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The coldest night… ever?!! February 27, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Reiki, Reiki wisdom.
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“They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”
–Joni Mitchell

Tonight, the various weather services are predicting lows of -2 to -5 degrees F. here in my part of scenic Pennsylvania. If the temperature actually drops to -5, it will be the coldest it has ever been since I moved here in 1981. Friends who have lived here all their lives say it will be the coldest winter they have ever experienced.

We seem to be trapped in the jaws of global warming: the heat, methane and carbon gases we’re giving off melting the polar ice caps and pushing polar cold down on us in winter, and the horrific, record-breaking heat and humidity, or heat and drought, depending on your location, battering us in summer. Thanks to our selfish, short-minded behavior, spring and fall have all but disappeared. As in “Game of Thrones'” Westeros, there are only two seasons: summer and winter. What have we done?!!

Our earth mother is not prepared to tolerate much more of this, as the massive tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, forest fires, and the like are proving. Not to mention outbreaks of dreaded old diseases like the plague, polio, smallpox, tuberculosis, and etc., diseases we thought had been conquered once and for all. We had better try to make amends while we still can.

Reiki people, please send Reiki to our beautiful planet, our earthly paradise. I like to do this by holding an “earth marble” in my hands (these beautiful marbles, with the continents and seas mapped out on them, are available inexpensively from the Land of Marbles website; Google it and see). Please send Reiki to all the creatures who share this world with us, that our greed may not destroy them. Please send Reiki to our fellow humans, that their eyes may be opened before it is too late. And please stay warm on this cold, cold night!

Just for today, love your Mother.

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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.

A gift is not a debt. February 23, 2014

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The other night, my partner Rob and I were watching “Game of Thrones”—having finally received season three in the mail—and it was the first time I’d thought about the series for some time. I was reminded of one of the mottos of House Lannister, “The Lannisters always pay their debts.” Because this is “Game of Thrones,” the motto carries a sinister undertone: We repay good for good and bad for bad, so beware before you cross us.

For whatever reason—maybe because Christmas isn’t that far behind us—this made me think of the difference between a gift and a debt. Many people go into overtime stress during the holiday season, trying to make sure that they send or give something to everyone who sends or gives something to them, and trying to make sure that the gifts are commensurate, even if they adore the person who gives them a tiny gift and despise the person who stuns them with a huge gift. A friend’s in-laws once told us that they loved their parish priest, but didn’t dare give him the really nice gift they’d planned on because they knew their monsignor would blow a gasket if some mere priest received a more expensive gift from them than he did. The shame!!!

A gift is not a debt. A gift is something given freely from a desire to please another person, to bring joy. The worth of a gift is not measured in money or status (designer shoes, the latest Apple or Xbox toys, executive seats at a sporting event), but by the time taken to thoughtfully choose something you know the recipient will love, be it a special cheese or plant or book or a hand-knitted scarf or craft-fair ring. The giver expects nothing in return but the delighted smile of the recipient, which brings joy beyond measure, repayment in full.

A gift is an occasion of gratitude, on the part of the giver as well as the recipient. A free Reiki session or share, what a wonderful gift! An afternoon spent sharing Reiki stories, practicing Reiki meditations and techniques like hatsurei-ho and hado breathing, enjoying many cups of tea and treats like fruit, nuts, and brown rice balls, what a wonderful gift! The opportunity to give or receive Reiju, what a wonderful gift! To be able to give or receive Reiki scholarships, what a wonderful gift! To find a great Reiki teacher or Reiki student, what a wonderful gift! To encounter or share wisdom from world traditions that can deepen Reiki practice, what a wonderful gift!

A gift is not a debt. There is no quid pro quo here, no expectation of return. The gift itself is all the joyous return the giver needs, a freeing of something into the world to increase our collective happiness quotient. Be it taking the time to say a thoughtful, kind word to a lonely old person who looks sad and adrift at the grocery (“What a beautiful scarf! You’ve really brightened my day!”), or paying for schoolbooks for a friend’s kid who can’t afford them, you would set what some have called good karma in motion.

And yes, those people might indeed pay it forward. But whether they do or don’t, you have followed the Reiki Way by enacting two of Usui Founder’s Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals): Be grateful, and Be kind. A gift is not a debt. A gift is just a gift. For you, and for the ones you give it to.

Just for today, understand the difference.

The secret of health. February 22, 2014

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“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”

—The Buddha

Mikao Usui, the Founder of Reiki, was raised as a Buddhist and spent time in a Buddhist monastery before the enlightenment experience in which he received Reiki. No doubt he was aware of this saying, and no doubt it inspired him to shape his Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) to help his followers achieve health of mind and body. He described them as “The secret art of inviting happiness, the miraculous medicine for all diseases.”

At their most basic—and therefore most powerful—these directives are:

Just for today:
Don’t get angry.
Don’t worry.
Be grateful.
Work hard.
Be kind.

These sound simple, but, as any Reiki practitioner knows, are very hard to put into practice for longer than a few minutes at a time. The “secret art” is, as the Buddha says, living fully in the moment. Then it’s easy to practice the Principles, since nothing is making you angry, there’s nothing to worry about, and you can focus your attention on being grateful, working hard, and being kind.

Just for today, be healthy.

The purpose of life. February 20, 2014

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“The purpose of one’s life is fulfilled only when one is able to give joy to another.”

—Sri Sarada Devi

Just for today, spread the joy.

Mind control. February 19, 2014

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“When you manage to overcome your own mind, you overcome myriad concerns, rise above all things, and are free. When you are overcome by your own mind, you are burdened by myriad concerns, subordinate to things, unable to rise above.”

—Suzuki Shosan (1573-1655)

Just for today, practice the Five Reiki Principles.

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.

What is the question? February 17, 2014

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In the classic story, the seeker asks the guru, “Master, what is the answer?” And the guru replies, “What is the question?”

For most seekers, the question is along the lines of “How do I reach enlightenment?” For those of us who follow the Reiki Way, the answer is simple: Practice, practice, practice! Keep your feet on the path. And if you lose your Way, and stray from the path, return to it; it will be waiting for you, always, with joy, not judgment.

Longtime readers will recall this story, one of my favorites, that speaks to this question perfectly:

A man ran up to a wise old monk and asked if attaining enlightenment was difficult. “Oh, no,” the monk replied, “it is not difficult.”

Imagine the man’s glee! “I knew it all along, there’s a secret shortcut, I’ll be enlightened tomorrow!” In our age of immediate gratification, when we can’t stand waiting five seconds for our computer to come on, and waiting 10 minutes for our server to bring us our food causes outraged tweets and complaints, we can certainly relate.

But the monk hadn’t finished speaking. “One has only to begin, and then continue.”

Picture the horrified man slinking away, much like the rich man who’d approached Jesus and asked to be one of His followers, only to slink off when Jesus said He’d welcome him if he’d sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.

What, me work?! And yet the fourth of Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) is “Work hard.”

This does not mean running a marathon when walking a mile will do. What it does mean is deliberately and continuously doing your work, not looking ahead, not glancing behind, not congratulating yourself on your progress or berating yourself for not making more progress. Not getting angry if you’re not living up to self-imposed goals or worrying if others seem far ahead. Just continuing to put one foot in front of the other and keeping on the path.

One has only to begin, and then continue. Ultimately, the question doesn’t matter, and the answer is always before us.

Just for today, stay on the path.

Full moon, snow. February 16, 2014

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With all the snow we’ve been getting lately, I’ve found myself getting up at all hours to check the accumulation on our deck (the easiest way to see how much has fallen and how much it’s added to what’s already there). In the dark of this morning—perhaps 1:30, perhaps 3—I saw that the sky had cleared and a full moon was shining in the branches of our enormous maple tree, cradled above the white ground like a crystal in a dreamcatcher.

Full moon, snow:
Light on light.
Intricate ice drops,
Stalactites,
Chandelier crystals,
Rhinestones,
Cubic zirconia.
True and false and true.
Let us choose the light
But rest in the darkness,
For darkness offers no choice,
No deceit.

Just for today, value both the darkness and the light.

Valentine’s poem. February 14, 2014

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Cardinals on snow,
Cherries on cake frosting:
A happy valentine.