First off I’d like to say that I have an incredible amount of respect for all the plants and shamans who live and work in Peru. Without the jungle trees and the Galindo family, I would not be in the place I am today. Studying plant shamanism in the Amazon is an incredibly unique and challenging experience that definitely has intrinsic value and is worth experiencing at least once. Having said this, I have found that doing this type of work in North America is even more effective for a number of reasons.
Part 1: Integration
As guests who have previously worked with CDA have often heard us say, “The real work starts when you go home.” If a guest is not able to successfully integrate the progress they’ve made during a retreat, the whole exercise of going to retreats in the first place becomes rather pointless…
During my first Ayahuasca/plant dieta retreat in Peru I worked through a lot of pain between my family members, came to terms with some substance abuse, and experienced domains of existence that I had previously not known existed. By the end of week I felt lighter, happier, peaceful, awake, and full of inspiration. After the retreat I had about two weeks where I continued traveling in Peru. This was the perfect opportunity for me to put into practice all the things I had learned from Ayahuasca and the trees I had dieted on the retreat. This initial integration was incredibly smooth because the surroundings I was dealing with immediately after leaving the camp were very similar to those in the jungle. After the two weeks I returned to the States and also had a surprisingly smooth reentry into American culture. When relaying my mystical experiences in Peru to people in the US, I was met with a lot of skepticism and cultural bias, but it was relatively easy to handle. I found it easy to remember the truths that I had learned in Peru, and ended up making a lot of positive changes to my lifestyle. In retrospect, I can see how this smooth and gradual reentry into the “real world” was absolutely key in retaining the progress I had made during my first retreat.
Long story short, I went back to the camp as a volunteer a few months later and continued to study the plants for another 4 months. I experienced huge leaps in consciousness and the blossoming of an entirely new way of relating to the world. By December 2013, it was time to leave the camp and go back to the US to work on integrating all of this progress. Like many guests that had visited the jungle camp and then chosen to immediately return home, I had no grace period between finishing my work in Peru and getting confronted with the culture of Western modernity. I went from living in a hut in the middle of the Amazon with no modern amenities, to living in a big American city in the height of commercial Christmas.
My integration this time around was incredibly rough because not only was the physical and cultural landscape so shockingly different, but I also had way more teachings to integrate this time, in comparison to my last return to the States. It didn’t help that the challenges I frequently encountered when living in the middle of the Jungle were very different from the ones I was now coming across in the middle of a 1st world city. In the jungle most of my obstacles/challenges were on a physical level as opposed to in the states where there was a whole new social survival element that created all kinds of 1st world problems and mental struggles. I was surprised at how hard it was to navigate all these changes. The previous 4 months in the jungle literally felt like a dream. Shamanism, plant work, and consciousness study had little to no importance to the culture that now surrounded me. The people in this new context seemed to be only concerned with collecting materials and creating identities, rather than looking at the larger picture of life, or exploring spirituality and consciousness.
To say I was experiencing the symptoms of culture shock would be an understatement. This violent juxtaposition of landscapes and culture was so abrasive that I fell back into some old self destructive habits and ended up losing a lot of the progress I had made in the jungle. Over the years I’ve heard countless stories from guests who have had similar experiences after returning home from a journey to Peru. In comparing my first and second integration experiences coming from the jungle, it has become clear to me exactly how important a gentle immersion back into one’s “day-to-day life” is in the overarching practice of medicine work.
During the last two years I’ve done a lot of plant work here in the States and I’ve found the integration process after a retreat to be remarkably easier for both myself and other CDA members. Dieting plants, trees and doing other plant medicine in a far more familiar and relatable context, in comparison to the jungle, is incredibly effective in helping each guest retain the gifts they receive while working with these beautiful plants.One of CDA’s goals is to encourage each person to keep progressing on their spiritual path after leaving a retreat, and a successful integration is key in this often difficult process.
In part 2 of this post I’ll be discussing why dieting local trees and committing to a personal spiritual practice are important components in a successful integration.