Integration is arguably the single most important factor in what gives a psychedelic experience lasting therapeutic and personal growth value, rather than being a wild ride that sweeps you up for a few hours before fading away into memory. Many experienced psychonauts and leaders in the psychedelic movement have stressed the importance of both intention setting and integration in working with psychedelics, and there are now even businesses that offer integration services to help people who undergo psychedelic therapy to integrate the experience in a lasting and positive way.
To take psychedelics in any context without a plan to integrate the experience afterwards is akin to planting a seed in the ground and neglecting to water it. As cultures around the world have known for millennia, psychedelics are incredibly powerful tools with immense healing potential, but they are not a magic bullet that will transform your life without any effort on your part. Let’s look at some of the key factors of how to best integrate a psychedelic experience, whether it’s a profound journey of ecstatic bliss or a difficult, dark night of the soul.
While the focus of this article is about integration after a psychedelic experience, one cannot speak about integration without also mentioning preparation and intention. To use the plant metaphor again, intention setting before a psychedelic journey is similar to preparing the soil and choosing a good spot to plant your seed. The term “set and setting” is often used to describe the vital importance of one’s mindset, intentions, and environment in which a psychedelic experience takes place.1
Whenever one chooses to undergo a psychedelic experience, having a clear and laser-like intention is incredibly useful to creating a positive framework for that journey. Whether the intention is to kick a chronic addiction, heal from a traumatic experience, discover one’s purpose in life, or commune with nature, it’s important to know what you are aiming for. Whether or not the experience ends up like you hoped it would, having an intention beforehand helps you to remember your goal and re-ground as waves of the unexpected arise. After the experience is over, it helps you to deconstruct the insights and challenges of your journey within the context of your stated goals, rather than as random occurrences.
After a psychedelic journey is over, there is often an incredible wealth of information, emotions, ideas, and new perspectives to integrate. The least helpful thing that someone could do in the face of all this is to simply feel overwhelmed, shrug it off, and try to get back into their normal routine. It’s important to remember that psychedelics open doors, but we ourselves have to walk through those doors to see positive changes manifest.
One of the best ways to ensure that the insights gained during a psychedelic experience last is to creatively express them through poetry, art, journaling, or music. Some people choose to write down pages upon pages of notes both during and after a psychedelic journey so that key insights can be remembered while others take a more right-brained approach and express their feelings in a painting or a recorded song. The important factor here is not so much to record the exact details of every insight. Rather, the idea is to make time to reflect on both the thoughts and the feelings that one underwent, as well as to express those ideas and emotions into a concrete form that can serve as a tool for continuing to remember and integrate those lessons long into the future.
The most incredible power that psychedelics have is to create an opening for radically new and positive changes in one’s life. For someone suffering from heroin addiction, this could mean no longer using heroin, no longer focusing every day on scoring heroin, and removing oneself from their old circle of fellow users. And for someone taking psychedelics for psychospiritual purposes, this could mean a shift in careers, a commitment to healthy daily habits like meditation and exercise, or the ending of an unhealthy relationship. What all of these examples have in common is that they require direct action from the individual.
Taking Psychedelics Beyond The Singular Experience
Psychedelics can do a lot of amazing things, but they cannot change your diet, your habits, your environment, or who you associate with. These changes must come from the individual, and they all take a kind of bravery, conviction, and even bravado to accomplish. In the days and weeks following a psychedelic experience, the impetus to make these kinds of positive life-changes will be strong, but over time, if they are resisted or over-rationalized due to fear of “rocking the boat,” they will fade. That is why it is so important to have faith in what you have learned during your journey, and after reflecting on it, to put it into action and make it real.
Of course, major life decisions should not be committed to during a psychedelic experience itself, but just as assuredly, if one is presented with the beautiful fruits of a transformative experience and never chooses to reach out and eat them, they will rot, and their magic will be lost. Our power to change both ourselves and the world around us lies in the alchemy of vision manifested by action, and all the insights in the world will change nothing until we ourselves bring them into being.
- “Set and setting,” accessed December 16, 2015, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Set_and_setting. ↩