“This Is What Healing Actually Looks Like”: How to NOT “do the work”

Apr 18, 2022

It's 3:46 in the morning, I'm sitting in bed in the dark (the irony - you'll soon find out why), my daughter sleeping by my side. I had started to write this blog earlier yesterday and felt it needed to be complete. A little long today, but worth it:

I just saw a post by Dr. Nicole LePera, aka The Holistic Psychologist, laying in bed under the blanket in a room dimmed dark, sobbing. They shared that they spent most of the day there and that “this is what healing actually looks like”. 

My response was… Mixed. First, I frowned - this is clearly an attempt at normalizing sensitivities of the human condition, and without a doubt Dr. LePera has outed an entire generation by naming their unspoken trauma and outlining “How To Do The Work”, as her bestselling book is called. Hooray - I am all in for all of this, intention-wise. Buttt *someone’s gotta say it*: the narrative of “work, and work hard, to fix your brokenness” is one that is long overplayed and in some ways contributes to the perpetual “brokenness” of society - hold this thought.

My heart also softened with empathy for this human… I have laid in that dark room buried in bed a million times. Growing up I was never taught to contain my emotions, or allow them to exist. For most of my life the level of emotional intelligence amounted to zero. There were long rollercoaster weeks of emotionally-intense episodes, in their aftermath it would literally seem as if I’d been hijacked! Days of debilitation spent hugging a wet pillow, getting intimate with the eros of depression and anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, sadness - powerlessly relinquishing to the full-body penetration of the feeling until it released itself, thank god. Yeah, sometimes I would feel used. And powerless. 

Becoming conscious through psychedelics my emotional awareness increased, as did my ability to work with them through management tools; these provided me with a sense of empowered control:

In psychology school we learned to label, hold and lean into the feelings...

In psychedelic ceremonies I was taught (more like drilled) to do nothing but surrender (another narrative that needs kicking out the window). 

In holotropic breathwork my idol, grandmaster Dr. Stan Groff taught us to “make it bigger” as a means of amplifying unconscious content. 

The healing is in the feeling. 

The only way out is through. 

And my favorite… Let them be what they need to be. 

And a million other stories compulsively passed down from one group to the next, about how healing needs to happen, and what it actually looks like - according to the groups that have made healing their life’s mission. 

As a devout psychenaut and student that aims to learn from elder grandmasters, I obeyed, happily internalizing these stories that have made the archetype of the modern-day spiritual warrior. For years I continued returning to ceremony as often as possible, and emotional introspection on the daily as part of my commitment to psychedelic integration. This was an integral part of my identity. I worked on myself incessantly to fix my perpetual brokenness, and proudly wore the labor on my sleeve like a badge of honor. 

While much healing indeed took place over these years, it happened through much suffering. Alone, in the dark, sobbing for days, sometimes months on end, trapped in psychic vortexes of complexes, archetypes, shadow work, endless bouts of dark nights of the soul, analysis paralysis of personality and mental dis-orders. Ongoing “work” on myself was borderline OCD, wrecking havoc on my poor nervous system to a point where it hindered my daily functioning. 

I continued to own that 

I am a traumatized person

I carry the burden of severe intergenerational wounding

I have been gifted a unique depth of introspection

And the dharmic payback for all of this is that I must continue to “do my work”, even if it means suffering through the end of my days. This, I was convinced, was my redemption. I had succumbed to it as my inherent human condition, surrendered to it, made it bigger - just like I’ve been drilled. And practiced vulnerability with my audience as best as I could to tell my own story of psychedelic integration - this is what integration actually looks like

Buddha’s Redemption

In my vipassana retreat this past January, I received one of the greatest gifts of my life. 

On the third day, after resistance and bliss had come and gone, we were given instructions on emotional attunement in meditation. Deep grief of an old and familiar wound had washed over me, and I pulled out the usual methods: notice it, label it, allow it to exist, make it bigger. I began sobbing heavily. Except this time, as I was sitting in sangha with nearly 100 other people in silent meditation, there was no luxury of letting the emotion be what it needed to be. Plainly put, my grief wore a little black dress and Louboutin heels. She needed to be loud, uncontrollable and came complete with a full-body shaking shimmy, shamanic-exorcism in Los Angeles style. It also needed mapacho to ward off malicious spirits and palo santo to make her feel cared for. I was practicing sitting in humility - it wasn’t the right time. 

In the follow up session I raised the question of what to do with these feelings that need to exist and beg to be made bigger to a point where they take over the daily practice?

The elder vipassana instructor gently responded: 

“it sounds like you are saying you feel an obligation to the feeling”. 

Ah. 

“So it’s OK to have a boundary with the feeling?”

“Absolutely”.

And just like that - in a moment where permission was given to 

NOT allow it to exist as it begs to

NOT fully surrender

NOT make it bigger - to a point where the emotion exists - but You, and the rest of your human life, don’t. 

You don’t owe it anything - you still get to be yourSelf. 

Integration Obligations

Integration is not an obligation to healing - it is an obligation to living a life of harmony.

It is not an obligation to “do the work” - but to be the authentic and free you. And to believe in yourSelf enough that you deserve to exist as You are, without proof of working yourself to the bone to the point where you need sick days in bed.

It is an obligation to seek and embody your inherent playful nature, and your joy that is your birthright. Instead of “working” on yourself in serious ceremony, try getting outside and singing as you take a walk (!). You will be amazed at the levels of self awareness, introspection and insights that can flow through this practice - for many people, seeking and embodying joy is plain shadow work! 

Integration is an obligation first and foremost to your well being. Yes - just like on all flights, put on your mask first. The obligation is NOT to the service mission, the Spirit, the sacred plants, fungi or intelligent molecules, or any entities that lure you in with tales of your god-like nature. And certainly NOT to anyone’s stories - no matter how experienced, educated, evidenced… Nobody on Earth has your human experience. It’s more than OK to state - this is not for me! It’s also a virtue to want to be happy. Happiness and being in joy is what life is about! Suffering is part of the human experience - and it’s a lie, meaning, it’s a state of mind. So if this “work” makes you unhappy - with the obvious provision that resistance and escape from truth have been ruled out - then find hobbies that support your wellness and bring more happiness into your life. 

Sure, there will be unhappy days and we all have our moments of needing to press pause on the world and crawl into bed. AND if the healing finds you consistently in bed, alone, in the dark, sobbing and debilitating your days (especially after practicing healing for a long time and having high emotional awareness like Dr. LaPera, which I hold deep respect for in their contribution to bringing awareness to the importance of mental health in our generation) - it may mean a break from this line of work can be beneficial. Honestly - these days more often than not, we are just plain exhausted! Getting enough sleep is utterly underrated in psychedelic therapy.

Healing can look like putting on your earbuds and dancing on the beach. 

Letting the water tickle your feet.

Collecting seashells and shaping them into a circle.

Taking a deep breath after the rain. 

Waking up early and reading a chapter in an excellent book (Try The Everyday Hero Manifesto by Robin Sharma). 

Having an amazing cup of coffee, without your phone.

Taking 10 minutes in your busy day to make yourSelf the best smoothie.

Wearing mismatched socks.

Taking your shoes off at the park. 

Daydreaming. 

Sitting on the floor with your child and listening to their stories from school. Letting them cuddle and snuggle you. 

Scheduling a fun class, a massage, a phone date, or a trip on your calendar - to have something to look forward to that is not work related, every week.  

Watching a sunset. 

Writing down 3 things that brought you joy throughout the day, at bedtime. 

Getting a great night’s rest, waking up refreshed. 

This is what healing actually looks like. 

Deep healing can take place through play, in laughter, with community, in nature, in ease and peace - and at your own pace, which only You can dictate.

And the way out of the dark room is not necessarily through tear tunnels ie collective narratives… It can be as simple as remembering we can choose our story, then open our eyes and turn on the light. 

 

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