Working With an Ayahuasca Preparation and Integration Coach
The following is a transcript from a recent podcast by Zach wherein he talked about his personal experience working with an Ayahuasca preparation and integration coach. If you would rather listen to the podcast, you can find it either on Soundcloud by clicking here or on iTunes by clicking here. Note: Because it is a transcript, the structure and grammar are conversational, not necessarily correct. LOL. Hi. This is Zach with La Familia Ayahuasca just wanting to thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast. This particular episode is about my personal experience working with a coach as a preparation tool and then a post-retreat integration tool as well.
It's kind of interesting and somewhat ironic and funny that it has taken me about 10 years to explore this. I've been somewhat skeptical about preparation and integration coaches as it relates to ayahuasca and other psychedelics.
Now, I've gone through some processes with my coach, and I'm actually really impressed. So, I hope that this is something that you're interested in and you enjoy this podcast. And thank you again for taking the time to listen. (singing) Hi. This is Zach with La Familia Ayahuasca. And as I mentioned in the intro, I have recently started to work with a life coach. His name is Dr. John Shealy PhD. It was kind of mistake that .... Or not mistake, but a coincidence that he turned out to be a preparation and integration coach for me around ayahuasca. I was really, for a long time, thinking that a coach or a therapist was not something that was necessary, because I was working with plant medicine and I was seeing so much personal growth via the plant medicine work alone. Then, a couple of years into the plant medicine work, I was also adding a lot of non-medicine consciousness work and study as well through reading scriptures of various spiritual pathways and then also doing many practices and with a real strong foundation in meditation. And at the same time, particularly when I was training intensely in Peru in the medicine work and hanging out with other gringos who are also interested in doing deep and intense medicine work, there's an idea that was floating around in the medicine community that I ascribed to as well. And that was this idea that talk therapy or coaching just doesn't work. You know, this whole western approach had gone awry, just is not useful. The plant medicine was way to go and also working on consciousness work through meditation, and mantra, and prayer, and that sort of thing was the way to go and just focus on the spiritual and plant medicine work in everything will be taken care of. Essentially, I was a plant medicine fundamentalist and had, I think, maybe thrown the baby out with the bath water, if you will. More recently, I realized that because of the nature of the work that I do as a facilitator, and particularly because of the position that I hold in the community and in the medicine space, that is the ... in being the leader of ceremony in retreats, I realized I really needed or need someone to talk to, someone that is completely outside of my circle of friends, those who drink ayahuasca with us, those who are studying ayahuasca with us. I really needed someone to be able to ... be myself completely. Not that I'm not, but just unload everything that's ... I'm going through, what's on my mind, what I'm feeling, and so forth, and also have a sounding board to make sure that I was not "going off the rails" with my decisions around retreats, and participants, and that sort of thing, as decisions do need to be made, tough decisions sometimes. And also just to kind of keep myself sure that I'm on track with my spiritual path and my personal growth and so forth, and also keeping my ego in check. So, this spurred me to begin searching for a coach. So, there I was in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala wanting to find a coach or a therapist. And of course, the first place I went was a Google and couldn't find anything on the lake. That was a long shot to begin with. But what I did is I searched integral coaching, integral because I'm a student and a fan of Ken Wilber's integral theory. I know that there are several coaches and therapists out there that use integral theory as part of their practice. Now, integral theory, if you don't know it, it's a very gigantic subject. One way to sum it up, particularly around personal growth, it's taking a focus on waking up, cleaning up, and growing up. Now, this is in contrast to a lot of focus in the ... particularly in the spiritual realm or communities of just waking up. The idea's if you just focus on waking up that everything else will fall in line. However, Ken Wilber points out that we do see quite often with very spiritually advanced teachers and so forth, they can get to these amazing states. But at the same time, we ... Particularly back in the '60s and '70s, those teachers come across as being sexist, racist, or just have issues with their anger and interpersonal issues. That's because they had been so focused on waking up they haven't gone back and cleaned up and grown up. I think currently when we see scandals, particularly around sex, and money, and spiritual leaders, and teachers, and so forth, again, that's them just avoiding or not looking at the cleaning up and growing up part of their personal development. So, I did come across John Shealy in my search when I put in integral therapy, or integral coaching. One thing that I noticed was that while he had a integral approach in his practice, he also pointed out that he did coaching around preparation and integration of psychedelic and mystical experiences. Then, to top it all off, John does a lot of work with somatic practices, which is something that we're very much into as part of our retreats because we've worked, done a lot of work with Dharma Oceans' somatic meditation, and so forth. And John has a Buddhist bend to his approach, which was very attractive to me as well. So in the beginning, as you may have picked up, is I was looking for a life coach, not specifically an ayahuasca preparation integration coach. But, really couldn't avoid it, given how ayahuasca is such a big part of my life. It's my work, and I've had over 1,500 ceremonies. I kind of ended up with an ayahuasca prep and integration coach without really realizing it, because my life revolves around ayahuasca. So, it's kind of funny. So, I look at my work with John as being both a life coach and also now include a preparation and integration coach into that definition of how we work together. So, I reached out to John, again, John Shealy. We did a ... got together and did a 30-minute get-to-know-you or intake session over Zoom. That went really well. John's a really, really cool guy, and we seem to click on a lot of levels. So what we decided to do was get together for 90-minute sessions every other week. The way these sessions would work would be starting off with casual conversation, hey, what's been going on in my life, and maybe meander into earlier parts of my life, childhood, teenage and so forth. It was very natural and organic conversations. During these conversation, conversations, John would be very, very present. And at the same time, again, very relaxed, and casual, and open. And then, every once in a while, he would stop me and say, "Hey, hey. Hold on. What about that? What is it you just said? Where do, you when you say that, or where do you feel that in your body? Where is it and what does it feel?" This was what I'm going to call "calling out." I'm not sure if this is how he would phrase it, but ... And he would usually call out something that was something challenging. He was very skilled at taking me to those challenging subjects and moments. And once those moments arose, and he would call it out, ask where I felt it in my body, and then he would begin what I would call a "process." I mean, I'm sure that's kind a proverbial term. The process was one that would allow the emotion or "trigger" to be objectified, looked at. And then, the idea being with that emotion or trigger being objectified, we can look at it and allow the healing process to happen and let go or have it integrate. I would say letting go and integrating are probably pretty much the same thing just using different terminologies and how you look it up prospectively, or what perspective you use to look at it now. Now, so this process look kind of like this. First step, notice an emotion. So in the moment as in the conversation, oh, there's something that feels that there's a definite feeling there. It's an emotion. Whether we can label it or not, it's definitely an energy or a feeling. And then, locating where that emotion is in the body. Then, fully feeling the emotion. Not trying to avoid it, but really go into it and feel it, looking at it with curiosity and wonder, not judging, letting it be as it is and not avoiding it. And then waiting, feeling, and watching, and allowing the emotion or energy to move. To be fully transparent, I was a little put off at first by this process, because this is a process that was not new to me. It was something that I'd studied and seen via my studies of conscious practice and conscious studies and practice podcasts and so forth. In fact, I already felt like I'd been ... I was pretty good at it, and I'd been practicing it in the past. So, I kind of just had this feeling of like, "You know, I already know this, man." I was a little annoyed, to be honest. Luckily, I kept this sentiment to myself and kept working with John through this process. And you know, the amazing thing, and I find this personally groundbreaking for myself, is that there's ... I realize there's a difference between doing the self-study, self-improvement, self-help kind of stuff and practicing it. And I felt like I had practiced this stuff. But, there's a big difference between doing it oneself and then having a coach or therapist take you through it and work with you. Huge, huge difference. I can't emphasize this enough. The thing that one might find if they start working with coach or therapist and they've already done some of the self-practice is that the coach or therapist will find things that one will not be able to find on their own through their self-study or practice because we've missed it. We as humans are terrible, terrible at self-diagnosis. There's a great saying that I heard many years ago. I'm not sure who said it, but it's ... The saying goes like this: "The three great mysteries in the world, it's bird unto air, a fish unto water, and a man unto himself." That is, the ... You know, the bird doesn't realize that it's flying through air, doesn't understand air. The fish doesn't understand water. It's so in the water it has no idea about water. And then, man unto himself. This is a man is so handicapped at looking at oneself and determining what's where the blocks are, the difficulties are. And you know, it's no mistake that there are so many spiritual paths that say, "Really look in the Kingdom of Heaven is inside. Know thy self. Go inward." All this sort of thing is because this is where the gold is. So, a coach will really point out stuff that we don't see ourselves, even though we may have been doing self-study and practice along this type of process. They also, another thing coach will do is gently guide you and encourage you to go places that you may not want to go on your own. This is where the gold is, those places that we're trying to avoid. That's actually where we need to really focus and go in, and that's where the healing needs to be done. Then, the coach will also keep you accountable to keep the practice going not only in the sessions, but also between sessions. They're there to keep you on track, keep you on point on a consistent basis. Very much we use the term coach, and it's very much likely coach in sports. That's what the coach is there to do. They're there to make sure you do the work and are accountable for the work. And all of this work is in preparation for the "big game." So you know, it's quite notable how after personally have gone through this coaching process, how even though I felt like, "Oh, yeah. I already know how to do this," yes, I had been doing some self-study and yes it was helpful. But, having a coach in there and really looking, having another perspective, and finding things that I had totally, totally missed is amazing. Amazing. I can't emphasize that enough. So, my first two sessions with John were actually between two retreats. So, I wasn't doing ceremony during this time. During these two sessions, John had really put me through the process over and over again and had really encouraged me to continue practicing the process outside of the sessions. Then, I went into retreat. During one of those ceremonies during the retreat ... We do four ceremonies during our retreats. And towards the end of the ceremony when things started quieting down and I had a little bit of a free time to kind of do what I call personal work, or what we call a personal work during ceremony ... In spite of the fact that we're taking care of other people, there are some sections of time during ceremony we can kind of look inward. I just happened to start to think about a situation where someone had slighted me. I found myself in a mental loop or ruminating about the situation. I had enough presence of mind to notice what was going on. I was like, "Hey, I wonder, maybe I should go into the process that John had put forth now, asking Ayahuasca to help out." So, I did. I said, "Hey, Ayahuasca, help me out with this understanding of not so much the situation itself, but why rumination. What's going on when I ruminate?" Ayahuasca, if you don't already know, creates a situation where we have heightened senses, both through somatic feelings and emotions. Also, she adds the ... So, oftentimes adds benefit of visuals. So as I was going into the process and noticed how the energy of ruminating was kind of enjoyable ... I mean, I really went into how ruminating had some juice to it, and it was a somewhat addicting. The other thing I noticed was that it was also exhausting. Going over the same thing over, and over, and over again had juice, but it was also exhausting. There was a really interesting visual representation of this rumination energy and was really able to open-heartedly really feel it and look at it, watch it with curiosity. Ayahuasca provided the gift of showing how as I went through this process and felt it, I looked at it with curiosity, the energy was able to literally move. I could watch it move in a zigzag formation from my solar plexus up through my heart area, and then up my throat and out my mouth. I was like, "Wow." Really amazing because it wasn't like a straight line. It was zigzagging back and forth. There was a visual where it was like this little tiny, somewhat cute, but somewhat pathetic little energy that was, "No, I don't want to go." And then, you know, looking at it, I looked at it with compassion and, again, curiosity. It just slowly zigzag up and out my mouth. And I was like, "Wow." The energy after that felt very clear. I wanted to see, well, okay, is this just a temporary kind of thing? I focused on going back into that ruminating space and seeing if there was still energetic juice there. So, it was easy to go back into the rumination, but it was only a mental thing. It had lost its energetic juice. And without the energetic juice, it was no longer so addictive. So, it was kind of like I'm going through the rumination, the memory of the what had happened once or twice, and then it's like, "Oh, that's not as juicy as it once was before." So, no longer so addictive and was just like, "Wow. This is really cool." So, I continue to play with this process with other somewhat negative emotions and some memories that were not so pleasant. That was great. I continued to have really positive results. Then, I decided, hey, in law spiritual paths, and particularly in Buddhism, they talk about how we're constantly trying to avoid or push away negative or uncomfortable experiences and always trying to hold on to enjoyable experiences. And therein lies suffering, right? We're trying to push away or grab on to. Either way, it's attachment in some form. So with this idea, I was like, "Okay, well, I've been working with some negative, or what would be perceived as negative emotions. Let me look at a positive emotion." This happened around excitement. I thought of something. I was like, "Oh, something in the future that I was really excited about." And once I realized I was excited, I was like, "Okay, let's go into this and go through the same process." What was interesting was I saw how the energy around excitement was actually attention, and it was creating ... It was almost like there was a visual of a tube that had a big ball of energy that kind of slowing things down and it wasn't moving through. It was getting caught up. It almost looked like like a python who had just eaten a goat or something, you know, how the whole body gets ballooned out as the goat is being digested. So, it was essentially a big blog of energy, and it wasn't moving through efficiently. It really connected, or I made a connection, in the sense that when we get excited, we get carried away. There's this same unconscious kind of getting carried away with a wave of excitement just like we do on the negative side when we get carried away with anger, or frustration, or rumination. We don't realize that we're not conscious as to what's going on. So again, went through the process, recognize that there was an actual block, in a sense. Or, another way to putting it is the energy was not flowing through smoothly. Through this looking at it, feeling it, and looking at it with curiosity, there's a relaxation. And it opened that channel, not in a ... You know, the channel didn't get wider, but it got smoother, and the whole experience of excitement smoothed out. With this smoothing out, there was a sense of clarity versus getting caught in, caught up in the emotion of excitement. So, I was like, "Wow. This is really what consciousness studies, they talk about, is like don't get too attached to those positive things like excitement, nor avoid those what are perceived as negative things, like rumination, anger, or frustration." So, I continue to practice throughout the end of ceremony. I was like really blown away at the work that can be done using the help of a coach and taking those practices that are provided by the coach and taking it into ceremony. Coming out of this, I was really impressed with how my sessions with John as a preparation going into retreat transitioned and integrated with ceremony and the work within ceremony itself. Then, post-retreat, of course, John and I got together for other sessions and continued to do the coaching work. Thing that has been noticed is that post-retreat, it feels like the neural pathways around this process are much, much improved in a very short period of time. So, I feel like my ability to use this tool is also very much improved [inaudible 00:28:11]. (singing) Obviously, I'm very happy with my personal experience of working with John as a preparation and also post-retreat integration coach. I have been very happy with being able to develop this, this tool, around the process or the processing of emotions, and triggers, and so forth. And one thing that I wanted to bring up that I recently realized is that by doing this personal work and learning this process, John explained to me that when we go through our triggers ... All of us do this. When we go into our triggers, the content that is produced is really not the issue. There's something else that the energy that that we're holding through past experiences, conditioning, or repressed emotions and so forth, that energy is coming forth. It's just waiting to be expressed because it hasn't recognized, healed, integrated, however, whatever terminology you want to use. It's there waiting, and it needs to come out, and it comes out in these trigger moments. And when we're triggered, we let loose a bunch of content, things that are said that are in anger, or frustration, or sadness, or what have you. And again, it's not. The content is not the issue. The core issue is much deeper, and we are not aware of what that core issue is. Through this process, we can learn to be aware, but we're not 95% of the time. Oftentimes, we'll come away from an interaction where we are angry with someone and we let loose. And we later will be like, "Oh, man. I don't know what I was thinking. I don't know what was going ... " That's right, because we're not ... It's the literal example of Christ saying they know not what they do. We're all in that same boat. Through this work, I recognize that I know not what I do in a lot of situations. I got some really deep insight into that. And through that work on myself, I recognize now that when I'm interacting with someone else and they, for whatever reason, get upset and they get triggered and let loose saying angry, or mean things, or that they're in that, again, that state where they literally know not what they do, this allows for compassion for them. I can hopefully look past the content that is produced and also realize that everyone has different triggers. Something very mundane, or seemingly mundane, can trigger someone else and they can let loose. They're in this when they're triggered. They're in this unconscious state. And again, the content that comes forth is not the issue. There's something deeper that needs to be healed there. Depending on the relationship and one's skill with this, this kind of work, at worst, we can hold compassion and be patient with these people without being triggered ourselves and creating kind of a vicious cycle of triggering. At best, we may be able to ... particularly with a partner if the other partner's interested in going deep into this work. We can work together and heal each other through these processes. (singing) Now, going forward, I'm going to personally going to continue to work with John and recommend, or recommend people work with him as well. I did want to point out that I don't have a lot of experience with other therapists or coaches. I know that there's a lot of different approaches out there. So, I can only speak to my experience with John. I'm sure that there are other therapists and coaches out there that do wonderful work and are great in terms of preparation and post-retreat integration. All I can speak to is my experience with John. We will be recommending him as preparation and integration option for people who want to kind of take it further. Like I said in the beginning, I have been somewhat skeptical of these ayahuasca and psychedelic preparation and integration coaches. I think a big part of the skepticism has come from a lot of them do not have a real deep background in terms of training, and schooling, and so forth, and they're just ... They're coming at it from maybe a certificate standpoint and association with some plant medicine experience that those people can very well be skilled. But, what I really like about John is that he has both the personal experience background, and also educational background, and all the letters and so forth. I mean, the guy's a PhD, for God's sakes. So, that helped me a lot and it really shows in the work that he did with me. And again, I'm going to continue to work with him. So, I think that this brings the podcast to a close. If you have any questions for us at La Familia Ayahuasca, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you very much again for listening, and we will talk to you soon.