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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 amidst 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.

Giving up anger. September 10, 2014

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“Hostility is like an infectious disease. Whenever we indulge in a violent act or even in hostile words, we are passing this disease on to those around us. When we quarrel at home, it is not just a domestic problem, we are contributing to turmoil everywhere.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.”

—Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

—Maya Angelou

Those of us who follow the Reiki Way should never forget that anger is a choice. Teachers of all religions and all philosophies have said that mastering yourself—that is, your reactions to the outside world—is the key to serenity, to enlightenment. The Lord Jesus was particularly clear on this, moving far away from the “eye for an eye” of the Old Testament. He told his disciples to turn the other cheek when struck, and when compelled to do something or give something, far from trying to get out of it, to do or give even more.

Sometimes it seems that we’re surrounded by hostility: road rage, bullying, random acts of violence, brawls inside (or outside) clubs and bars, rapes. Perhaps the culture of violence we’re constantly subjected to on television and video games encourages this. Perhaps too many people crammed in too little space, under too much pressure to rush to work, encourages this. Perhaps the stereotypes of the angry comedian, the angry politician, the fire-and-brimstone minister encourage this. But we need not encourage this. We have a choice.

Sometimes we seem so small and the world seems so large, so out of control. We see corporations buying up our government, polluting the earth with their monstrous GMO crops and then dumping herbicides on them, and ultimately on all of us. We see the reckless abandonment of animals at shelters, or animals simply dumped off on the roadside or stuffed in garbage bags. We see children and pets left to die in hot cars. We see, increasingly in the age of selfies, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, the victims of domestic violence, their crushed and swollen faces. We see the horrors of war and fanaticism, the beheadings, the mutilations, the disenfranchisement of whole peoples, every day on the news. It’s enough to make anyone angry!

I got very angry today when I read two anti-vegetarian articles. One was talking about the outrage of making American schoolchildren eat a vegetarian lunch for “Meatless Monday.” Mind you, this was one meal in a whole week, and the kids were offered such delicious fare as mac’n’cheese, pizza, and chili. But going without meat for a whole meal? Intolerable! Horrific! How dare the school system inflict such torture on children!

The second article, a blog post, was oblivious to the ultimate point it was making, unlike the first article. The author’s point was that French school lunches were so much better than American school lunches because they were made from scratch. Great! But it turns out that every single meal is meat-based—no vegetarian options—and worse still, one meal a week is made from veal, calves trapped in tiny enclosures so they can’t move and their muscles don’t develop, and force-fed milk to ensure soft, tender flesh. This cruel, hateful practice is hardly a surprise in a country that force-feeds geese until their livers expand to the extent that they make the delicacy foie gras (literally, “fat liver”). But it is a surprise that the author praised the fact that the French were teaching their children not to care about the well-being of animals along with their other school lessons.

So yes, I was mad enough to cry. What wouldn’t I have liked to say to those wretched people! But as Sri Eknath says, any act of hostility contributes to turmoil everywhere. And as I’m sure you’ve all noticed, there’s rarely a good outcome when we respond in kind, rather than responding by being kind. PETA and well-meaning groups like them make themselves targets for endless ridicule, and worse, by doing things like throwing red paint (for blood) on celebrities’ fur coats.

There was a time when people who lived in cold climates had to wear fur coats to survive, had to eat meat to survive. That time has passed, and now both are expensive luxury items that our world can’t afford. But throwing paint on people or firebombing A-list restaurants won’t make that point.

Instead, one response might be making videos of happy, free-range, heirloom-breed chickens who are allowed to live full lives and fed all sorts of grains, veggies, bread, and fruit. Comparing them to factory-farmed chickens, raised in tiny cages stacked on top of one another with their beaks cut off, with lights glaring at them 24/7 to encourage egg production, might possibly turn on a few lightbulbs in human viewers, such as, being stuck in a tiny, windowless cubicle under artificial lighting day in, day out, with an inconceivable production schedule and all trace of individuality cut off: after all, you’re just a “worker bee.” And that’s just for those “lucky” enough to hold white-collar jobs, or jobs at all, for that matter.

Let it go, let it go, let the anger go. Usui Founder made “Just for today, don’t get angry” the first of his Reiki Principles, aka Precepts, Ideals. He knew you could only control your response to the provocation, not the provocation itself. This doesn’t mean you can’t fight for a cause that you believe in. Just don’t do it in anger.

Just for today, don’t get angry.

(Don’t) buy, buy, buy. September 9, 2014

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“It is not only corporations who carry the responsibility for pollution. Insofar as we tell them, ‘Produce all you want! We’ll buy whatever you make’, the rest of us are responsible too.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“If you hoard material possessions, they will rob you of your soul.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

I assume that most of us who can read (or write) this blog aren’t living in a tin shack with seven other people, or sleeping under some plastic trash bags and cardboard and going to the bathroom on the sidewalk, or forced to flee to a refugee camp and wonder how we’ll feed our children, to say nothing of ourselves. Instead, many of us have the opposite problem: too much disposable income and too much disposable time to spend it.

Shopping as entertainment has become so commonplace it’s taken for granted across all age groups, from teens hanging out at the mall or video games arcade to bored corporate types hitting the upscale stores after work, hoping to find a deal on something to impress their coworkers. It’s such a sad comment on our society when a celebrity wears a multi-thousand-dollar couture dress a second time and every press release covers that. And of course, every season has its trendy colors and styles, and every site you visit is filled with pop-up ads begging you to buy this, buy that, whether you need it or not, so that before you know it, you’re rushing off to buy that leopard-print maxidress and margarita-green purse and earth-toned eye makeup because, hey! Isn’t everyone wearing them?

I’m certainly guilty of this, too. Now that everyone says Windows XP isn’t safe for financial transactions anymore, and it’s still my operating system, I no longer buy anything online, which certainly limits my purchasing power. And since my car and most of my clothes date back decades and were bought used to begin with, that’s not an issue. But take me out someplace that carries things I love—books, rocks and fossils, incense, antiques, a farmers’ market or specialty grocery—and it’s certain that I’ll emerge with something, just because I can’t resist that exotic spice blend or luscious cheese or beautiful crystal or stack of books and magazines. Do I need them? No. Do I love them? Yes.

Sri Eknath says that our mindless purchasing pollutes the world, since as long as we keep buying, manufacturers will keep producing, and advertisers will keep teasing what they produce. (“20% off everything in our store, for today only!” “Buy one, get two free!” “Lowest prices of the year!” “Dr. Oz says eating this will make you look 40 years younger!”)

But, horrific as pollution is, Pope Francis says something even worse: That mindless shopping, accumulating “stuff” just to entertain ourselves, will rob us of our souls. Those of us who follow the Reiki Way can’t afford to lose our souls, to possessions or anything else. That $2 bag of sand dollars at the thrift store might seem harmless enough (it did to me)—a steal!!!—but if you already have baskets of shells all over your home (as I do), maybe it’s time to give them to some children instead of hoarding them yourself. (I did.)

Better to do that, better to give that $5 you were planning to spend at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, or the $160 for a stadium ticket to a sports event, or the money you were planning to spend on a BOGO shoe sale when your closet’s already bursting with shoes, to one of those homeless people huddled under the trash bags and cardboard. Better to do that than to lose your soul. And maybe you’ll help combat pollution, too.

Just for today, don’t buy what you don’t need.

Grandparents’ Day. September 7, 2014

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Today, September 7th, is Grandparents’ Day. I only knew three of my grandparents—my paternal grandfather died the year before I was born—but I loved the three of them so. Spending time at my maternal grandparents’ home in a small Kentucky town and going out to their farm with my grandfather, picking fossils out of the gravel in the driveway, riding over the farm on a horse, visiting the calves and smelling the curing tobacco in the tobacco shed, which was perfumed, not foul like cigarettes, playing with multicolored ears of corn in the grain mill my grandfather managed, receiving an ice-cold Coke at the salon where my grandmother had her hair done: This was heaven for a little girl.

The security of my grandparents’ love was heaven, too. To this day, the smell of things like the original Jergens Lotion and Ponds Cold Cream and the original Listerine and Ivory Soap and Prince Albert pipe tobacco and bourbon bring back my grandparents so vividly that I try to always keep them on hand. I can’t say I use them, but I love to smell them. In my whole life, I don’t think I’ve forgotten a single detail about a single visit.

My paternal grandmother was quite different but also priceless. She was droll, cute, funny, adorable. She loved to travel, and brought me a string of Mikimoto pearls and pearl earrings from a trip to Japan that I still cherish. But the thing I cherish most is the memory of the many hours I spent playing in her button box, where she had several generations’ worth of exquisite buttons that simply fascinated me, the endless work that people put into such trifles, the care. When she was dying, she asked me what I wanted that was hers: money? jewelry? No. I wanted that button box I’d played with so happily as a child. Now the buttons are right here, in a specially made coffee table in my home office. I see them every day, and think of my precious grandma.

If I could, I would keep the three of them with me ’til I died. I will never know such unconditional, accepting love again, love without limits, such restful freedom in their presence, in their homes. Grandparents are the anchors that keep our boats secure.

Just for today, honor your grandparents. Make sure they know you love them. And send (or give) them some Reiki, too!


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