Wendy De Rosa’s new book Expanding Your Heart: Four Stages of a Spiritual Opening takes readers on a personal journey of enlightenment to find meaning and strength in the painful and chaotic moments of their lives.
The four stages of what Wendy terms a “Spiritual Opening” – an experience in which we become more open to our own spirituality and our connection to the Universe and God-are: the Initial Heart Opening, Chaos, Healing, and Contemplative Being. While Wendy defines these stages in detail in the book, I’ll just say here that these are not rigidly separate stages, but they can overlap with one another. A Heart Opening can feel like a breakdown, but it’s actually a revelation in which truths are revealed. Chaos may happen in the wake of the Initial Heart Opening; it results when what previously supported you before your Initial Heart Opening begins to fall away and you find yourself turning inward to draw on your internal strength. Healing occurs when you choose to move past the Chaos by taking responsibility for your life. Finally, you arrive at Contemplative Being, a stage where you can live with increased awareness and where you have the tools to handle emotions and life’s challenges. In Contemplative Being, you understand how to separate the Ego from the Soul, you practice going inward and reaching a higher level of consciousness, and you contribute to overall global wellbeing. But once you reach Contemplative Being, chances are another crisis will happen in your life to plummet you back into Chaos or cause another Initial Heart Opening, but each time these situations arise, you’ll be able to draw upon your experiences in the earlier stages so you can eventually return to Contemplative Being.
Because Wendy has been through all these stages herself, she has decided to share what she has learned to help others. When she had a revelation one day while out hiking of how a spiritual opening boils down into these four stages, she knew she had found the tool to teach others how to work through them. As a result, she has created workshops and trainings centered around the four stages and spiritual healing. She has had countless participants tell her how useful it has been for them to see that their lives are not total chaos but that a pattern exists. As Wendy tells us, “Reaching this point of understanding that one’s spirit has not abandoned him or her but was fully onboard throughout the journey through challenging times is eye-opening and affords people a sense of relief. Participants also share with me the feelings of hopefulness and gratitude they experience when they can acknowledge that seemingly traumatic situations are not failures.”
The truth, as Wendy has learned herself, is that even the worst events in our lives can lead to our learning and becoming stronger and more spiritually advanced if we are only open to learning. Throughout the book, Wendy shares the stories of participants who have experienced their own journeys through these four stages, and best of all, she shares her own personal story, including how her own first heart opening presented itself in the form of a panic attack. She also tells of another time when she was on the point of a breakdown while trying to make a difficult decision and she was contacted by a man she believes was an angel who gave her guidance. As she repeatedly experienced the four stages in her life, she also became more open to following her heart and listening to her intuition and using its gifts.
Expanding the Heart: Four Stages of a Spiritual Opening is really a call for all of us to listen to our own intuitions-to the voices inside us that try to point us in the right direction but which we often repress. For people who have difficulty listening to their intuitions, it might be advisable to attend therapy or draw upon spiritual teachings-for example, Wendy refers to the Catholic concept of the Sacred Heart as well as teachings from Vedic literature as examples of traditions people can draw upon to aid in connecting them with their intuitions and Spirit. She also recommends meditation and several other practices. The bottom line, however, isn’t that we need to be mystical; we simply need to process the pain we experience rather than repress it so we can grow and evolve into better human beings.
Ultimately, we may have a spiritual experience, but in the beginning, as Wendy knows, it’s about being willing to analyze one’s pain so it can be healed. “I know people who adamantly refuse to go to therapy because, in their eyes, therapy is for people who are crazy or who have something wrong with them. Such unwillingness to be introspective, explore one’s past, or accept that there are wounds to heal are all tactics aimed at keeping the lid on a potential Pandora’s Box of unprocessed emotions. Some of these people stuff their feelings down, but they keep moving through life… Our external life is a reflection of our inner state of being, so when we do not process our emotions, relationships suffer, finances suffer, home life suffers, and anything that would normally feel stabilizing starts to break down. In this breakdown, we are at last forced to feel the feelings we previously disowned. Sometimes it takes everything coming to a head in our lives for this finally to happen, but when it does, the experience ultimately leads us deeper into our soul.” The end result can be surprising and, ultimately, well worth the effort.
No matter what stage you are at, Wendy’s framework provides a way to view your life as a journey with purpose and to mark your progress on that journey. Early in the book, she asks the reader, “Are you ready to heal your life? Are you ready to put the story of being stuck and broken, being hurt and in pain behind you? Are you ready to find your true Self again?” I think we all want to answer “Yes” to this question, but often, we are afraid to heal because being in pain is what is familiar to us. But nothing in life can get better if we don’t make the effort. There is comfort and meaning on the other side of Chaos. If you are ready to heal your life, I encourage you to go down this path with Wendy.