Just for Today, Do Not Worry

Just for Today, Do Not Worry

by Susan Downing

My last post, regarding Mikao Usui’s first Reiki precept, “Just for Today, Do Not Be Angry,” led to a wonderful discussion with one of my students.  She was wondering whether one could express the precept’s gist using a”do this” phrase, rather than “do not”.  Another student asked me about that a couple of months ago.  Both of them felt that they would feel better repeating a phrase that reinforced an intention to act positively, instead of one that exhorted them not to do something.  This is an appealing idea, especially since Usui Sensei’s last three precepts are “do” phrases.  Just to review, here are all five of the Reiki precepts:

Just for today:

Do not be angry

Do not worry

Express gratitude

Devote yourself diligently to your work

Be kind to people

It wouldn’t be hard to come up with admonishing versions of the last three precepts – “don’t be ungrateful,” etc, but restating the first two positively is a tougher task, since being angry and worrying don’t have obvious opposites. Besides, since these are two very powerful negative emotions, I imagine Usui Sensei wanted to call particular attention to them, so he mentioned them by name.  Thus, translating them in an affirmative way is a challenge. In fact, translating them at all is tricky: if you tell people not to get angry, that doesn’t strike the right tone.  The first precept has most commonly been translate as “Do not anger,” which really is not correct English.  I’d learned the precept this way and had always taught it using this wording, but when I was writing my book, one of my readers asked what was up with the awkward English wording, and that got me thinking about how best to express that precept in English.  My student’s question led me to expand that reflection to the second precept, too.

Both of the first two precepts’ Japanese wording refers to one’s state of mind, so it’s as if Usui Sensei was saying, don’t be in the state of mind where anger and worry are present.  That’s a pretty awkward way of phrasing it too, but you get the idea. But I believe that Usui Sensei meant the precepts both as guidelines for our actions, and also as descriptions of what diligently devoting ourselves to Reiki can help us experience.  So, we do our best not to be angry and not worry, and over time, we find that we are less and less in a state of mind in which worry and anger are present.  Using “do not be angry” and “do not worry” does work pretty well to express these two meanings of the precepts.

Even so, both phrases do tell us what not to do.  My student found that discouraging: she said that if she’s setting it as her goal to not be angry or worry, but does end up experiencing angry, or worrying, then she’ll feel that she’s failed at upholding the first two precepts.   As we continued our discussion, it occurred to me that a possible positive version of these first two Reiki precepts could be:  ”Just for today, allow anger to fade.  Just for today, allow worry to fade.” This can work with the multiple purpose I see the precepts fulfilling: if you engage in a consistent, diligent, sincere  Reiki practice, you will find that it will be easier for you not to be swept away by anger and worry when they do arise; that they will begin to fade more easily; and that over time, these two disturbing emotions will just not arise as often.   My only hesitation about this wording comes from the fact that it seems to assume that anger and worry will be present (unless you add a phrase like “if it should arise,” but then you’re back to really long precept wording…) whereas the “do not” phrases, for all their “nots”, do hold out the possibility of no anger arising at all, and I like that.

But if you’re working on the assumption that anger and worry might indeed come up, phrasing the precepts the new way can serve as a reminder of how to respond when anger and worry do come up: allow them to fade instead of allowing them to rule you.  Note that you’re not actively trying to prevent them from arising.  You can’t, by force of will, decide that you will not allow anger or worry to arise in your mind. But your Reiki  practice gives you powerful tools that help you allow anger or worry to fade: when you begin to feel upset, give yourself Reiki as soon as possible. Even for just five minutes. My students tell me that they love that idea, but ask what to do if they’re at work or in the middle of a conversation with someone and they start to get really angry or worried?  They don’t want to start giving themselves Reiki in the middle of a meeting!  Here’s my advice:  as soon as you can, excuse yourself and go to the bathroom.  Seriously!  It may be the only place where you have real privacy, and most people are unlikely to follow you there to continue a discussion or argument.  Give yourself Reiki for five minutes or longer.  Repeat the relevant precept silently, or in a very low voice, like a mantra.  That will help the anger or worry fade, too. Giving yourself Reiki and reciting the precepts will help you ride out these disturbing emotions without being swept away by them.

This last point is key: using Reiki will help you maintain your composure when you find yourself in a situation that really pushes your buttons.  If you’re in the grip of anger or worry, it’s very difficult to have the presence of mind to deal rationally with whatever you’re facing. You can’t think straight, and when you’re in that state you can end up saying or doing something you might regret because you’re overcome by anger or worry.  That doesn’t mean you ignore the negative circumstance at hand, or look the other way when others are out of line.  Maybe you do need to address an upsetting situation or inappropriate or unkind behavior, but you’ll do it in a kinder, more rational way if you’re calm and collected.  That’s where self-Reiki and the precepts come in. They help your anger and worry fade, so you can go back out and face whatever you need to face without causing more distress to yourself or others.

In terms of expressing the precepts, choose whichever version resonates most with you.  Do or do not. What’s most important is that you do, as Usui Sensei reminded us, “Repeat the precepts and keep them in your mind and heart.”  Keep the essence of their meaning in your mind and heart, no matter which words you use.  That, together with consistent Reiki practice, allows the disturbing emotions to fade, and gratitude and kindness to arise in their place.  So, keep practicing, both on a daily basis and when turmoil strikes.  Even if you end up spending a lot more time in the bathroom!

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