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We are infinite. October 1, 2014

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“The power of imagination makes us infinite.”

—John Muir

Think about this quiet statement the next time you need to boost your spirits. The great naturalist is telling us that we don’t actually have to go to the beautiful places he saw with his own eyes to experience them. Instead, we can go there in our minds. Everyone who’s lost themselves in a book or movie knows that this is true, because when we lose ourselves, we can time-travel, whether it’s back to Jane Austen’s day or forward to the world of Star Trek. When we lose ourselves, we are infinite.

I was reminded of this last weekend when I went to a tribute lunch for a wonderful character and good friend. My partner Rob and I were seated across from a couple who’d been privileged to live all over the world in the course of their careers, and they were telling us many stories of their experiences abroad, and the many holidays they’d shared in Rome, Colombia, Nambia, and etc. with their friends. Rob’s father, now 93, is embarking today on a 73-day cruise of the Pacific, revisiting many places where he’d worked abroad in the course of his international career. Rob himself was enthusiastically telling tales of the many cruises he’d taken to and from Hawai’i as a child en route to his father’s postings at Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

A couple of months ago, a good Reiki friend had been telling me about how she and her boyfriend were going on a Caribbean cruise this fall. She and her husband (now sadly deceased) had also gone all over the world, and even lived in Hawai’i a couple of times. After his untimely death, she determined to keep going abroad, traveling with family and friends to Italy, Poland, and the like.

It seems like everyone I know, including members of my own family, are constantly traveling, while I sit here imagining what it would be like to eat Indian street food or experiencing Usui Founder’s Japan or spending a month in Tuscany or Normandy or Greece or Provence. Or just being on the ocean, sitting on the deck and looking out into infinity. But I know it will never happen unless I win the lottery. I’ll never even make it to Hawai’i, much less abroad. It’s beyond our budget to take a train trip across Canada, a weeklong trip to the Southwest, a tasting tour of the Great Lakes or the Napa Valley, a trip to Key West, even my dream of a Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg. A cruise is out of the question. A meal at Ottolenghi’s in London? A pipe dream.

But I do have a good imagination. I love to cook, and I love to read. To read a Baedeker Handbook to the Paris of the 1890s, a Collected Traveler’s Guide to Paris (excerpts from famous writers and other people and their experiences in Paris), accounts of the Rabelaisian meals of Balzac and his fellow writers and artists, and cooking advice from the great Escoffier, helps me place myself there. Reading Julia Child and seeing the wonderful scenes of Julia in France in the movie “Julie and Julia” shows me another face of Paris, as does reading about our Founding Fathers (Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Gouverneur Morris) and their adventures in pre- and post-revolutionary France. (Jefferson, America’s first real gourmet, brought back a love of good wine, cheese, and pasta from Paris, along with a pasta machine. One of his favorite dishes was macaroni and cheese.)

Thank goodness we live in an age when beautiful nature scenes are available on the back pages of calendars, and, of course, online. We don’t have to go to the Rockies or Alaska when the wildflower meadows are in bloom, or to the fjords or the Alps or the Aegean, to see breathtaking photos of them. We can see fabulous images of archaeological digs from Israel to Macedonia to England to the Maya jungle as each new treasure comes to light. We don’t have to be on the ground digging as the body of Richard III or the potential tomb of King Philip of Macedon or even his son, Alexander the Great, is discovered at last.

Point being, nobody needs to feel confined by budget, family obligations, a heavy workload, physical disability, age, illness, or any other reason from achieving their dreams. Yotam Ottolenghi may never make a meal for me, but I have two of his inexpressibly beautiful cookbooks and can look at them whenever I like. You may never find yourself treating your family to a ski and spa week in Aspen or at the Grand Hotel Pupp in the Alps, but you may have a ski resort and spa in your area as we do. You may not be able to afford to sign up for a tour of Mount Kurama in Japan, or you may not have the physical stamina to climb the mountain, where our Founder was enlightened after a 21-day fast.

But whatever the case, you can go there in your mind. You can smell the food, taste the food, cook the food. You can smell the air, see the view, pick up (virtual) seashells. You can picture the terrain and culture as it was seen by people who went there decades or centuries before you or as it’s being seen by those who are going there now. You can travel virtually with Anthony Bourdain and Michael Palin (whose “Himalaya” series is one of my favorites).

Don’t think about what limits you. Think about what makes you infinite. What and where are you in your imagination?

Just for today, be infinite.

Don’t get angry. September 24, 2014

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“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty.”
—-Proverbs

It was no coincidence that Usui Founder made the first of his Five Reiki Principles “Just for today, don’t get angry.” Given the power that anger has to focus attention, ramp up the ego, get adrenaline going, and charge single-mindedly towards a goal, I’m surprised there isnt a bestselling book, The Anger Diet, taking its place alongside all the paleo and other low-carb diet books. I’m sure staying really angry must burn a lot of calories!

We who follow the Reiki Way are also pursuing a goal, trying to focus our attention. But our goal is to leave the ego behind, the true source of anger. (“How could you/he/they do this to ME?!!!” “I’m going to get you for this!”) Catching ourselves when we start to become angry, and asking why we’re becoming angry, what this anger has to do with anything, what it has to do with us, why we’re wasting our time on it, can help us progress along our Way. It can also help us let go of old, corrosive anger.

As the Buddha so graphically said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” What a word picture! You can just imagine frantically tossing the coal from hand to hand, trying to avoid the pain without dropping the coal, while the other person obliviously goes about his or her business. Obviously, trying to keep the coal in motion becomes a full-time job, leaving no room for anything worthwhile. Ouch!

Language changes, and now, when we think of coal, it’s a mined fuel, not a chunk of red-hot wood from a banked fire that can be used to start another fire. But the phrase “hot potato” survives in our culture, sort of in the sense of the Buddha’s hot coal, an awkward situation or issue, usually related to business or politics, where you want to pass the “potato” instead of getting burned yourself. The phrase passed down to us from agricultural and industrial times, because the humble potato was cheap, filling, and able to retain heat. A worker could be sent to the fields or factory with a potato pulled hot from the coals of the fire, and it would still provide him with a warm, filling meal at lunchtime. But I digress.

Follow Usui Founder and stop anger when it first comes up. Let the Lord Buddha’s burning coal image help you let go of old anger. Free yourself to move forward.

Just for today, don’t get angry.

Why do we suffer? September 19, 2014

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“Because we cannot accept the truth of transcience, we suffer.”

—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Everything changes. Our grandparents and parents grow old and die. Our house falls apart. Our kids move away. We get laid off from our job, so our status changes. Our spouse or partner leaves. Our favorite tree gets struck by lightning and dies. We no longer look as we used to because we’ve gained 15 pounds, started to get grey hair, lost muscle tone, gotten a few wrinkles or bags under our eyes. The beautiful old house that we loved to drive by is torn down, or our beloved family home is sold off. Our wonderful neighbors move out and obnoxious, intrusive neighbors move in. Again and again, we see our adored pets grow old and die. We or our spouse or partner are diagnosed with a chronic disease and must change our lifestyle and priorities.

When Shunryu Suzuki Roshi was asked to define the essence of Zen, he said, “Everything changes.” We have two choices: to fight change or accept it. Accepting does not mean becoming an unfeeling stone who does not grieve the loss of a beloved parent or partner or pet, but understanding that we cannot stop change, and the harder we try, the more we suffer.

Sri Eknath Easwaran has a priceless story to illustrate how futile resistance is in these circumstances. He said that when he was a child, his grandmother, who was his spiritual teacher, taught him this lesson in the most straightforward manner. She told him to sit in a chair and, when she called him to come to her, instead to grip the arms of the chair as hard as he could. The little Easwaran did as she said, and his Granny, who was quite strong, came over and tried to pry him out of the chair. Though he held on with all his might, she eventually pried him from the chair, causing him quite a lot of pain in the process. Then she told him to sit in the chair again, but this time, when she called, simply to come to her. When he did, of course, it was an easy, painless process.

I do not think this is the only cause of suffering: physical agony, war and the horrors of war, natural disasters destroying lives and communities, and so on would certainly make my list. But whatever the cause, the message is clear: Make the most of every moment. Enjoy your family and friends. Throw yourself into your work, but also into your personal life. Relish every meal, every movie, every new dress, every vacation. Drink in every sunset on your deck, every gurgle of that little stream nearby, every flower and bird and butterfly in your yard. Never forget to take that moment you’re passing by to pet and talk to your dog or cat or strike up a conversation with your parrot or admire the colorful fish in your aquarium.

Living fully in the now, making the most of every moment, is the true answer to inevitable change. It’s the secret of letting go of suffering. Then, when change comes, we’ll have a precious cache of memories to shore us up against suffering. We won’t forget all those priceless moments. And we’ll have learned how to open ourselves to the present moment rather than dwelling in the past, the endless self-pitying tape of “Why did this happen to me? Oh, poor me!!” That is the ego talking, and living in the now shuts the ego out. Those of us who follow the Reiki Way have no room for ego, and would progress more painlessly on our path if we remembered that everything changes.

Just for today, let go of the chair.

An open mind. September 17, 2014

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Building on yesterday’s post, “Seeing versus thinking,” here’s another famous quote from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

What Suzuki Roshi is saying is that a beginner has a mind that is open to everything, while an expert’s mind becomes rigid, closed, and narrow because he thinks he knows everything. Suzuki Roshi encourages the Zen practitioner to always have a beginner’s mind, to always be open to everything, no matter how much he supposedly knows or what level she has attained.

A wonderful example of this from the 19th century is the story of amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Schliemann was not trained in archaeology; he was a successful businessman. But he was captivated by Homer’s Iliad and the story of Troy and believed the city actually existed, in a time when most archaeologists believed the whole Homeric body of work to be mere legend, something perpetuated by the ancient Greeks to bolster their morale and sense of entitlement. It was merely literature, fable!

So when this plump little businessman set out to discover Troy, the archaeological establishment dumped ridicule on him from every conceivable angle: Where were his degrees? Where were his accomplishments in the field? Where was he teaching? In other words, they were the experts. But Schliemann approached Troy with fresh eyes, with beginner’s mind. And guess what? He found it!

Suzuki Roshi’s lesson here is so important for all of us who follow the Reiki Way. We may call ourself a Reiki Master, but what have we mastered if we haven’t mastered our own sense of self-importance and rigidity and remained open to people who ask inconvenient questions, questions we can’t answer? We can’t move forward on the Reiki path if we don’t leave our eyes open to truly see what lies before and all around us, to see with the eyes of a child.

To have beginner’s mind, we must inherently understand at all times that what we see, what we experience, is not a derogatory, humiliating, or threatening reflection on us, but rather an opportunity to learn and grow. The great Reiki Master Hyakuten Inamoto Sensei, founder of Komyo Reiki, the Reiki of Enlightenment, put this perfectly when he made the motto of Komyo “Go placidly in the midst of praise or blame.”

Just for today, keep your mind open.

Seeing versus thinking. September 16, 2014

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“As soon as you see something, you already start to intellectualize it. As soon as you intellectualize something, it is no longer what you saw.”

—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

What a wonderful commentary! We humans are trained to be thinkers from the earliest age, to ask what and why and how and even, does it matter, not to mention how does it relate to everything else in our worldview and how can we use it to our advantage? And yet, like falcons, hawks, and eagles, we have what are known as “sighted brains”—which is to say, brains that take in most of our impressions through what we see rather than through our other senses. If we overrun what we’re seeing with an analysis of it, we’re no longer really experiencing seeing at all.

It’s as if you were a foodie visiting a trendy restaurant. Instead of enjoying the ambiance, taking your time over the menu, and eating in a civilized manner, enjoying the company of the people you came with, you demand an extra chair so you can stand on it to photograph the food for your Instagram feed. You try to get some photos of the chef and staff in the kitchen while you’re at it—your Facebook followers will love that. You tweet up-to-the-minute reports of the whole dining experience to your legion of followers, take the inevitable quota of cellphone calls, and eventually rush home to write a post about the whole thing for your blog. Did you taste the food? Did you smell it, see it, experience its textures and flavors? Did you, for that matter, even exchange three words with your dining companions? Except for trying to turn yourself into an internet celebrity, why did you bother to go there at all?

Children are the best teachers for simply seeing what you’re seeing, since they haven’t been completely programmed to intellectualize what they see. Instead, what they see is a world of magic, a world of wonder. What they see will amaze and humble you if you allow yourself to listen and look instead of automatically correcting them. (“Why did you draw a purple lion? Lions aren’t purple!”) When I was a child, I thought the world was a ball that God had made and set inside the blue dome of the sky to bounce for His pleasure. Cartoon strips constantly play on the amazing worldview of children compared to the tired, cliched worldview of adults.

The blind teach us a lesson here, too. If someone who’s been blind from birth has his or her vision restored due to some medical procedure, they don’t see things as we see them. At all. In fact, they have to be trained to see a tree as we see it, to see anything as we see it. Which implies that we’re all trained from infancy to “see” things a certain way. Even color perception varies widely from person to person—what looks cinnamon to me could look brown or orange to you, and of course, color-blindness exaggerates these differences even more. (A color-blind man once told me that what I thought of as beautiful emerald-green high heels were a revolting greyish color to him.)

Suzuki Roshi is telling us not to put labels on what we see. (“That woman should not be wearing jeans.” “That man is bald, poor guy!” “That tree has been badly pruned.” “That’s a pit bull, it must be vicious.” “This is the ugliest city I’ve ever seen.”) Instead, he tells us, simply see. Don’t judge. The moment we label something, it is no longer what we saw. It is a construct in our mind. And piling up all those constructs fills up our minds, blocking our path to enlightenment, to satori, anshin ritsumei. Those of us on the Reiki Way don’t need all those roadblocks in our path.

Just for today, clear the road.

Walking with God. September 15, 2014

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“Whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to him running.”

—Mishkat Al-Masabih

“The Lord always forgives us and walks at our side. We have to let him do that.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

The concept of God is so variable, from a vengeful old man taking personal revenge on everyone in sight to the serene Self within that is seamlessly connected to the All, to All That Is, through the experience of enlightenment, satori, anshin ritsumei. Nature worship, the realm of the shamans and medicine men and vision quests of the indigenous people of so many countries, is another way of connecting to the All.

It fascinates me that these two quotes, divided by centuries and cultures, both depict God walking with us. “Whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to him running.” What an image! “The Lord always…walks at our side. We have to let him do that.” What a concept! In both images, we are first of all walking. We aren’t just sitting there texting on our smartphones or watching an episode of “Orange Is the New Black.” We are walking towards the Lord, or we are allowing the Lord to walk by our side.

Even if we’re speaking of the Lord within, we had better get moving. Walking Zen, walking (even virtually) with Thich Nhat Hahn, a brisk walk as recommended by Sri Eknath Easwaran to clear negative emotions and tone the body, walking meditation, walking in general, all are wonderful for body and soul. Those of us on the Reiki path might repeat (silently or aloud) one of Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) as we walk, in synchrony with our breath. Who knows? We might see God running towards us, or walking by our side.

Just for today, start walking.

Take your Reiki aspirin. September 14, 2014

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“I want Reiki to be as common as aspirin.”

—Hawayo Takata Sensei

“God being, as generally believed, infinite in goodness, it is most consonant and agreeable with His nature that the best things should be the most common.”

—Thomas Traherne

What is more common than aspirin? You can buy a bottle in any grocery, convenience store, or pharmacy for a few dollars—no prescription needed. Yet it can relieve headaches, sore throats and fevers, help prevent heart attack and stroke, and combat inflammation throughout the body. And inflammation, we’re learning, is a great initiator of everything from gum disease to cancer.

Hawayo Takata Sensei, who brought Reiki to the West, wanted it to spread until it became as common as aspirin. What a beautiful idea! Let’s all try to make her vision a reality.

Just for today, do your Reiki self-healing and take an aspirin.

Losing what you have, finding what you’ve lost. September 13, 2014

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“You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
—Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

On the surface, Eckhart Tolle’s comment sounds straightforward and reassuring: We may lose our possessions to fire, flood, theft, repossession, tornado, hurricane, or what have you, but nothing and no one can take away our essential self.

But a deeper meaning lies beneath the surface: What ARE you? Are you filled to the brim with turmoil, anger, fear, worry, jealousy, hatred, resentment, selfishness, and other destructive feelings? Are you filled with remorse for past actions, or a crippling sense of inadequacy because you don’t feel as smart, attractive or successful as your friends and coworkers? Do you fill up on self-hate, flogging yourself mentally if you stopped for ice cream or fast food on the way home or if you skipped the gym or your usual 5-mile run or made up yet another excuse to avoid visiting your great-aunt in the nursing home?

Fortunately, our emotions may distract us, but they aren’t us. And because they aren’t us, we have the opportunity to overcome them. For those of us on the Reiki path, Usui Founder has given us the way to dump all our emotional garbage, to shed all the baggage that we call “ourself” but that has nothing to do with ourself, to walk the path to enlightenment, satori, anjin ritsumei: the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals).

If we try our best, every minute of every day, to put Usui Founder’s Principles into action, the junk that hinders us will drop away, and the “something that you are” that Eckhart Tolle references will emerge, the thing that no one and nothing can take away.

Just for today, don’t get angry. Don’t worry. Be grateful. Work hard. Be kind.

A great thing about butter. September 12, 2014

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“As butter lies hidden within milk,
The Self lies hidden in the hearts of all.”
—Amritabindu Upanishad

These days, butter has gotten such a bad reputation that it’s wonderful to see it praised in this manner. Think about all the wonderful things that lie “hidden” in milk: cheese and cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, malts and milkshakes, cream and whipped cream, custard, creme brulee and flan, sour cream and creme fraiche, cream cheese, and so many more. As the Upanishad reminds us, nothing brings out the flavor of food like butter (or ghee), which is “hidden” inside milk. Who’d have expected to find such buried treasure inside a bland white liquid?

The Upanishad goes on to tell us that the Self lies hidden in the heart, just as butter lies hidden in milk: Something we don’t see, something we can’t imagine, but something that is there, is always there, just waiting for us to discover it. Who would imagine that you could turn liquid milk into solid, savory butter? Who would imagine that you could churn your heart and turn your ego into union with the All?

The ancient art of alchemy sought to turn base substances into gold. But the alchemists failed when they sought material wealth as their goal, actual gold rather than spiritual riches. As the Upanishad reminds us, the secret of Self-realization lies in our hearts and is always waiting.

Just for today, have some butter.

Don’t worry. September 11, 2014

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“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”
—Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Worry is fear turned inward, as anger is fear turned outward. Usui Founder gave us his first two Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals), “Just for today, don’t get angry” and “Just for today, don’t worry,” so that we could get fear out of the way and free ourselves to feel gratitude, focus on our work, and be kind.

So all right, “don’t worry” may sound simple enough on the surface. But what if your bills are overdue and you can’t pay them, your kid is supposed to be in college but you wonder if he is or is just taking your money and lying to you, your mom keeps telling you she’s okay but she seems weaker and weaker, your best friend’s battling breast cancer, your house needs major repairs you can’t afford, your company’s downsizing and you’re afraid you’ll lose your job? How could you possibly not worry?!

Usui Founder tells you to let go of worry. Eckhart Tolle tells you that worrying accomplishes nothing. It seems to be important, but in the end, it only damages you without moving you forward. In my Reiki lineage, Hawayo Takata Sensei told our lineage bearer, the Reverend Beth Gray, that “Just for today, do not worry” was actually the first Reiki Principle. Beth was an intuitive, and her lineage has focused on that, and I think Takata Sensei was spot on with putting worry, internal fear, before anger, external fear. Controlling internal fear will control its outward manifestation.

Eckhart Tolle gives us all a great tool for shutting off fear and worry. He tells us to ask ourselves if whatever we fear is happening now. Is our car skidding off the road now? Are we meeting with the angry boss now? Has our electricity gone off now because we’re late paying our bill? If none of that is true, then we should enjoy the precious NOW rather than worry about the future, since worry simply paralyses us and serves no useful purpose. Quite the opposite.

Just for today, don’t worry.

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