There’s an old Greek tale about a master craftsman named Daedalus who built a labyrinth to contain a monster, a half-man, half-beast who consumed offerings of human flesh. When the beast was slain, suspicion fell upon Daedalus as an accomplice and he was imprisoned in a tower along with his son, Icarus. There Daedalus turned his genius to fashioning wings, which he assembled with feathers, rags, and wax. As he fitted the wings to his son’s arms, he warned him: “Don’t fly too near to the sun, my boy, lest the wings melt and you plummet to your death.”
For Icarus, escaping the labyrinth and sailing into the empyrean was so enrapturing that he became reckless, flying closer and closer to the sun. Finally, the sinews of his wings melted in the searing heat, and he fell into the depths, leaving his father to grieve over his broken body.
Marc B. Aixalà’s Psychedelic Integration might be subtitled, “An Answer to Daedalus,” so sincere and thoroughgoing is its quest for answers to the grieving father holding the shattered ego of his youth in his arms.
How many readers of this review have sat unaccompanied after an ayahuasca retreat or psychedelic experience, Daedalus-like, grieving their fallen self without real hope of resurrection? And how many have, nonetheless, painstakingly (or miraculously) reintegrated their shattered being, and found their wings no longer quite so waxen in the aftermath? Most would, no doubt, say such deep work is not possible alone – and that finding someone skillful in the art of integration straight away could have spared them and others much suffering.
This is, and will be, the true litmus test of the unfolding Psychedelic Renaissance: do we have the skills and commitment to grieve and accompany the processes of those who’ve undergone abuse by shamans/facilitators and been subsequently rejected by the community of believers? Who’ve had the emergence of traumatic memories? Who’ve suffered from lack of appropriate preparation/context by leaders? Who are caught in unresolved difficult experiences, or worse, traumatic dissociative experiences? Who are in a cycle of unending psychedelic experiences without resolution?
Aixalà’s answer is, “Yes.”
And that is what makes Psychedelic Integration required reading for veteran psychonauts and bright-eyed novices alike. Aixalà’s work is a groundbreaking exploration of how we may proceed after we’ve flown into the wild blue yonder, for as he reminds us, “Entheogens take back everything that they give you if a good integration doesn’t occur.”
It is, admittedly, a tome. Psychedelic Integration’s documentation is thorough, delving far back into the history of psychedelic research and citing what can be a mind-numbing number of studies (which suggests a streamlined version might be made available in the future), yet as his narrative picks up steam, moving from origins and evolution of integration to theoretical foundations of the clinical intervention, maximizing benefits, the cartography of adverse effects, and finally intervention in integration psychotherapy, it becomes a gripping read.
For example, how is one to sort out whether a memory of sexual abuse that arises in a psychedelic session is “real” or “symbolic”? And how to extract the real meaning that lies beyond the false dichotomy of the two? Especially surprising, and delightful, is Aixalà’s skillful use of Viktor Frankl’s “paradoxical prescriptions” where we actively imagine for set periods of time “the worst that could happen, purposely including feelings of madness, fear, and vulnerability.” This technique, dubbed “reverse mindfulness” by one of his clients, turns out to be an effective antidote to the symptoms of fear, paranoia, shame, guilt, and the other incredible mind-f**kery that can plague us after a badly concluded psychedelic session. These are just a couple of the many highly relevant issues that Aixalà raises and addresses.
It should be noted that, despite the promise of the title, many of Aixalà’s case studies involve the Amazonian shamanic brew ayahuasca – not LSD or other Western psychedelics. If Aixalà had conducted interviews with native healers, it would have been fascinating to read his findings on their non-Western perspectives on the process of integration. But that is a much needed integration into our Western modalities that we still await! Psychedelic Integration is a beautiful, timely book. May it be widely read.
Psychedelic Integration: Psychotherapy for Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness By Marc B. Aixalà 220 pp. Synergetic Press. $26.95.