What Is Reiki Energy, Anyway?

What Is Reiki Energy, Anyway?

by Susan Downing

When we Reiki practitioners explain what we do when giving Reiki, we tend to talk about sending energy out through our hands into the recipient’s body.  But if you ask what that energy is and where it comes from, you can get a variety of answers.  Reiki’s founder, Mikao Usui, just called it “Reiki energy”, and described his initial contact with it, during a meditation retreat, this way: “While I fasted, I touched an intense energy and in a mysterious manner, I was inspired (I received the Reiki energy.)”  He described his method of healing as “a spiritual method that goes beyond medical science.”*

Now, Usui seems never to have talked about the energy being something independent that comes from outside the practitioner and flows through him or her and into a recipient.  But I think it is probably Usui Sensei’s description of Reiki as a spiritual method that led those who began practicing Reiki in the West (taught by Hawayo Takata who learned from one of Usui’s students) to describe the energy as “Universal healing energy” or “Divine healing energy” or “God’s energy.” And so it’s not surprising that most of us were taught that we practitioners are conduits for the energy, which flows into the recipient through our hands.

I can see that there would be pluses to presenting it this way. First of all, it can help the recipient relax if he can imagine receiving benevolent energy from a non-human source, even if it’s a non-specified non-human source. The recipient can name this energy in a way that appeals to him: Universal healing energy, God’s energy, Spirit, and so on.

I think another reason the “conduit” explanation has been so prominent is that it can put recipients at ease in another way:  since they’re receiving energy that is supposedly not the practitioner’s, then they can feel confident in its goodness and ability to bring positive benefit, rather than wondering whether their practitioner embodies and is sharing goodness or compassion or other positive qualities.

But there are also drawbacks to the “conduit” explanation.  If practitioners are only conduits for delivering the healing energy that flows from some outside source, then in principle every session from any Reiki practitioner should feel the same, shouldn’t it, since it’s always the same energy that is flowing, all from one source?  And yet, anyone who’s had Reiki from more than one practitioner knows that sessions from different practitioners feel different.  We talk about how we like this or that person’s “energy”.  This would seem to call into question the idea that all Reiki practitioners access a single, independent, outside energy source when they give Reiki.

I began considering this question in earnest a couple of years ago, as my  Buddhist practice deepened, and when thinking of the Reiki energy as having a divine or independent source outside the practitioner no longer felt compatible with my spiritual practice. So, I began to reflect on how I could explain the process of giving Reiki in a way that would not depend on referring to an independent source energy outside ourselves.  Here’s what I came up with:

When people ask me what Reiki’s all about and how it works, I first ask them how they feel when they’re in the presence of someone who really loves them.  People often respond by saying that they feel very happy, relaxed, calm, soothed. Their muscles relax and their breathing eases, too.  They smile. They simply feel content.  I say that this is very similar to the way it can feel to receive Reiki: like feeling loved.

Maybe we can say that we feel the way we do when we receive Reiki because what we are receiving is deep love.  Could we call Reiki energy simply the energy of love?   If so, then what’s the source of that loving energy?  The practitioner? God? Spirit? The Universe?  Maybe what we think of as Reiki energy functions not on its own, but only in dependence on and collaboration with the hearts and minds of the people through whom it flows.  We can’t know for sure.  Nor do I think we need to know.  Think of it any way you want, in any way that resonates with you. I think that what’s important is not trying to identify the source of that feeling of joy and well-being, but rather, accepting it for the great blessing it is and being grateful that we can experience it, however it makes its way to us.

* This quote comes from an interview given by Mikao Usui sometime between 1922 and 1926, and translated and published by Frank Arjava Petter in his book The Legacy of Dr. Usui.

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