- 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 is not a comprehensive guide to preparation for making major life changes, but it does present one specific strategy for mental, emotional and spiritual preparation that might be done alongside all the other preparation you do. It’s an evolving practice that I’ve been developing over many years of both personal and professional experience with ibogaine. I am not saying that it wouldn’t be interesting to explore with other plant medicines, or even simply with meditation or prayer, but it is designed with the specific qualitative effects of ibogaine in mind.
There are a few distinct and consecutive steps involved here, each one building on the one before it. However, the idea here is still somehow general, a guide to an inner process that can unfold over hours or weeks. If you chose to incorporate these ideas, it can be helpful to take some time to meditate on each step rather than treating this like a checklist.
Ritual Touch: Following this process will have some elements of ritual no matter how you approach it. However, there are some additional suggestions that I’ll offer that you can use 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, when we’re looking for transformative changes in our lives it’s because we feel like we have drifted from some of our core values. Maybe we’ve prioritized other people or unhealthy patterns ahead of these personal values and need to take a stand. Or maybe we’ve simply grown, and our behavior patterns no longer serve some deeper shift that is taking place beneath the surface in our life.
These things that we value can include core qualities (such as independence or honesty), they can unshakeable aspects of our identity (family, parenthood, heritage), or other things (financial security, education, music, etc.).
Make a list of what you consider your core values, and again, take some time to meditate on this.
You might have a long list, but next select the top five, which represent core values that move your life. You may feel out of alignment with some of these things, but this isn’t an inventory of your shortcomings. 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. A coin might represent financial security, a strip of paper with a lyric might represent music. It’s not critical, but making a small collection of a few of these items can be helpful.
Step 2: List Some Questions
You may have some questions already on the tip of your tongue. To begin this step you may want to write down those burning questions. Once you have those off of your chest, take a look back to the list of values that you wrote in Step 1. Imagine those as the target you have set for the good life. Can you create or reshape any questions in a way that will help you arrive at the that target?
Go through your list and ask yourself the following for each of your questions:
- Do you already know the answer? Can you state the answer clearly and concisely? If so, then think about the question and what you want to explore more deeply. Imagine you are entering into a dialogue. What is it that you don’t yet know that might help you?
- Will the answer help you live into your values more fully? As an example, if you ask “What trauma happened to me when I was a child?” you may get a lot of information, but it might not be very actionable to help you reach the target of a value-driven life. You might rephrase the same question in this way “How can I be more patient and loving with the child I’m caring for?” which is easier to act on.
In the end, as before, try to narrow the list of questions down to the top five most important.
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘dialogue.’ Once you have your questions try reading them aloud to yourself, to the mirror, or (if you feel comfortable) 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, but the patience and richness of time that it demands can be useful for us here.
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, addressing the letter, ‘To Whom It May Concern:” is always acceptable.
From there, follow the flow a letter would normally take. You can introduce yourself, what you are doing, the events that have taken you here, your hopes and fears, and then include the questions that you hope to have answered.
One important part of this step is to take your time, and maybe find a beautiful time and place to be when you write it. There is no rush to get it done. Maybe make yourself some tea first. You may need to write a second draft, or even a third. Remember, you have something important to communicate.
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘art.’ Writing is one of the simplest ways to take something from the realm of the 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 altar for the letter, and maybe the photographs and items you collected earlier. My friend Christopher likes to fill a glass 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 exchange. Now, what does this have to do with intention and preparation?
Some of my most important personal experiences with both iboga and ibogaine were strongly physical experiences, but didn’t involve any of the dream content that I’ve heard so many others describe. This is not uncommon. Maybe 40-60% of people don’t. Other times, when I did see things, they seemed strength, difficult to interpret, or hard to remember later.
I never felt like something was missing from my experience, but after speaking to so many others and conducting some more formal research on the oneirogenic experience, I came to hear home common it was for people to describe their visual experiences in terms of a dialogue. Some people saw embodied figures, family members or otherwise, appearing to them and communicating something. Other times it seemed like some other intelligence involved in their internal dialogue in a way that felt informative and enriching.
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 gradually more exaggerated and cartoonish until it was blown up to a ridiculous proportion. Eventually she asked, with sincerity and a bit of desperation, “Why do I keep seeing this?” From there, it seemed to open up, offering a glimpse of the meaning behind the repetition, and then shifting toward something else.
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 one thing they could try is simply to interact with it. This is as simple as creating a different orientation to the experience than simply trying to squirm away from the discomfort, and can help us to try to become more open and curious about what is coming up. One young woman on her second experience said, the repetitive sequence started again but she spoke to it a lot and found things changed and moved onto other things, and that the rest of her experience was far more interesting.
In some cases, people have felt that they’ve been able to get into verbal or audio sequences in which any questions that they asked were answered (in one interesting way or another) in real time.
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 wisdom 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 of receptivity and curiosity.
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘receptivity.’ A dialogue is back-and-forth, and it also involves someone or something else. We may or may not receive what we’re looking for, but there is a benefit in making ourselves ready. One way to represent this willingness, and to acknowledge the back-and-forth exchange that is part of any dialogue, is to make an offering before taking the medicine. Offerings can include any number of things. Traditional offerings include tobacco, sweet things (like honey or candy), or anything that you like (chocolate, money, flowers). One idea would be to add these to your altar, and then to bring them outside afterward, to a tree or riverbed. Whenever you take 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 richer than that. It can be a challenging moment for a lot of reasons, or a revealing one.
I often feel like I don’t need much of anything. I don’t need to eat much. 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. Some people have a more challenging day, but however it plays out it’s usually a day to be present in the moment. There are all kinds of things to think about and do later, but taking the time to really bask in the simplicity of needs, stretching, bathing, resting, is the best first step.
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?
Ritual Touch: The keyword here is ‘gratitude.’ You also might choose 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. Maybe it feels appropriate to bring the letter and your other small offerings back to nature and taking another moment to express that gratitude (and new or lingering questions) by turning back to that inner dialogue.
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.