Archive for Reiki experiences

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.


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.


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.


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.


The Calls of the Birds, the Stream, and The Heart

The Calls of The Birds, The Stream, and The Heart

by Susan Downing

As part of my Reiki practice I give myself Reiki every day, usually at bedtime.  But today, as I was out for a long walk in the late winter sunshine, I had a thought: why not do Reiki outdoors?  I was headed for a nearby wildlife sanctuary where I walk regularly, and although I have often sat and meditated in these welcoming woods, I have never thought to give myself Reiki there.  Time to give it a try.

I chose a place where I have recently enjoyed sitting for a few minutes, on a high bank overlooking one of the streams that flows through the sanctuary.  For some reason, I feel drawn to this particular spot.  I can see a couple of the bends of the stream and get a good feel for the water’s flow there, so it seemed like a fitting choice for some Reiki, too.

I sat down on the ground near the edge of the hill that sloped down to the water, took off my gloves, placed my hands, and closed my eyes.  The sun, which until now had been behind some clouds, emerged once again – I felt the warm light on my face, saw it through my closed eyelids.

As I felt the energy flow from my hands and through my body, I also moved in and out of awareness of the sounds of the life flowing around me: here and there a bird would call, leaves would shift, nudged by the breeze, and the water would speak up as it travelled on its own way.

A while later, when I opened my eyes, I glanced at the stream below.  The water upstream was just barely flowing, and then, as it rounded a small bend, passing over a muddy flat there, it picked up speed on a slight downgrade and came swirling to another turn where it found its way partly blocked by debris – a fallen tree, mostly submerged, except at its middle.  And that is the path this late spring water –  cold and yet still moving, looking the way jello that’s about to set up looks when you stir it – took as it made its way downstream.

As if this stream was engaged in its own challenge, one of moving its own liquid energy along its full course.  Not hurrying, allowing its speed to vary naturally, never trying to push any debris aside, but sometimes doing so all the same. Murmuring as it went, as if providing some commentary on this path to any who would listen, or simply to itself: “A little slow here.  We’ll take some of that loose mud with us. Whee! Around that tree trunk. Under this branch. Bubbles.”

How wonderful to hear that commentary, to sense what seemed like purposeful and joyful movement! And, turning my attention back to my hands, I felt a similar purpose and joy in the streams of energy that were flowing through my body, sending forth their own commentary:  Narrow passage here.  Follow this bend. Bumpy – but maybe it’ll open up. Hear that? Over there?  I’ll go check.

Meet you back at the heart.


Reiki With a Chance of Insight

Reiki With a Chance of Insight

by Susan Downing

In recent posts I’ve been writing about how to use Reiki to survive turmoil in your life, and about how learning to practice in this way will help reduce the intensity of the storms that swirl around you.  But that’s not the full extent of what Reiki can do for you: by carving out a quiet space and time and going more deeply into your practice, you also make it possible for profound insights to bubble up, insights you can use as the basis for making positive changes in your life.

Every time we do Reiki for ourselves or receive a Reiki session or attunement from someone else, we experience the release of tensions in our body and mind.  Knotted-up muscles can relax, and disturbing thoughts and emotions can also relax their grip on us.  We can describe this process as a letting go – if only for a short while – of patterns of thought and behavior that have caused us discomfort.  One way experiencing this helps us is obvious – we simply feel better! But it can also help us in another way.  During each Reiki sessions, our thought and behavior patterns’ negative effects on our body and mind are temporarily relieved.  We can see this as temporary liberation from habits which do not serve us well, which serve not to increase our health and well-being, but to impair it.

But when we sit up after a Reiki session feeling marvelously relaxed and happy, the last thing we’re inclined to reflect on is what habits may have led to the discomfort we’ve just released while we were lying on the table.  We’re so happy to be free for now of that pain or tension, which at that moment is good enough. And really, we don’t have to consciously go down that road.  Rather, all we need to do is be open to gaining insights, because it’s precisely in the hours or days after a Reiki session that we are likely to gain new awareness of habits that cause us pain.  Reflecting or meditating on insights can help us get even more out of Reiki than temporary respite, whether we’re practicing on ourselves or receiving Reiki from someone else, because they can lead us to make changes that will free us from the habits themselves and not just their unpleasant effects.

This process of recognizing habits and then seeking insight into them is not something you can begin by force of will.  You will gain the moment of insight only when you’re ready to address a given habit.   Here’s an example from my own experience.  All my life I have had an incredible sweet tooth.  I have long known that I was probably consuming more sugar than was good for my body and mind, but I never took any steps to change that habit.  I never saw any need to.  Or rather, I pushed aside any concerns that would occasionally surface.  But one day about a year ago, I suddenly came to the conclusion that it was time to do something about the sugar. A day or two later, I happened to read an article by a nutritional therapist acquaintance about the ways sugar negatively affects the body and mind, and, much to my own surprise, I decided to take the plunge and give up sugar.  I worked with my acquaintance to develop a plan, and within a few days I had cut sugar out of my diet, although it had been an overwhelming food addiction for me my entire life.

It just so happened that this thought popped into my head at a time when I was both giving a receiving a great deal of Reiki.  I have noticed in the past that during such periods I will often gain insight into some long-standing area of tension or conflict in my life, or that it will occur to me that there might be a new way of looking at a situation, if only I would take the time to reflect on it. This is what happened with the sugar – for decades I was not at all convinced that it could be harming my body and saw no reason whatsoever to even consider that possibility, but one day my mind simply opened up and I had a Hmm…. moment: maybe it made sense to look at this issue after all?   I accepted that challenge and was able to make a change in my life that has brought me tremendous benefit.

That is exactly the kind of opening up or shift in perspective that Reiki can facilitate within us.  Sometimes it happens after one session, sometimes after many, or after more intensive Reiki work.  I can’t explain how this works, but I know that it happens, and not just to me! Here’s one way I’ve thought of to describe it: the more frequently and fully the body and mind relax, the more often and deeply we temporarily release our harmful patterns. There eventually comes a tipping point at which we gain both clear conscious awareness of one of these patterns and also a subtle openness to the possibility of changing things.  And in my experience, that is the time at which we have the opportunity to take action in our lives to change those habits for good.  In my case, there was actually once a four-day period after I did a number of Reiki attunements three years ago, when I totally lost my taste for sweets.  But even then I did not take action to cut down on sugar permanently, not for another two years.  I was not ready.  But the opportunity presented itself again, and when it did, then I took the necessary steps to change my pattern.

It’s important to note here that while the Reiki treatments and practice help our body and mind release the effects of our habits for short periods of time, Reiki alone generally does not remove the habit itself.  But when we have reached that tipping point, Reiki can help us gain awareness of the habit so that we can take the steps that are necessary to change it, if only we pay attention to that tiny willingness within us to do so.

That’s what I was able to do with my sugar addiction: the thought occurred to me that maybe I really should look at this situation and delve deeply into trying to understand it.  In other words, I gained the awareness that my craving of sweets really was harmful.  That was the insight, the shift, the new way of seeing things – a willingness to look at the problem of eating so much sugar, instead of resisting looking at it and telling myself there was no reason to stop. And after I had the insight, it was up to me to do the conscious inquiry and take the steps to adjust my behavior.

What this means is that instead of using Reiki only to relieve the effects of my harmful patterns on a temporary basis, I was able to use it to gain insight into how to change the habit and relieve those effects long-term.

Facilitating this type of transformation is one of the most powerful ways continued Reiki practice – or receiving Reiki on an ongoing basis – can help us, and being consistent and diligent with our practice is key. The more frequently we use Reiki to get our energy moving, the more quickly we will reach the tipping points that help us release the patterns that are disturbing our body and mind.  And what I really love about this is that you never know what insights will bubble up.  Out of the blue, one day, you will find yourself taking a new look at a long-standing habit or belief or way of thinking.  When you do experience this, that’s the time to do some reflection, because that’s the time when you are finally ready to make some profound changes in your life.  By receiving (or even giving) Reiki, you can feel a question arise: you can experience a Hmm…  moment.  And then you can take that Hmm… moment and with some reflection,  turn it into an Aha! moment, one that can motivate you to work to shift the way you live in this world and take one more step on the path of healing your body and mind.


Storm Shelter – Part 2

Storm Shelter – Part 2

by Susan Downing

In my last post, “Storm Shelter,” I wrote about how stepping up your practice – whether that’s Reiki or yoga or meditation or another healing or contemplative practice – can help you weather life’s turmoil.  But I also noted that sitting tight as emotional tornados (whether your own or others’) swirl around you can sometimes be difficult, or unpleasant, since doing so usually involves exercising patience in the presence of psychological, emotional or physical discomfort and distress (or all three!)  So, this week, I’ll talk about how learning to go through this process benefits us, in both the short and long runs.

Let’s start by considering the premise that we all want to be able to meet whatever comes our way in life with at least a small degree of calm.  I think it’s probably accurate to say that from time to time we all find ourselves in challenging situations – times when anger or despair or desire or jealousy arise in us.  Sometimes we may even feel these emotions are threatening to overwhelm us, and we wish we could find a way to minimize their effects on us. As I detailed in my previous post, we can learn to recognize an approaching storm and use our practice elements more intensively to ride it out.

As I also mentioned last time, this process is not necessarily easy: although using your practice in this way is less painful than being helplessly tossed about by anger or any of those other powerful emotions, it is still no cake walk.  That’s because once you get yourself into the storm shelter of intensified practice, what you’re mainly doing there is sitting as patiently as you can – while meditating, doing Reiki, etc. – until the skies clear.  You’re being present with whatever distressing emotions or physical sensations you’re experiencing, without running from them or railing against them or reacting to them in some impulsive way, or distracting yourself from them.

I think that one reason this can be so difficult to do is that we simply aren’t used to responding to discomfort or distress by what seems like doing nothing.  Representatives of mainstream medicine and psychology tend to encourage us to respond to discomfort immediately by doing all we can to alleviate it, whether we’re advised to take a pill or let our anger out so that it doesn’t fester inside us.   This gives us the impression that any experience of discomfort is a bad thing and also that it won’t go away unless we actively do something to dispel it.  But as I mentioned last time, these types of storms follow a pretty predictable arc and are generally self-resolving – they’ll wear themselves out and dissipate on their own if we give them the chance.  That means that our only job is to take cover – by taking refuge in our practice – and allow the whole cycle to play itself out instead of trying to stop it or outrun it.

The tornado analogy I used last time is applicable here.  If an actual storm comes up outside, you don’t stand there shaking your first or yelling at it; you do your best to make your way to a place of safety.  And you stay there, managing your worries or fear as best you can until the winds die down, even though you might hear branches or debris flying around outside.  If you find yourself in the midst of a bad storm, you just find something as stable as possible to hold onto and bear up until the danger is past.  And that something stable to hold onto is your Reiki – or meditation, or yoga, or breathing, or prayer – practice.

Now, if you able to approach things this way and tolerate the discomfort of this process, you will see the storm wear itself and lose steam all on its own, without any active participation from you. And you will be left feeling relieved and calm or, and this is usually the case, extremely happy.   The first time you experience this, you’ll be amazed that you managed to get to a state of such happiness by not doing anything except sitting tight and engaging in your practice.

At first this outcome seems so counterintuitive as to be impossible.  But once you see for yourself that turning to your practice as soon as you sense the first signs of a storm will bring relief and joy, you’ll feel encouraged by your newfound ability to weather storms, instead of being overwhelmed by the distress and pain that can arise with them.  Once you see that tolerating a state of discomfort can bring a positive outcome, doing so becomes less of a challenge, And each time you’re able to use your practice in this way, the easier it becomes to be patient with that discomfort, more patient as you go through the cycle.  In other words, you become more confident, because you know that if you persevere in this approach, you will feel things shift to a place of calm and relief.

So, don’t be afraid of allowing yourself to experience some discomfort in situations like this.  By taking refuge in your practice and letting it help you stay calm, you’re developing skills that will enable you to move through life’s challenging situations with less and less disturbance.  You’re establishing the habit of remaining calm in the face of the most challenging situations in your life.

So, keep practicing, and although the tornado warnings will continue to sound in your life, you’ll be able to use them as a way to strengthen your practice, reduce your suffering, and invite more and more happiness into your life.

(This week’s post is adapted from a chapter from my forthcoming book, The Heart of Reiki.)


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.


In the Face of Pain

In the Face of Pain

by Susan Downing

When I walk into the room where I give Reiki sessions and glance at the walls, I notice that they’re blue. When I step out onto my porch on a summer evening, I may hear frogs croaking, or glimpse a firefly’s light.  I feel the softness of my cat’s fur when I pet her.  As I move through my day, my senses constantly give me information about the world around me.  But, although I see the walls’ blueness when I look at them, my own skin doesn’t grow blue as a result of that seeing.  And I wouldn’t think of suggesting that my own hair could grow softer or more lustrous because I’ve petted my cat.  All that I experience when interacting with everyone and everything around me just tells me something about their state at the moment.

This happens when I’m giving Reiki, too, but in addition to seeing and hearing what’s going on with the recipients, I also gain information about them in other ways.  If they’re anxious, I may feel as if my own breathing is restricted.  When they have aching shoulders, mine may hurt, too, or I may feel my clients’ sadness well up in my own chest.  Oh, and I will become aware of their happiness, too as I feel a smiling coming to my face.  Once the person leaves, this awareness fades, just as I no longer hear frogs croaking once I’ve gone inside from my porch.

I began learning about my recipients in this way as soon as I began practicing Reiki, and at first I didn’t know what to make of it.  That’s because you’ll often hear Reiki practitioners talk or worry about “taking on” their recipients’ ailments or “absorbing negative energy”. There’s also a lot of talk about learning to protect oneself from the absorbing illness or disturbance from those to whom we give Reiki.  My students frequently ask about this.  I hasten to reassure them that we absolutely cannot “catch” a disease or illness or depression from our clients by giving them Reiki, any more than an oncologist can develop cancer from treating cancer patients. But I think this fear has spread because practitioners sometimes do feel their clients’ pains or negative emotions, but lack a positive way to view them. That’s what I’m offering you today:

When we notice our clients’ pain or disturbing emotions by feeling them ourselves, it’s not that we’re “taking them on.”  When I temporarily feel a client’s sore knee as my own, it’s analogous to glimpsing a firefly’s flickering: it’s an awareness of a state at the moment.  Sensing another’s emotional or physical state this way is like having an extra sense. And I’m grateful for this additional way of learning about those to whom I give Reiki.

When I first began learning things this way during sessions, I mentioned it to my Level I Reiki teacher, who sternly told me, “You do not want to be taking that stuff on!” She saw my experiences as evidence that I had weak boundaries.  I saw them as a benefit to my Reiki practice.  That was largely because a key focus of my Buddhist practice is developing my ability to understand others’ point of view, and deepening my connection to them.  And as you may recall, if you’ve been reading my blog posts, I am convinced it’s precisely this ability to connect and be present with recipients (whether or not you get any of this other type of info about them) which enables deep healing to take place.  So this awareness seemed like a great blessing, an indication that I was connecting to my recipients strongly.

And since I see this process as just one more method of information gathering, I don’t fear it, especially because anything I feel in my own body or mind fades when my sessions end, or even sooner.   There’s nothing to be afraid of: although I may notice a client’s sadness or anger or pain, I don’t develop genuine anger or pain, any more than a frog’s croak becomes my voice.  So why do practitioners worry that what they sense in clients can become part of them?  I think it’s because they don’t understand that this way of understanding is like another sense.  It’s just one that not everyone accesses, so it can be disconcerting at first.

To be honest, when I first began noticing my recipients’ state reflected in my own body and mind, it felt strange to me.  Then I realized that I’ve had this kind of awareness all my life, especially with those close to me: I’d notice my stomach beginning to be upset, and then one of my kids would come up to me and say, “Mom, I feel like I’m going to throw up.”  That kind of thing.  When I began practicing Reiki, I became aware of others’ feelings more easily because of the close energetic connection with the recipients.  That’s when I figured out that I’ve been sensing others’ states this way for years.  People who have this kind of awareness are often call empathic, and there’s been a lot written about how unpleasant it can be to feel what others feel, particularly if they’re sick or upset.  We tend not to like to feel even our own discomfort, much less anyone else’s, so this keen awareness has come to be seen as something to be avoided.   Thus, lots has been written about how those who are empathic can shield themselves from others’ energy.

But no one seems to be writing about the positive benefits of being able to gather information in this way.  What about the times when you become aware of others’ extreme joy? Any Reiki practitioner who’s felt other’s pain as their own has certainly felt others’ positive emotions, too, but no one seems to have suggested we try to avoid that. I mention this to show that there can be a very positive side to possessing this kind of awareness, even if you’re not a Buddhist practitioner who sees it as a spiritual benefit.  At the very least, you can view it as a neutral thing: if you see all that comes in through your senses just as information about the world and people around you, instead of as a new feature of your own body or mind, then you can begin to not be afraid of it.

That’s the first step: allowing the awareness to be there without being disturbed by it, because you know it will fade when your session is done, the way you can be in a really noisy place without freaking out, because eventually you’ll leave the place and the noise behind.  Once you begin to let go of the fear, you’ll be able to welcome this profound closeness with your Reiki recipients: you can simply be there with the recipient, unimpeded by anxiety about “taking on” a headache or anger.

I’d even go so far as to say that as Reiki practitioners, we in fact sign on to be present with all that our recipients bring to us, whether positive or negative.  People come to us for comfort and support, and we will be able to provide that fully only if we manage to not pull back in the face of their pain.  That is the nature of our commitment to them and to our healing mission.  Though we willingly place ourselves alongside others in their suffering, we can do so without being thrown off balance by it ourselves.  We do that partly by having a regular and strong self-care practice, and partly by gaining insight into this awareness that draws us closer to our recipients and can bring them — and us — such great benefit.


Just for Today, Do Not Be Angry

Just for Today, Do Not Be Angry

by Susan Downing

This week I’m continuing my series of blog posts devoted to the Reiki precepts that came down to us from Mikao Usui, Reiki’s founder.  Here they are, beginning with his two-line explanation of Reiki as a system:

The secret of inviting happiness through many blessings

The spiritual medicine for all illness

Just for today:

Do not be angry

Do not worry

Express gratitude

Devote yourself diligently to your work

Be kind to people

Do Gassho every morning and evening

Keep the precepts in your mind and recite them

Have you ever wondered by Usui Sensei chose “do not be angry” and “do not worry” as his first two precepts?  I think it’s because these two powerful disturbing emotions make it difficult for us to follow through on the other three precepts: feeling grateful, devoting ourselves to our work, and being kind. In this post, I’ll take a close look at what relevance the first precept has to our lives in general and to practicing Reiki, too, and how our practice can help it fade.

I’m sure any of us can easily recall times in our lives when we’ve gotten angry.  But what about if you’re a Reiki practitioner? Has anger ever come up as you were practicing Reiki? That might seem unlikely at first.  After all, we associate giving Reiki with happiness and comfort.  Really, have you ever ended up yelling at someone during or after a Reiki session? I doubt it!  Even so, anger and annoyance can arise.  Maybe we’re doing Reiki for a friend or family member with whom we’ve recently had a disagreement.  Maybe we’ve reluctantly agreed to give someone Reiki at an inconvenient time and we’re feeling a little taken advantage of.  Maybe a client was late to a session, or even didn’t show up.  In any of these cases, we might feel annoyed, if not downright angry.

Anger and annoyance can also take more subtle forms during or after a session.  Let’s say the recipient doesn’t seem to experience any immediate benefit.  Maybe his knee still hurts after receiving Reiki, or she is still depressed about a breakup, or even seems more upset than before the Reiki.  Or, maybe he’s new to Reiki and had the nerve to sit up after the session, shrug, and say, “I didn’t feel a thing.”  Because these people have not responded to Reiki as we’d hoped they would, we may get annoyed — at them or at ourselves.

If we can say, oh my gosh, yes, I’ve felt this kind of annoyance and even anger, does that mean we are awful Reiki practitioners?  No.  It means that we are not immune to anger just because we practice Reiki.  It also means that we can benefit by taking Usui Sensei’s precept to heart: Just for today, do not be angry.  The question is, how do we manage not to be angry?

Usui Sensei’s instructions explain exactly what to do.  They don’t tell us to banish anger from our mind, or suggest we use other active methods to get rid of it.   They say, “keep the precepts in your mind and recite them.” In my recent post, “The Secret of Inviting Happiness,” I suggested that in addition to providing a guide for our behavior, the precepts also show what we’ll be able to achieve if we devote ourselves fully to our Reiki practice: “If you practice diligently, you’ll be able to not be angry.”  Practicing Reiki this way really does allow anger to fade. We place our focus on our practice instead of on our anger. We recite the precepts and give ourselves Reiki every day without fail and let our sincere, consistent practice do the work.

But what to do when you do feel anger rising up within you? In such cases, your practice can help you ride anger out without being swept away by it.  You can silently repeat, “Just for today, do not be angry,” when you find yourself beginning to feel angry. Repeat it to yourself silently like a mantra, over and over, distracting your mind with it until the anger or annoyance fade.

Giving yourself Reiki can also help keep your anger from growing once it appears.  If you begin to feel angry, try to find a place where you can sit for a few minutes and give yourself Reiki.  Reciting the precept at the same time will help your mind focus on something other than the person or situation that’s angering you.  If the anger persists, set aside some time later in the day to give yourself a longer Reiki session.

By using your practice this way, you’re not pushing anger down or away.  Rather, the practice elements are helping you remain calm in the face of the disturbance, making it possible for you to ride out the turmoil until it fades on its own, which it will. The key is to remember to use the practice elements when you begin to feel upset. The more you practice this, the easier it will become for you to recognize anger when it’s just beginning to arise, and you’ll be able to turn quickly to the precept and self-Reiki.

So, devoting yourself fully to your practice will allow you to feel less angry over time, and your practice elements can help your anger fade in your day-to-day life, too. Maybe this seems illogical to you, not active or conscious enough, but believe me, it works!  After two of my Heart of Reiki students had been practicing for a couple of months, they began to notice that they were feeling less anger, and that when they did start to get angry, they’d catch the feeling early enough that they could avoid being swept away.  Not by repressing it, but by putting their focus on reciting the precept or giving themselves Reiki.  This surprised them, because they hadn’t been consciously thinking about not getting angry.  They were experiencing the natural benefit of their practice.

So can you.  If you’re a Reiki practitioner, never forget that in your Reiki practice, you possess a powerful tool that can help you both in the long run and in the moments when you are most upset.  All you need to do is remember to use it!

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