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Music in the soul. June 30, 2014

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“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.”

—Lao Tzu (Laozi)

Music is the thread that binds my life together, be it the beautiful music of a well-crafted poem or soul-stirring sacred music or the joyous beauty of chamber music or the rich rhythms of jazz or Led Zeppelin, Mark Knopfler and Jimmy Buffet. Music is picking out the melody of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” on my bastard Martin guitar or making up silly songs to entertain my dog. Music is putting on a favorite CD and singing along (with more enthusiasm than skill) while I make a leisurely supper or drive on an otherwise tedious errand. Music is what fills my head when I lie down to sleep, and what wakes me.

Yet I know too many people who never seem to have time for music. When they drive, they listen to NPR or sports events (with their super-loud, fake-excited commentary, not to mention the endless shouted ads) or news or audiobooks, or they text and/or talk on their smartphones. When they cook, they watch talk shows on TV or worse, watch the news with its graphic images of violence. (What is that doing to their food?!) They’re too busy to relax with music, too distracted to sing. The music and songs that could brighten their lives and lift their souls to merge with the universe, the universal consciousness, the All, is lost on them. They have more important things to do.

Turn off the talk. Turn off the violence. Turn on the music, and reach for the sky.

Just for today, don’t forget to sing.

Dusk to dark. June 29, 2014

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Summer: Dusk to Dark

The pink cotton-candy sunset sky:
My soul rises up like fireflies,
Twinkling as they leave the summer grass.
At last, the stars appear and answer them,
Light above light above light.
Somewhere near, I hear fireworks.

Practice contentment. June 28, 2014

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“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

—Lao Tzu (Laozi)

I often reflect on this concept. Every time I read about a celebrity who survives (if you can call it that) on 300 calories a day in order to weigh 82 pounds, or watch “Seabiscuit” and see the starvation of jockeys in order to give racehorses a couple of pounds’ less running weight, or hear about someone’s 100-odd plastic surgeries and Botox injections to make them look more like Barbie, or see a model with arms and legs like sticks, I wonder what/if they’re thinking.

I feel the same way about guys who spend their lives in sports bars watching “the game” and regretting that they’re not playing in it. And about those who make themselves sick when they don’t get tenure or promotion, their magnum opus is rejected by some publisher, they’re not promoted to CEO or given a Nobel Prize or have been able to retire with millions or become a famous artist or whatever.

Life is what it is. If you want to be happy, to enjoy life, accept yourself for who you are, acknowledge who you want to be, ignore society’s superficial “rules” for who you should be, and instead enjoy every day. As the great calligrapher and Zen master Kazuoko Tanahashi puts it, enjoy “The Miracle of Each Moment.” After all, it’s the only moment we have.

Just for today, enjoy each moment.

Keeping up with the Joneses. June 25, 2014

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“Most of us cannot help comparing ourselves with others… I have never been able to understand the compelling phrase ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. It does not matter very much whether I keep up with Tom Jones or anybody else; what is important is to keep up with myself by making my today a little better than my yesterday.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

Just for today, practice the Reiki Principles and keep up with your own progress on the Reiki path.

Say no to anger. June 24, 2014

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“If someone provokes you and you respond with anger, you are reinforcing anger as a part of your personality. So returning kindness for unkindness is not simply being kind to that particular person. You’re being kinder to yourself, because you are undoing a compulsion, taking one more step towards being free…. The deconditioning process is straightforward enough: when anger comes up, don’t act on it. When it tries to tell you what to do, say no. Repeat the mantram, go for a long, brisk walk if possible, and throw yourself into hard, concentrated work…”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

I find that removing myself from the anger-causing situation is the best way to put enough distance—literally or figuratively—between me and what’s upsetting me to get some perspective and calm down. If a news story is enraging you, put down the paper or turn off the TV. If someone is arguing with you on the phone, tell them you’ll call them back and hang up. If you’re in a face-to-face confrontation, tell the other person that you can’t think clearly at the moment and need some fresh air, then walk away, go outside, and walk until you’re feeling calmer and more in control.

Nobody can force you to stay in an anger-inducing situation. When I use Mozilla Firefox as my search engine, if I click on a link it feels is suspect, it will send up a warning that the link or site is untrusted. The option it provides at that point is “Get me outta here!” When you feel anger rising, remind yourself that it’s not to be trusted and ‘get outta there’.

Just for today, don’t get angry.

Rise and shine. June 22, 2014

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“We needn’t be helplessly caught in time. There are a number of very simple steps we can take to begin to free ourselves. One of the easiest is to get up early in the morning.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

I couldn’t agree more. I’m certainly no morning person—sleeping ’til lunchtime would be my idea of a good time—but I usually get up between 5 and 5:30 every morning. Why? I’ve found it gives me so much more time every day than waiting until 7 or 8. Quiet, peaceful time to read the news, answer e-mail, write blog posts. Time to do the Reiki, Celtic, and Native American rituals that make me feel good about every new day. Time to watch the sun rising and filling the yard with light, shining through the leaves and nourishing the plants.

Those few extra hours make the difference between feeling rushed every morning—feeling like I’ll never catch up no matter how fast I run—and feeling calm, hoping that just for today, I’ll actually be able to live Usui Founder’s Reiki Principle (aka Precept, Ideal), “Don’t worry.”

The great Benjamin Franklin said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Early to bed made a lot of sense in his day, when alcoholic beverages were the only ones considered safe to drink and candlelight was the only source of lighting after dark beside flickering firelight. Going to bed early meant staying out of the taverns and waking up sober, plus saving money on extremely costly candles and taking advantage of (free) natural light by getting up early. Cutting down on alcohol consumption (not to mention gambling and whoring, the other fun things to do in taverns) and minimizing the use of candles would certainly make you healthier and wealthier than your tavern-frequenting peers. And, as old Ben realized, having a few well-rested, sober hours in the early morning for reflection would go a long way to making you wise.

Try it and see where it takes you in your practice.

Just for today, rise with the light.

Stillness and peace. June 21, 2014

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“For those who wish to climb the mountain of spiritual awareness, the path is selfless work. For those who have attained the summit of union with the Lord, the path is stillness and peace.”

—Bhagavad Gita

This passage brings to mind Usui Founder’s climb to the summit of Mount Kurama and 21-day fasting meditation there in a grove of ancient trees. I have a great Reiki book on Mount Kurama, Reiki’s Birthplace: A Guide to Kurama Mountain by Jessica A. Miller, which of course has lots of photos of the mountain. I’d recommend it to anyone who follows the Reiki path. But until I studied Komyo Reiki, the Reiki of Enlightenment, with Hyakuten Inamoto Sensei, I didn’t realize what climbing Mount Kurama actually entailed.

Sensei takes groups of dedicated Reiki students to Mount Kurama regularly, and shows them the Buddhist temples and other sites that are relevant to Usui Founder’s enlightenment and revelation of Reiki, including the amazing trees he was sitting under when the beam of light struck his forehead on the morning of the 21st day and resulted in satori, enlightenment, and the resulting birth of Reiki. And Sensei gives slideshows during his classes and lectures that let the rest of us join him on that epic journey.

These slideshows really were eye-opening for me in terms of what the climb up Mount Kurama really entailed, especially in the heat and humidity or bitter cold that often prevail. We’re talking about thousands of steps here. I’d have passed out and fallen off the mountain long before reaching even a quarter of the climb. (For those who, like me, have no heat and humidity tolerance and aren’t in great mountain-climbing shape, there’s a “cheating” alternative—a sort of ski lift—but since I’m deathly afraid of heights and ski lifts swing you over the drop, that’s not an option for me either.)

So, even though the literal climb is beyond me, the figurative climb via the photos and Sensei’s description was phenomenal. Looking at the tree under which Usui Founder received enlightenment, with its great roots spreading over the earth rather than hiding beneath it, was just incredible. Which brings me back to the Gita.

In many ways, Usui Founder was climbing this mountain, the “mountain of spiritual awareness,” his whole life. Born into a Samurai family who practiced Tendai, “Pure Land,” Buddhism, his first encounters with spiritual awareness were within the Pure Land beliefs and those of Shinto, the national religion of Japan, which honors nature and respects all its aspects as sacred.

This aspect of Japanese spiritual life, practicing different faiths simultaneously without seeing a contradiction but rather an expansion, is quite alien to many Western, and even Eastern, practices. (“I’m a Presbyterian. I’m an Orthodox Jew. I’m a Sunni Muslim. I’m a Tibetan Buddhist. I’m a Catholic.”) But it enabled Usui Founder to investigate many religions, including Christianity, without having to feel that he had to choose between them. His natural curiosity and passion for the divine led him on his spiritual quest, placing his feet on the steps carved in the spiritual mountain long before he encountered the literal Mount Kurama.

But eventually, thanks to his monastic Buddhist mentors and after his world travels, Usui Founder did climb the literal mountain, Mount Kurama. And he did attain satori, enlightenment. And he came down from the mountain and spent the rest of his life doing “selfless work,” healing the victims of the great Tokyo earthquake and innumerable others, attracting thousands of followers and teaching them how to practice Reiki, for physical and spiritual healing of themselves and others.

Did this marvelous, selfless work bring Usui Founder stillness and peace? I don’t know, and I’m not sure anyone living does. But I hope so with all my heart. Because I believe with all my heart that the Reiki path leads to stillness and peace. May each of you who walks or climbs it find this true pot of gold and the incredible contentment that it brings.

Just for today, practice your Reiki Principles and keep your feet on the path. It’s a long climb, but it’s worth it.

Am I more loving? June 20, 2014

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“If you want to judge your progress, ask yourself these questions: Am I more loving? Is my judgment sounder? Do I have more energy? Can my mind remain calm under provocation? Am I free from the conditioning of anger, fear, and greed? Spiritual awareness reveals itself eloquently in character development and selfless action. Authentic spiritual experience changes the way you see the world and the way you live.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

Just for today, ask yourself these questions. Then judge your own progress and do something about it.

My heart soars. June 19, 2014

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“The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.
And my heart soars.”

—Chief Dan George, “My Heart Soars”

Just for today, see the beauty around you.

Laws or lives? June 17, 2014

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“It is God’s children who are sacred to God, not laws. Laws are to protect or assist God’s children.”

—Fr. Joseph F. Girzone

Throughout history, the people who’ve exalted laws (or rules, or what have you) above lives, who are the most rigid and unbending, who punish every least infraction and refuse to tolerate any imperfection, are also the most insecure and paranoid. If you don’t think exactly like me, write exactly like me, perform a ritual exactly like me, why, you must be implying that there’s something wrong with me and my way of doing things! And I can’t tolerate that. Fifty lashes and ten nights in the black cells for you, heretic! And next time, it’ll be the stake.

This is in such dreadful, ironic contrast to the great souls who often inspired these shriveled little souls to follow them. The Lord Jesus broke rules all the time, eating with sinners and even—gasp!—tax collectors. Mahatma Gandhi was jailed numerous times for practicing ahimsa, nonviolent resistance to bad laws. The great Sufi mystic Rumi was a rigid follower of the rules until his wild and wonderful teacher, Shams of Tabriz, showed him the truth of what was indispensable and what was not, and freed him from the chains of conformity. Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen, was relentlessly persecuted by other orders of warrior monks who felt his pure teachings made them look bad.

Mother Teresa, Saint Francis, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh—all bent, broke, or discarded laws and rules when they ceased to serve “God’s children.” So did Martin Luther and Martin Luther King. I’m sure you can think of many other examples, past and present.

Let’s look at this from a Reiki perspective. From what we’ve learned in the past couple of decades about Usui Founder and his practice of Reiki, the only rules were the Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals). Usui Founder instructed those who undertook the practice of Reiki to recite them aloud, morning and evening, with hands in gassho (prayer position, i.e., palm to palm). And, of course, to try to live them as well: Just for today, not to get angry, not to worry, to be grateful, to work hard, and to be kind. In other words, to live fully in the moment and see its wonders and possibilities.

This is true healing. How can you be angry (worry turned outward) or worried (fear turned inward) if you are fully present in the now? And if you’re not afraid—not worried, not angry—you have all the inner room in the world to feel happy and to be grateful and kind. You’ll have burst the fear balloon that’s filling you and preventing you from enjoying life to the full in every moment and sharing that enjoyment with every living creature you meet. Yes, it’s hard work to learn to live in the perpetual present, which is why “Work hard” is one of the Reiki Principles. But this form of work will set you free.

But I digress. Point being, Usui Founder apparently imposed no other rules on his students. He used no symbols, performed no attunements, had no set hand positions, and taught his students differently according to their abilities, strengths, and aptitude for learning the teachings. Almost everything that we thought we knew about Reiki was added later, by his students and their students, including the exclusive focus on hands-on and distant healing as opposed to the inner teachings, the Reiki Way, the road to anshin ritsumei, satori, enlightenment. In other words, the road Usui Founder himself had taken.

There is a history within the Western Reiki tradition of teaching each according to their abilities and aptitude, as Usui Founder did. Hayashi Sensei did so, giving Hawayo Takata Sensei different teachings from those he gave his Japanese students, and Takata Sensei did so when she tailored her teachings to each of her Masters, drawing the symbols slightly differently for some, changing the order of the Principles for one, the Rev. Beth Gray, who was an intuitive, so they made more intuitive sense, and so on. From this tradition, many forms of Reiki have arisen in the West, which enables those who are drawn to the Reiki path to choose the one or ones that speak to them, and which ultimately allowed Reiki to bloom around the world. Thank you, Usui Founder, Hayashi Sensei, Takata Sensei, and all teachers for allowing this flexibility!

Not that precision has no virtues: Like meditation, like hado breathing, like many other mental and physical exercises, it can strengthen focus. Placing your Reiki hands just so on someone’s body; sending distant healing just so; drawing the symbols just so, and in an exact series of patterns; performing attunements just so, and so on, can be part of the “work hard” Principle that helps you develop the inner and outer focus you need to proceed on your Reiki path. But becoming attached to doing things just so, rather than seeing the need for compassion and evolution, or even worse, attacking those who seek or practice a different way, is to become attached to the rigidity of the law and to abandon God’s children.

If you find yourself straying in this direction, ask yourself: What are you really afraid of? That your Reiki isn’t as “good” or as “powerful” as someone else’s Reiki? Then bring your attention back to the recitation and practice of the Reiki Principles. They are the broom, the wind, that will sweep your heart and mind and soul clean.

Just for today, practice the Principles.