As we create a world of expanded access to sacred medicine, we must also expand access to good integration support, which translates to a multifaceted long-term program involving a whole community of peers as well as various skilled helping professionals. In other words, integration is the long, slow, and steady process of humbly “becoming medicine”—a little bit—every day, with the help of our friends.
With iboga and ibogaine, integration becomes a life or death issue.
With iboga and ibogaine, integration becomes a life or death issue. After a flood dose of these medicines in an effective treatment, drug tolerance typically drops to zero, like a newborn. This is a critical time. If people are sent right back into the same toxic environment, with the same toxic relationships—or toxic isolation, with a lack of coping skills, and the same toxic thinking—then it’s a set up. The danger of relapse, and then overdose, is high.
There is a myth surrounding iboga or ibogaine, in particular, that you simply pop a pill, lay down, and wake up feeling good; all those pesky personal problems magically vanished. Nothing could be further from the truth. This medicine entails climbing a mountain inside of ourselves, facing the painful truth, and looking at our fears head-on until we learn to breathe there.
Chor and I have learned through our journey that this medicine is not a magic bullet. It is an opportunity. It is one piece within a bigger puzzle of holistic healing. Iboga is a great healer and teacher, and it demands our full participation so that our consciousness can mature. This medicine work is not easy, but it is profound, fully alive, and connected to nature. We are gifted with the intimate knowing of what life really is and the radical sacredness of all things. And we cannot do this alone; it requires the elaborate weaving of integration.
Medicine work, in its totality, is 1% what happens in ceremony and 99% what we do with it afterward. Integration is that 99%.
What does integration look like? Medicine work, in its totality, is 1% what happens in ceremony and 99% what we do with it afterward. Integration is that 99%.
We cannot approach iboga, ibogaine, or any medicine as a quick fix. This kind of approach is the status quo passive consumer mindset of taking something outside of ourselves to make it all better, while we try and remain comfortably numb. That won’t work here, and that approach clearly isn’t working very well anyway. As my mentor and fellow Bwiti initiate, Mark Howard, says, “Iboga needs a 50-year plan.”
Integration begins with preparation. We want to offer as much of ourselves to the medicine as we ask, like any good relationship. This spirit of reciprocity can look different for everyone, and it starts with cultivating intentions, releasing hard expectations, giving the medicine our kind attention, and fully receiving what is being given.
Medicine continues to guide months and years after a ceremony, if we continue to listen closely and honor ourselves.
We can bring ourselves to the medicine as physically prepared as possible with optimal nutrition, electrolyte balance, and medical care. And we can arrive as mentally prepared as possible, having been educated about the medicine, aware of best practices, and with social support. Spending time connecting with people who have experienced the medicine can help us to relax and surrender in the medicine terrain. Medicine continues to guide months and years after a ceremony, if we continue to listen closely and honor ourselves.
For me, integration started with writing a 400-page book. For my beloved Chor, integration started with creating a series of paintings expressing what words cannot. These creative, reflective endeavors turned our experience into diamonds within, and left tangible artistic scripture to remind us again and again of our blessings. Eventually, the quest for deeper integration would lead us to Africa, to the spiritual root of the world, for months of traditional study. We are grateful to our Bwiti community and the global community of entheogenic medicine-lovers for being a part of our continuously unfolding love story.
These medicines have been held in tribes since the beginning, and it’s the missing piece in contemporary psychedelic research.
Healthy, inspiring community is key. These medicines have been held in tribes since the beginning, and it’s the missing piece in contemporary psychedelic research. Initiations in the motherland can involve a whole community of people who love you and who will remind you of your sacred name and your visionary homework for your whole life. There is no such thing as true healing in isolation, according our understanding as Bwiti initiates.
Integration can involve mindfulness, meditation, the art of thinking, gratitude, service, and activism. Integration might call for some attention to physical health, such as an upgrade in quality of food or a comprehensive checkup with a functional medicine, naturopathic, Ayurvedic, or Chinese medicine doctor. Sometimes, addiction or other dysfunction may be related to a neglected or misdiagnosed underlying health issue. There might be nutrient deficiencies, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalances, stress-related illness, gut health and digestive issues, dental care needs, or endocannabinoid deficiencies that need attention. Even though we might be feeling good and inspired in the “afterglow,” we may still need to explore communication arts, life skills, and professional skills. Six years after iboga, I find that I can never learn enough about all these. Good old-fashioned housecleaning is profound medicine, as our house can literally purge sticky psychic trash of the past—just as our bodies and minds purge in ceremony. Our physical space is really a big altar and a life-map.
Psychedelic integration and education events can be great places to connect with supportive friends and form lasting relations. Expressive arts allow us to distill our experiences and make lasting beauty from our journeys that may eventually reach others. The oldest human art, the one that defines us as a species, is storytelling. We often collectively benefit from sharing our sacred trip reports, after basking in that initial delicate period of silence after ceremony.
When we come out of our deep healing journeys and land back in a toxic society and economic system, we are then presented with a mission to do our small part to help dream the future of a new Earth.
Changes in our professional life or routine may be knocking at the door. What in our work has been unfulfilling, false, or just rubbing our soul the wrong way? When we come out of our deep healing journeys and land back in a toxic society and economic system, we are then presented with a mission to do our small part to help dream the future of a new Earth.
Therapists, counselors, and coaches who are knowledgeable about medicine work can be invaluable. Research on ibogaine shows that the rates of abstinence, improved harm reduction strategies, and higher quality of life post-treatment directly correlate to the availability of skilled aftercare. The longer and higher quality the aftercare, the better the outcomes. Though our Bwiti tribe has “researched” the importance of community support in healing since before recorded history, I would like to see future studies in the West that examine long-term results of ibogaine treatments when supported by regular check-ins with trained peers or community groups.
For Chor and I, integration also involves honoring the ancestors, like my mama and my Bwiti sister Robyn Rock inspire us to do. We tend an altar, give them goodies, and enjoy a deep, spiritual sense of connectedness. In this way, we honor life itself and the strength of those who heal through our living stories. This altar is essentially ritual epigenetic therapy.
Offerings to the earth are essential to our integration—real offerings that regenerate the soil. We give back to Mother Earth who birthed these priceless medicines. We literally compost what no longer serves and decorate it with flowers. We offer precious medicines and elixirs such as tobacco, cornmeal, sage, and others, never grasping anything too tightly or habitually.
The end of the ceremony is just the beginning of many long, ordinary days of extraordinary practice.
Integration can even be washing the dishes, when performed with exquisite loving awareness. The end of the ceremony is just the beginning of many long, ordinary days of extraordinary practice. That’s integration.
Art by Mariom Luna.
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. (2017, June 7). Two new studies show ibogaine’s promise as treatment for opioid addiction [Press release]. Maps.org. https://maps.org/news/media/6693-press-release-two-new-studies-show-ibogaine’s-promise-as-treatment-for-opioid-addiction
MAPS. (2017, April 26). Bruno Chaves: Ibogaine in Brazil – Finally stepping out from the underground? [Video file]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4ovF8DJ8iQ
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