Just for Today, Devote Yourself Diligently To Your Work

Just For Today, Devote Yourself Diligently To Your Work

by Susan Downing

Mikao Usui Sensei’s fourth Reiki precept came to mind yesterday when I was watching the birds at my birdfeeder.  The chickadees would flit up, pick out a seed or two, and fly off to another part of the bush. But the red-headed woodpecker had a different approach: he would land on the feeder, extract a sunflower seed, then pound it against the railing to crack it, before flying off.  A couple of minutes later, he’d be back, and the whole sequence would repeat.    So much effort for one tiny seed.  And yet, he and the chickadees  persisted. Of course, it’s that effort that stands between them and starvation. Even so, these birds seemed to me to exemplify Usui’s fourth precept.

This precept has often been presented as “Do your work honestly” and “Be honest in your work.”  However, a Japanese speaker explained to me that the  Japanese words that are translated as “work” might more properly be thought of as meaning “calling, vocation, business, trade or profession.” The verb itself expresses the idea of “applying or devoting oneself assiduously.”  So, although Usui Sensei would undoubtedly have encouraged his students to work honestly, the essence of the precept lies in the idea of focused, devoted attention to a task.  For the birds I was watching, this was the crucial work of gathering food to nourish and sustain themselves.  Similarly, Usui Sensei encouraged us to devote ourselves not to just any work, but to what will nourish and sustain us – in other words, to our practice.

For Reiki practitioners, the fourth precept reminds us that when we commit ourselves to the transformative path that a Reiki practice offers us, we’re doing more than taking up a casual pastime. We’re expressing our belief that practicing can help us transform our lives and enable us to help others, too. Just as those birds know that they’ll never get through the winter and live to raise a new brood in the spring unless they focus on nourishing themselves now, we understand that our practice will bear fruit only if we approach it with diligence.

At the core of this process lies a commitment to doing self-Reiki, for it’s this part of our daily work which sustains and nurtures us and makes it possible for us to offer support to others. I’ve had students tell me that sitting down at the end (or beginning!) of a long day and giving themselves even ten minutes of Reiki can seem like a selfish luxury, given all the demands on their time. It’s certainly easy for any of us to fall into seeing things that way, especially when we’re talking about family, about people we love and want to take good care of.

But we are not really so different from the chickadees and the woodpecker I saw this week.  Although any babies they hatched this spring are out of the nest now, these birds need to pour everything they have into preserving their strength and health through the long winter, so that when spring comes again, they’ll have the energy to care for their new chicks.

When we humans put our energy into a practice that nurtures and sustains us – whether it’s Reiki, or meditation, or yoga or karate or prayer – we gain the strength and endurance to face whatever challenges come up.  But that’s not all.  When we devote ourselves diligently to the work of our practice, we ensure not only that we ourselves will be strong, but also that we’ll have the energy to take good care of all those who depend on us. When we practice inspired by this loving motivation, we grow stronger and happier, and as we do, it becomes ever easier and more joyful for us to give of our strength and happiness to others.  That’s what this practice is really about, what it is really designed to do for us and those with whom we interact.

I think that’s why the chickadees reminded me of the fourth precept, and why I found them inspiring.  At first glance, they seem to be just going about the business of making sure they get enough food. Certainly they’re not thinking about trying to benefit others. But in the simple act of eating at my feeder, and in their beautiful flight and song, that’s exactly they are doing: I get so much joy from watching them float to and fro, chirping brightly as they go.  And so, they take in the nourishment they need, but at the same time – naturally, without even trying – they sustain not only themselves, but me, too.

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