Archive for June, 2012

Can’t We Just Sit and Eat With Each Other?

Can’t We Just Sit and Eat With Each Other?

by Susan Downing

Sometimes when I’m talking with my Reiki friends about the great calm and happiness a Reiki session brings to both recipient and practitioner, we consider this question:  What if, when someone came to us for Reiki, we just had them lie down on the table in the dim room, maybe with some soothing music playing, and then just sat next to them for an hour, silently keeping them company?  Maybe they would feel just as good – or almost as good – as they do when we give them Reiki.

None of us has tested this, but last week I came across an article about food pouches for babies and toddlers. Reading it, I became convinced not only that we can all use the kind of undivided, loving attention from others that Reiki gives us, but also that it’s precisely this kind of interaction with others that is becoming rarer and rarer in our everyday lives.

The food pouch grew out of developer Neil Grimmer’s desire to provide “mobile food technology for the modern family” and to give kids a way to have more control over what they eat.  Parent response has been positive: they see the pouches as a way to avoid meal-time struggles that arise when they try to get their little ones to eat healthy foods.  They also appreciate that the pouches make it possible to feed the kids on the go. Give the kids a pouch of a tasty fruit or vegetable blend that they can suck down on the way to or from day care or a sporting event, and you’ve killed two birds with one stone: the kids get something healthy to eat, and you don’t have to take the time to sit at the table with them and spoon it into their mouths, or sit by while they struggle to feed themselves. The article’s author tells us:

The pouch “is about recognizing the moment we live in,” he [Grimmer] told me. “We have ideal selves as parents, but there are also real moments as parents” — I assumed he was referring to those less-than-ideal times when distractions like work make cooking food or cajoling a toddler to eat it almost impossible — “and you need to find solutions.”

Grimmer rejected the author’s thought that maybe regular mealtime is worth enforcing: “My kids are more scheduled than I am as C.E.O.: soccer, ballet, theater.”

Am I alone in thinking that this is a totally misguided way to approach our lives?  This is precisely why we end up needing the relaxation of a Reiki session: because our lives have turned into a frenetic race from one activity to the next, or rather, from one multi-activity to the next.  For some reason, we seem to have trouble rejecting the idea that we need to be doing at least two things at once. And now we’ve reached the point where it doesn’t even seem important to sit with our tiny children as they eat and learn to feed themselves.

All of this multi-activity results in part from our mistaken belief that simply being in someone else’s presence as we engage in shared or parallel actions gives us sufficient connection with them, and so it’s okay to do something else at the same time, too.  But what’s missing when we interact this way is the key non-verbal component of our communication.  Sure, we can dispense with sit-down  meals and instead jointly wolf down sandwiches or pouches of food as we ride somewhere in the car.  If we do that, we won’t starve.  Not literally.  But we will certainly be starving ourselves emotionally and spiritually.  Because sitting with our children or parents or siblings or friends at a shared meal is about a lot more than ingesting nutrients.  It’s equally about nourishing our loving connections to each other.  We can say the same thing about all of our interactions with others.  And if we don’t arrange our lives in a way that makes it possible for us to regularly share this vital undivided attention and communication, then we will suffer from emotional and spiritual malnutrition.

Given that we seem to give and receive undivided attention so rarely, thank goodness for Reiki!  The warm, caring connection we experience during a session is a powerful antidote to all our harried, non-focused interactions.  But I think it would be much better if we could find a way to live differently, so that a Reiki session could function not as an emergency antidote to the poison of the rest of our lives, but as a gentle and welcome boost to an already healthy system.  And we can start right now.  Just for today, even just for ten minutes, we can give our full attention to interacting with one person we care about.  You can try that for yourself and see how both of you feel afterwards. You may find that it’s more delightful and sweet than even the most wonderful Reiki session.


The Realms of Samsara

The Realms of Samsara

by Jeffrey Brooks

In heaven everyone is so happy to see you. They are delighted to catch a glimpse of you as you approach. They welcome you with tears of love. You feel the same toward them. The look on their faces, the grace of their bodies, the re-connection with people you love after not seeing them for a while, even if these are people you have never met before, or saw yesterday, is so wonderful.

That is how people feel about other people in heaven. That is how they got to heaven.

If you feel that way you will not hurt people or wish them ill or speak badly about them. You will act for their benefit, with their happiness first in your mind. And they will do the same for you.

The titans in their world, just below the heavens, can see the golden light streaming down through the clouds that block their view of the heaven realms. They can see the majestic mountains rising through the clouds. But they cannot see the tops of the mountains. And the mountains cast long shadows into their world. The titans know that up there everyone is happy and beautiful and serene and they just hate that. They want it. It is not fair. They do not know that it is a result of the past actions of the inhabitants in these worlds. That the mental habits of these people produce the conditions of their lives. They think that battle will tip the odds in their favor. So they take a break from contending against each other, and like Hollywood producers and movie stars, conspire together for a short time, against the people they envy. Then, for as long as their self-interests converge, they attack, sinking deeper into turmoil, calculation, conspiracy and exhaustion.

In the world of animals there is fellowship between a very few. A flock or a herd will travel together, but to all other species, all other flocks or herds, they feel no connection. To each animal, beyond their own tribe, all others are predators or prey, competitors or nothing.  To some degree they take care of their own eggs or hatchlings, and they mate. But mostly they eat others or are eaten by them, and most live their lives alone, occupied with the search for food and safety.

In the hungry ghost world everyone is isolated. Hungry ghosts live alone in a barren land, desperately hungry, goaded by thirst on an endless, fruitless quest for something to eat or drink. They are disappointed again and again, after crossing miles of blank desert arriving at the edge of what from far away looked like a lake they discover it was nothing but a mirage, now vanished, leaving them again desperate and unsatisfied. The karma that produces life in the hungry ghost realm is greed, and the selfish pursuit of things that cannot satisfy you, and being mean to others in order to get these things. People who are drug addicts or porn addicts or whose life is measured in money, whose unquestioned ideal is nothing more than “more” have a taste of the bleak obsession of the world of hungry ghosts.

In the hells there is no kinship, and no solitude. Any encounter with another person inspires instant, blazing hatred. On landing in the hells the being looks around and is immediately seized with overwhelming rage. The being will pick up anything they can find and start swinging and stabbing, trying to hurt or kill whoever they see. The others are doing the same to them. And that’s just the entryway. From then on, for as long as they stay, in each encounter, depending on the condition of their mind and the residue of the actions that brought them there, they will be tormented to a degree which is incomprehensible to people in this world. The karma that brings people to this condition is a radical separation from others, and cruelty toward them.

The human realm is very different. The karma that brings us here is very rare and good, but it is mixed.  Anything is possible. We can learn. We can discover that our lives are governed by our actions and that the conditions in which we place ourselves, the people we associate with, the things we value, and everything we do, think and say, form our lives.  We are free, not trapped by pleasure or pain, but free: We can learn. We can practice. We can choose. We can be heroes. We can save ourselves and others from suffering and protect them from harm.

These descriptions of the six realms of existence have a single through line – the regard for others. In Buddhism this is an essential part of our method.  Dedication to the well being of others is our path to freedom from suffering, and to freedom from the ignorance that creates suffering.

If we practice courage and kindness in this human world we will face difficulties. But we can bear even the greatest difficulties with equanimity if we know what to do and what to avoid; if our training is strong enough to do it; and if we understand the rewards of the path of a true hero.


To The Mountaintop

To the Mountaintop

by Susan Downing

In my last post, “We Just Place Our Hands,” I wrote about encouraging my Reiki students to focus not on using set hands positions or striving for results when they give Reiki, but rather on make establishing and maintaining a connection with the recipient.  Today I’ll explain how this approach benefits not only the practitioner and recipient, but everyone around them, too. 

The benefits grow out of experiencing a shift in perspective, such as the one Jeff Brooks described in his recent post, “Thinking of You”:

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.

Mikao Usui, Reiki’s founder, went to the mountaintop.  Legend tells us that during a 21-day mountaintop retreat, he had a profound spiritual experience, and that as a result, he suddenly acquired the ability to facilitate healing in others using the energy flowing through his hands.  Up there on the mountain, Usui came to see the world around him differently.  I believe he experienced a great upwelling of compassion – which Buddhism calls “bodhicitta” –  and that he came to see, as Jeff described it,  “the vast interdependence of things, from a distance as well as from up close.”

Following his retreat, Usui set about developing and teaching a practice that would help others gain a glimpse of what he’d seen on his mountaintop. He didn’t just tell his students what he’d seen.  In fact, it seems possible to me that he told them nothing specific at all about what he’d experienced. But if he had, I think it would have sounded a lot like this (also from Jeff’s post):

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.

But rather than relating his experiences in detail, Usui simply described Reiki as “the secret method of inviting happiness.”  For him, this was a particular kind of happiness, the kind he gained on the mountaintop when he came to feel inseparable from all around him.  You can think of it as a joy that arises from feeling so deeply connected to others that you can’t help but devote the rest of your time on earth to sharing that joy with them by treating them with love and working for their benefit.

Usui spent the rest of his life teaching people how they could come to experience this happiness, too.  But he didn’t lead his students to the actual mountaintop.  He brought it to them, or rather, he gave them the method for gradually ascending that mountain: practicing Reiki and sharing this practice regularly with each other.

I believe that everything Usui included when he taught the system we now call Reiki was designed to help his students sense and deepen a connection with each other through practicing Reiki.  More precisely, I believe he taught them how to develop the focus and calm presence that would make awareness of that connection possible.  I say awareness of the connection because just as the energy is always flowing from us to our recipient, even if we are not aware of it flowing, we are always deeply and fully connected to our recipient. It is just that we are not always aware of that connection.

So, I believe that Usui taught his students methods that would help them be focused and free of distraction, so that they could simply be present with their recipient.  It’s in those moments of attention – a relaxed, not forced, attention – that we can become aware of our connection to our Reiki recipient.  We will not sense it if we are distracted by thoughts about where to place our hands, or by a desire to bring about a result.  Every time we focus on something other than simply being with our recipient and offering them the Reiki without trying to make something happen, our attention is actually drawn away from our recipient, which means it’s harder for us to feel fully connected.  When we are present with our recipients, wanting nothing more than to give them our full attention – that’s when we begin to move upward, toward the mountaintop.

Now, while Usui himself seems to have gained the sense of our inseparability by stepping back and getting the larger picture on his mountaintop, he gave his students a way to access what he’d found not by placing themselves at great distance from those around them, but by interacting with them more closely than they were accustomed to doing.  And this shift from everyday distance to ever-lessening distance while practicing Reiki provided just as sharp a contrast with their usual vision as if they’d been somehow transported to the mountaintop.  Because it’s precisely when you practice Reiki the way I believe Usui taught – focusing solely on being present and energetically connected with your recipient – that you become able to chip away at your firm conviction that you and your recipient are clearly defined beings, existing entirely independently of each other.

Since even a tiny glimpse of this feeling of interconnectedness comes only with sustained practice, Usui offered his students the chance to share Reiki with each other over and over and over.  And he taught them methods to develop their concentration and focus, not so that they could actively facilitate some result in their recipients, but so that they could gradually experience a stronger and stronger awareness of their interconnectedness with each other.

Being aware of this interconnectedness, if only for a moment, makes you so happy.  It seems like a miraculous discovery. As you continue to practice and your awareness grows, your joy grows, too.  Each time you share Reiki with someone, you have the opportunity to feel that inseparability, and with time, you realize that it is not the inseparability that comes and goes, but rather, your awareness of it.  And then you begin to feel even happier, because you are feeling this connection more and more strongly and clearly.  In other words, you are inviting happiness into your life.

This joy isn’t the only benefit of practicing Reiki with a focus on being present rather than on results.  It goes without saying that your recipients will also really enjoy their sessions with you, because they will sense – whether consciously or not – that you are giving them your full attention and keeping them company without trying to manipulate this or that result. And they will appreciate that.

But there’s another way that we as practitioners benefit by approaching Reiki this way.  Over time, we establish the habit of coming to our sessions with an openness of heart and mind.  We learn to be aware of whatever we encounter when giving Reiki, and not to try to force the session to go in any certain direction.  We simply give our attention to being with and being kind to the person we’re with.  We’re able to do this because we’ve understood, through the positive feedback we receive – in the form of our own joy and our recipients’ – that this way of brings joy to everyone involved.

Then, little by little, we become able to apply this approach to other areas of our life, outside our Reiki sessions.  Although there are certainly times when we need to do something active and concrete to help others, we often find that all that’s necessary when we encounter those who are struggling is to interact with them the same way we give Reiki: we are fully present, with a kind heart, and we don’t push to bring about a result. We’re able to begin to come to all areas of our life this way because we’ve learned from our Reiki practice that this approach brings great benefits us and helps us feel our connection to others more strongly.  Which helps us and those around us feel happier and closer to each other.

So, what Usui came to see from a distance, he then spent the rest of his life giving his students the opportunity to glimpse from close up. Approaching our practice this way is no less challenging than scaling an actual mountain and reflecting on the world from its summit.  It’s an internal, rather than a physical ascent, but just as demanding. But if we devote ourselves to this internal ascent, then we really can glimpse that special “happiness”.  We will begin to experience it ourselves, and then we’ll find ourselves immediately, naturally, and effortlessly sharing it with everyone around us.


Wonderful World

Wonderful World

by Jeffrey Brooks

I hear there are children who make a home for a caterpillar in a terrarium. They watch it spin its cocoon. They wait. They look at it every day. And one day the cocoon opens up. And out comes a butterfly. They can’t believe the miracle of this birth. They have never seen anything like it. They are amazed. They are delighted. They clasp their hands together and their eyes open wide and they look at each other without words not knowing just what to say, as if to say do you see what I see? There are times when we have our heads down. We have seen it all and done it all and we cannot see much besides perfidy and cruelty and pretense and lies. But there are times when I can’t find anything that’s not a miracle. A look out the window in the morning, or looking at the sky at night. Walking in the woods or sitting down at the table or looking at the face of a child or the eyes of someone you love, or look at anyone. Anyone. There are times when I cannot find anything that is not a miracle. Where did all this come from? Where will it all go? Sometimes I think I will miss it when I am gone but who knows what miracles are out there. Who knows what miracles we will find?


We Just Place Our Hands

We Just Place Our Hands

by Susan Downing

Since I began teaching others to practice Reiki, what I’ve changed most in my presentation is the way I teach students to approach placing their hands during sessions.  For a long time I taught students to use what are referred to as “standard hand positions,” but last year I began teaching this part of my classes differently.  This adjustment flowed naturally from my changing view of the purpose of a Reiki session.

My original approach involved teaching the series of hand positions I myself had been taught to use during sessions.  These positions are meant to direct healing energy to a set series of parts of the body. I would show my students these hand placements, give them handouts showing the positions, and then they would practice all of these positions as well as variations I would show them.  And they would end up giving Reiki sessions which were beneficial for their recipients and enjoyable for them, too!

But I noticed that when I would teach the students a set of positions and give them handouts, many of them would begin to focus on doing the sequence of positions exactly as I had shown them.  What happened then was that even though I told students not to worry about doing all the positions or about the order, they would often remark that they were nervous about forgetting to do this or that position, or that they would run out of time before getting through them all.  So, it seemed that the students were viewing this list of hand positions, which was meant to be a helpful guide for beginners who might otherwise feel lost and overwhelmed if they had to decide on their own where to place their hands, as a firm plan that they needed to follow every time.

One drawback of going through a session in this frame of mind is that if you are constantly a little nervous about doing things right, then you are not as relaxed as you might be and so, you don’t enjoy giving Reiki as much as you might.  But the deeper problem here is that if you’re spending your entire session thinking about which hand position comes next and being concerned about budgeting time so that you can get through all the hand positions you think you need to use, then that continual monitoring of your work will distract you from the real purpose of the session: connecting deeply and continuously with your recipient.  But it took me a while to realize that.

In wondering why students seemed so concerned about getting the hand positions right, the first explanation I came up with was that they simply wanted to do things as they’d been taught.  They wanted to be good students and master the material.  But then I realized there was more going on here:  maybe the students felt that getting the hand positions “right” was somehow key to bringing about healing, to achieving a result with the session.

This thought occurred to me at the same time as I was becoming more and more deeply convinced that the goal of Reiki practice as Mikao Usui taught it is not to bring about this or that result, but to learn to establish and sustain an energetic connection with a recipient.  When we learn to do this and allow the energy to flow without any expectations or intention to try to bring about a result – that’s when sessions become powerful, when joy arises and healing occurs.

Certainly, if we do follow a set series of hand positions when we give Reiki, and if some desire for a result does creep in, our recipients will still enjoy and benefit from their sessions, and so will we.  But by making a slight adjustment in how we approach our sessions and the process of choosing and using hand positions, we will find that that joy and benefit deepen, for both us and our recipients.

So, once I realized that concern about hand positions and the possible underlying desire for results was distracting and even worrying my students, I stopped teaching any set hand positions at all.  Now, I do a short demonstration session for students to observe, and afterwards we talk about what they noticed about where I placed my hands.  The conclusions they draw about hand placements tend to be general, rather than specific.  For example, they say, “You tend to put your hands on joints and on the trunk, and sometimes you sandwich a body part in your hands,” rather than, “You put your hands on the head, then on the neck, then on the shoulders, then you put both hands around the knee and feet.”  Thinking of a session this way helps them get the big picture: during a session, they can remember “joints, core, sandwich,” instead of feeling pressured to remember each body part individually and in some arbitrary order.

Once the students have the general picture, I show them various ways to approach positioning their hands on specific parts of the body and encourage them to try these out during their practice sessions.  And they sometimes ask about sequence of hand positions, but often they don’t even ask: they just learn from watching me do a session that head-to-toe seems a good way to proceed.  And so that they don’t stress out about this, either, I point out that although they can use the general sequence I did, they can also feel free to use the hand positions in any order they want, although it makes sense to take one’s time at any given spot and to choose a next spot that is within easy reach, so that you’re not moving quickly from head to toe and back again.

Now, not giving students a set of prescribed hand positions to follow means that I do have to give them guidance about how to choose where to place their hands and how long to leave their hands at each spot.  I tell them that they can never go wrong by starting a session at the head and just gradually working their way down the body.  But talking about making these choices also has the advantage of giving me the opportunity to encourage them to go into a session with only one goal: to be as present and connected as they can with their recipient, and to allow what they notice as a result of that connection – whether through sensations in their hands or an intuitive sense – to guide where they put their hands.  And we talk about how those same hand sensations or intuition will let them know when it’s a good time to move to the next position.

Finally, to help students relax and not worry about having to cover all positions in each session, I also tell them that if they feel drawn to spend all their time at one or just a few spots, then they should definitely do so, since the energy will flow throughout the body, no matter where they place their hands.  In other words, they don’t need to worry that their recipient will not get the most out of a session if they leave their hands in one spot for, say, ten minutes.  This reminder also helps them release any concern they might have that they won’t get “results” if they only do one or two hand positions.

In the year or so since I’ve been teaching this way, I’ve noticed that students are more relaxed about choosing hand positions and less worried about covering all possible positions.  That in and of itself is a positive thing.  But I have also noticed that they mention feeling very connected to their recipients. They are surprised at how often they feel drawn to one spot or another.  And their recipients will often say something like, “I was just thinking how wonderful it would be if you would put your hand on my shoulder, and then you did!”

Experiences like these are so joyful and satisfying for both the practitioner and the recipient.  And they highlight the benefits of giving Reiki without being distracted by worrying about what hand positions to do, in what sequence and for how long, or by a desire to bring about a result through Reiki, then everyone benefits.  When practitioners make establishing and maintaining a connection the goal of a session and see, time and again, that these non-results-oriented sessions are marvelous, they grow more and more confident about this approach to practicing Reiki.

Next time I’ll write about how practicing Reiki this way not only benefits us and our recipients during sessions, but also enables us to experience ever-growing happiness and share it with all those around us, in all areas of our lives.