How many of us have had a “bad trip” on mushrooms, ayahuasca, or LSD and just tried to shake it off, yet years later still intimately recall the fear around what happened? Or, maybe we had a really positive, mind-blowing experience but aren’t able to access the higher states of consciousness we experienced in our day-to-day lives. The answers to why so many psychedelic experiences go unintegrated lies in our body.
Many of our earliest childhood experiences happen before we are able to use our mind to cognitively process, rationalize, and discern. When we are little, we simply absorb the environment we are immersed in without any awareness of what is healthy and what is dysfunctional. Patterns are imprinted somatically, and while we cannot explicitly remember the earliest years of our life, our bodies form implicit memories of what we experienced—deep feelings of safety and comfort, as well as neglect and abuse, are stored in this way.
Trauma survivors often do not have access to explicit memories of the things that have happened to them, either because they were too young or because it was too painful, or both. Yet the body remembers. Often, during psychedelic experiences, our implicit body memories of past traumas rise to the surface as part of a healing process to resolve the traumatic imprint that is still lingering in our nervous systems.
When this happens, as it very frequently does when working with such evocative medicines, the surfaced experiences can quickly become overwhelming. When we are flooded with too much to process at one time, we lose touch with the present moment and are not able to fully metabolize what has come to the light.
Stuck in a Whirlpool
What often ends up happening is that things are left unfinished, and people walk away from the experience having had a positive or negative cathartic release, but lacking the tools or framework to integrate it properly. It’s like the equivalent of popping a cyst and watching the puss ooze out from it, then not taking care of it and letting it get infected afterwards.
The surfacing of implicit or explicit traumatic memories while on psychedelics can easily spin us out into a whirlpool, where we continue to cycle through the feelings that initially felt cathartic while on psychedelics, yet are now stuck lingering unresolved in our body and mind. Sometimes, we don’t even necessarily know the full extent of the content we are carrying, only that something hasn’t quite settled.
Having good intentions is simply not enough to guard against the difficulties that psychedelics open a person up to.The cathartic experiences we have when using them need to be held with care and tended to full resolution and integration in order to become useful.
A good indication of whether or not an experience has been integrated is if we are actually embodying the teachings gained during psychedelic experiences in our every day life. Embodiment is effortless—meaning that there is no striving to apply the lessons we learned, but simply a change on the fundamental level of our being, in our nervous systems and energy fields, without having to talk about our insights or remind ourselves of them all the time.
A Shift in Paradigm
One of the best tools in helping to integrate psychedelic experiences is a shift in paradigm. Western culture, which now prevails on much of the globe, does not teach us how to listen to or communicate directly with the natural world around us. It is highly individuating and isolating. We value our own needs as primary and have a fragmented sense of community, thus losing out on a deeper level of bonding with our kin.
In indigenous cultures across the world, the prevailing view of the natural world is animistic: that everything is alive and has a spirit. Contrast that to the prevailing view in the western world, where materialism dictates that matter is inert and without volition of its own. This difference in world view has vast implications—other cultures talk to the spirits of mountains, rocks, plants, animals and other beings as valid sources of real intelligence. Imagine the huge storehouse of knowledge that the natural world can then contain.
So much of the depression, anxiety, sense of meaninglessness and despair in our culture comes from a lack of connection to the greater whole—the matrix of aliveness that our entire cosmos participates in. Psychedelics can revitalize our lives and give us a renewed sense of the purpose, clarity, and communion with the natural and spiritual worlds. Psychedelic integration is a vital part of the healing process that psychedelics catalyze. This work acts as a bridge between the worlds: our modern world of human psychology and the ancient world of spirits. Both are valid, and both must be tended to for sustainable growth to take root.
If you have worked with either natural or synthetic psychedelics and are looking for a safe space to unpack your experiences, and to solidify your connection to the levels of consciousness you were in touch with, please reach out. I would be honored to walk this road with you.