- A unique step-by-step approach to help prepare mentally, emotionally, spiritually for an iboga or ibogaine journey.
Preparing for an iboga or ibogaine experience can have many dimensions, particularly if you are coming to detox. This guide presents one specific strategy for mental, emotional and spiritual preparation that might be done alongside all the other preparation you’re doing. It is not a comprehensive guide to preparation.
Generally, when people approach psychedelics in a medicinal or therapeutic sense, they talk about intention, or having goals and a focus for the experience. This may be helpful, but by the time you’re reading this you may feel like your intention is clear. You may be preparing to take iboga or ibogaine in the very near future, later today even. In my experience, even though some of the momentum driving you in this direction may be obvious, I’ve found it can be helpful to explore this personal preparation process more deeply.
Below is a description of an evolving process that I use, and that I have explored with many others preparing for an ibogaine experience. There are a few distinct steps. These are consecutive, each one building on the one before it. The idea here is very general, a guide to an inner process that can unfold over hours or weeks. If you chose to try this path, it can be helpful to take your time to meditate on each step.
Ritual Touch: This process has elements of a ritual no matter how you approach it. However, there are some additional suggestions that I’ll make to ritualize these steps further, either for symbolic or sensual effect. These are creative additions, so if you find your own inspiration to expand and evolve these suggestions, I encourage you to follow it!
Step 1: Reflect on Your Personal Values
Our values help to shape our worldview, which describes how we relate with the world around us, influencing our perception and our decisions. Often times, addiction can feel like a loss of our ability to choose, which can lead us to make decisions that are out of alignment with our personal values. Many times when we’re looking for transformative experience it is to recover this sense of alignment. In other cases, we’ve been perfectly in alignment with our values, they just haven’t been healthy ones, or our superficial priorities haven’t led us to a deeper sense of meaning or purpose.
It is helpful to take an inventory of our values. These can include core qualities – such as autonomy or honesty – they can be specific people – such as our siblings or children – or other things – our job, for example.
Make a list, and then select the top five things. You might value more things, but these are your top priorities. You may feel out of alignment with some of these core values, but you don’t need to take an inventory of your failings here. The purpose of this first step is to identify your foundation for the process moving forward, even if you’re not as firmly planted on it yet as you hope to be.
Ritual Touch: The keyword describing this step is ‘foundation,’ which has the significance of something tangible and solid. Ritual items that can serve as physical reminders include photographs. If family is on your list of values, portraits of family members can be powerful items. Sometimes there are other items that are important and represent important moments. It’s not critical, but making a small collection of a few of these items can be helpful.
Step 2: List Some Questions
A good place to begin is with questions you already feel you need to ask. Sometimes there are some sitting on the tip of your tongue, or that you may have already been asking for quite a while now. Once you have those off of your chest, take a look back to the list of values that you wrote in Step 1. Are any of those values areas of your life that you could be fulfilling more? Add to your list of questions anything you need to know that may be important in living up to your values more fully.
Go through your list and ask yourself the following of each questions, one at a time:
- Do you already know the answer? If so, think about it more deeply. Imagine you are entering into a dialogue. What is it that you don’t yet know that might help you if you did.
- Will the answer help you live into your values more fully? If you ask “What trauma happened to me as a youngster?” you are likely to get an answer that you don’t necessarily want to stew in. It’s also unlikely that this suffering is related to the future you want to create. You might rephrase the same question, “How can I free myself from the hurt of the past?”
- What are you top priorities? Like before, it is helpful to focus on the five most important questions. Don’t be afraid to let go of some of the questions if you have to.
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘dialogue.’ Once you have your questions try reading them aloud to yourself, to the mirror, or to someone else that you trust – maybe a spouse, a sponsor, or your ibogaine provider. When you speak them out loud, focus on the feeling and the meaning of your words. How does it feel to ask them? How does it feel to be ready to receive an answer.
Step 3: Write a Letter
Today in the age of email and instant messaging, letter writing is a lost art. If you can imagine receiving a handwritten letter these days, a lot would be communicated just be the fact that someone took the time to write it.
This step is about deepening the dialogue that we opened up in Step 2. It starts with first deciding how to address the letter. Many people feel like it is appropriate to personify iboga or ibogaine and address their letter to it directly. Others will feel comfortable with the idea of God. I know some people who have lost someone very important to them, and in processing the grief will address the letter to that person. In other cases, it might be something like your higher self. If you’re at a total loss, even just addressing the letter, ‘To Whom It May Concern:” is an acceptable letter opening.
From there, follow the flow a letter would normally take. You can introduce yourself, what you are doing, what has taken you there, your hopes and fears, and then include the questions that you hope to have answered.
The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once famously wrote, “I only made this letter longer because I had not the leisure to make it shorter.” It’s fine if your letter is long, but when you do sit down, find a nice spot and take your time. There’s no rush to get the letter done. It might be nice to make some tea first. You may need to write a second draft, or even a third. Remember, you have something important to say.
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘art.’ Writing is one of the simplest ways to take something from mind and bring it into the physical world. Your finished letter is like a ritual object. An additional step to take here is to make small alter for the letter, and maybe the photographs and items you collected earlier. My friend Christopher likes to fill a glass with with dry rice, have people roll the paper up and stick it in end first, then to place a feather into the rice as well.
Step 4: Have the Dialogue
The steps before this have helped to develop the idea of a back and forth dialogue. There’s a reason for this. What does this have to do with intention and preparation?
In my personal experience with iboga and ibogaine, I have had experiences that ended up being more physical than they were visionary. Other times, when I did see visions, they seemed strange, difficult to interpret, or hard to remember later. These experiences were no less transformative by any means.
It made me curious. After speaking to hundreds of people about their experiences, I have started doing more formal research about the narratives of people’s experiences, and found that very often people with richly textured visual experiences described this sense of dialogue. Either they saw family members or other figures appear in their visions, or they felt the sense of some other intelligence participating in guiding their inner dialogue. Either way, this exchange was very informative for people.
Since working with people through this preparation process I’ve seen it benefit people in different ways. One young woman described a vision that symbolized some of the pain she caused someone in her life. The vision played out over and over, becoming slightly more exaggerated and cartoonish. Eventually she asked, “Why am I seeing this?” honestly hoping to understand why it was so repetitive. From there, she saw a glimpse of insight into where that projection was coming from, some which which also very informative. Then the visions began to shift towards something new.
I’ve spoken to other people who have previously had experiences of being “stuck” in some vision like that for some time and were a bit cautious about taking ibogaine for that reason. I explained to them that they could simply interact with it, and explain to it that they didn’t understand what was happening or ask for clarification. Several of those people reported very positive benefits from engaging in that dialogue.
Beyond these more spontaneous dialogues, many others have felt the questions that they prepared in advance were answered. Even when they weren’t answered directly, they felt deeper insights simply from asking them.
This process of engaging in an inner dialogue with something beyond ourselves is what people describe as prayer. We may see this as a prayer to God, or we may simply decide to call it a dialogue with our higher selves. Regardless, it is not about forming demands. It is not a perfect recipe to hear the voice of God or a perfectly clarified response to our problems. It is not about trying to control our experience, or find a specific outcome. Rather, it is about finding within ourselves the gentle place from which we take responsibility and engage in the experience with the medicine, rather than turning away from the uncomfortable moments. As much as it is letting go our control, this acceptance is an active process.
In my own experiences, I found that by engaging in the experience with this inquisitive curiosity, asking questions, and remaining open to learn, I started to remember more of my visions and to be able to remember specific insights. In some ways, my experience become more informative. This was true on larger doses, but also on smaller doses as well.
There is a lot more depth to discuss about the philosophy behind this approach, but in terms of practical preparation, the step, which follows the others, is to have an active dialogue with the medicine. You won’t need to read the questions or the letter you wrote. Those were just preparation. During the session it is time to take the dialogue internally, and to meet what comes up with a sense of openness, non-attachment to the outcomes, and curiosity.
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘exchange.’ Where your previous steps set the foundation and expressed what you wanted from the situation, this is about your active participation. The easiest way to represent this willingness is to make an offering before you take the medicine. Offerings can include any number of things. If you want a suggestion you can try bringing some type of nourishing food (bread for example), something sweet (like honey or candy), other things you like (chocolate, money, flowers). These are things that make nice gifts, are attractive and easy to receive. Your offering might include multiple things. Taking the time to make the bread into a sandwich can be a way to make it more intentional. If you’re in a natural setting, place these things where something can find and eat them, without worry. You might also place things like this on your altar first and then bring them outside after. Whenever you do these small steps, it is a good time to start really engaging in this inner dialogue.
Reflection & Homework
Sometimes people call the day after taking iboga or ibogaine a “grey day.” I don’t love this term because it sounds like hangover, when in reality is something much more rich than that. I often feel like I don’t need much of anything. I don’t need to eat really. I don’t need to be very social. I don’t have the same need to distract myself with TV or my phone. I certainly don’t need more ibogaine. In most cases I’m very content just to be, even though there might be some things that are uncomfortable, like the feeling of exhaustion, or the feeling like time is not passing in the way that I’m used to. This space of little need is a good foundation to remember, and it is easy to cultivate gratitude for even these small pleasures. There’s often much more to think about and do later, but taking the time to really bask in that timelessness is precious, and the opportunity won’t always be there.
As you start to feel more active, you might find it useful to write down what you can remember about your experience. You also might find it helpful to look back at your list of values and consider how you feel about the list now. Is it accurate? Did anything change? What about your questions? Do you feel clarity about any of them?
Often during this process there can be a feeling of having certain assignments, either with people or with things in your life. There is no rush to do those things. In fact taking your time to just stay with what is immediately in front of you and taking things as they come can help to ensure that you are still thinking clearly about what needs too happen.
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘gratitude.’ You also might chose to make another offering with your letter, taking it from the altar and either burning it, burying it, or placing it onto the spike of a cactus. Bringing this small offering back to nature and finding a way to say thank you by turning back to that inner dialogue can feel appropriate.
I am part of a research team working on something called the Ibogaine Experience Scale (IES) that is designed to measure different aspects of the ibogaine experience. In the days after you take ibogaine this takes about 20 minutes and goes a long way to supporting future ibogaine research initiatives. Want to fill it out? You can find the questionnaire here.
Have you tried working with the process described above, or some part of it? Do you have anything to add, or any similar process to share? Put a comment below.