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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.

Gifts are waiting. October 14, 2014

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October 11 is my birthday, and as you can see, it falls on Columbus Day weekend. Most people, including my friends and relatives, are busy enjoying the holiday and trying to get a last nice weekend in before cold weather makes it impossible. At my house, the corn is gold and, when the wind blows through, talking in the fields in front of and behind the house. My birthday is usually a quiet occasion.

This year, it wasn’t quiet, as my partner, Rob, was hit by kidney stones on Thursday and we spent that day in the ER, followed by several unrelenting days of agony at home. I was crushed, since we’d planned a little outing that I’d looked forward to. And of course, it wasn’t fun to see Rob’s suffering, either. (He’s okay now.)

So there I was, thinking “Well, okay, one friend has come through with a present—a lovely present—and several friends have e-mailed birthday greetings, and Rob couldn’t possibly get up and go out to get a present in his shape (he did as soon as he could), and no one in my own family could even be bothered.” Yikes!

And then, I got a call from the next-door neighbor, saying that she was coming over with presents. She brought a French tablecloth, beautiful napkins, apple turnovers, vanilla and pumpkin ice cream, and a jug of apple cider. I really couldn’t believe it. What an incredibly generous gift! What a reminder not to be selfish and stupid!

Good things happen in their own sweet time.

Just for today, savor the good things.

Another great fortune. October 8, 2014

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Last night, we had Chinese/Japanese/Thai takeout for supper. (Thanks to the miraculous rise of Pan-Asian restaurants.)This included two fortune cookies (much appreciated by our black German shepherd, Shiloh). I’ve never understood why anyone would want to eat a fortune cookie (Shiloh excepted), but I’ve always been fascinated by them.

When I was a child, fortune cookies told fortunes: You will be this, you will do that, this will happen to you. But for many years now, they have contained maxims, proverbs, truisms, rather than telling fortunes. An example is my all-time favorite, “There’s more to balance than not falling over.”

I still miss the good old days of “You will win the lottery this week” or “A handsome prince is heading your way” or “Stay inside on the next full moon.” And I still wonder why it seems like all fortune cookies suddenly changed to maxim cookies. (Market research?) I’ll admit, however, that for those of us on the Reiki path, these latter-day cookies occasionally turn up hidden gems that can prod us to think and act in new ways.

Last night, my fortune was “There is no one so rich that they don’t need help or so poor that they cannot help.” What a wonderful point! And it was really timely, too. I’d been sitting here staring at a stack of bills thinking “Yeesh,” and feeling demoralized because it seemed like everyone I knew was traveling, going on cruises to fabulous places, while I was sitting here moping. Then I got an e-mail from my undergraduate school asking me to donate money to help endow a fund to send students to France!

I would love to go to France, to Normandy, my ancestral home (ca. 1066), to the Loire River Valley, to Provence (so I can pretend to be one of my heroes, Julia Child), to Chartres, to Paris and the Louvre. But I could never afford such a trip. And here’s my school asking me for money!

“There is no one so rich that they don’t need help.” Blessed Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty she had ever encountered was not in the gutters of Calcutta but in the arid, isolated emotional lives of the well-to-do in America and other first-world countries. As Pope Francis puts it, “The great threat in today’s world is the loneliness of hearts oppressed by greed.” Clearly, these people desperately need help getting back in touch with other people, with animals, with nature. Think of the people who run companies of horror like Monsanto: Could they really poison the world if they were in touch with it? Could the monsters who pay people pennies to work in mines and sweat-labor factories that fall in on them and kill them do such a thing if they were connected to other people?

“There is no one…so poor that they cannot help.” I found this part of the fortune especially affecting. It made me think again about the e-mail from my school asking for money. The fund was going to be named in honor of one of my own French teachers, Scott Bates, who has apparently now died. I remember Professor Bates for his kindness and for how much he loved that I wrote poems in French. Now I feel sorry that I didn’t send him some of the English translations of French poems I did in grad school; I think he’d have been far more impressed by those. I can’t give the school money; I don’t have any. But I’d like to honor Professor Bates in some way. Maybe I’ll write a poem, or translate one, and send it to the French Department in his honor. Maybe they’ll find a way to use it that will “help.”

There is no one so rich that they don’t need help or so poor that they cannot help. Offering a free Reiki session to an ailing neighbor, or offering to get groceries for elderly neighbors, or spending a few extra moments with your dog or cat or adopting a dog or cat or bunny from a shelter, volunteering at a soup kitchen, suggesting that your Reiki share end with sending Reiki to the world: All of these cost nothing, yet they give so much. And recognizing that we all need help, we all need connection, we’re all interdependent, and that this is the mortal condition, not some sign of weakness or failure, will set all of us free.

Just for today, offer help and take it.

A lesson in humility. October 6, 2014

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“Life is a long lesson in humility.”

—James M. Barrie

This must have been especially true for Barrie, whose character Peter Pan never wanted to grow up, instead preferring to live in Neverland. “I know a place where dreams are born and time is never planned.” Sounds pretty idyllic to us overworked adults, of whom Barrie was one. (The movie “Finding Neverland” was an interesting biopic of Barrie, showing a far more complex character than the creator of cartoon classic Captain Hook.)

Far from never being planned, it seems like all our time is double- or triple-planned, resulting in stress and stress-related illnesses that arise inevitably when we’re continually asked to take on more, to multitask, until we know that actually completing all our tasks, much less completing them well, is an impossibility, and we’re sinking, sinking, while Captain Hook’s crocodile is waiting for us just below the surface. Now who will we say we are when we encounter a new acquaintance who asks what we do for a living and can’t say we’re the manager or executive or VP or whatever, just somebody who was laid off and is trying to scramble along? How quickly they look away, not knowing what to say! A lesson in humility.

If you’re a parent, now expected to accompany your kids to all the post-work activities they’re expected to attend and get meals on the table and take them to buy all the latest fashions and gadgets, the pressure builds even higher. And now they’re supposed to be overachievers, multitaskers from the day one. What if you’re caring for children or parents with disabilities, people you’ll be responsible for until your death or theirs, people you may be responsible for providing care for after your death? And what if someday you’re reduced to the nursing home, the adult diaper, and the wheelchair in the hall?

James Barrie probably wasn’t thinking of such dire situations when he said “Life is a long lesson in humility.” He was possibly thinking of getting bad reviews for his writing, or great beauties who were celebrated in their day fading to wrinkled (now Botoxed) parodies of their younger selves, or performers and athletes aging and no longer being able to do what was required of them. Now, they had to sit on the sidelines and watch while the next generation dazzled with their beauty or talent. And by the next generation, no one even remembered who they were. Films like “Stage Beauty,” TV series like “Game of Thrones,” and songs like Mark Knopfler’s “Punish the Monkey” all address this.

Well, isn’t it a great thing that Usui Founder gave those of us who follow the Reiki Way a method to turn the humiliating times of life into opportunities to strengthen our practice: the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals). Every time we’re able to pass humiliation by, to see what we can learn from it, rather than to become enraged and set all our focus and strength on fighting it, “defeating” it, we take another step forward in defeating our ego, the “I,” and coming closer to merging with the All. This is the secret of attaining enlightenment, satori, anshin ritsumei.

“Life is a long lesson in humility.” Things change. It’s up to you to decide whether that change is for better or worse.

Just for today, embrace the change.

Small but beautiful. October 5, 2014

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“It is true that the number of people striving ardently for the right and worthwhile things is small. But the existence of these few is what makes life worthwhile.”

—Albert Einstein

“You’ll never see the beauty in a chaotic world if all you’re doing is looking at the disasters instead of the sprouting flowers underneath the falling tree.”

—Quang Tri

Just for today, don’t forget the flowers.

The right way to teach Reiki. October 4, 2014

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“You can preach all you like, but actually most of the important things in life are caught, not taught.”

—Jane Livesey, General Superior of the Congregation of Jesus

What a great quote! The next time you teach a Reiki class, make sure there are plenty of things for your students to “catch,” that you’re interacting, not just sitting or standing there pontificating. Rather than reciting (or worse, reading) a rote set of class notes, make sure you, as well as your students, get something new out of every class you teach. Encourage your students to open up: Sometimes their questions will open new doors for you.

Of course, you hope that every student will catch Reiki fire. It’s why they are there, why you are there. But who knows what else they might catch? Perhaps a burning desire to volunteer giving Reiki in animal shelters or hospices or assisted-living facilities, or working with handicapped kids, or going on to become a Reiki teacher themselves. Maybe they’ll want to establish Reiki as a modality at a local wellness center or spa, or create a Reiki share at their church or college. Maybe they’ll catch on a book title and go on to read a book you think is a great help on the journey, or they’ll start a Reiki journal or blog, or they’ll catch one of the Reiki exercises or Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) that can help them conquer one of their demons.

So, how do you help your students catch “the important things”? Keep learning yourself. Read, watch, take notes, including notes on how various images or passages made you think or feel. I think it’s important to keep up with new Reiki developments, but I also think that books and films on spirituality in general, such as the marvelous movie “Zen,” Sri Eknath Easwaran’s Words to Live By, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, and Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s Not Always So have the ability to inspire and empower.

Make sure you keep the focus on the Reiki Principles first, always first, but don’t forget the importance of daily Reiki self-healing. Teach your students to recite the Principles, hands in gassho, in both Japanese and English, and give them copies of photos of Usui Founder, Hayashi Sensei, and Takata Sensei so they can recite in front of them if they wish. (Add photos of Chiyoko Yamaguchi Sensei, Hyakuten Inamoto Sensei, and any other Senseis in your lineage if you wish.) Make sure they can remember and do simple exercises like Hado breathing after their Reiki hands-on self-healing sessions to center themselves and deepen their calm. Encourage them to write essays on each Reiki Principle after (or even during) the first class, and again several months later; reading and talking about each of them with the class, comparing them, should be eye-opening. Have them repeat this exercise every time they take a new class so they can watch themselves grow. There is so much to offer, so much to do, so much to learn!

Just for today, start pitching.

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.”

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.


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