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New year’s resolutions. December 30, 2013

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Yikes, it’s almost New Year’s Eve! Have you made your resolutions yet? Have you sworn yet again to lose weight, to eat less and exercise more, to join the gym, go to the spa, take up a sport like running, cycling or skiing? Have you decided that this year, you’ll put aside a little more for retirement or try to navigate through the horrors of the new health-care system, or maybe try to downsize and/or get yourself out of debt?

No doubt these are all worthy goals. but as someone on the Reiki path, you owe it to yourself to think about what new year’s resolutions could be, what they should be, when you think beyond your own precious self. How can you, in the new year, benefit the world?

As with diet and exercise, one way is to start with yourself. You can make a resolution to do Reiki self-healing at least once, preferably twice (on waking and going to bed) every day. Reiki self-healing strengthens and calms you, and the stronger and calmer you sre, the more you can help others. Next, you can not just recite but try to live Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals). By doing your utmost, every day, to not get angry, not worry, be grateful, work hard, and be kind, you will change yourself and the world around you.

Next, look at those nearest to you: your spouse or partner, your family, your pets, your friends, your neighbors. Can you make some resolutions that will make their lives better in 2014? If you really think about them and their needs, I’ll bet you can. Maybe just resolving to spend 15 more minutes devoting undivided attention to your cat, or walking your dog or taking her to puppy playschool once a week, will strengthen your bond and bring new joy to your pet’s life. Deciding to cook supper at home and eat at the table with your spouse or partner, discussing each of your day’s events and everything you’ve learned during the day and thought about, could bring you closer together. So could offering a Reiki treatment every week, or a mini-treatment before bed each night.

Now, what about your community? Could you volunteer to spend time at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, nursing home, hospice, or animal shelter? How about a food co-op or library reading program? Can you think of ways to bring Reiki to these places?

I don’t want to belabor all this, since I’m sure you can think of lots more places and ways to help than I ever could. I just want to remind those of us who follow the Reiki Way that there are a lot better ways to spend our energy in 2014 than trying to lose ten pounds or run a marathon.

Just for this year, make Reiki resolutions.

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The saving grace. December 29, 2013

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“The good shine like the Himalayas, whose peaks glisten above the rest of the world even when seen from a distance.”

—The Buddha

“It is a simple law of human nature that we love the highest…. This is the saving grace of human nature.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

Just for today, look to the peaks.

Give what people want. December 26, 2013

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Today, the day after Christmas, I saw two articles that made me think back about the most distressing Christmas I’ve ever experienced. One was a brief mention that a reporter had asked Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, about her infant son George’s first Christmas. She’d replied that he’d apparently enjoyed the wrapping paper more than the gifts. Bright, glittery, beautiful wrapping paper? Why wouldn’t a baby be attracted to it?

The other thing that caught my attention was an op-ed piece about conspicuous holiday consumption. The author of the piece was struck that his infant great-nephew was far more intrigued with the “throw-away” tag attached to his present than with the gift itself.

This all brought back, in the most painful manner, the last Christmas I spent with my partner Rob’s family and his extremely schizophrenic sister, Cindy. Throughout her life, her parents forced Cindy, a very pretty, very sensitive child, to participate in the family’s “superior” heritage, as Pilgrims and Puritans on the Mayflower and grandees in Dutch New York, long before the Revolution. Sweet, childlike Cindy was forced to join every organization like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) while her parents ignored her increasing psychological incapacity.

Eventually, when Cindy’s paranoid delusions became overwhelming, when she spoke daily to at least 14 different Jesuses, some of whom she’d married, when her behavior was so aberrant that people living in her apartment building started calling the police, even her parents had to acknowledge that she wasn’t their Great WASP Hope after all. But it appears that their delusions were more enduring than hers.

That final Christmas, the year after her mother had died from dementia, Rob and I went down to spend Christmas with his father, Cindy, and their schizophrenic brother Dick. To my horror, what Cindy’s father had chosen to buy her for Christmas were beautiful designer cocktail dresses, obviously assuming that she would stop this silly mental illness and take her place in Society as he and her mother had envisioned.

Cindy dutifully opened each and every present. She looked at the beautiful, expensive, stylish dresses, wadded them up, and hurled them into a corner. And then, like the infant Prince George, she lovingly, wonderingly took up the wrapping paper and held it close. That glorious, glittering, shiny paper was the best Christmas present anyone had ever given her.

Cindy died the next year, just entering her 40s. We have tried to keep her spirit alive in our celebrations since, honoring simplicity over ambition, reality over ego.

This year, I urge you to think about what would actually make other people happy, even if it’s just a box of crayons and a sheaf of drawing paper, rather than something that would make your ego happy at the expense of the person involved.

Just for today, please be perceptive and kind.

My Christmas wish for you. December 25, 2013

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Every year, I like to share a special prayer, written as a Christmas letter by Fra Giovanni to his patron in 1513. Note especially the last line. I wish each and every one of you who shares the Reiki path with me, and especially those who have journeyed with me here on The Reiki Blog, every joy now and forevermore.

Fra Giovanni’s Christmas Prayer

I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not, but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts rest in it today. Take Heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take Peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

Just for today, God bless us, every one.

Death dinners. December 19, 2013

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I just accidentally read the most amazing article. I’d clicked on yet another supremely depressing article about an aging Boomer living in a friend’s (bathroomless) basement in extreme poverty, while her 87-year-old father traveled around the world with his 70-something girlfriend, determined to “grab for all the gusto he could get” and to hell with his children’s suffering and deprivation.

The article interviewed the oblivious father at length, as well as his struggling daughter, who has multiple sclerosis and can’t afford health insurance; it was a horrific testament to selfishness and entitlement. As my own father remarked about a similar case much closer to home, “That man is thinking only of himself.”

At any rate, there was a link in the article to one about “death dinners.” Given the content of the article I’d just read, I wondered if this was the latest Boomer trend: When the money runs out, housing and health care are unaffordable, your parents couldn’t care less and your kids more likely than not assume you’ll be giving them a free ride throughout life, you gather together for a final feast, then drink the Kool-Aid.

Turns out, “death dinners” aren’t some group-suicide fad. But they are, apparently, a growing Boomer trend. The host invites a group of family, friends, or both to a festive dinner, during which everyone talks about death: their fears, their expectations, their preferred arrangements.

Given how few Boomers have wills, much less living wills, as bizarre as this idea sounds, at least it’s a step in the right direction. Maybe vocalizing their last wishes, or even seeing how many lives their death would touch, will act as a springboard to more concrete action.

End-of-life care is a serious issue, and one that I feel very strongly about after watching well-intentioned nurses force-feeding my nearly comatose mother ice cream as she feebly begged them to please stop. (It works the other way, too: A friend told me just last month that when her very ill 90-plus mother-in-law sank into a coma, her husband said there should be no heroic actions taken to revive her, given her quality of life at that point, at which she came out of the coma and told the stunned doctors that she wanted every possible measure taken to keep her alive at any cost.)

Needless to say, I have a living will. It simply says that, should something befall me that prevented me from functioning or communicating, that I want no extraordinary measures taken to prolong my life: no tube feeding, no surgery that would at best prolong my agony and that of those who care about me. But I also don’t want to feel thirst, to die like our Lord begging for water, so I added the proviso that I wished to remain well hydrated, through an IV if necessary, until life had left me. I also have an actual will, which, I confess, badly needs updating; that’s at the top of my post-Christmas to-do list.

Why am I mentioning death dinners, living wills and the like on my Reiki blog? Because of Usui Founder’s directives to those of us who follow the Reiki Way, encapsulated in his Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals). Thinking through end-of-life issues, leaving clear directions for those who love you and whom you may be forced to part with, not only reduces worry, it’s also a very concrete way of being kind and compassionate to yourself and others.

Just think how helpful it would be to your survivors if they knew if you’d like to be buried with full rites, or cremated with your ashes scattered on a site that holds special meaning to you, or given a green burial in a pine or cardboard box, unembalmed, with native wildflowers planted over your grave. Think what a relief it would be to you and everyone if your end-of-life wishes were crystal clear to everyone who might be involved. And think how kind and compassionate it would be to your survivors if you were to wrap up all the loose ends in a formal will. (Remember, in all these cases, you can always change your mind!)

Once the holidays are over and you’re looking at a new year, I’d strongly recommend that you give these issues your attention. I’m not suggesting that you throw a “death dinner”—what an idea!—but you and your heirs should have a very clear idea of your wishes, and they should be written down, witnessed, notarized, and distributed, so nobody’s taken by surprise (least of all you!) in the eventuality. At the very least, copies of your will should be in the hands of your lawyer and executor, and copies of your living will should be with them and any family members who might be involved in your end-of-life care, should such prove necessary.

You’ll have one less reason to worry while you live, and those you love and who love you will have less reason to worry, argue, and get angry when you die. I’m also a strong believer that making death—which, after all, is inevitable—an ordinary topic of conversation rather than a taboo is a great way of normalizing this universal experience, for children as well great-great-grandparents, and fitting it seamlessly into the vast and rich experience of human life.

Just for today, think of others.

Happy birthday, Pope Francis! December 17, 2013

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Today, December 17th, is Pope Francis’s 77th birthday, which he celebrated by having breakfast with the homeless (one of whom brought his dog). Pope Francis has been having a very big year: He’s been elected pope. He’s been named Person of the Year by Time magazine and by America’s oldest LGBT magazine, The Advocate. He’s graced the cover of the New Yorker in an adorable cartoon that shows him lying in the snow, plain white robes, mittens, famous clunky black shoes and all, making a snow angel. The press has dubbed him “The People’s Pope.”

But within all this celebration, there’s a lesson for those of us who follow the Reiki Way, and it’s simply this: Pope Francis didn’t suddenly turn into Pope Francis the moment the white smoke rose from the Vatican chimney. He’d been becoming Pope Francis all his life.

In Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was known for his extremely modest lifestyle, living in a two-room apartment, cooking his own meals, taking public transport. He frequently visited the slums and prisons, often slipping out of his apartment at night to share a meal of bread with the homeless, washing the feet of convicts. He loudly condemned corruption and the indifference of the well-off to the plight of the poor and suffering.

The lesson the Pope offers us, as we walk the Reiki path, is that we simply don’t know what the future holds. What we do know is what the present offers, and what we can make of it. If, every day, we do our very best to follow Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals)—Just for today, Don’t get angry, Don’t worry, Be grateful, Work hard, Be kind—if, every day, we do hands-on healing, on ourselves, our partners, our pets, our world; if, every day, we stop the madness of noise, of multitasking, of hurry, of busyness long enough to understand who we are and what we hope to accomplish, then, and only then, are our feet truly on the path.

If, every day, we make that effort, we live in Reiki and do our very best to manifest Reiki, if we are called upon one day to be a Pope Francis, in the Reiki community or in the world, we will be ready. And if we are never called upon to step onto the world stage, the national stage, even the local stage, but are left in blissful obscurity, then if we have been faithful to our Reiki practice, we will still be, as Usui Founder put it, “a torch in daylight,” lighting the way for those who follow us.

Just for today, follow your star.

What is best in life? December 15, 2013

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There’s a great scene in the movie “Conan the Barbarian” in which a Steppes horse-lord asks his chiefs, “What is best in life?” I love both Conan movies—“Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer”—for their great music, hilarious action scenes, and tongue-in-cheek delivery. (Moments before the scene I mention, the Steppes lord mutters, almost inaudibly, “I fear my sons will never understand me.”)

But now with winter, the season of turning inward, upon us, coupled with the season of giving, it’s a great time for those of us who follow the Reiki Way to forget the source and take the question to heart. What is best in life?

This is a question each of us must answer for ourselves, for, if we are honest with ourselves, no two answers will be alike. Our own answers will probably differ from year to year, as our Reiki practice and our perception deepens.

For me, at this moment, in this season, the answer might be:

Snow in winter,
Wood for the fire,
Incense burning,
Birds at the feeders.

What is best in life?

Just for today, enjoy what is best.

Do good deeds. December 12, 2013

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“A good action is never lost; it is a treasure laid up and guarded for the doer’s need.”
—Calderon de la Barca

“If we see someone who needs help, do we stop?”
—Pope Francis@Pontifex

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
—Jesus, Matthew 25:40

Just for today, do good deeds.

The glass-bottomed boat. December 11, 2013

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One of my favorite images for the benefits of meditation comes from Sri Eknath Easwaran in his book Words to Live By. As you go deeper into your practice, he tells us, emotions like anger will still come up. The difference is that now, rather than being them, embodying them, you can observe them.

He compares this experience to being in a glass-bottomed boat on the ocean, where you can “watch all the deep-sea creatures lurking beneath the surface: resentment sharks, stingrays of greed, scurrying schools of fear.” By putting this distance between yourself and your emotions, you can detach from them rather than identifying with them. Eventually, you can free yourself from their grip.

For those of us who follow the Reiki Way, meditating on Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) helps us climb out of the water and into the glass-bottomed boat. And being in the boat and seeing what’s churning below the surface helps give us the strength to put the Principles into practice.

Just for today, continue your practice.

The magical world. December 9, 2013

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This past weekend, I went to an old-time Christmas show that local historians put on every year. Not a play, but a recreation of an old-time Christmas in this area in the mid-1800s to, say, 1920, with period trees, ornaments, decorations, treats, and decor. (Plus vintage ornaments, handmade crafts, and regional baked goods for sale.) There’s always an elaborate toy train setup, too, and special features, like an exhibit of antique handmade tin cookie cutters. Everything displayed or recreated is local (except, of course, the trains).

This year, though, the show moved from the merely wonderful into the realm of the magical, paying tribute to the world of Tasha Tudor, the beloved children’s book author who was most famed for her Christmas books and her amazing 1830s lifestyle. There was a Tasha Tudor-themed Christmas tree, topped in Tasha fashion with a crow and featuring marvelous gingerbread animals with white icing detailing (Tasha’s once adorned the White House Christmas tree), jewellike “clear toys” (red, gold and green clear hard candies in animal and toy shapes), and woven wheat ornaments. Its simple delight put more elaborate trees to shame.

But what really caught my eye, and my imagination and admiration, was a recreation of one of Tasha’s most beloved illustration themes, one she loved to include in her illustrations of books like The Night Before Christmas. Since Tasha loved the world of the 1830s, she tended to set her illustrations in that era. So you would see the family enjoying an old-time Christmas, with candles, tree, lots of greens, and a roaring fire. But then you’d see something else: A cutaway view of the floor, under which the family’s mice were enjoying the exact same Christmas, fireplace, tree, and all, on their scale.

At the show, this concept had been brought to life in incredible detail, down to the mice decorating their tree with tiny versions of the animal cookies (complete with white-icing detailing); you could even still identify the animals. The scene was so delightful; the mice were in the process of hanging up the greenery and finishing the last decorations (a ladder by the tree still had one unhung cookie perched on top). Given that the mice were about two inches tall, you can imagine the scale of the decor. I can’t believe someone was able to do this! It was all I could do to tear myself away.

My mind has wandered back to that display many times since my return home, not just because it was so enchanting, but because it reminded me that there’s a magical world all around us all the time. Like the family on the floor above, we may not see it, or even be aware of it. But while we’re busy with our own concerns, the salamanders under the fallen leaves and the ground beetles in their burrows and the mushrooms in their myriad variety are all celebrating life in their own way, moment by moment. The hidden world is a very busy place!

Today, as the first snow of the season blankets the ground, I think of all the lives that are connected to mine, the ones I know and the ones I can only imagine. Known and unknown, they make my world a richer place.

Just for today, let some magic into your life.