I didn’t know I was not in my body–dissociated, disconnected from myself, living in my head and in spiritual realms or that early traumas had caused my nervous system to feel unsafe to inhabit my body. I mistook profound mystical experiences as a sign of spiritual advancement, convinced that if only I were fully awakened, all would be well in my life. It wasn’t until much later that I came across the term “spiritual bypass” which resonated deeply.
Why did I feel anxious following periods of bliss? After one ecstatic experience at a retreat, my unbounded Self witnessed the mind going crazy. My identity of who I thought I was completely dissolved. I was laughing and laughing, watching how absurd my mind was. The experience left me unsettled, and for six months after, I was in angst, gut tied in knots leading to severe digestive issues and scary weight loss.
It never dawned on me that spiritual experiences like this could kick up early traumas, including issues of abandonment and neglect. I felt ashamed and frustrated that I couldn't maintain the blissful, elevated high states.
I hadn't heard of "spiritual bypass", a term coined by pioneering author and clinical psychologist John Welwood, who said, "If there's a large gap between our practice and our human side, we remain unripe. Our practice may ripen, but our life doesn't. And there's a certain point when that gap becomes very painful."
[The full interview: https://www.johnwelwood.com/articles/TRIC_interview_uncut.pdf ]
When I felt bad, I would attempt to escape such feelings by increasing my meditations, hoping to transcend or pop into esoteric realms. I didn't know how to stay in my body to process difficult feelings and sensations to integrate the split-off parts of myself so I can feel whole.
I attended many healing classes and courses but I don't think I was able to incorporate the full benefits because I wasn’t in my body. Healing energies were often too intense for my nervous system pushing up old wounds too fast, leaving me feeling frayed and out of sorts. I have since learned that my body needs titration (small amounts of activation at a time) to avoid overwhelm and re-traumatization.
I had also confused devotion/surrender with unhealthy attachment. I projected my unmet infant/childhood needs onto teachers and gurus, thinking that if I never miss a meditation or could just get that special look, that mirroring (seen/attuned to which children need to know they have value)-- I would be okay.
I am forever grateful for the blessings and grace I received from spiritual luminaries who have helped alleviate suffering in my life. They also taught me how to access deep inner realms/dimensions and contributed greatly to my spiritual foundation. But I realized that the work of embodiment and accepting all parts of myself was mine to do. I’ve had to grow myself up, inhabit my body and learn to relate to teachers and spiritual authorities in a mature way.
Six and a half years ago, 28 years into my spiritual journey, my guru of 16 years told me to "go find another teacher." I was devastated but now I believe it was out of love that she sent me away because I needed something else. There was just boundless love between us when I went back to see her a few years ago.
I was guided to Miranda Macpherson, a spiritual teacher who offers an embodied approach to awakening. Rather than ego annihilation (shaming ourselves), she teaches ego relaxation-- spaciously open, soften and allow whatever our experiences are, without rejection or defense. We ground ourselves in our bodies and to the vast dynamism in mother earth to avoid overwhelm. Then we inquire with Presence and curiosity in body (sensations), heart (feelings) and mind (beliefs) and who that experience belongs to (often young self), contacting whatever arises with compassion. This Grace-filled process allows us to dive in to digest early wounds, and through to our true nature--inherent joy, peace, value, love, aliveness, etc.
This work led me to train as a spiritual counselor at One Spirit Interfaith NYC. Around the same time, I walked into my therapist’s office for the first time with Dr. Laurence Heller’s book Healing Developmental Trauma which had just come out. My therapist exclaimed, “Where did you get this?”
A year later, she vouched for me and I was accepted into Dr. Heller's Neuro-Affective Relational Model™ (NARM) training, (at therapist level) for healing developmental trauma with only an undergrad in psychology. Since that time, I’ve trained as a NARM Master Practitioner as well as in various trauma modalities that can heal fetus/infant/childhood to shock (e.g. car accidents, physical and sexual abuse, etc).
So much of developmental trauma is about what we didn't get -- not just things like stability and safety, but also needs such as being welcomed and attuned to, accepted for who we are, autonomy etc. -- often from parents who suffered early traumas themselves. These lacks can show up as self-hatred, difficulties in relationships and fulfilling life work, anxiety, depression, even physical symptoms like migraines, IBS, and chronic fatigue.
For me because of my early traumas (btw, not everyone is impacted the same way), spirituality needs to be embodied so that I can also connect with my aliveness and authenticity. For future topics, I plan to share experiences and insights that may be helpful on the spiritual journey, for instance, the role anger plays in accessing our aliveness to help move us forward in our lives. I have been inspired by the work of Julie Brown Yau, PhD, an expert in spirituality and trauma. You might enjoy her talks on Youtube.
I’m still healing but I have never felt more alive. It's truly fulfilling to see clients having more capacity to free themselves from pain and suffering. They are better able to reconnect with their real selves to enable frustrating patterns of behaviors to shift, in their work, intimate relationships, spiritual connection and even health.
I honor your path whatever that may be. Maybe some of my experiences and insights can be helpful. May you find what's most real and alive for you!
Brianna Ho Delott, MBA, BBA-PSYC is a Master NARM Practitioner & P-Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, also certified in Integral Somatic Psychology as well as in spiritual counseling with the American Institute of Health Care Professionals. She’s also trained in Transforming the Experienced-Based Brain (for fetus/infant traumas). She sees clients internationally on Zoom, some are on spiritual paths and some not, but all want to feel more alive and connected to themselves. www.BriannaHoDelott.com