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Moderation in all things. May 30, 2014

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“Those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or sleep too little, will not succeed in meditation. But those who are temperate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of sorrow through meditation.”

—Bhagavad Gita

The Gita says this not because meditation makes us happy, but because meditation makes us tranquil. Meditation makes us moderate. Meditation helps us see deeply into things, including ourselves. And, though the practice of meditation is inward-turning, its results turn us outward, with understanding and compassion for all life.

Ultimately, we realize that, thanks to our practice, we are happy, but on a much deeper level than the concept of “happiness” with which we started. Do we still enjoy that once-yearly scoop of Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream with hot caramel sauce and whipped cream on top? Absolutely. But what makes us happy is a picture of a smiling rescue dog who’s found love as a therapy dog after surviving tough times and abandonment. Do we still enjoy movies and TV shows? Sure. But now perhaps we tend to avoid shows that glorify violence and abuse and reach for films like “Zen,” “Kundun,” “Between the Folds,” and “Peace Is Every Step,” because we find that their beauty and wisdom make us happy even as we learn from them.

Do we still expect to be happy because of the people we live with? Of course! But now we are happy because we appreciate them and are grateful for their company, not because we expect them to “make” us happy or to do and be things they are not. Sri Eknath Easwaran, a great champion of meditation, expressed this perfectly when he said that when most people say “I love you,” what they are really saying is “I love me, now what can you do for me?” My partner Rob and I have recently been rewatching the Showtime series “The Tudors,” and Henry VIII is a perfect example of this attitude. Yet, as we look deeper into ourselves, can’t we see a little of Henry in us, too? Meditation can help us root it out.

Just for today, meditate on the Reiki Principles.

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Maya Angelou, RIP. May 29, 2014

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

—Maya Angelou

Usui Founder made “Be grateful” his central Reiki Principle (aka Precept, Ideal) and “Be kind” his final Reiki Principle for a reason. If we are grateful and kind, it will show in the way we make people feel: Appreciated. Recognized. Valued. Loved. Remembered. Visible. Respected.

Just for today, let’s not forget.

Love, actually. May 27, 2014

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“Love all that has been created by God, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf and every ray of light. Love the beasts and the birds, love the plants, love every separate fragment. If you love each separate fragment, you will understand the mystery of the whole resting in God.”
—Dostoyevsky

“Love has no errors, for all errors are the want of love.”
—William Law

Words to live by! Love is not simply an emotion shared by two people. It is a continuum that can be extended to infinity, and it is based in gratitude, Usui Founder’s third Reiki Principle (aka Precept, Ideal): Be grateful.

The love we feel for our dog or cat is no different from the love we feel for our family, parents, partner or spouse, friends, honored teachers, and the people we love and admire but may never meet, such as Mother Teresa or Shams of Tabriz or Helen Nearing or Usui Founder and Hayashi Sensei or [your favorite here].

Love is a continuum, a continuum of gratitude. When you say that you love the scent of a certain flower or the beauty of the stars in the night sky or, say, macaroni and cheese, what you’re really saying is that you’re grateful for the fragrance or beauty or comforting flavor, that every “fragment” of the whole is enriching your life: Every smile from a stranger, every photo of a happy dog, every communication from a friend, every splash of rainbow light across your ceiling, every luscious homemade meal or meal someone has prepared for you.

Once you realize this, loving every plant, every bird, every stream, every cat, every child, everything becomes an extension of that third, central, critical Principle, which of course leads to Usui Founder’s final Principle, “Be kind.”

It is difficult to genuinely love an abstraction, such as “all mankind” or “all creation.” But Usui Founder gives us a key with his directive to try our best, “Just for today,” and to begin by being grateful and kind. By loving our dog, and then loving every dog we encounter, every dog we see in a catalog or magazine, every dog we give Reiki to in a shelter, we extend our love in every direction like a starburst.

If we choose to eat out, we are grateful for our delicious meal, grateful to the farmers who grew the food we’re eating, grateful to those who created the dish we’re enjoying, to those who took the time to prepare it, to those who served it, to those who’ll do the dishes when we’re done. We loved our food. We are grateful to every ingredient we consumed, determined to waste nothing we’ve been given. (Thank you, “doggie bags”!) And the same applies when we prepare our own meals. (Admittedly, I find it easiest to be grateful when someone else does the dishes!)

Every encounter, every moment of our lives gives us the opportunity to love, to be grateful and be kind. Let’s not waste them.

Just for today, spread the love.

Virtual Reiki classes, yes or no? May 25, 2014

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I’m going to put this out here and see what you think, since it’s something I’ve been watching for at least a decade: the rise of virtual Reiki classes. These would be classes that you pay for and watch online or on DVD, after which you receive virtual (distant) attunements and are given a certificate just like Reiki students who have attended in-person classes. In every case I’ve come across, the teachers of these classes will train and certify Master students virtually along with Reiki I and II students. I’ve seen DVDs and even books that claim that, if you follow along, you’ll be attuned to Master level!

I was reminded of this today when a dear friend forwarded yet another of these virtual Reiki sites to me. And I thought again, how ironic, given that Reiki is a hands-on healing art, and that the ability to channel Reiki energy effectively comes through the laying on of hands during the attunement/Reiju process.

I’ve been certified through Red Cross and pet first-aid programs. These were hands-on training sessions that anyone who’s been trained in CPR can relate to. Yes, I could have simply read about the techniques in the manuals I was given to accompany the courses, or watched a video. But the importance of hands-on practice, rather than theory alone, was priceless to me.

None of my teachers, and none of the teachers I respect, countenance virtual attunements or accept certificates from students who’ve been virtually attuned as valid. Some of these respected teachers have very rich online resources to support their students, and teach supplementary classes via Skype, conference calls, online exercises, and etc. But they all insist that their students attend the basic Reiki classes in person and receive attunements in person. Reiki Master training—and for some lucky students, any Reiki training—can take six months to a year of weekly or biweekly in-person classes. This in-depth, hands-on training makes the difference, in my opinion, between an armchair quarterback and an actual quarterback.

To me, it is the constant repetition, the opportunity for the teacher to see your progress and correct any missteps, that sears the practice into your mind. You see the teacher demonstrating the techniques, again and again, and the teacher sees you practice the techniques, again and again. You see the teacher draw the symbols, and the teacher sees you draw them and corrects your mistakes. You hear your teacher’s passion firsthand as she or he talks about the history and gifts of Reiki, the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals), the teachers’ and past students’ experiences. You feel the energy flow through your own Reiki hands, you feel it flow through other students’ hands as they practice on you, you feel it flow, so powerfully, through your teacher’s hands as he or she attunes you or gives you Reiju.

Repetition under the watchful eye of a Master, interaction with fellow classmates and the shared experiences and friendships that develop, the chance to form or attend Reiki shares, Reiki gatherings, Reiki retreats, and class followups: priceless, priceless. I’m happy to learn everything I can about Reiki through books, magazines, manuals, blogs, and websites, but as a supplement, not a substitute, for in-person classes. For me, the teacher-student relationship and the student-student relationship are irreplaceable.

And yet, the general concern about distant attunements does bring up a big question: If you can do distant healing, why couldn’t you do distant attunements? Shouldn’t they be as effective as hands-on attunements if distant healing is as effective as hands-on healing?

I have no answer and no experience of this. If you do, please speak up! I’d love to hear from you.

What is a guru? May 22, 2014

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“The word ‘guru’ has passed into the English language, but it is often misunderstood. Guru simply means ‘heavy’, one who is so heavy that he or she can never be shaken. A guru is a person who is so deeply established within himself or herself that no force on earth can affect the complete love they feel for everyone.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

Just for today, feel the love.

Little by little. May 17, 2014

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“Perseverance is more prevailing than violence, and many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves up when taken little by little.”

—Plutarch

In the wake of Boko Haram’s capture of a school full of little girls in Nigeria, and hate crimes escalating against Christian holy sites in Jerusalem in anticipation of Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land next week, not to mention Sudan’s courts’ decision to kill a woman because she converted to Christianity to marry her husband, and every other act of violence we’re bombarded with in the news every single day—such as the news that a landscaper in New Jersey buried a woman alive (unfortunately, by the time police discovered the grave, she was no longer alive)—it’s easy to assume that violence prevails against pretty much everything. Look at Mexico, where druglords murder whole families who are trying to grow avocados or limes because they won’t bend the knee and give up a huge percentage of their profits when the druglords “make them an offer they can’t refuse.”

But Plutarch says no. He says Mohandas Gandhi, called Mahatma, “Great Soul,” had the right idea with his Ahimsa (nonviolence) movement. That, as drops of water can wear away stone, simply staying true to the goal can overcome even a monolithic institution such as British domination in India, without violence.

Is this true? If we persevere, will the Taliban in Afghanistan stop cutting the ears and noses off beautiful young women? Will the Taliban in Pakistan stop shooting 15-year-old girls like Malala Yousafzai point-blank in the head because they spoke out in favor of educating women? Will the Church stop persecuting U.S. nuns for focusing on service to the poor rather than screaming nonstop about the horrors of abortion and homosexuality? Will people stop butchering animals for fur in the name of fashion or ivory in the name of virility, or euthanizing or abandoning loving pets because they’ve suddenly, for whatever reason, become “inconvenient”? (Just today, I read about a dog who was rescued after its owner moved and abandoned it in the backyard for months.)

Besides Gandhi, we have great examples of nonviolence effecting change: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Saint Francis, Martin Luther, John Muir (the great naturalist who founded the Sierra Club), Susan B. Anthony, Henry Bergh (who founded the SPCA in 1866), so many others (including the Lord Jesus and the Lord Buddha). In some cases, as in Rosa Parks’s, Saint Francis’s, Ms. Anthony’s, Henry Bergh’s, and John Muir’s, the things they overcame ‘yielded themselves up when taken little by little’.

If you find your heart breaking over the abuse of women in fundamentalist societies or the abuse of animals in scientific research or for vanity’s or virility’s sake (hey, a long hard tusk must equal a long hard dong, be you never so ancient, right?) or in every way animals are abused and neglected, or in the destruction of our beautiful planet, or in our horrifying treatment of the old, the homeless, the sick, the outcast, the ugly, the obese, think of Plutarch’s words. Persevere, and break things down into tiny fragments: Take them a little at a time. Or, as Usui Founder says, “Just for today.”

Blessed Mother Teresa didn’t see a million dying, destitute, abandoned people in the gutters of Calcutta. She saw one person at a time, and saw them as “Christ in His distressing disguise.” Because she saw them one at a time, and saw her Lord in every face, she was able to offer love and comfort to all of them in their last hours. She took them little by little, and overcame the indifference of their society to their plight.

As followers of the Reiki Way, we too can take up the banner of our Founder’s teaching, “Just for today,” and try to help those we care about, and our beautiful planet, little by little. We can stand against violence and persevere. We can reclaim ourselves from anger’s poisonous effects. We can chip away at injustice wherever we find it, be it Monsanto’s attacks on every state referendum to label GMO foods, or the Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations have the rights of individuals, or the Church’s ruling against contraception (as opposed to abortion) in a world where human overpopulation and overconsumption is the greatest sin we could commit.

Just for today, let us persevere and prevail.

Give your pets some Reiki today… May 15, 2014

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…and every day. Nobody gives unconditional love and loyalty like our beloved pets. And sometimes, as today’s Yahoo newsfeed proved once again, our companion animals’ love crosses over into outright heroism. Two news stories caught my attention, both because they were touching, feel-good stories and because of an inherent irony.

First up was the story of Major, a pit bull-Lab mix who’d become the therapy dog of a veteran who, understandably enough, suffered from seizures and PTSD after two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan that resulted in his being hit by a roadside bomb. On the morning on which the story takes place, the vet is in his backyard when he starts having a seizure. Major pulls the man’s cellphone from his pocket and stomps on the screen until 911 responds, continuing to stomp until they’re able to get the location. Then he waits in the front yard for the rescue personnel to arrive and leads them to his (by now unconscious) person in the backyard. After a night in the hospital, the vet had fully recovered and was back home with his best buddy.

The second story is about Tara, a rescue cat who came to the rescue of her four-year-old person when Jeremy was pulled off his bike and severely bitten in the leg by the neighbors’ vicious chow-Lab mix. Heedless of her own safety, Tara launched herself at the dog and drove it off, then stood protectively by Jeremy until his mother could call for help. (This was all captured on home-security cameras and apparently the video has gone viral.) Jeremy had to get a few stitches but he, too, will be fine (physically, at least); he rightly calls Tara “my hero.”

Where I live, it’s illegal to allow dogs to run around unleashed and unsupervised, like the dog that attacked little Jeremy. Given the tragic number of cats I see dead in the road, I think it should be illegal to have outdoor or indoor-outdoor cats, too, unless your cats have an enclosed yard or patio—one friend calls hers a “catio”—where the cat can get fresh air but remain safe.

The irony is, of course, that both the hero dog and the attack dog were mixes of one known-to-be-vicious breed and one super-friendly breed. Chows are famously loyal to and protective of their owners and ruthless towards anyone else (and other pets). Pit bulls are responsible for more deaths and disabling attacks than any other breed. Labs are universally beloved for their happy, friendly, easygoing nature. In the one case, the mix of the scary pit bull and the Lab created a hero; in the other, the mix of the scary chow and the Lab created a monster.

Nurture versus nature, perhaps? The therapy dog, Major, had been wonderfully socialized and trained. Perhaps the family that owned the chow-Lab mix didn’t understand the special training and supervision a dog with chow blood needs; certainly they didn’t know enough to have the common decency to keep their dog confined to their own yard.

I think every loved pet is a hero at heart, a hero who deserves a loving hands-on Reiki session each and every day. Whether you simply rest your Reiki hands on the cat curled up and purring contentedly in your lap or move them systematically over your dog’s coat, it’s a great way to reinforce the human-animal bond that reminds us that “humanity” and “humility” have a lot more in common than we think. (And this of course goes for bunnies, guinea pigs, parrots, even toads—any animal with whom you share a bond. Let there be Reiki!)

Just for today, reward your heroes.

Look below the surface. May 13, 2014

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“You must look into people, as well as at them.”

—Fortune Cookie

Longtime readers know that I often find words of wisdom hidden in fortune cookies. (I don’t actually eat fortune cookies—eeeewwwww, talk about tasteless!!!—though my black German shepherd, Shiloh, apparently loves them.) But on the occasions when I find wisdom in the strips of paper inside (a favorite is “There’s more to balance than not falling over”), I save them. When I need inspiration, I’ll draw a random fortune out of the batch. What does it have to teach me?

I do the same with postcards. I’ve amassed a stack of postcards that inspire me for one reason or another. If I need inspiration, I’ll draw a random card out of the stack and enjoy the photo, artwork, area, or message. What do they have to teach me?

These are two simple techniques that every Reiki practitioner can incorporate into their practice, their techniques and tips. Today’s fortune cookie fortune reminds us that appearances are nothing; it’s what’s inside that counts, much like the fortune cookie itself. But it only helps us if we take the time to see inside.

Just for today, let’s dig deeper.

How to close up shop. May 11, 2014

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“When the mind has nothing productive to do, we need to learn how to close up shop and let it rest.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“Busy, busy, busy,” mutters Richard Dreyfuss as the mad mobster Vic in the classic gangster parody “Trigger Happy.” It’s the perfect description for our overworked, multitasking, overstimulated, badly nourished brains. Most of us have no idea how to focus our minds, much less “close up shop” and let them rest as Sri Eknath suggests.

Picture a typical restaurant scene. You’re supposed to be going out to eat to relax and enjoy yourself in good company. Instead, you’re confronted by a long wait (often without adequate seating) and a beeper that lets you know your turn has finally come. You’re ushered into the dark, loud space, where the tables are crowded so close together that you risk crushing fellow diners, or suffering the same fate, just trying to sit down. The din of chatter in the crowded space is deafening, but there’s also a barrage of loud, continuous music. Eight giant TV screens all project different sports and news programs; no matter where you sit, you’ll be facing at least one.

And then you have to deal with not just menus but electronic ordering devices. There’s no hope of conducting a pleasant conversation with your companion(s), since it’s impossible to listen to what they’re saying or make yourself heard over the din. And most of them will be texting or talking on their cellphones throughout the meal anyway.

This dining experience is a metaphor for what our minds encounter all day, every day. Insomnia is rampant, since we don’t know how to dial our minds down. Rather than counting sheep, we’re counting the bills we need to pay, the deadlines we need to meet, the performance reviews coming up, the time we need to carve out to cart the kids to their seemingly endless activities. We toss and we turn, and our minds churn. We’re busy, busy, busy.

Or maybe we’re just replaying scenes of horrific violence, torture, natural disasters, war, and the like from watching late-night news or a violent TV show or movie before bed, or worse, in bed, the TV left on all night as a form of “comfort,” the adult teddy bear. We’re never left alone with our own thoughts, Big Daddy is with us on his blue screen.

Yikes! Sri Eknath was recommending meditation as the way to let the mind rest between useful tasks. I suggest, for those of us who follow the Reiki Way, that an even simpler way to empty the mind is to put our hands down to heal and let all thoughts drain out. Feel your Reiki hands, feel the Reiki energy. Don’t think about it, just do it. Put your hands down on your clients, your family and friends, your pets, your plants. When you’re trying to shut down your mind so you can sleep, put your hands down in Reiki self-healing and just relax into the energy. You’ll be asleep before you know it, fully relaxed and with your mental shop closed for the night.

Just for today, close up shop.

The children of light. May 10, 2014

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“Have thy heart in heaven and thy hands upon the earth. Ascend in piety and descend in charity. For this is the Nature of Light and the way of the children of it.”

—Thomas Vaughan

This quote reminds me of Usui Founder’s experience on Mount Kurama. He ascended the mountain in piety, searching for enlightenment/satori, and he descended in charity (love, pity, kindness), sharing his discovery of Reiki with the suffering world, putting his hands upon the earth. For this is the nature of light—the symbol of Usui Founder’s house was the new moon and the morning star—and the way of the children of light, those of us who follow Mikao Usui on the Reiki Way.

Just for today, follow the light.