Archive for May, 2011

The Way You Look Tonight

The Way You Look Tonight

by Jeffrey Brooks

For most of the time that people have been alive on earth they finished the day and rested. Then they looked out at the trees moving in the wind. Or they looked at a fire burning in the fireplace. Or they watched the clouds changing shape as they moved across the sky. Or the stars slowly appear and turn far away.

It was beautiful to them. And it was quiet. They felt a part of the world they lived in. And it was mysterious too. And if they watched long enough they could see that everything was in motion. Everything was changing. Changing place. Changing form. Coming into the world and going on for awhile and vanishing again without a trace.

They noticed that each thing had its own character. The earth was firm and the wind moved, water flowed and fire was hot and they changed character in predictable ways when they came in contact with each other.

In each plant and animal, in each human being, if there is enough peace and time to see it, there is a spectacle, a miracle. Each little thing having its own way it wants to live. And trying so hard and so patiently to do it. And so much beauty. You can’t help but cherish it when you are in its presence, and you will do whatever you can to take care of it and protect it.

How can we be so cut off from this human way of being in the world?

Television is the opposite of this. It never gives you peace or lets you wonder. It stimulates you to want things and feelings that you do not have.  It continually disturbs you and never lets you settle down. It doesn’t care about how you feel.  It only cares about what you want and what you will pay to get it. And it will never ever let you stop wanting.

It will not let you see the connections between things because it fakes them or clips them apart from their real context. It shouts at you. It doesn’t like you. It doesn’t listen to you or respond to you. Instead of letting you learn about the marvelous world around you it cuts you off and keeps you passive and ignorant and needy. It is the fountain of ignorance. And we cannot get enough.

In the olden times some people died in floods and famines. They got eaten by animals and slaughtered by raiders, died from germs, burned in volcanoes, and worked themselves to death scratching a living from the grudging land. So they say on TV.

Now we sit at computers and sit in cars and sit on couches and get fat and weak and angry and take prescriptions and watch pornography and complain about the people who disagree with us.

It’s not better.

But we can be.

Jeff Brooks’ law enforcement career has included assignments in patrol, as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor, and as a task force officer. He has taught martial arts and Zen for many years, and has studied in the US and on Okinawa.


The Secret of Inviting Happiness

The Secret of Inviting Happiness

by Susan Downing

When I teach students to practice Reiki, one of the first things I give them are the following words that have come down to us from Mikao Usui, Reiki’s founder.

The secret of inviting happiness through many blessings

The spiritual medicine for all illness

Just for today:

Do not anger

Do not worry

Express gratitude

Devote yourself diligently to your work

Be kind to people

Do Gassho every morning and evening

Keep in your mind and recite

The first two lines explain how Usui Sensei viewed Reiki and what he saw as its purpose.  Then come the five precepts, followed by instructions on how to work with them:  we recite them daily and also “do Gassho”, which means that we put our hands in front of our chest, palms together, and bow slightly from the waist. In this way we express our respect and gratitude for the teachings that Usui Sensei gave us.

When you read the five precepts, maybe they remind you, as they did me, of the Ten Commandments or the precepts that Buddhist practitioners observe.  Like these, Usui Sensei’s precepts are words to live by.  And yet, Usui Sensei was not teaching his students Buddhism, but rather, I believe, offering them a practice method that, although inspired by Buddhist teachings, was suitable for everyone, no matter what their spiritual beliefs. I am sure he did not intend for the people he taught to accept the precepts as religious dogma, as articles of faith.  Rather, I’m sure he hoped the precepts would inspire his students to engage sincerely in their Reiki practice.  There’s a difference.  Had Usui Sensei just thought of the precepts as a way to tell people how to live, teaching them would resemble a spiritual teacher’s exhortations. But as a Buddhist practitioner, Usui Sensei would have known that simply giving people the precepts is not all it takes for them to be able to put them into practice. After all, it’s one thing to “keep [the precepts] in your mind and recite”, as he instructed us, and quite another to be able to pull that off consistently.  That’s why he taught not just the precepts, but the hands-on Reiki energy practice, too.

To me it seems crucial that Usui Sensei told his students to keep the precepts in the their mind and recite them, just the way one might recite prayers or a mantra. That is, in fact, how he taught his students to work with the precepts; he didn’t give them specific instructions about how not to anger, or worry, or how precisely to go about being grateful and assiduous and kind. Of course he would have hoped the precepts would inspire his students to take care with their actions, thoughts and speech. But he also would have known, from his own Buddhist practice, that committing to precepts does not magically make it possible to live them. He would have known that if you want to see your disturbing emotions fade so that the virtues of gratitude, devotion and kindness can arise in their stead, you need to do two things: you need to both make a commitment to live according to virtuous principles and devote yourself to a practice that both brings tranquility and makes insight possible. This is precisely what spiritual practitioners such as monks and nuns do: they state their commitment to an ethical life by taking vows, and they have a rigorous practice framework which both helps them keep those vows and makes it possible for them to gain deep spiritual insights.

Now, although Usui Sensei was teaching laypeople, not monks and nuns, it seems clear that he based his own work with students on these same principles: he gave them basic guidelines for how to live, and taught them a practice that would help them keep to those standards.  And although he was not teaching within a monastic setting, and his students would not be taking formal vows, I imagine he wanted a way to help his students affirm their commitment to the ethical life the practice was helping them live out. Buddhist teachings stress the importance of taking vows, explaining that all actions we take in accordance with vows are much more powerful in their effect than those we take under regular circumstances, without a previously-stated commitment. Usui Sensei would certainly have been aware of this, and I believe that encouraging students to recite the precepts daily is his way of offering them the chance to make a commitment to their practice that resembles the commitment a spiritual practitioner makes by taking formal religious vows.

But I believe Usui Sensei had even more in mind by teaching the precepts.  I believe he saw them both as a set of standards of behavior to which students commit, as well as a description of what they can achieve if they engage wholeheartedly in their practice.  So, using Reiki the way I believe Usui Sensei taught, his students would have gradually come to experience less anger and worry.  As they saw their disturbing emotions fade, their gratitude for the practice would have grown and their motivation to practice would have increased, as would their ability to treat all those around them with kindness.  It’s as if, by presenting the precepts, Usui Sensei was saying to his students, “Practice the way I teach you, and this is what will happen. Commit to the precepts, and yes, pay attention to what you say and do and think, because you do have control over that, but also put your focus on practicing Reiki diligently, just as I’m teaching you to do, because that is what will transform your mind in the long run and make it easier and easier for you to observe those precepts, thereby inviting happiness into your life. “

As I’ve been working on my book, I’ve been reflecting on each of the precepts, and have come to view them differently than I did when I began practicing Reiki.  So in my next few blogs posts, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on each of the precepts with you.  And I’ll end this post with expressing my gratitude to Usui Sensei for giving us the Reiki system, and for the opportunity to share my thoughts about it with you.




by Jeffrey Brooks

I wonder if there was a time when people walked down the street on a Sunday afternoon. When they saw their neighbors they smiled and a greeting came naturally, because it was a pleasure to see them. And then people would stop a little while and they would see how each other was doing. And maybe invite them in.

I have heard about it. I think it’s true.

Those old time people didn’t define themselves by what they owned or who they wanted to have sex with. They did not trumpet their status and they were not driven mad by what they wanted or detested. And I don’t think that was because they were stupid or ignorant or dead or white. I think it was because they had learned to behave decently, understood there was evil in the world, and understood the usefulness of a loving heart and a peaceful day and kind words to a friend.

They understood that while things may go very wrong that our response to them is a choice. We cannot stop a tsunami or a hurricane but whether we act like Japan or New Orleans is a choice.

Where people are treated with affection and respect and discipline by their parents when they are young they are free to be kind and strong and generous and determined when they grow up. When they are abused and neglected as children they grow up enslaved.

It takes a peaceful mind to think well. Turbulence, anger and desire constrict our freedom to think. If we can settle down enough we can see our mind in action. We can see our mind projecting things that aren’t there. Making patterns where there are none. Missing surprises. Without settling down we will never see it. And we will not even have the time to learn what to look for.

If our mind is not calm enough to stroll down the street in the spring sunshine pleased to see a neighbor it is not calm enough to be enlightened. We will just keep suffering.

Jeff Brooks’ law enforcement career has included assignments in patrol, as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor, and as a task force officer. He has taught martial arts and Zen for many years, and has studied in the US and on Okinawa.


Right There With You

Right There With You

by Susan Downing

It sometimes surprises me how much my way of practicing Reiki has changed since I first began a number of years ago.  As my Buddhist and Reiki practices gradually and simultaneously deepened, I found that they became inseparable for me, and that I was both consciously and unconsciously bringing my Buddhist training and study to bear as I practiced Reiki.  I shifted away from a novice’s enthusiastic desire to fix every condition a client brings with him, to offering Reiki with no goal or outcome in mind, aside from that of offering the recipient a loving presence and connection.  Teaching my students the value of approaching Reiki this way has been easy, except when it came to teaching the Reiki symbols in Level II.  But in my Reiki II class last month, I suddenly came to see a way to teach these symbols that’s consistent with my overall approach to Reiki.

Let me start by explaining what the Reiki II symbols are.  These are supposedly images that Mikao Usui, Reiki’s founder, received during meditation and passed on to his students. When I received Reiki II training, my teacher taught that we can use these three images during our sessions to give recipients strength, or to promote emotional balancing or release or to help alleviate distress from the past and facilitate spiritual development. We are told that we can imagine or trace the symbols in the air with our hands while reciting the words that identify them, to help effect certain changes in the recipients.

I didn’t question this when I was first starting out with Reiki, but as my own way of practicing Reiki changed, I found that I was uncomfortable with this explanation.  I didn’t want to pass it on to my students, because it seemed so at odds with the way I was teaching them: how can you take such care to help people practice Reiki without focusing on getting results and then give them these symbols that are presented as a powerful way to facilitate a specific outcome?

Then I recalled what I know about how Usui Sensei seems to have used the symbols.  We’re told that he didn’t teach them to all of his students. He taught them only when he felt a student needed help establishing a connection with the recipient.  Sometimes he would teach the student one or more of the actual symbols.  Other times he would teach them the mantra associated with a symbol and have them repeat it in their minds.  Now, I was taught that these were the symbols’ names, but if Usui Sensei gave them to students to help their focus, then it makes much more sense that they would be mantras, which are a common method within Buddhist practice of helping practitioners distract their busy minds and enter a meditative state. And this is exactly the state most suitable for practicing Reiki, assuming you’re practicing without trying to make something happen in the recipient.  So, concentrating on tracing a symbol with your finger in the air, or visualizing it in your mind, or repeating one of the symbols’ mantras silently can help clear away the distractions we may experience when we’re doing a Reiki session, so that we can be more fully connected with the recipient.

Thinking of the symbols that way was a start for me, but it didn’t totally solve my dilemma. After all, I teach three symbols in Reiki II.  If they’re intended just to help the practitioner concentrate, why do we need three? The traditional explanation is that as we give Reiki to someone, we are open to gaining awareness of the recipient’s physical and mental state.  When we sense physical weakness and want to send power, we use the first symbol; when we sense emotional or psychological disturbance and want to promote balance and release, we use the second symbol, and when we pick up that the recipient is striving for spiritual development and want to provide a boost in that area, we use the third symbol. But that seems impossibly results-oriented. That’s what’s been bothering me.

But then, one day, it clicked into place for me.  Here’s the way I explained using the symbols to my most recent Reiki II students.  Most Reiki practitioners enjoy it when they pick up some intuitive information about the recipients when they’re giving Reiki.  Maybe they sense sadness or anger or weakness, etc.  There’s no problem with becoming aware of the recipient’s physical or emotional state.  The problem comes — and this is totally my view; some practitioners might disagree with me — when you take that awareness and based on it, you try to make the feeling release or shift energy away from or into a certain area of the body.  It’s analogous to if your best friend showed up on your doorstep terribly upset and instead of hugging her and listening to everything and just being there with her, you immediately started trying to fix everything without even hearing her out.

But there’s another way to respond to her.  You can sit and just be with her in her distress, hold her hand, let her know you love her and are there with her and for her.  That’s a cliché, but it doesn’t make the approach any less valuable. Be with her and let her know you care.  She will probably feel very comforted and soothed. Then if she wants to ask for help, she will.  But most of the time, the help she wants most is your focused, loving presence and attention.

This is just the way I encouraged my students to think of the Reiki symbols.  If you’re giving someone Reiki and sense distress when you have your hand on her heart, feel free to imagine the second symbol or repeat its mantra. As you do that, you are giving your full attention to having a strong connection with her, to simply being with her and letting her know you are supporting her with your loving presence. Without trying to fix anything.  It’s as if you’re saying, “I can tell you’re upset.  I’m going to sit here with you for a bit and be with you in your sadness. ”  Or weakness, or vulnerability, or anger, or desire for spiritual clarity.  Approach it this way, and each time you use a symbol, it can be a sacred affirmation of your commitment to just being right there with the recipient in that moment in time, giving him or her your full, loving attention. As if you’re saying, I sense your suffering, and I’m right here with you.  That’s what the Reiki symbols can help you say, if you’ll let them.