Most people assume working with psychedelics is only about the medicine journey. So much focus is placed on the psychedelic experience – what it’s like, what is possible, and what the physical feelings and emotional journey feel like – that the comparatively unsexy preparation and integration phases can get completely overlooked or forgotten. There are literally thousands (if not millions) of “trip reports” online of people sharing their personal experiences with all kinds of psychedelic compounds, but you rarely see videos of people talking about how they stopped eating onions, garlic, and dairy and started a daily meditation practice for a month before sitting with ayahuasca. The 5 Pillars of Healing with Psychedelics is a basic roadmap that can help you give your attention to the before and after of your psychedelic journey, and ensure you get the most out of your time with the medicines.
Preparing Yourself to Work With Psychedelics is Like Hosting a Distinguished Guest
In order to get the most out of working with psychedelics, it is so important to spend a significant amount of time and effort preparing yourself and creating a container to receive the lessons, healing, and understanding the medicines can offer.
A simple way to think about it is like having an important guest coming to visit. If your Grandma Aya is coming to stay with you, you’re going to make sure your home is clean and comfortable, and make up her room how she would like it, taking care that you have time to spend with her while she is there, and she has your undivided attention. If your grandmother shows up to a trashed house, no groceries, and nowhere to sleep, chances are she’s going to scold you and her visit won’t be very enjoyable.
Creating the container, making sure you are totally ready and able to receive everything you deserve to get from these medicines can make or break your experience.
Pillar 1: Start Where You Are
The first step is doing a self-assessment to figure out where you are and what needs to be done to help prepare you. This assessment should include a mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual component, and should take an honest look at everything that’s going on in your life. It’s also really wonderful because onboarding this concept can help you feel and understand that you are always exactly where you need to be.
Identifying exactly where you want to go, what you want to heal, and how to safely prepare will help you plan for successful and meaningful journeys each and every time. Most importantly, having a big picture plan for your healing work and goals will help you stay connected to your purpose and live in your vision long after the medicine wears off and the retreat or journey ends.
My favorite method for this step is self reflection through journaling and meditation. In my Ultimate Free Guide to Healing with Psychedelics, I’ve included a worksheet called 20 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Beginning to Work with Psychedelics that takes you on an in depth journey to seeing where you are and what you may need to work on as you prepare.
Pema Chödrön, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, has a wonderful entire book about applying this concept in all areas of your life called, of course, Start Where You Are.
Pillar 2: Holistic Preparation, Safety, and Creating Supportive Practices
Holistic means “whole” and it’s an important way to view yourself as you prepare to work with psychedelics. Western medicine often has us thinking of ourselves in pieces and parts, so this step is all about creating the ideal circumstances within your whole self to achieve your healing goals and get the most out of your time with the medicines. Always start with education and research, getting to know the medicines, and identifying which ones are a good fit for you, and which are not. This step also includes preparing all facets of yourself by doing a deep dive into your motivations, expectations, and willingness to do the work around areas you want to heal.
This can look like talking to others who have experience with medicines, finding a coach or therapist to work with, connecting with a psychedelic peer group, and taking a look at your diet and health habits to create the most nurturing environment possible.
Pillar 3: Developing Tools and Practices for Navigating Your Experience
Worrying about the experience is what causes people the most fear, anxiety and stress. I remember watching dozens of videos, reading trip reports, scouring the internet for every piece of information I could get my hands on that would assure me somehow that the experience would be gentle and not terrifying.
The truth is, there’s absolutely no way to know what will happen to you, but you can be sure it won’t be like anything you’ve watched, heard, or read. Expectations not being met is the biggest source of disappointment and frustration for most people who are new to working with psychedelics.
There are certainly some general “this could happens” that can serve as mile markers on your trip, but the best action is to learn how to navigate the experience in advance, that way you are prepared for whatever comes your way, and are able to return to your center when things inevitably go a little wonky. Going over the most important basics and loading up on supportive practices will help you feel totally prepared to meet the medicines each and every time. Meditation and breathwork are great places to start.
Pillar 4: Plan to Integrate, Integrate, Integrate!
Psychedelic Integration is the process of exploring, understanding, and embodying the psychedelic or mystical medicine experience, and taking action to bring yourself and your life into alignment with your new perspective and awareness. It is a commitment to going deeper within yourself to address areas within your consciousness that are needing your attention, care, and unconditional love.
Planning to allocate time for this process to unfold before you ever sit with any medicines is a beautiful way to support yourself through the healing process. One of my shaman teachers once said before a ceremony that she only recently came to understand something that happened in her very first ayahuasca ceremony…18 years prior. Understanding how to process, allow, accept, and embody your experiences is the key to achieving lasting healing.
The integration process can look like shedding things that no longer feel aligned, spending time alone or with others who understand the work you’re doing, and working with a coach or therapist to help guide you through the process. Integration can happen over days, weeks, months, even years after a single journey, and there is no “right” timeline or schedule. Finding a community and support system for this process can help you maximize your time and efforts with psychedelics, turning every journey into an opportunity for growth, healing, and understanding.
Pillar 5: Find Your Tribe
Healing is exponentially amplified in community. When we help each other, hold space, empathize, and connect, we see that we are not alone. We see our pain is not as heavy when others help to carry us. We feel strong and resilient in service to our brothers and sisters who are also doing the hard work of waking up and healing.
Finding a psychedelic community that understands what you are going through is vital to staying the course. So often people go to retreats and feel so connected and open, but then come home to the same life, with no support system or ability to find others they can relate to. The psychedelic experience can make it feel hard to just go about your old life like nothing is different (because EVERYTHING is different!)
The goal of connecting with others who are also doing this work is to give you the support and understanding you need to integrate your own stuff, while also allowing you an opportunity to support others. Being of service to others is one of the most rewarding things you can do to heal yourself. You heal, I heal, we all heal together, it’s awesome! Stay connected, reach out, and create the community you want to be a part of – community building requires active participation, so wherever you find yourself, be visible and speak up, someone else may desperately need your help.
Want to learn more? Do a deep dive with our 22-page Ultimate Quickstart Guide to Healing with Psychedelics and start getting fully prepared for your next journey.
Feeling ready to go for it, and want personal, professional support throughout your journey? Join Psychedelic Integration Academy, our 12 week complete system for healing with psychedelics.
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