Praise Jesus, praise Buddha, rejoice, you’ve seen the light!!! You just finished a 10-day retreat in the rainforest and have a new perspective of life. For the first time you see beyond the veil of illusion that has been obscuring your vision for all these years. You purged toxins that have been in your system so long that you forgot what it’s like to feel healthy. After living in a crowded concrete city for decades you gained a new appreciation for the color green and the abundance of life that is the rainforest. You experienced a sense of peace forgotten long ago and realize this is how life is supposed to be. And in a few days you are catching a flight to Lima before connecting to that long international flight back home… then what happens next?
“I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form. Come in, she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
-Lyrics from Shelter from the storm, performed by Bob Dylan
Spread the word
When you return home there is a strong temptation to tell anybody willing to listen about what you have just experienced. You seriously consider climbing atop the nearest roof and shouting for all to hear. Standing in the middle of the city plaza and asking people to gather around seems like a real option. You want to share your revelations with all your friends in a Facebook post. At the very least you will certainly give your family a full update of your adventures while sitting around the dinner table, “mom you really need to try this!”
Trust me, I totally understand that urge to spread the word far and wide. Ayahuasca and other powerful sacred plant medicines like Huachuma / San Pedro, Iboga, Psilocybin, and Peyote are what the world needs most right now. You could even say our survival as a species depends on them. My strategy has mostly been to share only with the people that truly want to know and avoid isolating myself too much from the rest who may view my actions and beliefs as strange. I lean strongly towards, “this is who I am, love it or leave it”, but still think it is wise to be tactful about the subject. Let’s not forget that while Ayahuasca may seem as normal and necessary to us as drinking water we still live in a society that considers this to be an exotic illegal “drug”.
One of the most confusing social situations for me since returning from South America is trying to answer the question that is inevitably asked, exactly what were you doing in Peru for 3 whole months? I could say that I was hiking through the Andes while drinking pisco sours and taking selfie photos with llamas at Machu Picchu, but the average tourist does that in about 3 weeks, not 3 months! Or I could say I left my job to legally drink one of the most potent mind-altering substances known, which caused me to vomit and see the world as it really is. To recognize that: we live in a democracy owned by corporations that pay politicians to make decisions that bring greater profit rather than actually help the citizens who elected them; our economic system is dependent on never ending growth which is devouring our natural resources at a rate faster than they can regenerate and polluting the environment we depend on for survival; we are on a quest to buy our way to happiness through the consumption of material products that the corporations convince us we need through clever psychological advertisements; college debt, home mortgages and credit cards are forever enslaving us to soul sucking office jobs that create sicknesses we try and treat with ineffective and expensive pharmaceuticals that cause terrible side effects; humans are responsible for one of the largest extinction events in the history of this planet. Yeah, that’s what I was doing down there for 3 months, lovely weather we’re having today, what’s new with you?
I know how cynical that must sound, but the purpose is to highlight the extreme contrast between previewing our full potential as human beings during ceremony and then returning to a society that appears to be sick and insane. Remember that even though you may have radically changed, the home you return to will be relatively the same. Finding employment that is in alignment with my values has been a struggle for me since I came back. I always thought that swallowing the red pill and unplugging from the Matrix would be the difficult part, but now I see that coming back is the real challenge. I suppose that Neo never tried to come back to his office job, but we all have bills to pay, right? How can I be part of the solution rather than the problem? How can I be of service to others using my new perspective on life? And so the search continues to find meaningful work that supports a healthy and sane lifestyle and society.
“I bargained for salvation and she gave me a lethal dose. I offered up my innocence, I got repaid with scorn. Come in, she said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
-Lyrics from Shelter from the storm, performed by Bob Dylan
We’ve all heard how important it is to integrate after ceremony. Psychedelics are very effective at dis-integrating our lives. They tear apart some of our beliefs and habits by disrupting outdated thought patterns. They also act as a mirror that confronts us with how we have been living and show us where improvements are needed. I often thought of integration as those days following ceremony where it is crucial that we get plenty of rest, drink clean water, breathe fresh air, eat a healthy diet, and take quiet walks in nature. Proper integration also means avoiding travel, stress, media, and negative people as much as possible. This could be called the first phase of integration, the time when you are returning from the spiritual realm back to the physical and reforming as a person with recently gained insights.
I now see the second phase of integration that extends weeks and even months after ceremony as being equally important. The second phase includes returning to society, finding a supportive community, and deciding what service you will provide to others. Drinking is the easy part, putting the pieces back together is the real challenge, especially for those who take seriously the messages they receive from the vine. This is one of the major differences between plants and pharmaceuticals, the necessity to do more than simply swallow. For maximum benefits it is important to take action after ceremony and implement the lessons learned into your daily routine. Integration is a real challenge, but it is also an opportunity to create a better version than the original, which is after all the reason we first went to the rainforest, no?
I don’t normally provide lists in my articles, but since this topic seems very relevant to many people I thought it might help to list my conclusions along with a few extras on how best to transition back into society.
- Accept that you have changed more than the home to which you are returning.
- Understand that it may be difficult to relate to people in social situations.
- Join or create a supportive community.
- Seek employment that is in alignment with your values.
- Decide what service to provide to others based on your new perspective.
- Take action, change your life, rather than return to the old routine.
- Get professional counseling if necessary, preferably from a therapist familiar with entheogens.
- Sometimes it helps to attend another ceremony after a long break.
- Last, but not least, in the words of Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss”.