Archive for Reiki practice

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 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.


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!


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.


Reiki-Induced Climate Change

Reiki-Induced Climate Change

by Susan Downing

In my last two posts I’ve written about how our practice – whether we’re talking about Reiki, meditation, yoga or prayer – can help us ride out life’s storms.  But that isn’t all it can do for us.  As we keep up with our practice, we’ll find that not only is it easier for us to get through storms, there will be fewer storms to get through.

When we begin practicing, it can seem as if we’re just doing damage control.  Sometimes it’s all we can do to manage to take cover from all the storms that swirl around us, whether they arise outside us or within us.  But as we keep practicing, we begin to notice that the storms don’t throw us for such a loop as they used to do. Instead of feeling that we’re permanently in the path of a series of F-5 tornados, it gradually begins to seem that the storms that bear down on us are less and less powerful.  The first time we notice this, we might be surprised and think, wow, this isn’t quite so bad as the last one that blew through.  It seems that way because we’re getting better at spotting the storm from far off and taking refuge in our practice.  All the same, we may have the impression that storms are somehow unavoidable, a simple fact of life that we have to deal with.  But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Once we’ve settled into our practice with a regular routine and are beginning to see some benefits from it – in other words, when the time comes that we no longer feel that we’re mostly in crisis mode – then we can begin putting more time and effort into another key part of our practice, which is taking more care in all our interactions with those in the world around us.

Usui Sensei, the founder of the healing system that has come down to us as Reiki, referred to Reiki as “the secret to inviting happiness.” In addition to teaching his students to practice hands-on Reiki, Usui Sensei also gave them five precepts to live by:

Just for today, do not be angry.

Just for today, do not worry.

Just for today, express gratitude.

Just for today, devote yourself diligently to your work.

Just for today, be kind to people.

It’s precisely this combination of hands-on practice and living by the precepts which brings about transformation in our body and mind, a transformation that is both subtle and profound: without even realizing it, the way we see the world begins to change, and it begins to seem to us that the world around us is changing, for the better.  Here’s one way to describe this process: as our minds become less saturated with anger, we sense less anger in those around us.  As our worries fade, less that is worrisome comes our way.  Feeling grateful for even small things in our lives, we find ourselves among others who also take care to cultivate and show gratitude.   Our hard work bears fruit, and those around us begin to seem more serious about their endeavors, too.  Meeting the world with kindness, we find more and more kindness around us.

In this way, as we not only engage in our daily Reiki practice – or other practices, such as yoga or meditation or prayer or other healing arts – but begin to take more care with how we approach those around us, by living with the precepts in mind, we are able to bring about changes in the weather patterns in our lives.

When you begin to notice these changes in your own life, and when you recognize them as the fruits of your diligent practice, you will feel even more motivated to practice and to observe the precepts.  Realizing that you are able to directly affect the conditions in your own little neighborhood is liberating, and once you realize that you have the ability to transform your world and invite happiness into your life, practicing becomes a no-brainer.  Why wouldn’t you practice?

And really, it’s good to be aware of the precepts and do your best to observe them right from day one of your practice, even if that’s a challenge, because it’s the combination of the two that brings about climate change the fastest.  If you’re new to the idea of practicing the precepts, you can check out my previous posts.  Perhaps they’ll give you some thoughts about how you can begin to make them a regular part of your practice and your life, so that F-5 tornados – and even all tornados  – can be a thing of the past.

Just for Today, Do Not Be Angry

Just For Today, Do Not Worry

Just for Today, Express Gratitude

Prairie Precept (Just for Today, Devote Yourself Diligently To Your Work)

Just for Today, Devote Yourself Diligently To Your Work)

A Pail of Sand (Just for Today, Be Kind to People)


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.)


Storm Shelter

This week’s post is adapted from a chapter from my forthcoming book, The Heart of Reiki, which my publisher has just told me will be available by the end of February.

Storm Shelter

by Susan Downing

I grew up in northern Illinois, in tornado country.  This is the way I remember my childhood summers: the sky would darken with storm clouds and the winds would come up.  We’d check the TV or radio, and if they’d announced a tornado warning, we’d take refuge in the basement and ride out the storm in that safe space, coming back out only when the danger was past and the sky had cleared.

Similarly, in the course of our daily lives, emotional storm clouds or even tornados can come upon us, either with or without advance warning.  Just as my family would ride out atmospheric disturbances by taking cover in the basement, making more intensive use of our given practice – whether that’s Reiki or meditation or another concentration- or healing-based practice – can help us make it through emotional storms.

But if our practice is going to help us in this way, we need to notice an approaching storm early enough that we can seek the safety of our practice before we’re swept away by emotions that can harm both us and others.  Each of us has our own warning signs that can clue us in to an approaching storm, but two of the most common signs that some kind of emotional upheaval is building up are that you suddenly experience either: a strong negative emotion or irritability or antsiness, often seemingly for no reason, a response so unexpectedly strong that you might even ask yourself, hey, what’s that all about?; or growing muscle tension or physical pain that seems to have come out of nowhere and can’t be attributed to any injury or unusual activity.

Although you might not feel highly distressed when you begin to experience these sensations, they often signal that a larger emotional storm could be bearing down on you.  If you hunker down with your practice now, instead of waiting until you’re feeling more upset, your discomfort might fade without escalating. I think this is the biggest challenge – recognizing the warning signs before you feel like a total basket case, when you can still have the presence of mind to take steps to help calm your body and mind.

Assuming you’ve found yourself in this pre-storm state, what can you do to help yourself move through it so that your own discomfort will be at a minimum and you can avoid drawing others into your turmoil?  The basic idea is simple: take refuge in whatever practice skills you’ve developed that help soothe and calm you.  If you know Reiki, now’s the time to step up your practice and do more Reiki for yourself than usual, even lots more than usual, as much as you need to do in order to gain some calm. The same goes for meditation or yoga or any other physical practice you engage in regularly.  You probably have an idea of what helps soothe you, so do that.  Take a long walk, take a hot bath. Call a friend for some moral support. Call your therapist. If physical pain is involved, call your doctor and ask whether you should get checked out.  Ask a friend to send you some Reiki or do some hands on.  If you go to someone for Reiki or massage or other energy healing sessions, now’s the time to make an appointment and go!  Don’t wait!  In other words, take extra good care of yourself.

Now, these are all great ways to respond when you feel a storm brewing inside you, but it’s not always easy to do.  First of all you have to remember that you have your practice – or friends and skilled practitioners – to help you.  I can’t tell you how often my Reiki friends, students and clients have been really upset about something, and when I ask whether they’ve been doing Reiki for themselves, they stop and think and say, “Oh.  No, I haven’t. I didn’t think to do that.”  So, remembering you have tools that can help you is the first step.  Actually using them is the second step.

What you’ll find when you’re able to do this is that these storms have a predictable cycle.  There’s the initial emotional or physical tension that tends to build to the point where you can feel really lousy – you may feel so angry or hurt or despairing or uncomfortable that it’s hard to believe that any of this could possibly help, because everything seems so intense that it’s hard to imagine it will ever end!  But if you trust your practice and give it the chance to help you, what you’ll find is that the feelings that are distressing you naturally rise and fall in a cycle.  Although you might worry that they would never end on their own, you’ll see, as you go through this cycle a couple of times, that the feelings generally start out mild, then get stronger and then eventually fade away.  And the more intensively we practice, the more quickly we go through the whole process.

But we rarely notice the fading part of the cycle, because we generally don’t have the patience to just sit there in the middle of discomfort.  We tend to want to run away from it or do something to get rid of it.  Medicate, self-medicate, distract ourselves with television or some other mind-numbing activity.  But by sitting quietly with your discomfort as you give yourself Reiki – or meditate or do yoga –  you’re not only allowing that discomfort to fade: you’re also beginning to form the habit of tolerating uncomfortable sensations.  (I’ll write next time on why this is a useful skill to develop.)

Now, even if you have a practice to fall back on in the midst of turmoil, it’s not always easy to move through a period of discomfort or unhappiness or anger in this way, especially if you haven’t recognized it early on and it’s gotten more intense.  If this happens, you might be so emotionally or physically uncomfortable that you feel you just have to do something to bring some kind of resolution. But what will help most at this point is hunkering down in your metaphorical storm shelter of Reiki or meditation or contemplation and doing your best to allow the discomfort to be there without trying to resolve or change anything.  Tolerating the discomfort and allowing yourself to ride out the entire cycle of rising and fading negative emotions will actually help you get to the point where you’ll feel your disturbance fade and see relief and happiness replace it.  It will happen on its own if you can just hold tight and stick to your practice.

In my next post I’ll talk about what’s to be gained by allowing yourself to go through this uncomfortable process instead of resisting it.   But for now, I hope these hints will help you begin to recognize approaching storms and think about how to weather them more easily using whatever practice skills you already have in place.

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