care is often be understood as things which promote health, rest and relaxation such as going for a walk or taking hot a bath. However, a much more effective way of understanding self-care is by broadening its definition to anything that replenishes your energetic reservoir. Anything that energizes you, replenishes you or (re) charges you in some way can be considered a self-care practice. This includes activities that really light you up, nourish your soul, and invite your presence. Any activities that fall in to these categories can be considered excellent self-care practices and used to develop your own personalized integration system.

Today I’d like to share an exercise in two parts that can help you to develop your own personalized self care kit.

Creating a Personalised Self Care Kit

1. Make a To Be List

We all have long and seemingly unending to do lists, but what about a to be list? Take a moment to journal your answers to these questions:

  • What are the inner experiences that you love?
  • What are the inner experiences where you feel most at home?

Examples: calm, peaceful, inspired, confident, creative, playful, at ease, humorous, loving, adventurous, kind, powerful, motivated, courageous, disciplined etc.

2. Which activities?

Once you have your to be list, journal answers to:

  • What nourishes those states?
  • What activities help to cultivate those states?
  • What are the activities that really light you up?
  • What activities really serve your soul?

Examples: listening to music, travel, writing, hanging out with friends, cooking, going to see a film, creating art, exercise, cuddling, going camping, getting a massage, going on a retreat etc.

When creating your list of activities do not be afraid to really personalize it and include activities which most people wouldn’t generally expect to be a self-care or recharging practice. Somethings which may energize or inspire you may seem strange to other people but don’t be afraid to write what is true for you. This can really make a big difference and this is the big advantage of creating a personalized self care kit rather than following generic self care practices. You can build a much more complete kit for yourself by including things that are unique to you.

It could be watching a video from a specific influencer that you find inspiring, or reading a challenging book. Some things that are unique to my kit are watching a music documentary, learning to play a song on the guitar and jamming it out with the volume cranked up, and watching a movie with one of my favourite comedy actors.

“In the trance of daily life we can be so organised around shoulds that we lose touch with what we love”
– Tara Brach

Let what you love be what you do

Try to really honour yourself and create space and time for the activities on your list. If you are the type of person who tends to slip in to prioritizing work or doing things for other people ahead of yourself it can be very helpful to actually schedule in your self-care activities. Put them in your calendar and protect them as you would any important meeting. After all, it is a very important meeting: a meeting with life, for yourself. If you think that sounds selfish, consider that you won’t have anything to give to others if you are depleted and empty. Caring for others begins with caring for ourselves.

Weaving Self Care in to Integration

Making time for these activities is especially important in the days and weeks following a psychedelic experience. Psychedelics increase neuroplasticity which means that you are more able to create new connections between neurons in the brain. In plainer English, this means it is a great opportunity for re-wiring; creating new patterns of thought and behaviour. This is a way of wearing in newer, healthier and more self compassionate grooves into your day-to-day life. It can be useful to do this exercise before a psychedelic experience so you have your personalized kit ready afterwards.

Best of luck and take care, of yourself

person nature contemplative

Integration is key to moving forward on the psychedelic path. Although some shifts may happen organically, a lot of it will need deliberate and intentional work.

As I tweeted a while ago:

integration tweet

Returning to twitter after my recent digital detox, I asked the psychedelic twitter crowd:

What would your #1 integration tip for psychedelic first timers be?

There was a great thread which covered many areas important to integration and included: self care, quality rest, community, selective sharing, facing what came up, avoiding distractions, remembering your why, and setting intentions.

Answers came from knowledgable people around the world, including Psychedelic anchor David Wilder, Canadian author James W. Jesso, and mental health writer Sam Woolfe, so I thought I would share some of my favourites here…

Top Integration Tips From Twitter

Take Time Off

Give yourself plenty of time and space to process the experience. During that period, make self-care your top priority.

 

@think_wilder
Turn your phone off, have 2 days. One day for the experience and one to reflect and rest the day after. Remember to breathe and you’re likely more resilient than you give yourself credit for.

@DecrimNatureMN

Get Quality Rest

Get a good night’s sleep after the experience, so enough sleep (7-9 hours) and good quality sleep (avoid cannabis, alcohol, and benzodiazepines, as these can interrupt REM/deep sleep, which are both involved in memory consolidation). The more you remember, the better.

@samwoolfe

Stay with the Experience

Don’t distract yourself for the days after. Instead feel & embody all of the emotions that come up after the experience.

@patti3001
Take time to feel into the emotional impressions left in you by the most significant moments of your journey, really feel into them, and then let yourself wonder about it. Journalling in this context is great, but be mindful to whom and how (and if) you choose to share the story.

@jameswjesso

Find Community

Beforehand, glean information from those you really trust about their experiences. Just like you know who to talk to in your circle about music or whatever, so to for the psychedelic journey. Also, integration can take forever so expect decades not weeks.

@ddaardvark
Find some like-minded people to work with and start a journal or diary for your deepest thoughts. Be prepared to be vulnerable but don’t be afraid of it

@society_welsh

Remember Your Why

Remember why you tripped. Beginning to think about what you wanted from the psychedelic can be an important first step towards using the feelings and thoughts that came up in order for you to transform your life.

@doubleblindmag

Set Intentions

Don’t be afraid of what the mushrooms are showing you. Listen to your mind & heart and proceed accordingly. Set intention. Everyone has their own journey

@TheDailyShroom

You can read the full thread on twitter here. Thanks to all the contributors and commenters.

tips advice psychedelic integration providers

If you are a psychedelic integration coach, provider or just interested in becoming one, this piece shares five best practices when providing services and helping others with their integration process. 

If integration is a new term to you, start here:

Here are the contents, I’ll expand on each point below.

  1. Understand What You Are Practicing
  2. Manage Expectations
  3. Don’t Be The Arbiter Of Truth
  4. Don’t Assume (You’ve Had The Same Experience)
  5. Seek Continued Development

Credits

Before beginning, I’d like to acknowledge that this piece is pulled from my notes from workshops, webinars and presentations on the topic. Primarily, from an excellent webinar on integration hosted by MAPS last summer which featured two people I consider leaders in the field: Marc Aixalà, and Ingmar Gorman. Some is also taken from a workshop with Ingmar at Insight Conference in Berlin last year. You can find out more about them at the bottom of this post.

Alright, let’s get into it!

1. Understand What You Are Practicing

Integration is a broad term and will look very different depending on a person’s needs. One factor in determining a person’s needs is when you see them in relation to their psychedelic experience.

ingmar psychedelic integration scale

In this scale from Ingmar, we see that there is the post acute psychedelic effect on the left end, and long term psychotherapy on the right.

The post acute psychedelic effect on the far left would be the hours and days directly following an experience, sometimes known as the ‘afterglow’ period, where as on the far right it would be a long term and ongoing therapeutic relationship. 

Working on a psychedelic retreat where you are with people directly after their experience, for example, will be on the far left of the scale. If you are conducting a follow up call two weeks later, you will be closer to the middle. If you are working with someone in an ongoing process over many months and years, you will be on the right side. 

Another factor to consider is how a person is doing following the experience: did it bring difficulties or benefits?

marc psychedelic integration scale

On this scale from Marc, we see the different ideas of what could constitute integration, from dealing with undesired effects (e.g. emergence of repressed traumatic memories) to maximising benefits (e.g. greater sense of peace, connectedness, more mental clarity).

Working on the left end of the scale requires more specialisation and looks more like a clinical practice, whereas further to the right could look more like coaching.

Knowing where you are practicing on these scales should inform your approach and help you to know what you are capable of doing. For example, for a therapist, empathy alone is not sufficient; a capacity to recognise what is happening with transference and countertransference and how to respond to that, is also necessary.

Although they can be combined, integration and psychotherapy could be very different processes, so be clear about which you are doing. Acknowledge your level of expertise and limitations, and be ready to refer when helping someone effectively is outside of your scope.

2. Manage Expectations

Psychedelics are getting hyped. Retreats are the new trend. Trips are the latest ‘cure all’. Stories of seemingly overnight change in the media are backed by incredible results from clinical studies.

A desire for fast change is fed by our cultural leanings to quick fixes and instant gratification and the idea of a ‘magic bullet’ is very appealing and draws many people to psychedelics.

Coming back to reality after a ceremony or retreat, and the realistic pace of change, can bring a surprising realisation that there is continued work to be done. 

The non-linear rate of improvement after an experience can fall short of people’s expectations, and this can lead to disappointment and frustration.

non linear progress integration

Falling back into old ways, as often happens on a path of growth, can also bring a sense of failure.

Handling these challenges can be handled well by managing expectations and bringing them to a realistic level.

Of course, hope is an important factor in the process.

So how does one manage expectations whilst maintaining a sense of hope?

It is very useful to first try to understand, what is their expectation of the outcome?

If expectations are high, then balance bringing them to a more realistic level with keeping a sense of optimism and hope.

10 Years of Therapy Insight

It’s often heard that psychedelic sessions are ‘like 10 years of therapy’ or ’10 years of transformation’. Sat next to me at Ingmar’s workshop in Berlin, Marlene Rupp of the excellent Sapiensoup put it perfectly in more real terms: ’10 years of insight’.

See Marlene’s talk at Beyond Psychedelics here:
How To Start A Psychedelic Integration Circle

Insight isn’t worth much until it is realised and actualised in the world; when it is integrated. There is a big difference between understanding a profound truth and embodying it. We could all read a quote from a text or book, but getting to the place of living in accordance with that wisdom is something else. This takes time and effort, something useful to recall in managing expectations.

A useful way of putting it that Marc shared is:

“You will have an experience.
That experience can be very useful, if you do something with it.”

3. Don’t Be The Arbiter Of Truth

It can be the case that a repressed or traumatic memory is recovered during a psychedelic session. For example, abuse from a family member.

In this scenario, the person who has experienced or re-experienced the memory may ask you if it is true, if it really happened.

Even if they don’t say it in words, they may in one way or another be fishing for a confirmation on the validity of their memory.

When it comes to recovered memories, the advice is simple: if you are in any way asked about their validity, do not confirm one way or the other.

The only correct answer you can give is ‘I don’t know’. A false confirmation one way or the other can have seriously negative consequences.

Worth mentioning here is Elizabeth Loftus and her groundbreaking work on false memories, including recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse – very interesting stuff for those inclined.

 

In general, be very careful when interpreting others’ experiences. This leads us nicely on to…

4. Don’t Assume (You’ve Had The Same Experience)

Someone comes to you who has recently had deep and powerful mushroom trip. Perfect, you’ve had many deep and powerful mushroom trips so you know exactly what they’re going through.

Not so fast.

Just because you’ve consumed the same substance as someone else, be it ayahuasca, truffles, acid or any other, it doesn’t mean that you’ve had the same experience. It doesn’t mean they were even remotely similar.

No matter how many similarities there may be, you can’t assume you’ve had the same experience. The width and variety of psychedelic (and life) experience should never be underestimated.

four agreements don miguel ruiz assumptions

That Don Miguel was on to something

Now of course, there can be similarities (and if so, great, because then your experience and learnings will be more easily translated to the other person). But if there are, then try to uncover them with non-directive questioning and patient listening, rather than assuming them from the start and then reaching them skewed by confirmation bias.

When it comes to asking questions, I personally try to take the approach of a non-judgemental exploration characterised by curiosity – seeing the interaction as a means to explore the person’s inner world alongside them. Rather than knowing and leading, trying to go deeper and uncover more.

As an integration coach, it isn’t necessary to share your own personal psychedelic experiences. After all, this isn’t about you. What is more important is that you let them know that you understand the challenges they are facing.

Be A Good Listener

On this point I think it’s useful to emphasize the importance of being a good listener. 

“There are three things you can do to help someone. The first is to listen. The second is to listen. The third is to listen some more.”

When you find yourself talking, WAIT.
That is, remember the acronym:
W. A. I. T.
Why Am I Talking?

wait acronym psychedelic therapy ingmar integration workshop

From Ingmar’s workshop at Insight Conference 2019

5. Seek Continued Development

Continued and sustained effort is fundamental to becoming great at anything. As Goenka would say; diligence, patience, and persistence.

dhamma dipa vipassana

As I’ve mentioned before, I believe the best way to learn comes from a combination of both study and practice, so read plenty, and seek practice where you can.

However, this final point is a tricky one. As psychedelic integration is a nascent field, there aren’t really any obvious ways to go about further development. By contrast, if you want to become a psychotherapist, for example, there are some pretty clear roadmaps to do so. How to become an integration provider on the other hand, isn’t so clear.

Globally, our only long standing traditions around using psychedelics have survived through indigenous cultures – e.g. Native American Indians, Amazonian tribes – where practice has never been totally discontinued and knowledge around practices has been passed down through ancestral lineage.

Because of the preservation of practices in those cultures, experiences are naturally integrated in to their communities. For this reason, they don’t really have models for integration that are applicable to us in the West. Here, psychedelics have only recently begun to emerge as a tool for awareness, growth and therapeutic application, and as such are not integrated in our society.

Though we currently lack these systems, they are on the way. In the meantime, seek education and practice where you can; go to workshops, start a circle, learn in related areas e.g. breathwork, mindfulness, support group and community building. Marc gave a couple hints: become a good listener, and become a good therapist in whatever school you’re comfortable in.

You can find some useful and related resources in this post:

If you have any further tips, resources, or ideas, feel free to get in contact.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

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Resources & Credit:

As promised above, here is more information on Marc and Ingmar. I’ve been lucky enough to attend in person workshops with both, a tripsitting workshop in 2017 by Marc in Copenhagen and an integration one with Ingmar last year in my home city of Berlin. They both have a lot of experience in the field and I’d recommend both as good sources of information. 

Marc Aixalà is an engineer, psychologist, psychotherapist and certified Holotropic Breathwork facilitator, specialized in supporting people who face challenging situations after experiencing non-ordinary states of consciousness. He coordinates support and integration services at ICEERS. You can find out more about ICEERS here.

Ingmar Gorman is a psychologist who specializes in assisting populations who have had experiences with psychedelics and other psychoactive compounds. He is director of the Psychedelic Education and Continuing Care Program, and co-founder of Fluence.