Archive for August, 2011

Just for Today, Express Gratitude

Just for Today, Express Gratitude

by Susan Downing

This is the third of Mikao Usui’s Reiki precepts.  It’s often been translated as “Just for today, be humble,” but the original Japanese wording contains a set phrase that means “express gratitude.”  Certainly, gratitude is connected to humility.  If we express gratitude for whatever we encounter in our lives, then humility also comes into play: being humble can mean admitting that maybe we do not know everything or understand everything in life well enough to be able to judge which circumstances might help or hinder us.  Acknowledging this opens the door to feeling grateful for all in our lives.

Sometimes this comes easily.  For example, every day, I express my gratitude for the fact that I am able to do my Buddhist and Reiki practice.  Buddhist teachings refer to this as leisure and opportunity, which struck me as very amusing at first – it conjured up visions of lying on a beach, which I have never been one to do.  But really, the phrase has to do with having the free time in which to practice and the chance to encounter the dharma.  So, I do give thanks every day that I have the resources and opportunity to learn from gifted teachers, the time to pursue my practice, and the chance to share my work with others.  Since these practices form the core of my life, and since I clearly see the benefit that they bring me, and which they enable me to bring to others, it’s natural for me to feel infinite gratitude for them.

I’m sure each of us has at least one circumstance or person or occurrence in our lives for which we feel this kind of gratitude.   But I think we can easily fall into the trap of focusing not on what in our lives elicit gratitude, but on what leaves us feeling dissatisfied. We might find that we devote a lot of energy to thinking about what we want, but don’t have, whether it’s a new car, a bigger house, a higher-paying or more enjoyable job, or more time with those we love, or a spiritual practice that will rid us of unhappiness.  Or about what we don’t want, but do have to put up with: higher taxes, annoying coworkers, chores to do on the weekend, being apart from those we love. When we’re in this dissatisfied frame of mind, we’re too busy worrying about why happiness hasn’t come into our lives to concentrate on engaging in the kind of purposeful practice or endeavor that can actually allow joy to arise in our lives.

One way we can break that cycle is to shift our focus and express our gratitude for all that is right in our lives. With hurricane Irene bearing down on so many of us on the east coast this weekend, it seems a particularly good time to spend some time making a list of blessings.  Here are some of the things on my list at the moment:  I’m grateful for the precious moments I am spending with my daughter in this last week before she heads off to college; for the fact that the Marines in Quantico are good at emergency preparedness, so that I don’t have to worry about my son’s safety during the hurricane; for the mysterious low-lying fog on the field in the morning; for the love I feel for my friends, students and teachers and that I feel from them, too; for blueberries; for the warmth my hands feel from a beautiful teacup; for the group of laughing children who came to play at the labyrinth where my friend Karen and I had just done a ceremony in memory of our mothers, who both died three years ago this week; and for the red-tailed hawk that darted past me on Mount Tom the other day and inspired me with his brilliant plumage and bold pursuit of his purpose.

May you have the leisure and opportunity to make up a list of your own in these next few days.

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The Moment of Silence

The Moment of Silence

by Jeffrey Brooks

When you teach karate you do not have to talk.

You do not need to explain things or describe moves. You can just do the movement and the other person can copy it. Then you can move together for a while. When the time comes for the person to learn a refinement or an adjustment of the move then you can stop, slow down and repeat the move a few times, demonstrating the refinement. Then you can continue to move. You do not have to translate the move into words for the student, and ask them to turn the words back into movement. Let them see and copy you.

The words are just extra, most of the time.

On September 11, 2001 I was at the jail, waiting to enter. One of the people that worked there told me “The first tower is down.” It sounded like a problem. It sounded like one of the radio towers that police, fire and EMS use to respond to calls for service was not working. There had been a problem with the radios that week.

One of the things you can count on in jail is a TV being on. People were staring at it.

That night on the dojo schedule was a class for the advanced group. People had been on the phone all day, or watching the news. I opened the dojo not expecting to see anyone. But everyone showed up. I went to the front of the room, where I begin the class. No one said anything, they just waited. I took a ready posture which everyone there recognized, and they could see what I had in mind.

Everyone took their ready position too.

We began to move. In silence. First in the sunset. Then in the moonlight. We moved in unison for the whole training period. Without a word. And without a word the class ended and everyone went home.

We speak to make a connection with other people. To share a feeling or an idea with them. There are times when our ideas and feelings do not need to be translated into language to be conveyed to other people.

There are times when silence is plenty.

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.

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When You Feel Loved

When You Feel Loved

by Susan Downing

The question people most frequently ask me about Reiki is, “How does Reiki work?”  There are a couple of ways Reiki practitioners usually answer this. Sometimes they describe themselves as conduits for what they refer to as universal healing energy, which flows through them and out to you through their hands.   Other practitioners, like Bronwen and Frans Stiene, talk about being Reiki, which they explain this way:

The practitioner sees herself as one with Reiki, it is nothing separate, she is the Reiki and everything outside of her is                     also Reiki. She also sees her client from this view point, so she is the client and the client is also her and Reiki – no                           separation, but oneness. 
In summary, when she places her hands on her client she doesn’t see it as “doing Reiki” or                        ”channeling Reiki” but just “Being Reiki”. (from the International House of Reiki website)

I don’t find either explanation satisfying. The first suggests that the practitioner doesn’t really make a contribution to the process of giving Reiki to a recipient, aside from serving as a pipeline for healing energy outside us. The second, full of spiritual buzz words, doesn’t give us insight about what actually goes on when we offer Reiki to someone.  Today I’m going to offer you a much simpler way to describe what happens during a Reiki treatment. And there’s some reader participation in this one, too!

I’ll start by asking a question: How do you feel when you’re with someone who really loves you?  Think of someone who loves you deeply, whose love makes you very happy.  Do that now: take a couple of minutes to close your eyes and call that person and their love to mind.  Just remind yourself of how much they love you. Allow yourself to soak in the feeling of their love coming your way, and notice what it feels like to receive it.   Really, give it a try for a couple of minutes.  Then come back and keep reading.

So, what did that feel like?  When I do this with my students or with folks who attend informational talks I give about Reiki, people get big smiles on their faces. They relax visibly.  One time, one woman said to a coworker across the table from her, “Hey, you’re blushing!” And she was!  That’s how happy she’d gotten, just from thinking about being with someone who loves her.  Imagine how joyful she’d have been if the person had been with her right then!

When we’re with someone who loves us, when we feel deep love coming our way, we relax almost immediately.  The tension in our body flows away, we feel safe and soothed, worries fade, and deep happiness and calm take their place.  We can lose all sense of the passage of time as we settle into this joyful frame of mind where we forget that anything exists but the happiness that envelops us.

This is exactly what happens when a Reiki practitioner places hands on you, focuses on being right there with you and lets his or her pure and sincere affection for you flow.  You can call this affection love or compassion, but it is not romantic love, or even the kind we feel for those in our family.  Think of it as a heartfelt wish that through this connection, the person you’re with will feel happy and calm and supported. In its strongest form, the Buddhists call this wish bodhicitta: the altruistic deep love for other beings that prompts you to do all you can to end their suffering. You do this not so that it will make you look good, or so that your clients will refer you to their friends, but because you can’t not offer this loving support.

When a Reiki practitioner gives you Reiki motivated by even a small degree of this selfless love or affection, you can experience the same relaxation response and deep feeling of well-being you feel in the presence of someone who loves you.  That’s because he or she does love you, just in a way that’s different from the kind of love we’re used to talking about. Think of it this way: when you come to me for Reiki, I connect with you from my heart — and although this phrase is also such a cliché as to have lost most of its meaning, it really is what I mean. This makes a lot more sense to me than thinking of what we do as pulling in some self-existent  positive energy from outside us.  Rather, we are tapping into the warm feelings within us and allowing them to flow freely to our recipients.

So, you can think of Reiki as a method practitioners use to help you relax and feel happy by sharing their selfless loving feelings with you. That’s a pretty simple explanation, but that doesn’t mean the method itself takes no effort.  That’s because it’s not necessarily easy to approach everyone we encounter with this affection.  As the Dalai Lama stresses, we are not born knowing how to do this.  We have to learn how to cultivate bodhicitta, practice doing that, and carefully nurture that love when it first appears within our hearts, so that it can continue to grow.

If, as Reiki practitioners, we are to be able to connect with our recipients so that we can share this kind of love with them and help them experience the great happiness Reiki can bring them, we need to feel it within us and develop it. That is where the need for our own personal practice comes in: we must find and make use of tools — such as a combined spiritual and self-Reiki practice —that will allow this love to arise within us. We also need to cultivate skills — such as meditation — that will help us improve our own focus and concentration. That way, we can get better and better at being fully present with our recipients, and we’ll be able to offer them a strong and steady flow of that love.

As I see it, this is our responsibility as Reiki practitioners: to cultivate this selfless love and our ability to pass it on, because the true heart of Reiki — and the key to truly benefitting our recipients — lies in sharing the love within our own hearts.

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The Ark of History

The Ark Of History

by Jeffrey Brooks


Look down the mountainside of time at the stories cultures tell about themselves and you will see the rivalry between settlers and raiders.


Before history there was a time when people, like animals, looked around for something to eat and a place to lie down at the end of the day. When they could not find anything nice they were hungry and tired. They were dependent on causes and conditions outside their control. But they learned. They learned to predict cycles of time and place. They learned to travel to places that were fertile. To find what was concealed. And they learned to cultivate: to farm the land and to herd animals. They learned skills, they worked hard, they worked together, and life was better for it.


Then one evening, when people are tired, and dinner is done, as night begins to cover the world, some raiders with clubs sneak into the village and smash the heads of the nearest settlers, terrify the others, take what they like, and disappear into the darkness.


Terror is only the first reaction. Then the settlers vow never to let this happen again. Their shock turns into determination and their plans into action. Having overcome the capricious danger of the natural world they now turn their attention to overcoming the threats from rival humans. They arm themselves. They post sentries. They build walls around their camps. They train. If their fortunes are good and their prosperity increases then the threats to it will too.


Raiders will attack again. The strategies will depend on a calculation of the magnitude of the threat and the values of the people under attack. Fight courageously to the last man, if that is what it will take: some people would rather die free then live as a slave. But not everyone feels that way. Maybe it will seem easier to pay the raiders off without fighting them. It is called paying ‘tribute’ in the stories and it is how empires form and people are enslaved.


Some of the settlers may reproach themselves and the others in their group. They will feel that their prosperity has made them weak. That comfort has given way to pleasure seeking. That the an ethos of hard work, family life and self sufficiency that guided the lives of their ancestors, that succeeded so well in protecting the people from the ravages of nature has given way to an ethos of self indulgence , licentiousness, intoxication, sexual depravity and corruption.


The raiders counted on the weakness of the settlers. After a while they also noted that they themselves, the raiders, were as helpless as the pre settled people were; as dependent on providence as the most hopeful hunter/gatherer. Because the treasure of the settled people was soon exhausted as the settlers lost their will to work and the skills they once had were lost.


The raiders could crack with whip and kill the dragon of resistance but after the delight of wading through the river of blood of their enemies, after taking everything and exhausting it, there was nothing left for them to take. And nothing left to do but fight among themselves for the scraps.


These stories used to be told about the rise and fall of cultures; stories of vitality and decadence, raids and defense, heroism and treachery. That is the human tale. And it continues, unchanged, today.


It continues in the fortunes of nations, in the conflicts between races and parties and classes. The cycle is as true for empires and countries and companies and unions today as it was for tribes in olden times.

But more importantly it is true for us. We can cultivate or we can steal. And not just from others but from ourselves. We can increase our karmic wealth by joyfully doing right, by being generous, by keeping our morality clean, by restraining our anger and greed, by seeing the hard-to-see truth that decency only has happy results and harm only results in misery.


We came into this world with great good fortune. The fact that we were not eaten by wolves, that we didn’t shrivel from hunger is proof. That people were nice to us and we had a safe place to stay is a blessing. We should appreciate it. That we have the health to move with skill and without pain; that we have the intelligence to understand things and to speak about them is the result of our past good acts.


It is possible for us to raid ourselves and to squander our karmic fortune: We can do drugs, steal, lie, cheat people, kill them, take what is theirs and, upon the basis of blessings we have received in the form of a human body and mind squander these blessings, exhaust the goodness we now enjoy and get only suffering for ourselves and bring only suffering to other beings in this world.


Or we can cultivate our lives. We can see what it takes to create happiness in this world and do it. All it takes is courage and skill, discipline and knowledge, kindness and vision. We do not have to succumb to conventional values even if we live in an age of decadence. We do not have to settle or raid. We can use our lives as best we can to save others from suffering.


We have this opportunity right now. It is not going to last.


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.

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The Ark of History

The Ark Of History

by Jeffrey Brooks


Look down the mountainside of time at the stories cultures tell about themselves and you will see the rivalry between settlers and raiders.


Before history there was a time when people, like animals, looked around for something to eat and a place to lie down at the end of the day. When they could not find anything nice they were hungry and tired. They were dependent on causes and conditions outside their control. But they learned. They learned to predict cycles of time and place. They learned to travel to places that were fertile. To find what was concealed. And they learned to cultivate: to farm the land and to herd animals. They learned skills, they worked hard, they worked together, and life was better for it.


Then one evening, when people are tired, and dinner is done, as night begins to cover the world, some raiders with clubs sneak into the village and smash the heads of the nearest settlers, terrify the others, take what they like, and disappear into the darkness.


Terror is only the first reaction. Then the settlers vow never to let this happen again. Their shock turns into determination and their plans into action. Having overcome the capricious danger of the natural world they now turn their attention to overcoming the threats from rival humans. They arm themselves. They post sentries. They build walls around their camps. They train. If their fortunes are good and their prosperity increases then the threats to it will too.


Raiders will attack again. The strategies will depend on a calculation of the magnitude of the threat and the values of the people under attack. Fight courageously to the last man, if that is what it will take: some people would rather die free then live as a slave. But not everyone feels that way. Maybe it will seem easier to pay the raiders off without fighting them. It is called paying ‘tribute’ in the stories and it is how empires form and people are enslaved.


Some of the settlers may reproach themselves and the others in their group. They will feel that their prosperity has made them weak. That comfort has given way to pleasure seeking. That the an ethos of hard work, family life and self sufficiency that guided the lives of their ancestors, that succeeded so well in protecting the people from the ravages of nature has given way to an ethos of self indulgence , licentiousness, intoxication, sexual depravity and corruption.


The raiders counted on the weakness of the settlers. After a while they also noted that they themselves, the raiders, were as helpless as the pre settled people were; as dependent on providence as the most hopeful hunter/gatherer. Because the treasure of the settled people was soon exhausted as the settlers lost their will to work and the skills they once had were lost.


The raiders could crack with whip and kill the dragon of resistance but after the delight of wading through the river of blood of their enemies, after taking everything and exhausting it, there was nothing left for them to take. And nothing left to do but fight among themselves for the scraps.


These stories used to be told about the rise and fall of cultures; stories of vitality and decadence, raids and defense, heroism and treachery. That is the human tale. And it continues, unchanged, today.


It continues in the fortunes of nations, in the conflicts between races and parties and classes. The cycle is as true for empires and countries and companies and unions today as it was for tribes in olden times.

But more importantly it is true for us. We can cultivate or we can steal. And not just from others but from ourselves. We can increase our karmic wealth by joyfully doing right, by being generous, by keeping our morality clean, by restraining our anger and greed, by seeing the hard-to-see truth that decency only has happy results and harm only results in misery.


We came into this world with great good fortune. The fact that we were not eaten by wolves, that we didn’t shrivel from hunger is proof. That people were nice to us and we had a safe place to stay is a blessing. We should appreciate it. That we have the health to move with skill and without pain; that we have the intelligence to understand things and to speak about them is the result of our past good acts.


It is possible for us to raid ourselves and to squander our karmic fortune: We can do drugs, steal, lie, cheat people, kill them, take what is theirs and, upon the basis of blessings we have received in the form of a human body and mind squander these blessings, exhaust the goodness we now enjoy and get only suffering for ourselves and bring only suffering to other beings in this world.


Or we can cultivate our lives. We can see what it takes to create happiness in this world and do it. All it takes is courage and skill, discipline and knowledge, kindness and vision. We do not have to succumb to conventional values even if we live in an age of decadence. We do not have to settle or raid. We can use our lives as best we can to save others from suffering.


We have this opportunity right now. It is not going to last.


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.

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