An elder once told me that only 40% of the healing is done in medicine ceremonies while 60% of the work happens through daily integration following medicine experiences.
The mindset of having a trouble-free quick fix is the first thing to let go of. A common idea nowadays is to just take a pill to avoid anxiety, depression or whatever difficult feelings that are surfacing from our psyche. We can instead focus on how to develop a fresh perspective on healing and awakening, and how to anchor this work in our everyday lives, and to see healing as an ongoing unfolding process of transformation.
Shifting your mind-setHealing is a journey. It is not a one-off deal. It is associated with the natural unfolding process of awakening. The mind-set of escape and avoidance of discomfort is a barrier to authentic change. Some people go into a medicine ceremony with an expectation to get cured in one night, or one week. They may feel deep joy and openness after ceremonies, but they find themselves falling back into the same emotional patterns shortly after. Frustration and doubt start to take control over us. We start to lose faith and get into negative mental chattering (“No matter what I try, I am still the same old me. Nothing is going to change”, “It is too hard for me, I don’t think this medicine is working for me”, and so on).
All these confusions can be prevented by correcting your mind-set in the first place: understand that traditional plant medicines are not like western prescription drugs which tend to supress symptoms. In fact, traditional plant medicines often bring us to the core of our physical and mental pains and sufferings so that we can reprocess the root cause of these sufferings and learn to allow the trapped energies to move through.
What is healing?One of the notions of traditional healing is that physical and mental illnesses come from misalignment between our mind, body and spirit. When these are not in alignment, our life force and energy is not flowing freely, and trapped emotions and blocked energies can manifest as illnesses such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain and all kinds of medical problems. Plant medicines, such as ayahuasca, are especially powerful in shining light to our unconscious, giving us insights and clarity to see the root causes of our suffering and trauma. The ceremony facilitator holds us in a safe container with the medicine to re-experience and re-process what needs to be felt at our core.
Once we are willing to come face-to-face with these core issues, our blocked energies start to move and shift. Our blockages get a chance to dissolve. During medicine journeys, past events, difficult relationships or traumas often come up; we may come across people whom we lost, we hate, or we love and see glimpses of how these past events affect our current behaviours, life decisions and habitual patterns. The medicine can facilitate healing by raising our awareness of our unconscious, bring us closer to buried memories or difficult emotions, and offer new interpretations and understandings of them. In this sense, being aware of our “problems” is the first stage of healing.
You may experience an aggravation of symptoms at firstImagine our unconscious state as a dark room: we live in that dark room since childhood, we have no idea what is in the room, we don’t even know if we like to live there or not. There is no colour, no interior decors, no plants, no windows, no fresh air, we live a life like a robot - functioning on pre-set programming and conditionings. One day, someone puts a light bulb on the ceiling, and you finally see what is in the room – it is full of mess and chaos. You may discover that you do not like any of the stuff in the room. Your first response is likely a shock, an overwhelming sense of discomfort. You may feel depressed or panic because you don’t know how to make it better, you don’t know how to change the situation. The light bulb is our conscious awareness; shinning light in the dark room is the process of awakening.
It is actually very normal to feel a bit overwhelmed or shocked right after medicine healing journeys. You may even feel more depressed or groundless than before, and you may experience an aggravation of the symptoms at first because we have become more acutely aware of our internal state. When we experience the intensity of the healing process (it’s as if a light bulb is too bright and we have a hard time opening our eyes to stay alert), know that this is a normal phase of growth. The way to grow is to keep going forward – be courageous to stay alert with the unfolding process of awakening, shine light on the unknown, discover who you truly are, what really are you blockages and traumas that you have been carrying for years, what are the programming and conditionings that serve us no more and get ready to let them go.
After ceremonies, if you experience an aggravation of the sufferings at one point, do not lose hope. Know that it is just “stuff” coming up to the surface before it finally passes through your system. When you experience this, keep going forward by putting effort into integrating your medicine insights into daily life.
How to integrate?Integration is a huge part of medicine healing. As mentioned earlier, plant medicine healing is not a one-off quick fix deal but an ongoing process of growth and awakening. We cannot force healing to happen, but we can hold space for healing to unfold naturally. Here is some advice on how to integrate:
Journaling: Journaling helps us to organize insights, thoughts and understandings from ceremonies. It helps us to remember our experiences cognitively, thereby allowing the teachings and insights become more accessible on the daily basis.
Be gentle to yourself: we often want to rush our healing and we get frustrated when things do not go the way we expect. This is the time we need to find the balance between exertion and kindness to one’s self. It is important to be courageous and take up challenges, but it is equally important to be kind and gentle to yourself. Learn to listen to your body signals. When you feel stressed and tired, take space and rest.
Find peace and take space: engage in activities that bring you peace and inner balance. Taking walks in the forest, on the beach; spend time in nature and breathe in the vitality and life force that naturally exists in wilderness.
Meditation and mindfulness practice: develop the ability to just simply be with the present moment and present experiences, to simply sit with our emotions regardless of whether they are high or low, to cultivate the stillness in our mind and the openness in our heart, to be totally accepting and mindful with whatever arises.
Creating structure and routines for change: In ceremonies, we often shine light on the hidden areas in our lives and we have realizations as to what needs to be changed. However, if we don’t translate these messages into a feasible plan, we can soon find ourselves slipping back into our old habits. In the ceremonies, we might see images of a puma or cosmic serpent telling us about our anger issues or addictive tendencies, but a cosmic serpent won’t keep reminding you all the time. The post-ceremony work is for us to create a daily routine and action plan to manifest what we learned from ceremonies and slowly embody changes in our life. So, write your own to-do list, create a daily routine such as meditation for 15 minutes a day, quit smoking, quit eating junk food, take daily nature walks, visit your dear friends weekly, etc.
Stay with your community and strengthen your connections with loved ones: It is important to feel the continuous support from your community. Take time to connect with people who understand your process, it is equally important to offer support and compassion to others as well. The flow of giving and taking creates strong bonds among us to get through all the difficulties that may surface on this healing path.
Aftercare: After ceremonies, the medicine may still be working on you. You might experience sleeplessness for a while. This is normal and will soon pass. Try not to be anxious when you don’t feel “normal’. Trust that the medicine is doing what she needs to do in her own time. As much as you can, take care of yourself by setting aside time for relaxation, taking hot baths with Epsom salt and calming essential oils, avoid TV or social media, read books that could raise your vibrations, eat organic and simple food that is nurturing for you. If you need more support, consider reaching out to friends, family, counsellors or coaches that can offer you emotional comfort, or help you to understand your process.
Different experiencesThe medicine opens our heart, expands our mind, heals our body and cleanses our soul. But that process might look completely different in different people depending on our background and psychological makeup. It is important not to compare ourselves with other people’s processes and create expectations and preconceptions in what our journeys should look like. Likewise, our journeys will also be different every time for us as well.
Feeling groundlessnessThe medicine often breaks down your old belief systems and burns away your own habits. Before we reconnect to our true self and rebuild a new life, it is normal to feel groundless and even confused about who we are and what we should do in life. The transition can be challenging and we might want to go back to our old ways. The good news is we may not even be satisfied with the old ways anymore. A healing path is a journey with no return. Once we embark on the journey, the only direction is to keep growing. But we do no need to rush. This transitioning gap needs to be held with gentleness and care. It is the time for you to listen deeply into your soul, to discover who you really are with patience. Try to see this time period as refresh bottom, see it as grace. Be curious about what the next part of your life journey will look like, continue to allow your old ego to fall apart, and support your authentic self to shine through.
Stay on the pathRemember that the medicine will shake things up for you. Old stuff and blockages will come to the surface at first and sometimes they don’t feel comfortable but learn to embrace them as part of the unfolding process. Stay on the path of healing, keep going forward and shine light on the unknown and unconscious, bringing wisdom and knowledge to your ignorance. Nurture and be gentle with yourself, create space and peaceful environments to integrate your experiences in daily life. Always remember the inspirations and lessons from the medicine. Be humble to learn, be confident to progress along the path.