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The call for peace must be shouted. July 30, 2014

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Pope Francis, in a recent interview, noted that we were living in a time of many wars, and that “the call for peace must be shouted.” The Pope added that “Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but peace is never quiet, peace is always proactive.”

This reminded me of one of my favorite spiritual writers, Sri Eknath Easwaran, whose hero was Mohandas Gandhi, called Mahatma, “great soul.” Gandhi liberated India from British colonial control, not through violence, but through non-violent resistance, ahimsa. Decades later, Martin Luther King urged this approach to Blacks who were seeking equal rights and the end of race discrimination. Nelson Mandela used it to end apartheid in South Africa. The Dalai Lama uses it when he protests the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Most recently, the LGBT community has used it to gather support for full marriage rights and benefits.

To be successful, those who practice ahimsa must be media-savvy and know how to get the word out. Gandhi was a genius at this; the world watched the “little brown man in the loincloth” and his every move with fascination. Pope Francis is also a genius at it, with his press conferences, off-the-cuff remarks, unexpected, crowd-thrilling gestures, and tweets.

Given the ubiquity and power of social media today, it’s not necessary to protest social injustice or war or domestic violence or school shootings or drug wars or whatever by setting yourself on fire in a public place, as one American minister recently did. Instead, you can make your voice heard on Twitter or Facebook or your blog or website or Instagram or Pinterest or a million other open media sites. You don’t have to shout. If enough of us simply speak out, and continue to speak out, against every form of violence, our combined voices will shout for us.

Just for today, speak up for peace.

Inequality. June 3, 2014

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“Inequality is the root of social evil.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

I could go on quite a rant about the obvious irony of this statement, given that the Church the Pope heads will not ordain women as priests or even deacons, much less elect a woman Pope; that Popes have recently been recognized as saints while the greatest saint of our age, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, still languishes; that nuns whose only crime was trying to address “the root of social evil” have been relentlessly persecuted by the watchdogs of the Church and placed under the control of a (male, of course) bishop. This is institutionalized inequality of the most hurtful and damaging kind.

But “the people’s Pope” isn’t aware of the irony, for his sincere focus is on righting economic inequity and bestowing the dignity of personhood on every human being, such as the elderly homeless person dying on the street of whom he famously asked, why doesn’t this make headlines, but a 2% drop in the stock market does? Francis is, genuinely, a man of good will. He also said this (also on @Pontifex), which is a beautiful warning:

“A society which abandons children and the elderly severs its roots and darkens its future.”

So true. I would add that a society that abandons the ugly, the overweight, the ignorant, the diseased, the mentally ill and mentally challenged, the disabled, the different, the very shy; a society that tolerates and/or promotes racism, bigotry, religious intolerance and hatred, discrimination against those whose sexual orientation differs from ours; a society that still uses stereotypes for those of different nationalities, that still defines itself in terms of “us” and “them,” darkens its future. And those who mock those who are different from, or less fortunate than, themselves, who sneer at them, who tell jokes at their expense or are rude and dismissive, are even worse, since their behavior is active rather than passive.

This doesn’t even begin to address the violence directed at those who are perceived to be different from us: The murder of homeless people. The torture of prisoners. The sentencing of a pregnant woman in Sudan to 100 lashes, followed by hanging, for daring to convert to Christianity in order to marry the man she loved. (After international outcry, this sentence has reportedly been commuted.) The abduction by (male) Islamic extremists of 200 little Christian girls from their school in Nigeria, still held hostage and being subjected to mercy knows what as I write. The helpless people in nursing homes and hospitals who are abused by the very people who have been hired to take care of them. Gang rapists in India. Murderous road rage and school shootings in America. I could go on, and on, and on. (And on.)

What can we, as Reiki people, do about the evil of social inequality, of mockery, denigration, discrimination, and actual (physical, mental, and property) damage? What would Usui Founder do?

As always, he pointed the way (and the Way). When the great earthquake leveled Tokyo in 1921, he rushed to give Reiki to its victims, treating thousands, whatever their social standing, appearance, age, sex, or limitations. Having grown up in the rigidly structured society of the Shogunate, a feudal society where the Imperial Family and court were at the top of the social ladder, the Samurai (including Mikao Usui’s family) next, and pretty much everyone else serfs or worse, this was a remarkable, radical act on Usui Founder’s part. Like the Lord Jesus, like Lord Buddha, like Mother Teresa, like Dogen Zenji, like all great healers, he saw the suffering person, not the artificial distinctions that set some of us above others.

He also set up his dojo and travelled constantly to teach Reiki to as many as wanted to learn, training thousands in the years between the earthquake and his death in 1926. He didn’t invite certain highborn individuals to join an elite secret society. He made his teachings available to all. And at the heart of his teachings were his Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals): Just for today, don’t get angry. Don’t worry. Be grateful. Work hard. Be kind.

This is the blueprint for banishing inequality. When you banish worry and anger, are grateful for your own blessings and those of everyone and the world around you, work hard to help others and further your own spiritual progress, and are kind to everyone, plants and animals and people alike, there is no room for inequality. You may not be able to cure the world’s ills, the selfishness and superficiality of a society that cares more for the latest shoe fashions than for starving people and abused animals and exhausted resources. But by pursuing Usui Founder’s model of Right Livelihood, you just might.

Miracles can happen. Maybe we can save the world. Maybe we can stop seeing people as either/or, rich or poor, clever or dull, ugly or gorgeous, fat or thin, old or young, brilliant or stupid, educated or ignorant, successful or failures. Maybe the Church will even start ordaining women.

What is a saint? April 25, 2014

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“The true saint goes in and out amongst the people and eats and sleeps with them and buys and sells in the market and marries and takes part in social intercourse, and never forgets God for a single moment.”

—Abu Sa’id

“How good it is for us when the Lord unsettles our lukewarm and superficial lives.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”

—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

“When [13th-century Zen Master] Dogen asked the Zen cook in the Chinese temple why he didn’t have his assistants do the hard work of drying mushrooms in the hot sun, the cook said, ‘I am not other people.’ In the same way, we have to realize that this life is the only life we have. It’s ours, right now. If we don’t do the cooking ourselves, we are throwing our life away. ‘Keep your eyes open,’ Dogen instructs. ‘Wash the rice thoroughly, put it in the pot, light the fire, and cook it.’… When we cook—and live—with this kind of attention, the most ordinary acts and the humblest ingredients are revealed as they truly are.”

—Bernard Glassman and Rick Fields, “Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons for Living a Life that Matters,” tricycle

As I’m sure you know, two popes are going to be canonized (recognized as saints) this weekend. It’s unlikely that any of us will become popes, but, as these quotes show, we all have the opportunity to become saints, right where we are.

Just for today, don’t burn the rice.

Not taboo. March 24, 2014

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“Sickness and death are not taboo subjects. They are realities that we must face…”

Pope Francis, @Pontifex

I was reminded of this while attending a “welcome spring” Reiki feast on Saturday night with members of my Reiki share. Our host, who also hosts the share in her home, is a superb macrobiotic cook who had pulled out all the stops to make a lavish spread. Wine and sake were poured and we all assembled at the table to enjoy each others’ company and the bounty spread before us.

But, as my partner Rob pointed out, the theme of the evening’s dinner seemed to be sickness, death and dying. People talked about their parents’ and in-laws’ struggles in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. They talked about pets who’d recently died or were dying. One member of the share was on his second kidney transplant and talked about that and how he was recovering. A nurse talked from her perspective about caring for the ill and terminally ill.

It wasn’t what most people would think of as a cheerful or festive conversation. But Reiki people are healers, and no one seemed even slightly put off by the conversation or tried to change the subject. We all get sick from time to time, and we’ll all die. It’s how we confront those situations in ourselves and others that define us, as Reiki practitioners and as human beings.

Refusing to talk about or acknowledge sickness and death won’t make them go away, and increases the fear and stress we experience when we think of them. Usui Founder told us “Just for today, don’t worry.” Making these topics as ordinary as any other integrates them into life and helps us prepare for the inevitable.

Reiki helps in other ways as well. When we work on our Reiki self-healing every day, and aren’t shy about asking others for hands-on or distant healing if we aren’t well, it raises our Reiki level and helps us heal. And when we “work hard” (another of Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles, aka Precepts, Ideals) on our Reiki practices, it helps us truly see our connection to the All, which is the breakthrough of enlightenment, satori.

If you aren’t a separate entity, an ego swimming alone in space, but rather part of the whole, you know that death isn’t really a big deal, just a giving back to the All for what had been given you. And really, there’s nothing scary about that.

Just for today, don’t be afraid to talk about it.

Finding heaven. March 10, 2014

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“Who has not found the heaven below
Will fail of it above.”

—Emily Dickinson

“The Lord has strewn little signs of his presence throughout the universe.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“The Lord is knocking at the door of our hearts. Have we put a sign on the door saying ‘Do not disturb’?”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

Whether you believe in an afterlife, or that our earthly paradise is the only one we’ll ever know, it’s important to make every minute count. And that means living fully in each moment, appreciating each moment, enjoying each moment and the beautiful world around us.

It doesn’t mean rushing around multitasking, never seeing anything farther away than the latest text message, never giving our full attention to anything or appreciating the beauty of our world, the great gift God Creator has given us.

Fully being present to each moment is the way to find “the heaven below” and prepare for the one above. This does not mean being idle, but it certainly doesn’t mean mindless busyness for its own sake. As Jesus Himself said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

And let’s not forget the enjoyment part of ‘finding heaven below’, in the here and now. One of my favorite quotes is from a man who’d clearly mastered this art, Ryokan:

“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.”

Just for today, find heaven.

The Food Stamp Challenge. February 24, 2014

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“Let us leave a spare place at our table, a place for those who lack the basics, who are alone.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the Food Stamp Challenge, in which people try to eat on $4 a day like those who receive SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, formerly food stamps) assistance must do. Just this morning, I read about a group of students who took up the challenge for a week.

Given the cost of groceries at my house (and mind you, I cook our vegetarian meals at home from scratch), the thought of a $56 weekly grocery bill (for a family of two; each family member is allowed $4 a day, or $28 a week) is mind-boggling. And what if you lived alone and were only allowed $28?!

I guess if I were trying to live on $28 a week, I’d buy the staples the first week: a big bargain bottle of olive or canola oil, a cheap plastic set of salt and pepper shakers, curry powder, a shaker of Italian seasoning (oregano, basil, thyme and rosemary), and a bottle of hot sauce. I’d buy bags of rice and lentils (or yellow split peas), a big bargain box of spaghetti, and some cans of beans (black, pinto, kidney, whatever was on sale; I’ve found house-brand beans at 59 cents a can). Then I’d buy a can or two of crushed tomatoes (some brand is always on deep discount at our local stores), and a bag of small and therefore sale-priced onions.

Of course, I’d have my calculator with me. If there was enough money left, I’d buy the cheapest head of lettuce in the house, a bottle of vinegar or a lemon (whichever was cheaper), and either a bag of tiny apples (always on discount) or tiny apples combined with tiny oranges (ditto). If red bell peppers were on sale at 10 for $10, I’d get one or two of those as well.

This would allow me to make a simple dal with the lentils or split peas, an onion, and curry powder, and have it with rice. I could make a very simple spaghetti sauce with the crushed tomatoes, oil, Italian seasonings, and onion, and have it over pasta. I could saute an onion in oil, add a can of beans and some Italian seasoning, and serve it over rice with hot sauce, or saute the onion and seasoning, add the can of beans and a can of crushed tomatoes, add enough water to reach the preferred consistency, add rice or pasta if desired, and have soup.

If I’d been able to afford the fresh produce, I’d make a salad with the lettuce, diced red bell pepper, diced onion or diced apple, and dress it with a sprinkle of Italian seasoning and a splash of oil and vinegar or a squeeze of lemon juice. As long as I didn’t add the dressing to the salad except for my own small bowl, leaving the rest plastic-wrapped, refrigerated, and undressed, I could hope to eat it for many meals to come, along with any of the dishes described above.

The following week, if I still had enough of my staples and seasonings, I could add potatoes, eggs, tacos or tortilla chips, salsa, and shredded cheese (on sale, two bags for $4, and of course, you only have to buy one). Maybe even butter and block cheese on sale. More lettuce and/or super-healthy coleslaw mix (green and purple cabbage and shredded carrot, often extremely inexpensive bagged). More bell peppers and onions on sale. More sale fruit. More sale pasta and crushed tomatoes. Maybe a few bags of frozen veggies.

Imagine, enjoying a salad with lettuce, coleslaw mix, chopped bell pepper and onion, and a sliced hard-boiled egg, maybe even a little shredded cheese! The secret is to stick to your Italian seasonings and black pepper and a splash of your bargain oil and vinegar; forget bottled dressings.

Could you really eat like this? Well, that depends on whether you were willing to shop in a discount grocery like Aldi or Bottom Dollar or Wal*Mart, whether you were willing to change the way you looked at food (such as skipping breakfast or eating leftover rice and beans for breakfast), and how many mouths you had to feed. (For every additional person, you could add more to the weekly menu, such as eggs, cheese and butter in the first week, while amping up the supplies of staples like pasta, beans and rice to serve as a base for your dishes. Mac’n’cheese, anyone? Butter, shredded cheese, a couple of beaten eggs, and maybe a splash of milk will get you there.)

I love to cook, so I know when I set these options out that they’ll never taste as good as food that you can make with as many ingredients as you wish. They’re bare-bones meals, and, having not gone to the store with my calculator and added up the cost, I can’t even vouch for their SNAP affordability. I deplore the lack of fresh produce, and the rich, appealing salads that I make for our suppers. But at least these meals will be nutritious and filling.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who are wondering where the bread, pizzas, breakfast pastries, snack foods, frozen convenience meals, cereals, desserts, candies, chips, coffee, sodas, and above all, meat are in this scenario. But on $28 a week, stuff like that, plus all fast food and takeout, much less eating out, simply have to go. We don’t like drinking plain water at every meal, either. We love pizza and takeout Chinese. We’re okay with skipping breakfast, but we hate skipping both breakfast and lunch.

Take your calculator and do the math. What can you afford on $28 a week?

As Pope Francis says, let’s save a space at our table for those who can’t afford food, who are trying to survive on $28 a week. Let’s be grateful that we can afford to eat as we please, and share our bounty with our neighbors, friends, and family. The winter before this, one of my dear Reiki friends brought homemade soup to my house every week or two, much to my partner Rob’s delight. I often send my own hearty and warming creations along to my partner’s son, my godson, and our neighbors, and bring them to a weekly gathering of friends.

Just for today, be grateful.

The community of believers. February 18, 2014

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“No one saves oneself. The community is essential.”
—Pope Francis @Pontifex

Are you alone in your Reiki practice, on your Reiki journey? Are you surrounded by skeptical siblings, outraged parents, uninterested or derisive coworkers?

Yes, you can still follow the Reiki Way in isolation. There are books, CDs, DVDs, websites, and blogs to help you. This is your virtual community, and we all should participate in it to grow in our practice. But how much better to combine the virtual with the real, to belong to a real-life, real-time Reiki community!

I urge you to stay in touch with your Reiki teachers and fellow students, to join nearby Reiki shares, to make as many Reiki friends as you can. (Shares and classes are a great way to make friends, but don’t overlook holistic health expos, Reiki demonstrations, and the like.) Don’t be afraid to contact Reiki people whose articles, blog posts, websites, or books have touched you; you can begin a dialogue that might lead to a lasting friendship.

In all these cases, the more friends you have, the more connections you make, the more support and advice you’ll get when you hit a bump on the road or are just feeling down after your sister-in-law calls you a whacko or whatever. And it’s just plain fun to get together for lunch or supper or an outing with Reiki friends when you can talk about Reiki along with everything else, or a few of you can gather at a friend’s home to share Reiki and enjoy snacks and a chat.

The community may not be essential, as Pope Francis says, but I certainly understand why he says it. As John Donne said, “No man is an island.” The more we reach out to others on the Reiki path, the more companions we’ll have as we travel on our Way.

Just for today, reach out.

If you love Reiki, smile. January 31, 2014

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“I cannot imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile. May we joyfully witness to our faith.”
—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

This holds true for those of us who follow the Reiki Way, too. If we aren’t joyful, what are we? There’s nothing like seeing the tense, worried, possibly ill faces of students in a Reiki class or share break into huge grins, literally light up, as you smile, laugh, joke, and spread the joy. Happiness is, after all, our natural state.

Taking ourselves too seriously is an ego trip, the opposite of Usui Founder’s teachings. We did not become Reiki teachers and practitioners to pontificate, to hold ourselves above the lowly masses, for mercy’s sake! We embraced Reiki, as it embraces us, to find eternal joy.

All great spiritual teachers radiate joy and laughter, even in the midst of circumstances that are, to us, unbearable. The Dalai Lama is always smiling and laughing, even after having been driven out of his homeland and position by the Chinese under Mao. Thich Nhat Hanh’s face radiates his joy, even though he saw his people suffer the horrors of the Vietnam war. Blessed Mother Teresa’s homely face radiated love and happiness, even as she pulled maggot-ridden, starving, dying beggars from the gutters of Calcutta. No great spiritual teacher takes themselves seriously; they know the notion of “self” is a tiny thing, and the beauty and delight of the world are huge.

Think of the joy that must have radiated from Usui Founder, the spontaneous, delighted smile on Hayashi Sensei’s face, the radiance shining from Takata Sensei. If you’ve been lucky enough to see them, remember the droll humor teachers like Hyakuten Inamoto Sensei and Frans Steine bring to their classes.

Just for today, remember to smile.

Wag more, bark less. January 30, 2014

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Tearing people down never builds anyone up. I was reminded of this when reading that Rolling Stone magazine had just put Pope Francis on its cover and featured a 7,000-word article about him. (Maybe the Dalai Lama will be next!) But unfortunately, in praising Francis’s impact on the Church and the world, the article lit into his predecessor, Benedict, in a manner that could only be called mean, comparing him to Freddy Krueger, the murderous monster in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” horror movies, and saying that he was enough to give teens nightmares.

Poor Pope Francis! Imagine him cringing in his guest-house room, thinking about how those words must be hurting his frail, ailing predecessor. Thinking about how he was somehow the cause of this pain, since by trying to do good, and through no fault of his, he had inadvertently brought ridicule on an already suffering man. I’ll bet he’d like to crawl into Saint Peter’s crypt right now and hide there.

This brought to mind Reiki teachers who imply or even announce that their teachings are better than other Reiki teachers’, or even that they alone possess the “true” or original Reiki teachings. Folks, there are an awful lot of Reiki teachers out there, and Usui Founder isn’t here to tell us which hold right teachings, who are great teachers.

Rather than denigrating others’ teachings and/or systems, I think Reiki teachers should bear in mind the Biblical phrase, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” There’s no need to say that others’ teachings are bad to show that yours are good. The students will discover that on their own. All you need to do is outline what you’ll be teaching so they know what to expect, and then bring those teachings to life for every student in your classes. From your description, students will know if they’re drawn to your teaching; from your classes, they’ll know if you’re a gifted teacher. There is no need to say a word about either topic, and every need not to do so.

This also holds true for practitioners who feel a need to bolster their egos and/or Reiki practices at their fellow practitioners’ expense. My hands are hotter! I can see auras! I get impressions! My intuition is stronger! Hey, how on earth could you know? This isn’t about you, it’s about Reiki.

People don’t like braggarts. They don’t like egotists. They know that underneath this sniping is a scam: Either profound insecurity or cutthroat, greed-based marketing or both.

Reiki is not a competition. It’s a life Way. Follow that Way. Learn all you can from others who are on the path, honor those who have helped you on your own path, but whatever you think of those you disagree with, let those thoughts float free. If you hold them in or spread them, they will diminish you and hinder you on your Way. Reiki is not a competition.

My favorite bumper sticker says “Wag more, bark less.” We could all learn a lot from that.

Just for today, don’t let your ego do the talking.

More about love. January 13, 2014

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“Familiar acts are beautiful through love.”
—Percy Bysshe Shelley

“By giving full attention to one thing at a time, we can learn to direct attention where we choose. Simple, but essential to the practice of love.”
—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“Love and truth are inseparable. Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people’s day-to-day lives.”
—Pope Francis, Encyclical Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith)

“Love seeks no cause beyond itself and no fruit; it is its own fruit, its own enjoyment. I love because I love; I love in order that I may love.”
—Saint Bernard

Just for today, wag more, bark less.

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