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Through our magic mirror. November 17, 2014

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“None of us see life as it is, the world as it is. We all see life as we are. We look at others through our own likes and dislikes, desires and interests.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

As Sri Eknath is always quick to point out, we’re happy with someone when he or she is doing exactly what we want. He brings us triple fruit sherbet—how nice! But wait, it isn’t tropical triple-fruit sherbet. She remembered the lottery ticket, how thoughtful! But it’s not for the right day. We’d like to go to a certain movie or restaurant. So are we? When are we?

The mirror that shows us our face sometimes stops directly behind us. We don’t see the people who make it possible for us to move deeper, to appreciate the kindness and consideration that are directed at us every day. Perhaps we need to clean the mirror; perhaps we simply need to break it or walk away.

Just for today, try walking away.

The eternally real. November 12, 2014

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“The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.”

Tao Te Ching

The unnamable is the All, the one with everything. Naming is a game, a human obsession. When I was younger, I was simply obsessed with naming everything, making sure I was botanically correct. And I was good at it, pinpointing the tiny color differences and behaviors that separated species. But what I didn’t understand was that separation harmed the whole. Yes, it was interesting to note these differences. This was what naturalists had done from the dawn of natural history, and I wanted to be a naturalist: Seeing nature as it had been made, as it had evolved.

I can’t even say when I realized that the naming of species was really pretty pointless. As T.S. Eliot would say, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter.” Eventually, I couldn’t tell you the Latin name of one peony species from another (though I could certainly recognize their differences). I’m sure my colleagues thought I’d gone insane—after all, hadn’t I been able to recognize them all? But what was the ultimate point? Naming is the beginning of separation, of judging, good or bad, ugly or beautiful, stupid or smart.

The unnamable is the eternally real. Eat your rice, enjoy your tea. Watch and smell your lovely fire. Let the naming, let the judgment, drop away.

Just for today, watch your cats sleeping on your bed, softly snoring. Do not think one is better than another.

The ultimate point. November 9, 2014

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“When silence reaches an ultimate point,
the light penetrates everywhere.”
—Hsuan Hua

Sadly, silence is such a scarce commodity these days that it’s almost impossible to find it in your own home or yard, much less anywhere else. Yet deep silence can change us. When I was a child, my family went to Mammoth Cave. Once we were deep inside the cave, our guide asked our group to please be quiet. Then he turned off the lights so we could feel what absolute darkness was like. The darkness was impressive, of course, but what impressed me most was the silence. In that moment, it “reached an ultimate point.” And in that total darkness, as Hsuan Hua said, the light penetrated everywhere.

Just for today, find your own stillness.

Love your mother. November 6, 2014

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“The earth which sustains humanity must not be injured; it must not be destroyed.”

This quote sounds like it must have come from one of the great 19th-century American conservationalists, like John Muir, or Henry David Thoreau or his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, or even Teddy Roosevelt, who founded our national parks system. (Perhaps the reason he’s on Mount Rushmore.) Or Chief Seattle or another First American who approached the the land and all who dwelled on it with respect. But as it happens, it’s from a German nun, Hildegard of Bingen, who was born in 1098.

1098! Clearly, even then, people saw the threat to Mother Earth at the hands of greedy men. If we don’t protect our oceans, our land masses, and our air, we and all life will die. If we don’t stop fracking, stop Monsanto and other corporations from poisoning our land and water, and stop what might be thought of as small-scale greed from buying up and destroying farmland, not to mention prairies, wetlands, and other valuable natural areas, we’re doomed.

Even here, in our rustic part of scenic PA, one of the wealthiest men in the area has been trying for years to sell off farmland to build developments, strip malls, and warehouses, threatening the township with turning the land (previously,supposedly, preserved as farmland) into a quarry if they don’t allow him to do as he likes. It’s not that he needs the money; he just wants yet more money. People have been fighting for years to keep the land in farmland; goodness knows, there are plenty of developments and plenty of warehouses and plenty of rich, greedy, oblivious men already. But as in the states that have fought for GMO-labeled foods, this is likely a case that money will win and passion will lose.

Please put your hands on the ground, and on your food, and on every natural thing today and every day. Send Reiki. Feel the connection. Your Mother loves you, too.

Just for today, love your Mother.

Offering song. October 31, 2014

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“My friend, I have given you these, behold them
My friend, I have given you these, behold them
The day has made it all possible to give you these offerings,
behold them.”

—Lakota Offering Song

I read this just this morning and was so amazed by the Lakota attitude toward giving. Most of us are raised with one of two attitudes about giving: “Oh, this is embarrassing, this implies that person is now indebted to me” or “I did this for you, now you owe me bigtime.” One makes the giver self-conscious, the other the recipient.

In the case of this song, neither “owes” the other anything: the giver urges the recipient to look at the gifts, to enjoy them, and then praises the day, not himself or herself, for making the giving possible. “My friend” makes it even more wonderful. In this season, I can see someone turning up on the doorstep with a pumpkin and some colorful corn and saying “behold them.” I can see them turning up with my favorite, a luscious, gooey, homemade pumpkin roll, plus some wonderful light-as-air dinner rolls or even a pan of steaming-hot cornbread and saying “behold them.” I can see handing out all the Halloween candy (and crying inside for not being able to hand out fruit instead, maybe next year we’ll try stick cheese), and saying “behold them.”

For once, it isn’t about us, and it isn’t about them. It’s about what I have managed to give you today, my friend, and about what you have managed to take, and to behold, and what today has made possible.

Just for today, behold what you have been given.

Let’s be creative. October 28, 2014

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“Creativity is in the process, not the outcome.”
—Anonymous

So many of us seem to be afraid to be creative. Whether it’s because we’re afraid that it’s a childish waste of time or we’re afraid we have no talent and whatever we create will end up looking ridiculous, we just walk away from the paintbox or the poem or the song or the bookcase or the flowerbed. This quote reminds us that whatever it looks like doesn’t matter: The real creativity is in the act of creating, not the creation itself.

Let’s take knitting as an example. My grandmother was a fabulous knitter, and my sister takes after her. They could and can knit anything. I, on the other hand, can’t even purl, much less create hats or mittens or sweaters. All I can make are scarves. But I love working with beautiful yarns, and I find knitting relaxing. It sets my mind at rest. When the weather turns cold, I love to sit with the beautiful, warming yarn on my lap, loving the colors and textures, and watch it magically transform from a skein into a scarf. I don’t care at all that it’s a knit-stitch scarf and not an elaborate cable-knit sweater. Quite the opposite, in fact. My goal is not to have to count stitches, but to relax and enjoy the beauty of the yarn.

Cooking comes to mind as well. My food will never look like the food on cooking shows and in magazines and cookbooks and the like, because I don’t have—and don’t want—the equipment chefs use to make it look like that. I make delicious mashed potatoes, but instead of piping them out in intricate patterns, I just put a big dollop on the plate next to the green and yellow wax beans and lentil stew or whatever. But I still love the process of cooking, which I also find relaxing, and creating my own recipes, and people love eating them, whatever they look like, and that’s what matters.

I think it’s important to focus on process, especially in our Reiki practice. There’s a reason we use the word “practice” to describe what we do. It’s not a contest, it’s not a competition, it’s a process. In the moment, some may make progress more quickly than you, and some more slowly. Perhaps, at times, you will make progress more quickly or slowly than others on the Reiki path. That is not what matters. What matters is enjoying the process, looking at your feet on the path, not at how far ahead of you someone else is (oh no!) or how far behind others have fallen (see how much better I am than they are!).

I’ve always loved watercolors, their luscious possibilities, their fluidity and the surprising color combinations that permits. I’m pathetic when it comes to watercoloring; any first-grader could do better than I can. And I love Japanese calligraphy, such as the calligraphy of Kazuaki Tanahashi. So I’m thinking of trying to draw the Reiki symbols in watercolor calligraphy. Will they be horrible? Of course they will. Will I beat myself up because they’re horrible? No, I won’t. I’ll just enjoy the process and the beautiful colors. Creativity is in the process.

Just for today, let yourself play.

A new worldview. October 27, 2014

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The other day, I read this wonderful quote about practicing zazen while being in our all-too-human state of divided, chattering, judging mind:

“How can we go through this contradiction and continue to practice? It is like sitting on a cushion while trying to take away the cushion on which we are sitting.”
—Shohaku Okumura

Well, I don’t know about you, but I could instantly picture trying to pull the cushion out from under myself! Grunting and groaning to no good effect at all, possibly even pitching myself on the ground with the pillow on top of me.

This was brought home even more strongly last night, how we humans are so fond of fighting with ourselves and others over our beliefs rather than accepting them for what they are, calming ourselves (and our thoughts), and simply allowing ourselves to be part of the All, of the leaves, of the insects, of the birds, of the stones. I was rewatching a film called “Creation,” about Charles Darwin and his struggle to finish his masterwork, “On the Origin of Species,” because he was so torn between his findings and the Biblical creation story, and between his scientist friends and those who believed that the creation story was true in human-oriented terms.

In the film, we see a lot of Darwin trying desperately to pull the cushion out from under himself. We also, at the end, see him finding peace within himself and publishing his book. But throughout, there is the tension of either/or. Either the Biblical creation account is true, or evolution is true. But I think that is a great arrogance on our part. The Biblical account says that God created the world in seven days. But what is a day to God? How dare we assume that it’s the same as a human day, when every one of us knows how endless our days were when we were children, and how quickly they pass when we grow older? How long is a day to a dog, to a goldfish, to an ant? Perhaps God’s days last a billion years. Perhaps the creation story and evolution are the same story, and Darwin needn’t have tortured himself.

Rather than trying to pull the pillow out from under ourselves, I’d suggest that all of us on the Reiki path give up “either/or” and take up “and.” It will be a lot more comfortable to keep that cushion under us.

Just for today, stop fighting with yourself.

The blink of an eye. October 22, 2014

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The other day, I had the most amazing experience. The sky was overcast, with large grey clouds. I was a passenger in a car riding towards the clouds. I love being the passenger rather than the driver, because I love looking out the window at all the birds and farm animals and plants and houses and pretty much everything. So it’s rare when I’m riding that I’ll look straight ahead. But that day, I was examining the cloud formations in front of us when I saw two big white birds against the grey clouds. Had the clouds not been grey, had I not been looking at that moment, I would have missed them.

My friend Rudy, an accomplished birder, later confirmed my conclusion that what I saw was a pair of swans. He said they could have been either tundra or trumpeter swans, based on my ultra-vague description. (“They were big white birds and their wing pattern wasn’t gull-like. Could they have been a pair of swans?”) Like most of you, I have sometimes seen swans on still water. But I’d never seen them like that, so high overhead in flight, white against grey like a Japanese woodcut. It was magical.

Many people revere swans as a symbol of fidelity, as they mate for life and mourn if their partner dies. But I have to say that the lesson that lone pair brought home to me was how easy it is to miss the most precious things life has to offer. If we’re not looking, we might miss a child smiling at us on the street or a wren’s nest in a hollow branch overhead or a small, brilliant, beautiful emerald or gold beetle or perfect jade-green monarch butterfly chrysalis.

If we’re busy multitasking, we might not notice how delicious our food is or how good it smells, mindlessly eating much more than we need while focusing on other things. We might not really hear what our coworkers, friends and family are saying to us. We might ignore our beloved dog or cat coming up for some much-needed attention, not even noticing when they dejectedly slink away. If I had been looking down, texting or changing radio channels or choosing iTunes or whatever, instead of looking up, I would have missed the swans. They were gone in the blink of an eye.

Just for today, savor what really matters in life.

Night rain and contentment. October 20, 2014

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It’s supposed to rain for the next three days and begin tonight. A cold autumn rain—it went down into the 30s last night—is not my idea of fun, I’m just not ready for it, so I’m freezing, and not pleased with it staying dark so late in the morning and getting dark so early at night. Not to mention it being too cold to sit out on the back deck, surrounded by beautiful plants and enjoying the slow descent of the sun and the rise of the stars and fireflies, as I did all summer.

But thinking of rain on the roof reminds me of one of my all-time favorite poems, which takes quite a different view. If the coming of winter has you a bit frazzled, don’t forget Ryokan’s wise words, which, of course, also apply to any frustration you might be feeling about your Reiki practice:

“Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days’ worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.”

To steal a line from the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats’s “Lapis Lazuli,” I love to imagine him sitting there. I can smell his rice becoming aromatic over the warming, flickering fire, and see him with his cup of tea, perfectly content, stretched out comfortably listening to the rain, making no effort to sit in some contorted, miserably uncomfortable meditation posture, not debating others about the meanings and nuances of spiritual attainment, not competing. Instead, Ryokan was just learning how to be. And that’s a lesson we could all learn in today’s rush-rush, competitive world.

Just for today, listen to the rain.

Reducing self-will. October 18, 2014

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“Reducing self-will needn’t be a joyless deprivation—it can be so many little acts of love, performed over and over throughout the day.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

I love this idea, of turning self-discipline not into deprivation but into love, consideration and kindness. Everybody agrees that reducing self-will is the key to enlightenment, satori, anshin ritsumei. By reducing self-will, you’re diminishing the ego and drawing closer, ever closer to merging with the All. It sounds like a great, noble goal.

But most of us aren’t great, noble people, we’re just people. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I went to a tribute meal for a friend who’d recently died. His widow, who surely had thousands of other things to think about while setting up this meal, remembered that I was a vegetarian and asked the chef to take special care of me. As a result, I found myself holding an entire plate of delicious vegetarian appetizers—a plate of appetizers that everyone near me pounced on and ate while I held it, stupefied, assuring me that they were much better than their appetizers. I couldn’t believe that people would act like that.

I was crushed, since not only did I not get any of the wonderful appetizers, but I was unable to save most of the spanakopita (spinach and feta-filled Greek phyllo turnovers) for my partner, Rob, who was at the other end of the room and who loves spanakopita more than pretty much anything. He assured me that the one he did get was the best he’d ever eaten. Since I didn’t even get one, I’ll never know.

Today, I’ll have another opportunity to eat appetizers and try to perform “little acts of love.” I love Indian food, and am heading far away to meet a dear friend for lunch at an Indian restaurant with my partner Rob in tow. It’s been SO long since I’ve actually been to an Indian restaurant—there really aren’t any in my area—and this one appears to have a great selection of vegetarian appetizers. The thought is enough to make me drool. But this time, I’m not the recipient, I’m ordering. I’m not going to sit there watching everyone eat what I wanted to eat, I’ll just order enough for everyone. Watching my friend and partner enjoy their food will be so enjoyable! Not to mention enjoying my own. Hardly a “joyless deprivation.”

I think it’s important for those of us who follow the Reiki Way to remember that we’re not supposed to be superheroes. We’re not supposed to be subjecting ourselves to joyless deprivation. We’re supposed to be helping others through little acts of love.

Just for today, be kind.

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