Dr. Katherine Coder is a transpersonal psychologist, psychedelic integration specialist, and author of After the Ceremony Ends: A Companion Guide to Help You Integrate Visionary Plant Medicine Experiences. To read Part 1 of our interview with Dr. Kat, click here.
Lana: Let’s back up to when you were speaking of integration after the ayahuasca ceremony, when the ceremony would end and there would be an integration circle the next day. What part of integration was being overlooked?
Katherine: Well, if we look at the process of integration, it’s pretty massive, and it’s ongoing. It’s long term, and I don’t think this is something that most people want to face, or to deal with. I think that the whole reason that a lot of people get into this work with psychedelics is that they want a quick fix, and they want to just skip over a bunch of steps. I just don’t think this is practical; I don’t think it really works that way. The integration circles that are happening are really wonderful, and yet integration is really your whole life. [Laughs] So, I think what we’re overlooking is how total that experience is going to be, and how long it can take. There’s not a quick fix, really.
Lana: I want to quote from your book the line, “climbing a mountain versus just taking a helicopter to the top.”
Lana: Also, integration is not a linear process, right? Then arises the question of where does it begin, and where does it end? It just doesn’t end, correct?
Katherine: I don’t think it really ends… it changes. Healing work moves in a spiral. We go around and around, and sometimes it’s the same issue. When we come back around, sometimes we’re coming from a different place. We’ve heard of the metaphor of the peeling of the onion: the issue is still the onion, and there are layers of it, and we come to it in a new way. You see what I’m saying?
Lana: Yes! I appreciate you sharing your own experience about the depression you noticed in yourself. My next question is about what I’ve seen with people completely changing their lives after these plant medicine experiences. Considering the onion metaphor, they’re still working on peeling the layers of this same onion, and I’m curious what you think about “fully peeling.” Do you think people with real trauma can eliminate the onion altogether after enough integration, practice, and carving those new neural pathways?
Katherine: Yes, I do think that it’s possible, though it depends on the trauma. An example is someone who was in a car accident versus someone who was sexually molested by their uncle for six years when they were very young. These are very different traumas. Sometimes I think with the more entrenched traumas, the earlier traumas are more hairy. They’re deep in the psyche and deeply wired into the brain. They’re so integrated with how we think and feel. You can’t just remove the memory. Yet there’s some sort of alchemy that happens, and it’s not like the trauma really goes away- it’s always there, but we don’t feel the same way about it and it doesn’t affect us in the same way. It doesn’t drive us unconsciously the way it drove us before. It doesn’t mean that this place in the psyche won’t always have a vulnerability- I think that vulnerability will be there- but there may be a different relationship to it than there was before. People can come into a much more self-loving, self-compassionate place around some of these deeper wounds. Just by loving ourselves in the places where we hurt the most deeply, a lot of things do shift.
Lana: Right. Just as you were able to notice your depression as a choice.
Katherine: Right, and I feel like there was something energetic that ayahuasca gave me in that particular ceremony where I came to that realization. The picture of myself that I saw resonated with me so deeply that it created this shield of resilience where anything that doesn’t match it kind of bounces off. It’s seen through for what it is, a false sense of self, and it’s almost as if that was energetically implanted in me so that now, other things bounce off. It’s not that I don’t feel the depressive pull- if a situation is trying enough and debilitating enough, it’s like yeah, that pull will be there- but I won’t feel the weakness. It’s not an unconscious pull where I might get sucked under. But it’s like- “Oh yeah, I’m still awake here; this is happening.” [Laughs] It’s like that vision of myself keeps me stable, and grounded.
Lana: The word that comes up for me is “observer.” Is it that you can be more of an observer of your experience instead of getting wrapped up in it?
Katherine: Yes, there’s much more of a witness on board, I’d say.
Lana: This last point that I want to touch upon is the mention of feeling like you’re becoming a plant. The line in the book is, “without realizing it, part of your psyche can begin to think it’s a plant.” This was something unique in your book that really caught my attention. Particularly because my husband, Joe, the co-founder of Psychedelic Times, likes to joke that he’s like a plant and he needs adequate sun, water and whatnot. It’s a silly analogy that we love to call in. Yet for most of us, the reality is that we can’t just plant our feet in the soil and stay put to thrive in our lives. I also want to go into your mention of the consciousness being outside of the body, when we truly do become disconnected.
Katherine: I feel like I, myself, got really deep into this vegetal consciousness by working with the plants. Outside of the sacred plant work, I started working with a lot of herbal teachers, and I was doing a lot of work in my garden, and I just really went deep into it… it felt great. It felt good to connect to that vegetal world in that way; I felt fantastic, honestly! I had three separate experiences with healers, all men, who gently- or not so gently told me that I had kind of gone too far. [Laughs] That I was really far into the vegetal world. One healer said to me, “You know you’re not a plant, and you’ve mastered the etheric realm, and you’re pretty much done, you don’t need to do anymore, this is over…” I really just didn’t want to hear it at the time. This was the first person who had said something to me about it, and I was kind of like, “No, no, this is my whole world.” I was in denial about the whole thing.I was enjoying myself, and didn’t want the party to end. I was thinking, “No, this is great- I’m enjoying this, I feel great, and I feel connected to all of the plants- I feel connected to everything.” I had a couple of other things happen with other teachers and healers, and I was just like “Ugh, okay, maybe there’s something to this,” and I literally had a healer uproot me. He uprooted me energetically, or rather, I uprooted myself with his assistance. He was subtly reminding my body that I was not a plant! He said, “Allow yourself to move your feet. Move your feet around- you’re a human, move your feet! You’re not stuck in one place.” He really had to coax me out of that world, and it happened slowly, over time, I couldn’t have been uprooted too quickly, because I had gotten a lot of enjoyment out of this experience. I didn’t really want to be uprooted. So it had to happen over time with three different healers, and eventually I was able to accept this idea. It was a gradual process for me, and I realized that this could actually be happening with other people, and they may not even know it!
Lana: How do we know if we’re feeling like a plant?! [Laughs]
Katherine: Well, it’s a funny question, right? For me, I was working with this healer, and he kept gently pushing me, physically, and I wouldn’t move. He said to notice that my center of gravity was pretty far back, but my feet were not moving, so there might be something about that. Being stuck in one place, or not really wanting to move.
Lana: Is it like complacency, or literally being physically stuck in one place?
Katherine: I think it’s really about physical movement. Maybe it’s related to complacency, but it’s physical.On some level, who’s to say what’s really right or wrong?It’s something one can ask themselves: Have you mastered this realm? Do you want to move on to something else? Though some people can spend their whole lives dedicated to the vegetal world, and they don’t see any need to move beyond that- and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that- but for me, my trajectory was different. I got pulled out of that world, like ejected- through my life experience. So maybe it’s up to people to watch their experiences and ask themselves, “Hmm, is it time to move on? Have I gained what I want to gain from this? Am I having any new experiences, or is it kind of the same experience over and over? Am I still learning, am I still growing? Or have I just gotten really comfortable?”
Lana: I found that part fascinating, so thank you for diving into that. Last question: How much is too much when it comes to plant medicine? How do we know when to stop or take a pause?
Katherine: I tend to be one of those people who thinks that if one is going to ceremony every month, that’s too much. Though there are certain people facing really strong addiction, and certain communities, like the Santo Daime perhaps, are helping them to stop using alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, and going twice a month helps them stay sober. In that way, I can see how the community aspect of drinking ayahuasca can be more healing than working with the plants alone would be. I feel like there is a call from the plants themselves, or even a soul’s call, that will say “It’s enough.” I hear people say quite frequently that the plants told them to stop, or the plants said that it’s enough. I think at that point, it’s like, “Oh, so I’ve received the message, let’s take a break.” I think that the harder it is to take that break, the more important it is to do it, to transition back into the non-visionary world.
This can be uncomfortable for a lot of people. It was uncomfortable for me. I did not fully want to transition back to the ordinary, mundane world, and you know, I did it. I haven’t used any mind- altering substances, or even had any alcohol for almost three years. I’m caring for my child, and I feel like this is right for me. I’m now in a new space where the ceremony never ends! Child-rearing and child birthing and all of that: it’s a whole different ceremony! There is still a lot of integration, and a lot of stuff comes up and I see my shadow a lot, and I’m receiving a lot of teachings, and learning what I need to work on, and it’s different medicine. It’s baby medicine! It’s still very transformative. To address your question, when you hear the call, it’s time to stop. Then, be very suspect when you decide to go back. Ask yourself if it’s really the community that you miss, rather than the medicine work itself. I feel that for me, what I really miss the most is the community- hearing about everyone else’s experiences, and not being a part of it anymore. There’s FOMO and all of that stuff!
Lana: Yes, I am very familiar with this feeling! Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate your work and the important call for more integration work!
Katherine: Thank you!