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From preparation to integration, there are several important steps to take once you consider embarking on a psychedelic journey. At first, here are a few things you can expect to come up when taking a psychedelic:
You may remember events you have completely forgotten, but which have nevertheless marked you. This can mean the possibility of reliving past traumas. On the flip side, you can also revisit happy memories that can cheer you up and restore your trust in life, in case you are going through difficult circumstances at the present moment. You may see positive aspects of your personality, as well as negative ones and may be confronted with your deepest fears and most reprehensible desires.
You can feel love and take into your arms people who have wronged you, by understanding from where their shortcomings came and view in a new light your present problems and predicament, as well as receiving guidelines on how to handle them. You may receive guidelines on how to live your life in a better, more fulfilling way as well, in such a way that it is more aligned with who you are deep in yourself.
You may have visionary encounters with angels, deities, archetypes, demons and other beliefs. You may experience mystical peace, bliss, and Oneness. You may experience a dissolution of your identity and of everything you are familiar with, and emotionally neutral, sensory aesthetic visions.
Preparing for a Psychedelic Experience
The clinical research at many universities points to the necessity to pay attention to four aspects when embarking on a psychedelic journey:
The preparation phase may take a couple of months or a couple of weeks. If there are many issues in your life that need attention, or if you are unbalanced in your mind-body system in great measure, it is better to first follow a discipline to balance your energies and to solve as many problems as possible. Do not think that psychedelics will “take care” of everything. This is not a realistic expectation.
You may also need to follow for a period a diet, abstain from sexual activity, be rested, and at the same time alert.
Mental Preparation: Your Mindset
What is your purpose in taking a psychedelic? Are you taking it for healing? What is it that you want to heal? Do you take it to have a good time with your friends? Even then, what do you want for yourself from the experience?
You need to prepare yourself by clearly formulating your intention. A clear intention is crucial for the depth of your journey. When you ingest a psychedelic, you embark on a journey in the vast ocean of consciousness. You may run into big scary storms. The intention is like a compass helping you navigate this unfathomable ocean.
In what context will you take it? With whom? You need to choose a very safe environment, with people who have experience with these substances and are reliable. Preferably in an authentic ceremony or in a recognized therapeutic context.
Be careful in your choice. Not all people offering their services are truly reliable. A guide on a psychedelic journey has to be motivated by a pure wish to serve.
The Dose Depends on Your Purpose
Plan an integration work of the psychedelic experience, preferably with a qualified psychotherapist or coach.
The Real Work Starts After the Journey
The true psychedelic work starts after the psychedelic experience. You need integration work for both good and challenging psychedelic journeys.
Why integration for good journeys? Because you may experience a state of well-being, of peace and bliss which you did not even know exists. A state that needs to be absorbed and processed, in order to become a part of you. If not, it will be just a beautiful memory. A psychedelic journey may give you beautiful guidelines on how to live your life. It is recommendable to have support for the implementation of those.
Why integration for challenging journeys? Because they are meaningful for your healing, transformation, and growth. Without a conscious integration, the message may get lost. Besides, you may load the experience with meanings that were actually not there. In other words, you may project desires and fears which do not come from a deeper source in yourself, but still be part of your ego organization. An experienced psychotherapist will see through it, and help you to process adequately what you went through.
The Steps Towards Integration
When the doors of perception are opened, they may lead to heaven and to hell. The more you have a rich and coherent worldview, the better. You can compare a coherent worldview with a map. The worldview comprises both the physical and the metaphysical. You can compare the Intention for the psychedelic journey with a compass. The worldview is the map, the intention is the compass.
You can divide psychedelic experiences, for the sake of understanding, in personal and transpersonal. The personal aspects concern your biological and biographical data. They constitute the horizontal dimension on which your life unfolds. It is the stage at which the events in your life occur. Space and time are fundamental features of the horizontal dimension.
The transpersonal aspects concern your ancestors, the myths you grew up with, archetypes, the collective destiny you are part of, themes from previous lives, your passion, existential quest, yearning and the ground itself of your being. They constitute the vertical dimension along which your life unfolds.
The vertical dimension is beyond space and time. It is the dimension along which you ascend and descend in your evolution as a human being. This evolution is determined by one aspect: your ethical values and how you manifest them.
You cannot separate the personal and transpersonal dimensions. Who you are is where they meet. And where do psychedelics come in this scheme? Psychedelics help you to access that which you are not aware of, what is unconscious, both in the horizontal and in the vertical dimension.
You should pay attention to integration because the true work only starts after the psychedelic experience. You can compare a psychedelic experience with a dream. A dream and a psychedelic experience have the same ontological status. Yet there is a difference: mostly, when we dream, we don’t know that we dream. What we experience is, for us, real. When we awaken, if we do not make a conscious effort not to forget the dream, however impressive it has been, the dream dissipates.
Yet many dreams come from a deeper layer in our consciousness, where wisdom and prescience reside. These dreams carry important messages, meaningful information, illuminating insights, life-saving warnings, they may even be numinous encounters with transcendent realities.
If we do not make an effort to not forget the dream, or if we dismiss the dream as being a fantasy, a concoction, we lose a very precious part of ourselves. The same applies to psychedelic experiences. During a psychedelic experience we are aware that we are under the influence of a substance we have ingested or inhaled, however overwhelming the experience may be. However, close we may seem to be to insanity or annihilation.
The fact that we are aware that we are under an outer influence may give us the next day, or days and weeks, a false sense of security that the experience will change us and our life according to the insights we gained. Yet, without conscious attention, the effect may wear out, and the benefit may be a fraction of what it could have been. Exactly like a dream, it may only leave a trace, or it may dissipate altogether.
Of course, much depends on your intention when embarking on this journey. If the intention was entertainment, you may not miss anything. But if the intention was to heal, to get an answer to a pressing question, to find a solution to a problem or a precarious situation, or to free yourself from entanglement, or to put your life on a new, more fulfilling track, you may lose the plot or the momentum.
This already is quite a serious consequence for neglecting to do the work after the psychedelic experience, the “integration.” But there is more that you can lose. All these goals: healing, disentanglement, solutions to problems, improvement of your life, belong to the horizontal dimension. They are valid and important goals, and psychedelics, taken in the right spirit, can help you to achieve many of them.
Yet, psychedelic experiences have the potential to help you in an even more profound way. They become then entheogens, they allow you a glimpse beyond the human mundane existence, which is bound to space and time. They have the potential to reveal to you your deepest and most true identity, as also numinous aspects of creation.
Psychedelics, or entheogens, can help you evolve and ascend on the vertical dimension, towards infinity and eternity. The deepest and ultimate aim of psychedelic experiences is, from my perspective, to evolve spiritually.
At last, how do you know if you have integrated and evolved after a psychedelic experience? You will see the stage on which your life unfolds from a higher vantage point, which confers you more clarity. In other words, you have a more clear, more accurate overview of your life, past and present, and of yourself.
You will also feel more inner peace and be less carried away by outer events or less embroiled in outer conflicts. The way you will react to outer events will be with less personal emotions and with more compassion and understanding.
If you notice these changes in yourself, however tiny, then you have already started to integrate the psychedelic experience.
Donca Vianu is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. She offers individual counseling and guidance for integration processes. You can follow her work through her Youtube channel and watch the video versions of this article here and here.