Archive for May, 2012

Thinking of You

Thinking of You

by Jeffrey Brooks

From a distance we can see how things fit together. From a mountaintop we can see roads connecting towns and cities, the sky, and the land rolling out beneath it.

From a distance the people we know look different. We see the ones we love with even more tenderness. We wonder about people we have hardly paid attention to before; about what they want and how they feel, what they have done, what they learned and what they think will happen next. And the people who caused us trouble, whose presence we felt as an affliction now seem to have no power at all.

It’s easier to let go of our grievances from a distance. In a movie, when the character looks down from heaven or from death or from the afterlife we see the world, through their eyes, from a distance. It is moving. The distance releases us from the narrow concerns of self interest and we feel uplifted and relaxed and we have to smile at the petty things that concern us so much day to day.

We see a painting of a mountain landscape framed in the foreground by the graceful arc of a blossoming cherry tree. We are reminded to look at the vast interrelationship between things, as we notice the beauty of what is close.

We see a painting of a luminous hillside framed by an arched window and the graceful shoulder of a girl.

Something feels good to us when we see our world from a distance. It’s like looking back over your life, after you have lived it. Or some of it. Or most of it. It looks different.

People go to the mountaintop for a reason. We need to overcome gravity to do it. It takes an act of will.

We need to actually do it; we cannot watch someone do it or hear about someone doing it, and expect the same result.

As we train ourselves in bodhicitta – the feeling of deep compassion for the suffering of beings which leads us to take responsibility to reach Buddhahood to save them – we learn to see the vast interdependence of things, from a distance as well as from up close.

As we train ourselves in wisdom we learn to see things and people and our own hearts and minds as inseparable from each other, inseparable from what we think, say and do,  inseparable from what we have done and from what we will do and from every one we ever knew or will know or will never know.

This gives us the freedom to do right and to work hard for the sake of others and to free ourselves and them from suffering and ignorance and loneliness.

We get a taste of this in the way the world looks from a mountaintop, in friendship, in family life, in brotherhood, in parenthood, in making someone else feel happy even for a moment, in forgetting grudges and forgiving fools.

We have all come so close so many times. But it’s easier to see from a distance.

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What Do Reiki Attunements Do, Anyway?

What Do Reiki Attunements Do, Anyway?

by Susan Downing

Everyone who receives formal training in Reiki receives what is called an “attunement” from his or her teacher.  Teachers give their students attunements are given at the beginning of each level of Reiki training (or sometimes more frequently,) and to an outside observer, it would look like the teacher is simply laying his or her hands lightly on the student’s head and then hands, while doing specific hand movements, or mudras. And yet, the effects can be very profound.  So, what exactly does an attunement “do” to or for the student? Since different teachers understand attunements differently, today I’ll share some of these views, including my own.

The standard answer, put forth by most Reiki teachers here in the West, is that the attunement enables students to practice Reiki by connecting them to the source of the energy they will then use in their healing sessions.  What doesn’t resonate with me here is that this view seems to imply that we can’t access that energy unless we receive an attunement.  I don’t believe that’s the case.

An explanation that appeals to me a bit more is that attunements initiate students into the practice of Reiki.  Pamela Miles describes it this way in her book Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide:  “Rather than adding something, I would say that the initiation process opens and strengthens what’s already there, what is already ours: the access to primordial consciousness that is our birthright.”  This is similar to how I explain attunements to my students. I say that although the energy you use when giving Reiki is already present within your body, when you receive an attunement, your awareness of this energy generally increases, so that you have the sense that suddenly there is energy flowing in you, energy you can use in Reiki sessions for yourself or others.

But here’s yet another way to think of what goes on during an attunement.  Reiki’s founder, Mikao Usui, was a Buddhist practitioner.  As part of his training, he would have received initiations from his teacher or teachers.   These initiations, often called empowerments, or blessings, in Buddhism, take place in a formal setting and involve certain rituals.  They formally mark the beginning of a student’s engagement with the given practice for which he or she is receiving the empowerment.  Sometimes this involves the students taking vows of some sort.  Following an empowerment, the teacher might sometimes take the students’ hands or place a hand on the student’s head.

The empowerment is a key factor in the student’s practice: it establishes a formal and conscious link between student and teacher and formalizes the student’s commitment to the given practice, a commitment to working with the teacher within that practice.  Even so, these empowerments don’t do anything to a student in the sense that they don’t literally enable a student to practice: with or without an empowerment, one could technically carry out all the practices associated with a certain training, assuming you could find out what they were! All the same, even if the empowerment doesn’t flip some “on” switch in the student, the student does experience an effect from receiving one.

For example, if you have received this kind of empowerment from a Buddhist teacher, you might have noticed that you experienced very strong positive emotions and even physical sensations during or after the empowerment.  Maybe you felt very happy, or full of energy, or maybe you felt even overcome by emotion.  Perhaps you felt an increased connection to the teacher who offered the empowerment, a feeling of gratitude and a strong motivation to practice, a sense that you had become part of some wonderful joint effort that includes not only you and your teacher, but all those before you who have engaged in this same practice.

So, although it would have been theoretically possible for you to engage in a given Buddhist practice without an empowerment, receiving the empowerment gives your confidence and motivation a big boost, connects you to the tradition in which you’re practicing, and assures you of the ongoing commitment of your teacher, so that as you move forward, you will be certain that you are learning and carrying out the practice correctly.

The responses to empowerments that I mention above are not only common among Buddhist practitioners.  They are also very similar to what Reiki practitioners experience following an attunement.  So, there is a very real benefit to receiving the attunements that Reiki teachers offer, even if we can’t always identify exactly what goes on during an attunement.

There is also, I hasten to add, a very real benefit to establishing an ongoing relationship with a Reiki teacher, one that will sustain and nourish you long after your given Reiki class has ended.  Although, as I noted above, it is possible to engage in various Buddhist practices on one’s own without receiving guidance or empowerment from a teacher, I feel strongly – and my personal experience with my own teacher has confirmed this time and again – that one is much better off working consistently with a teacher.   The teacher encourages you, helps you see where you are misunderstanding things, and points you in the right direction.  A stable connection with a teacher also helps keep your motivation and enthusiasm up during the inevitable periods when you feel you’ve hit a plateau or somehow gotten off track.  You can think of it this way: each moment of contact with your teacher becomes a mini-empowerment, a new blessing, whether it is formal, or ritualized, or takes place unconsciously in the course of study or a conversation.

This is exactly what your Reiki teacher can give you on an ongoing basis.  (And this is definitely the way I feel about my relationship with my own Reiki teacher.)  This, for me, is the real significance of the attunements that I offer my students.  Giving you an attunement doesn’t somehow magically transform you into a Reiki practitioner.   Anyone who wants to do self-Reiki can learn to do that by following a few easy instructions (see my last blog, “No Experience Necessary”.) And that is fine as an introduction, just the way it’s fine to pick up a book about Buddhism, read about the basic concepts and begin trying to put them into practice.  But once you’ve tried a little self-Reiki, if it resonates with you, then you should find a teacher and do some formal training, just as you would do if you wanted to learn to practice Buddhism seriously.  And this is where the attunements come in.  I always give my students attunements in my formal classes, because this is the point at which they have decided to make a commitment to practicing Reiki.  Giving my students attunements establishes the teacher-student connection and commitment and is encouraging and inspiring and motivating for the student.  It is a starting point on the student’s path of developing a regular Reiki practice.

So, somewhat paradoxically, you could say that Reiki attunements are in one sense unnecessary if you want to practice Reiki, but in another sense, absolutely vital if you want to establish a strong Reiki practice.

And I want to say one more thing about attunements. Receiving attunements is very joyful and inspiring, but giving them is even more wonderful. There is something so beautiful about marking and sharing the moment when a student makes that commitment to beginning a Reiki practice.  During attunements, it feels to me that all is possible for the students as they start off on their Reiki path. And even if I never see them again after the class ends, at least they will know, from experiencing the connection that is established with me during the attunement, that they are not alone on their path. They will always have somewhere to turn for guidance or for some shared Reiki, or simply for a conversation that will be a sweet blessing for us both.

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Shut Up and Train

Shut Up and Train

by Jeffrey Brooks

ShutUpAndTrain (1)

Some people in the class wanted skills they could use to make their lives better. Some people were looking for approval. But it did not matter to me which they wanted in that moment, or what their motives were when they walked in the door. In that moment, in that class, I knew that the way they would get good was to train sincerely. The way they would get good that month or that year was to train consistently. Setting that as the requirement for the classes would mean that the people who wanted to get skill would get it, and the ones who merely wanted approval or status would disappear.

Long explanations of how to do techniques are not so helpful. Translating movement into language is inexact and inefficient, and it requires that the listeners then translate the instructions they have heard back into movement. It is more efficient to show a move and then ask people to copy what they see. After repeating the technique many times they become more focused, more fluid, more spontaneous, more in touch with the nuances of the movement. Then refining the movement becomes easy. No long explanation is necessary.

That is why I used to say, when I was teaching karate for hours every day for decades, that it’s best to just shut up and train. I was not commanding people in a condescending or disrespectful way. I was explaining the idea, just like I did here.

So when Sensei Reynolds painted the nine foot tall, three foot wide scroll of the words Damatte Keiko (Japanese for shut up and train) and hung the scroll in the alcove in the front of our dojo, it was not an affront or even a command. It was a reminder that the shortest path to mastery is practice.

Of course there is a time for analysis and reflection and theory. But these are like vitamins in our diet. Very small amounts are healthy and necessary.

Although the dojo no longer exists the scroll does, and the insight it represents continues to be relevant. Because, after training consistently for a time, without anyone having to say so, it becomes evident that the training period does not have boundaries.

We face the reality of our lives every moment. Not just during a training session but always. If our aim is to think, speak and act ethically, if we recognize the danger of permitting our mind and our life to be impulsive and self indulgent, if we learn the value of cultivating a calm, clear mind and an insight that penetrates the heart of reality, then every moment is an opportunity to train.

Then we do not need to freak out when we face difficulty. But what we can do, if we have trained well enough along the way, is to regard the difficulty as the reality of our life in that moment, and take responsibility for dealing with it, and face it, and resolve it or move ahead, with skill and equanimity.

We do not need to collapse into arrogance or wastefulness or self congratulation when things go well. What we can do is recognize the temptations of idleness, arrogance, greed, promiscuity and gluttony and behave properly, using our precious lifetime well, training ourselves to make progress in the good when we can.

We do not need to stand idly by when harm is done to us or others, as if having a weak mild nature that just goes with the flow is somehow good. Instead we can use our strength and skill to help where we are needed and the strength to withdraw when our service is done.

In this sense all of our life is training. And no amount of explanation, theorizing, or approval will substitute for genuine, wordless, skillful life.

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No Experience Necessary

No Experience Necessary

by Susan Downing

This week I had the opportunity to teach a group of middle- and high school students and teachers to give themselves Reiki.  One or two of them had received Reiki in the past, but none of them had ever practiced Reiki before. And yet, by the end of our hour-long workshop, they were all sitting there doing self-Reiki.  They found it so soothing that when I first asked them to describe what they were feeling, they just looked at me blankly.  At first I thought maybe they weren’t noticing any effects.  So I asked, “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t ask you to put it into words.  Just tell me, do you feel even a tiny bit more relaxed?”  All of them nodded.  Some smiled.  And they all kept giving themselves Reiki.

Now, of course, when I teach a formal Self-Reiki class, I go into much more detail about the history of Reiki than I did with this group.  I spend more time talking with them about what Reiki can do for them, what they might expect when they begin giving themselves Reiki regularly, and how to develop a Reiki practice for themselves.  And I give people attunements, too, to help them feel the energy more strongly than they might otherwise do.

But I firmly believe that anyone can learn to give themselves Reiki and benefit from it without having an attunement.  The group I worked with this week showed that this is true. They learned how to give themselves Reiki, and we also brainstormed about times when Reiki might help them cope with stress or anxiety, and discussed how they might fit Reiki into their day.

I love being able to give people basic instructions for practicing self-Reiki in a brief workshop like this, since all of us can benefit from having a variety of stress-reduction tools at our fingertips (literally, in the case of Reiki).  In a short introduction of this type, people can give Reiki a try, gain a very basic proficiency with the technique, and then, if they want to learn more and develop this into a practice for themselves, they can take a formal class and learn how to help themselves even more using Reiki.

So, today I’m going to give you the same handout I gave this week’s group.  If you’ve never tried Reiki – or if you thought you could never learn to give yourself Reiki without a lengthy formal class – I encourage you to try this.  You can’t do anything wrong, and if you feel some relaxation or relief from stress, anxiety or pain (and Reiki is great for all of these!) so much the better!

Before I give you the actual instructions, here are a couple of preliminaries:

When to give yourself Reiki: The perfect time to give yourself Reiki is when you feel stressed out or worried or sad or mad or when you can’t sleep or can’t sit still.  Practicing Reiki regularly will help you ride out the feelings that upset you – it is a very powerful and effective too for distracting your mind and helping you avoid freaking out. Any time, day or night, is fine for Reiki!

Where to give yourself Reiki: A place where you’re not likely to be disturbed or distracted. Get into a comfortable position – either sitting or lying down is fine. (And definitely turn off your phone so you won’t be interrupted.)

How to give yourself a session:

First of all, access the energy: Close your eyes, put your hands together in front of your chest, and just think to yourself that now you’re going to do a Reiki session for yourself.  Next, imagine that healing energy is flowing into your hands (either from your heart, or from a divine source, or from the Universe, whichever feels right to you.)   That will do it!  Once you state your intention to do Reiki, the energy will flow, whether you notice it or not.

Second, decide where to put your hands: Take a couple of breaths in and out and ask yourself where you feel drawn to put your hands.  If a certain part of your body seems to be calling for attention, just rest your hands there lightly (no need to press) and let the Reiki flow. Maybe you have an ache or an upsetting thought that’s been bothering you, and it’s fine to bear that in mind as you choose a hand position.  But don’t overthink it.  Pick a spot and go with it.  If you like, you can imagine the energy flowing from your hands into that spot.

❀ Leave your hands in that spot for 1 or 5 or 20 minutes: as long as you want!  Remember, the energy will flow wherever in your body it needs to go!  But you can definitely move your hands to another spot whenever you want.  A good time to move might be when you begin to feel bored, or, if the way your hands or body feel to you changes: maybe you felt some sensations in your hand or heat in your body when you put your hands down, and then that feeling changes or dissipates.  To choose another spot, just ask yourself again what part of your body wants some Reiki.

What you might feel as you give yourself Reiki: You may feel heat, cool, tingling, or nothing in either your hands or the part of the body where your hands are.  You may feel the urge to laugh or cough or cry or sneeze.  Your stomach may rumble.  These are all perfectly normal ways the body releases tension as the energy does its work, so if you experience them, that’s a good thing!

❀  What should you do or think about while giving yourself Reiki?? A great way to approach giving yourself Reiki is to not look for any results from it, but simply to relax and welcome the energy without any intent or desired outcome.  Let the energy flow without placing expectations on yourself or the energy. That way, you are open to receiving any kind of benefit that might come along.   Working this way helps you get better at just being in the moment with whatever you are experiencing, There’s nothing you should be feeling during self-Reiki, so let go of that expectation, too!

Finally, remember: There is no wrong way to give yourself Reiki, you can’t ever get too much energy, and the energy can never harm you.  The only mistake you can make is to not do Reiki for yourself at all!  So, relax and enjoy this marvelous gift you’re giving to yourself.

That’s it! I hope you’ll give Reiki a try.  And please do let me know if you have questions, or if you’d like to know more about Reiki. I’d love to hear from you!

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