What to Expect: A Post-Retreat Integration Roadmap

Ayahuasca gifts us with wisdom beyond the ego; understandings bigger and deeper than we come to on our own. The intelligence of the medicine shows us exactly what we need to see, when we need to see it. It’s important to remember that ayahuasca gives nothing from the outside. Rather, it uncovers our unique inner wisdom, in ways that are often surprising but always organic to our individual paths.

To receive its deepest gifts, ayahuasca requires a relentless commitment to growth and self-transformation—and this is where the process of integration begins. Ayahuasca shows you the light—but there is not much value in its epiphanies, however brilliant, unless they catalyze lasting change. It’s up to you to bridge the realms, to bring back the understandings you’ve been given and translate these into concrete terms in your life.

The more you can implement your understandings and reshape your life in the direction of the guidance you’ve received, the more complete your wisdom download will be—and the more complete you will be as a person. Integration is the art of becoming whole, not perfect. And this process is never completed, at least not in this lifetime. We are always growing. Ayahuasca accelerates this process, that is all, but the work still remains to be done, and we are the only ones who can do it.

Perhaps ayahuasca’s biggest lesson is how it teaches us to accept everything, everything that arises in our experience, and work with it consciously. Difficult situations, painful emotions, conflicts, all demand to be embraced in the light of transformation. The light ayahuasca shines is bright, and relentlessly reveals everything that is unlike it. Habits, patterns, relationships, old wounds—most fundamentally, we can transform how we treat ourselves, what we believe and think about the world and our place in it.

Some of your motivation for this process can be the desire for change that brought you to the retreat. And some can simply be respect for ayahuasca as a powerful sacred medicine. Ayahuasca gifts you with deep wisdom; in applying this wisdom to your life, you give back to it in energetic exchange. Your gift may be the release of old behaviors and beliefs that no longer serve you, or the birth of a new way of life that’s different from your past. New skills will be called for in the integration process, new tools and ways to transform. This website suggests some. You will likely discover more of your own along the way.

Likely Challenges

In working with ayahuasca, as with any deeply transformative process, it’s good to relinquish all expectation. Still, having a sense of the territory can be a useful support. Here are some common post-retreat challenges:

Sensitivity: Your work with ayahuasca has perhaps sensitized you to a new and unexpected level. You may feel energy more intimately, in ways that can disturb old patterns of accommodation. The best response is to understand that this experience is natural and ultimately positive. Find constructive ways to respond that allow you to stabilize at this new level, rather than expecting to go back to the old ‘normal.’

Need for support: The values of modern culture may conflict, sometimes stridently, with what you’ve learned on retreat. People at home may not understand your experiences; it can be difficult to explain them to others—or maybe nobody is that interested. Finding the right kind of support is extremely important in integration.

Self-doubt: What made sense on retreat may be less clear back home, and it’s easy to fall back into old behaviors. It’s not unusual to experience self-doubt: Can I really change? Was it just a hallucination? Recommit to the integration process; find ways to stay connected to the medicine (more on that here), and be patient with yourself, understanding that transformation is a long-term process that only begins for real when you leave the retreat.

Making sense of experiences: Ayahuasca’s messages are deeply meaningful, and not always straightforward. It can take time to explore, understand and fully integrate the meaning of your ceremonies. Be patient: profound insights can emerge weeks and months afterwards. If you’re feeling confused about your experience, it can be tremendously helpful to have a caring mentor/friend/therapist to help track the thread of meaning, someone to serve as a sounding board, memory bank, and wise guide.

Readapting to society: The level of change you’ve experienced may trigger a sort of reverse culture shock, in which your own society feels strange. The overstimulation of modern life, with its materialistic emphasis, rapid pace and lack of time for reflection, can grate on newfound sensibilities. Readapting to the demands of ordinary life can leave you feeling like a foreigner in your own country. This is a temporary phase and will pass soon enough, but while you’re in it, be patient and gentle with yourself; make time and space for your own needs, and understand that for a while you may need to adjust your previous expectations and plans to meet them.

How to Handle It All

On your retreat, you (hopefully) had a supportive environment for deep work. Back home, it’s up to you to create a similarly strong container for your ongoing integration. Your home is not likely to be serving three daily meals of healthy food, or be full of like-minded people with mind-blowing experiences to share from their most recent ceremony. In fact, it is rather likely to be the opposite of this. So here’s your first challenge, and responsibility: to create a sane, clear and clean home environment that can support your continuing transformation.

Your life can transform through this process of learning to make simpler choices, choices that support the new level of consciousness you’ve arrived at. What you take into your body/mind, be it food, substances or electronically programmed thought waves; how you live, sleep, care for your body; how you meditate, connect to the Divine and connect with Nature—not to mention the whole huge field of personal relationships—all of these are up for transformation in the weeks following your retreat.

Sometimes the period immediately after is tinted by a rosy glow. You may feel serenely confident that you’ve changed, permanently and easily. If this is the case, wonderful! Use this energy to build supportive routines that serve your newborn self. Don’t wait for things to slow down or old habits to creep back in. Right now you are open to bringing new energy into daily life: do it.

On the other hand, your retreat may have left you feeling disoriented, vulnerable, or somehow incomplete or unresolved. It’s as if the old identity, the old mask, no longer fits, yet the new one is not yet solidly manifested. Let the changes grow, slowly, over time. Give yourself the grace of time to explore this uncertain place, however uncomfortable it may be, and remain open to the understandings that may arise in the weeks and months to come. Supportive medicine friends or soul guides can be of great value during this liminal time, as sounding boards for your evolving experience.

Your mission in this stage is to learn to embrace the material that is arising, rather than resist, reject or avoid it. However painful or uncomfortable it may be, work to hold the feelings and sensations within the steady awareness of your meditative practice. The biggest lesson for most of us is learning how to be with ourselves in a wise and compassionate way. This takes practice, over and over again; falling down and getting up and falling down again, and recognizing each fall as an opportunity for practice, for bringing kindness and understanding to your own experience. There is no end to these opportunities, not in this lifetime.

Change, Not Regression

Post-retreat, you may feel opened up, suddenly aware of things you hadn’t noticed before. Familiar situations can unexpectedly feel unbearable; things that did not bother you may suddenly seem strange or difficult; friends or family members may trigger reactions you didn’t know you had, or perhaps had previously managed to suppress. If this happens, don’t judge it as a sign of weakness. You are simply feeling energy more intimately. Your sensitivity may actually be indicating that things are going right, in a way that can signal growth, as well as the need to care for yourself more skillfully.

Sometimes old issues can resurface post-retreat, things you thought you’d resolved. Again, this is not necessarily a sign of regression; rather, it can be a deeper layer emerging for more complete healing. As long as you’re consciously working your growth curve and getting the support you need, things will move through. The transformation triggered by ayahuasca can sometimes feels larger than life. It takes intention, conscious work and quality support to metabolize the profound insights that ayahuasca reveals. As long as you’re contributing these ingredients, trust that the medicine is continuing to work with you.

Pace Yourself

It’s important to have realistic goals aligned with how much change you can actually expect after a single retreat. Try to view this process in the context of your entire lifetime, rather than an urgent “Gotta change completely and immediately” feeling. Make goals for yourself that are manageable and human-sized. Often this is a matter of proceeding in stages. You might not know the whole picture at once—but you almost always know the step you need to take right now, and that step inevitably leads to the next. The wisdom of ayahuasca is practical and down to earth, as it leads you, step by step, to your own completeness.

Take your time with big decisions. Give yourself a few weeks or months post-retreat before announcing or initiating major changes in jobs, relationships, or home settings. Important shifts like these deserve serious thought and planning. Let yourself come into full alignment before taking action, considering the long-term implications as well as the present.

Be conscious about who you share your experiences with, as well as when and how. Talking too much about your journeys, especially with an unappreciative audience, can cheapen the whole thing. Sometimes it’s enough to say, “I went on meditation retreat, and returned with some insights.” Soul friends and friends experienced with the medicine are valuable, if you have them. By all means share, but do so consciously, with respect for yourself and your ongoing process.

Your Path . . .

It’s impossible to predict how your integration process will unfold. There can be moments of hope and elation, and moments of despair and confusion. Keep walking the path: integration is the work of everyday enlightenment. Ayahuasca is a tremendously powerful transformative agent that can catalyze your spiritual journey—but it takes the hard work of integration to root this transformation in the world.