The Art of Adding or Subtracting Parts to Make a Unified Whole


                  By Chris Odle                   from La Medicina                                

                  By Chris Odle

               from La Medicina                                

Deep and profound shifts in consciousness are possible during the relatively brief period of an ayahuasca retreat. However, these changes and breakthroughs can be short lived unless the inner work is integrated into the fabric of the participant’s day to day life back home.

This process of integration has been increasingly recognized as being of the utmost importance. One definition of integration is: The art of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole. (Collins English Dictionary.) We might rephrase this to include: adding or subtracting parts to make a unified whole.

One helpful metaphor is to consider our lives as a complete jigsaw puzzle, with us the central piece in the middle, our unique shape fitting into all the disparate parts of the puzzle around us. During the process of our work with ayahuasca and other plants, who we are changes, sometimes radically. After our retreat, we may discover that our “shape” has changed to the extent that some elements of our lives back home no longer fit well with who we now are.

As such, some parts of our lives may need to be let go of, and other, new elements, may need to be added. However, although it is possible in a week or so of ceremonies to realize we have, for example, outgrown the career or relationship we have had for the last 15 years, for psychological and/or practical reasons, it may take months or longer to transition out of such a long held dynamic.

Large volumes of unconscious material can be brought to the surface during our retreat, and help might be needed to process and work through long suppressed memories and feelings. It can be of great benefit having someone appropriately trained to hold a safe space for us to go through this integration process, whether this is just a one-off consultation, or a more regular on-going arrangement over a longer period of time.

At La Medicina, our small maximum group size allows us to focus on “framing” and guiding the integration process during the retreat, to help each guest to become aware of their own individual trajectory in life, whatever their circumstances. This groundwork provides a solid base for carrying on the inner work post retreat.   

For many people, a regular and dedicated spiritual practice can be key in helping to nurture the seeds of growth and fulfilment planted during their retreat. Not everyone will feel the need for further support and guidance, but for those who do, you can find some lists of integration therapists and coaches in Resources.

The two extremes of integration

As opposed to a traditional or even mestizo way of living in the jungle, modern urban life can often produce very fragamented minds. One of my teachers had an interesting way of looking at this: he compared the minds of the people who lived in the low jungle area around Iquitos to "axes," and the minds of the modern westerners who came for retreats to "computers." Westerners were more capable of so-called sophisticated mental tasks, but they were also more fragile mentally, and just like computers could "crash" easily. The locals in the jungle were more robust mentally, and generally far less complicated to deal with.

A couple of anecdotes will bring the above metaphors to life. One night a local worker joined us for ceremony, and asked for a large dose of ayahuasca as he felt he needed a good clean out. After around 2 hours, he became very mareado, and purged violently before rolling around on the maloca floor and groaning. Later on he got up and told us he was going to walk home. He collapsed a few feet up the path from the maloca, but insisted he was ok and that we leave him alone, as he was talking to some Remocaspi (medicinal tree) spirits. He stayed sprawled on the ground for some hours more. The next morning when he came in for work, he smiled and said "buena limpieza" (good cleansing), and had nothing further to add about his experience.

Compare this to a report in a recently published book about ayahuasca, where the author relates how she felt fear and trembling during a ceremony when experiencing the "unbridled healing forces of nature." She suggests various ways from a psychotherapeutic viewpoint of how to integrate her experience, including doing an emotional drawing of this "unbridlled force of nature" and then another of her fear and trembling. She also suggests a third drawing of the shaman's lineage and the feeling of safety she experienced when connecting to it in ceremony.  She also mentions the possibility of entering into an imaginal dialogue with the healing spirits within the psychotherapeutic process. And/or dialoguing with spirits from the shaman's lineage, or have these shaman's spirits encounter the healing spirits of nature. According to the author, the more levels we engage to integrate an ayahuasca experience, the richer the process.

It is up to us to decide whether we are like the local or the above author. Most of us will fit somewhere in-between.