Honoring What Matters Most: The Ritual of Art-Based Psychedelic Integration
by Alison McQueen, MA, LPC, ATR
Psychedelic experiences can take us in many directions, and the content of these experiences often takes up many pages in our journals afterwards. It can be easy to get lost in the details, or become overwhelmed with the possibilities that have been revealed. To provide some containment around your experiences, I would like to offer you an exercise in art-based psychedelic integration. This is something you can try at home with some basic art and journaling materials on hand.
After facilitating psychedelic-assisted therapy sessions I am often asked by my clients “What do I even do with all of this? Where do I even begin?” The answer is simple: start with what matters most. I tell them to take out their journals and jot down this writing prompt [try this at home with a recent journey you are working to integrate. Set a timer for 5 minutes and see what flows out of you]:
What matters most about the journey I just went on?
If everything else were to be forgotten, what would be the one thing, the thing you most need or want to remember from this experience? Imagine having gone on a mining expedition, and for now you are only able to take one gem back with you. Which gem most wants to come home with you? Pick it up, hold it close to your heart or place it in your warm pocket, and carry it home.
Perhaps it’s a specific memory, an insight, a project you feel inspired to start. Maybe it’s something you are grieving. Maybe it’s something you are celebrating. Maybe a big question that you have been been wrestling with is beginning to get answered. By writing about it, we move it from the ethereal into the real… it then becomes softened clay in our hands, ready to be formed into something more.
Did you meet, for the very first time, an archetypal great Mother, who knew how to hold you and rock you to sleep, the way your biological mother was never able to do?
Did you remember that terrible thing that happened, the turning-point in time in which you decided to no longer trust humans with your heart and/or your body?
Did you meet, once again, an ancestor who has appeared to you in your dreams for years – always with messages of hope?
These are the kinds of things that occur, particularly in the cannabis-assisted psychedelic therapy sessions that I guide. Oftentimes multiple profoundly significant moments, memories or images can occur in a short period of time, and by writing about them we are able to focus on core themes instead of getting lost in the details. Once you have identified what matters most about the journey, creating Art with and about that gem can be a useful integration ritual. I’m calling the Art-based Psychedelic Integration process a ritual in this context because it is special, it is sacred, and must be treated as such. Without that, these gems can be so easily forgotten, swept under the rug, and never thoroughly integrated into our lives. It is a way to honor the significance of what has happened.
Remember, no previous art experience or training is necessary. Art Therapy is really about using art materials as tools for engaging what is deep inside of you; it’s not about making “pretty” pictures, realistic drawings, etc. As my mentor Dr. Michael Franklin would say, “The best art is the most honest art.”
Try this at home: cut a piece of drawing paper into a large circle. Gather any drawing or painting materials that you have on hand. Watercolor, oil pastels, colored pencils or markers… keep it simple but give yourself color options. Take several deep breaths and contemplate what arose from the writing prompt about what mattered most about your journey. Then allow yourself to play and explore with the art materials on the circle of paper. Again, moving something from the ethereal to the real…Don’t think about it too much; just trust the materials. Your inner healing intelligence will guide you; it always does. Spend some time (set a timer for 10-15 minutes), through contemplative art-making, with the images, memories, and emotions that arose related to the journey you are integrating. Continue to deepen into the question What matters most about the journey I just went on? Watch, with curiosity, what emerges on the page. See it for what it is. Then ask yourself, what else? Allow your art to respond in its own way. It always does.
After at least 10-15 minutes of art-making, you may want to return to your writing. First take a moment to observe your work, then write about what you see. Hold it in your hands, feel the weight of it, and let it take up space on your table. This is the essence of art-based integration. Now there is an object, a real and tangible thing, a thing with messages and insights for you, honoring and reminding you of some of the depths of your journeywork (and thus the depths of yourself). Allow it to take up space on your table, and allow it to take up space in your life. Keep your journal handy so that you can continue to dialogue with this image.
Find your artwork a place of honor in your home so you will pass by it multiple times a day, continuing to receive messages from it in the days to come.
After you try this art-based psychedelic integration exercise at home, I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know how it went, and send me a photograph of your artwork in the process as well. I would be honored to see it.