***This book was reviewed for the San Francisco Book Review.
Dr Ruth Cherry’s Open Your Heart is a beautiful story steeped in spiritual alchemy and Jungian psychology and stuffed full of valuable wisdom. Annie is a psychologist approaching mid-life who’s growing increasingly dissatisfied with the way her life is going. Once comforting routine is now leaving her restless and feeling empty. Then, one day after work, she arrives home in a state of grumpy discontent. As she goes about making tea, she suddenly freezes in her kitchen, shocked that an older woman sits smoking at her table.
This is Hannah, one of several archetypal aspects representing Annie’s inner state of being. Hannah says she is there because Annie ‘prayed’ for her, the psuedo-physical manifestation being the easiest way to get Annie’s attention. By Annie’s own admission, it was more complaining over life, than true praying. However, Annie implied, and Hannah is there to help her learn to surrender to life and open her heart. Annie will go on to meet several others over the course of the story, each with various lessons to teach, now that Annie is (mostly) ready to listen. Over several weeks, Annie does indeed learn to let go and surrender to the now, and as a consequence, begins to find greater enjoyment in life. These guides, who are both male and female, teach her true empathy, spontaneity, mindfulness, and the pleasures of simple things. They help her release her blocked sadness, fear, and other emotions, and how to let them flow freely. One of my favourite examples was when she listened to Alex’ advice to ‘fly’, and scheduled a paragliding session. In journeywork, learning to fly often means learning to trust yourself, and finding true inner freedom.
As someone who practises shamanic journeywork, and spiritual alchemy, I could really appreciate Annie’s trials. Seeing her guides in the waking realm, almost as hallucinations would be so confusing if you were not looking to journey at all. I loved that Hannah stated that she wasn’t Annie’s ‘fantasy guide floating above everything’, and she wasn’t made to order. From experience, I can say you get the guides you need, not necessarily the ones you want. From the descriptions, Hannah, being so opposite Annie, seems to be at least partially a manifestation of her Shadow. Helen, her Controller, seems in part Annie’s Inner Critic. We all have one, and they can be harsh taskmasters. Even so, when established, they served a valuable protective function. No true growth can occur until you make peace with that guide, that part of yourself. Others she meets are her own personifications of archetypes such as the Inner Child and the Boundary Warden.
Dr Cherry has written a most marvellous contemporary fable illustrating how we can use our rich inner landscapes, and inner guides- our archetypes, our eudaimons- those voices inside that are both ours and ‘not ours’, to find true guidance and intuitive wisdom, and how we can reshape our lives by letting go and releasing the emotional blocks we’ve thrown up. Open Your Heart is a brilliant must-read that shows just how much fun personifying our archetypes can be, and how valuable those lesson are.
????? Highly recommended