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What is the sound of silence? January 20, 2015

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and play in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
—John Muir

“May we try to listen and be silent in order to make space for the beauty of God.”
—Pope Francis @Pontifex

“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”
—Zen proverb

It’s not easy to be quiet, or be in quiet, these days. Unless you live in a monastery, it’s practically a lost art. We all know it’s good for us. At some point, we’ve all heard someone say “It’s so loud in here I can’t hear myself think!” We know we must find quiet to recharge, to be able to truly hear the people who need our attention, to hear birdsong. But we’ve become part of a culture that tries to fill every second with sound, activity, excitement. How can we find “the beauty of God”?

The enlightened carry quiet within them wherever they go, as a lamp carries its flame. But those of us who have not yet reached that place can still find our own quiet, at least for a while. We can give up shopping at malls for entertainment. We can keep the TV turned off unless there’s a show we really want to see, rather than having it on at times as background noise. Ditto for music. We can walk away from the computer and laptop and iPad and smartphone, from Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. (It’s not like they won’t still be there when we get back.) We can, as John Muir suggests, seek beauty in nature, whether we’re in the mountains or just looking out the back door or sitting on our deck watching the sunset.

Once you’ve chosen your spot and turned off as much noise as possible, just sit. This is the hardest part. If you’re out in nature, but you’re hiking, or you’re skiing, or you’re sketching, or you’re taking photos, you’re not being quiet. You may not be singing or shouting or chasing people, but your mind is busy doing whatever you’re doing. It’s not quiet. You’re not quiet. This is true if you’re sitting on your deck as well. You’re not out there to take an inventory of repairs that need to be made. You’re there to just sit.

This is not the time to recite one of Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) or another stirring passage silently, either. Your goal is to just sit. Even doing Reiki self-healing, wonderful as it feels, is inappropriate, since it will focus your attention on your hands and body rather than on just sitting. Your goal here is “for mind and body to drop away,” at least while you sit, and for quiet to gather within you. Every time you do it, it becomes easier to drop into silence. And when you come out, it becomes easier to hold that silence in yourself.

Silly as it sounds, here’s what I do: I am absolutely addicted to those small white holiday lights. These aren’t the ones that blink on and off, they just sit there quietly twinkling. We have them on our back deck, and for the winter holiday season, we have them on our tree and in clusters in our living room. For me, they’re magic! In warm weather, if it isn’t raining, I love to go sit on the deck and watch the twinkly lights and a fire burning in our firepit as sunset gathers and darkness upon us. And indoors this time of year, I so love to just sit in the living room and watch the little white lights. Okay, it’s not sitting on the beach watching the surf, but you can find your own quiet wherever you like, a quiet that will delight you and help you grow in Reiki and in the good, compassionate life.

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Chop wood, carry water. January 2, 2015

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“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

—Zen Saying

We tend to think that enlightenment is a single event: BANG! We’re enlightened! Then we rush around shouting “I’m enlightened! Look at me! I’ve achieved the summit!” The ego has taken over again.

This wonderful saying, and that of all enlightened masters, urges us to simply continue as we were, so that we will remain humble and help our community. Meanwhile, we will continue our own practice and growth, and there will be not one, but many enlightenment experiences.

There’s a great story about Dogen Zenji, founder of the Soto Zen School, who continued to practice Zazen (seated, silent meditation) all his life. One day, a monk rose from his cushion and excitedly approached Dogen: “Master! I’ve just achieved enlightenment!!!” To which Dogen Zenji replied, “Continue doing Zazen.” He knew that it was the practice, not the result, that mattered.

Just for today, continue practicing your Five Reiki Principles.

I accept with joy. December 1, 2014

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“Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart—a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water—I accept with joy.”

—Bhagavad Gita

I love the images that spring to mind when I read this passage—a leaf holding a single drop of water, a bowl of water with a leaf, flower, or even petal floating on the surface, a perfect cluster of grapes or a ripe apricot set off by a handful of sparkling cherries. The simple yet colorful offerings are so delightful that it makes it easy to overlook the other two aspects of this passage, the pure offering and the joyful receiver.

The Gita makes it quite plain that the receiver doesn’t need to be overwhelmed with offerings, that a small gift offered with a pure heart brings as much joy to the recipient as a castle overflowing with gold and jewels. More, to my mind. Gold and jewels can never be fresh like a dewdrop on a leaf or a plate of ripe fruit.

In this case, the receiver of the offering is clearly the Lord. But it needn’t be. It could be you, or the Lord in you. In either case, it’s up to you to recognize the offering and accept with joy. Once you start this practice, looking for small, even hidden, jewel-like offerings and accepting them with joy, you’ll start to find more and more of them.

Just the other day, I received a package from an old friend with the most wonderful gift inside. But let me backtrack a minute first. You know how the Dalai Lama’s monks travel the U.S. trying to raise awareness of Tibet’s plight? Well, as part of their presentations, they typically will perform traditional Tibetan arts. A few years ago, the monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery came to a town not far from me, and a friend and I went to see them perform traditional Tibetan dances (which were wonderful).

Later in the week, they were going to create one of the fabulous sandpaintings for which they’re renowned. Made of numerous brilliantly colored sands, these take days to create, and when they’re finished, they look like elaborate tapestry mandalas. After performing the closing rituals, the monks sweep all the sands together, leaving nothing of the sand mandala. A truly ephemeral art!

I wasn’t able to get back for any part of the sandpainting process, which made me very sad. But, unbeknownst to me, another friend did go. Getting back to my story, the package I received contained a lovely mandala to hang anywhere. But what really delighted me was that it also contained a small package of sand from the monks’ mandala! The sand is very fine, but if you move the little packet, you can just discern the many colors.

To me, this was a treasure. And certainly, my friend was offering it with a pure heart. I accepted it with joy! The lesson for me was that sometimes, simply allowing yourself to accept with a joyful heart can be every bit as important as making an offering.

Just for today, be grateful.

Reducing self-will. October 18, 2014

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“Reducing self-will needn’t be a joyless deprivation—it can be so many little acts of love, performed over and over throughout the day.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

I love this idea, of turning self-discipline not into deprivation but into love, consideration and kindness. Everybody agrees that reducing self-will is the key to enlightenment, satori, anshin ritsumei. By reducing self-will, you’re diminishing the ego and drawing closer, ever closer to merging with the All. It sounds like a great, noble goal.

But most of us aren’t great, noble people, we’re just people. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I went to a tribute meal for a friend who’d recently died. His widow, who surely had thousands of other things to think about while setting up this meal, remembered that I was a vegetarian and asked the chef to take special care of me. As a result, I found myself holding an entire plate of delicious vegetarian appetizers—a plate of appetizers that everyone near me pounced on and ate while I held it, stupefied, assuring me that they were much better than their appetizers. I couldn’t believe that people would act like that.

I was crushed, since not only did I not get any of the wonderful appetizers, but I was unable to save most of the spanakopita (spinach and feta-filled Greek phyllo turnovers) for my partner, Rob, who was at the other end of the room and who loves spanakopita more than pretty much anything. He assured me that the one he did get was the best he’d ever eaten. Since I didn’t even get one, I’ll never know.

Today, I’ll have another opportunity to eat appetizers and try to perform “little acts of love.” I love Indian food, and am heading far away to meet a dear friend for lunch at an Indian restaurant with my partner Rob in tow. It’s been SO long since I’ve actually been to an Indian restaurant—there really aren’t any in my area—and this one appears to have a great selection of vegetarian appetizers. The thought is enough to make me drool. But this time, I’m not the recipient, I’m ordering. I’m not going to sit there watching everyone eat what I wanted to eat, I’ll just order enough for everyone. Watching my friend and partner enjoy their food will be so enjoyable! Not to mention enjoying my own. Hardly a “joyless deprivation.”

I think it’s important for those of us who follow the Reiki Way to remember that we’re not supposed to be superheroes. We’re not supposed to be subjecting ourselves to joyless deprivation. We’re supposed to be helping others through little acts of love.

Just for today, be kind.

Take your Reiki aspirin. September 14, 2014

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“I want Reiki to be as common as aspirin.”

—Hawayo Takata Sensei

“God being, as generally believed, infinite in goodness, it is most consonant and agreeable with His nature that the best things should be the most common.”

—Thomas Traherne

What is more common than aspirin? You can buy a bottle in any grocery, convenience store, or pharmacy for a few dollars—no prescription needed. Yet it can relieve headaches, sore throats and fevers, help prevent heart attack and stroke, and combat inflammation throughout the body. And inflammation, we’re learning, is a great initiator of everything from gum disease to cancer.

Hawayo Takata Sensei, who brought Reiki to the West, wanted it to spread until it became as common as aspirin. What a beautiful idea! Let’s all try to make her vision a reality.

Just for today, do your Reiki self-healing and take an aspirin.

Don’t worry. September 11, 2014

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“Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”
—Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Worry is fear turned inward, as anger is fear turned outward. Usui Founder gave us his first two Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals), “Just for today, don’t get angry” and “Just for today, don’t worry,” so that we could get fear out of the way and free ourselves to feel gratitude, focus on our work, and be kind.

So all right, “don’t worry” may sound simple enough on the surface. But what if your bills are overdue and you can’t pay them, your kid is supposed to be in college but you wonder if he is or is just taking your money and lying to you, your mom keeps telling you she’s okay but she seems weaker and weaker, your best friend’s battling breast cancer, your house needs major repairs you can’t afford, your company’s downsizing and you’re afraid you’ll lose your job? How could you possibly not worry?!

Usui Founder tells you to let go of worry. Eckhart Tolle tells you that worrying accomplishes nothing. It seems to be important, but in the end, it only damages you without moving you forward. In my Reiki lineage, Hawayo Takata Sensei told our lineage bearer, the Reverend Beth Gray, that “Just for today, do not worry” was actually the first Reiki Principle. Beth was an intuitive, and her lineage has focused on that, and I think Takata Sensei was spot on with putting worry, internal fear, before anger, external fear. Controlling internal fear will control its outward manifestation.

Eckhart Tolle gives us all a great tool for shutting off fear and worry. He tells us to ask ourselves if whatever we fear is happening now. Is our car skidding off the road now? Are we meeting with the angry boss now? Has our electricity gone off now because we’re late paying our bill? If none of that is true, then we should enjoy the precious NOW rather than worry about the future, since worry simply paralyses us and serves no useful purpose. Quite the opposite.

Just for today, don’t worry.

The surffering which doesn’t affect us. September 6, 2014

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“We run the risk of forgetting the suffering which doesn’t affect us.”
—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”
—Josef Stalin

Maybe your news feed is better than mine, but if it isn’t, what’s been dominating the headlines so far this week is that nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other celebrities have been hacked from their smartphones; that Hello Kitty is supposed to be a girl, not a cat (shock! shock!!!); that a cat who became an internet celebrity because of her “sad” eyes has been adopted; that one of the 3,000 members of the disgraceful Duggar family is looking forward to her first kiss; and that Joan Rivers has died. As always, there’s a whole lot of sports news, too, not to mention spoilers about upcoming TV series. Oh, and which celebrities have the worst hygiene.

Geez. Between these massively important stories, you might find an article or commentary about scientific discoveries about what started the Ebola epidemic or how HIV spreads, or a report about the millions who’ve been forced to flee Syria, or the torture and murder of minority communities in Iraq by ISIS/ISIL forces, or how they rose to power and what their ultimate aim is. Or how Napa Valley is responding to being hit by an earthquake. Or how the California coast has been deluged with huge jellyfish die-offs, and how fish that are normally never seen in warm waters have been washed ashore or caught as trophies thanks to global warming.

But more likely, you’ll see a big feature story on Angelina Jolie’s wedding dress: a triumph or a travesty? Mercy. Maybe those looking at her wedding photos would do better to notice her skeletal arms and hands and think about their tragic import instead. I can’t imagine that a photo of any other bride clutching her groom with those skeleton hands wouldn’t draw a horrified response, but everybody’s talking about her dress, not her body. After all, she’s Angelina Jolie, the luckiest woman in the world! Married to Brad Pitt! If she’s a living skeleton, why should we notice?

Sometimes, tucked between all the celebrity gossip and sports writing and adorable cat videos, we’ll see a feature on, say, women who’ve had acid thrown on them in India, an apparently common practice when they spurn a suitor’s advances or their in-laws don’t like them, or women who are raped and sometimes killed in India for going to the bathroom, or children and pets who’ve been left to die in hot cars here in the good old USA while their parent shops or sexts or simply forgets about their existence (until, in the last case, watching a “Game of Thrones” episode with a crying child reminded him, oh wait, I left my foster daughter in the car!). Or the fad here in America of punching strangers in the street, desperately harming and often killing them, including pregnant women, called “the knockout game.” How tough those guys must look to their watching buddies when they punch out an old man or woman! But hey, it’s just a game.

There are also stories about the crisis in the Ukraine, the crisis in Gaza, the protests in Pakistan, the ongoing monstrosity of the Taliban, the horrors that the Supreme Court has allowed to take root in American soil, the devastations that soulless companies like Monsanto have wrought all over the world, the monstrosities of the druglords in Mexico and Central America. Not to mention the volcanic eruptions in Iceland and other natural disasters. But why should we bother about them when we can read about the new lineup for this season’s “Dancing with the Stars” or Princess Diana’s makeup secrets?

I’m as guilty of this as anyone: If I see a feature about some especially luscious-looking recipe or a health tip or breakthrough, I’ll almost certainly click on it. Not to mention just about anything about science, archaeology, natural history, or paleontology (including today’s story about the discovery of the world’s largest dinosaur, Dreadnoughtus). When eBay sends me an e-mail listing marbles (which I collect) for sale on its site, I eagerly look them over and drool appreciatively, though I’ve not bought anything on eBay for many years, since it switched to PayPal-only payments. Ditto for peonies and other plants I love, including edibles like curry plants and Meyer lemons from nurseries, or product tests from America’ Test Kitchen (which Dijon mustard is really the best?).

Why do we spend our time on these frivolities when the world is suffering? I think it’s because they make us feel good. When I read about the latest discoveries at Stonehenge, I’m not thinking about the atrocities of ISIS/ISIL or the potential horror of the Russian aggression in the Ukraine or the effects that the prolonged drought in California and the citrus greening disease in Florida will be having on our food supply, not to mention the horrific aftermath of GMO crops and the monstrous amount of herbicides being dumped on them, the effects of global warming, the horrors inflicted by the Taliban on women. I’m not thinking about the rise of cancer and diabetes and dementia and so many other diseases. Instead, I’m reading about something “interesting.”

What’s someone who follows the Reiki Way to do in the face of so much global horror? Just reading the local police blotter about the street fights, stabbings, rapes, crashes, fires, pet abandonment and abuse, and so on is overwhelming. But fortunately, there actually is something we can do: send Reiki. I’ve written about this before, but it’s something I believe strongly in and suggest that all Reiki practitioners do, even if they haven’t progressed to the second level of Reiki, which teaches practitioners the symbol and technique that will allow you to transcend time and space.

It’s simply this: Hold a marble of the world in your hands. (They’re readily available for very little money at Land of Marbles, http://www.landofmarbles.com.) Look at this “Earth Marble,” observing the continents and landforms and the oceans, before you fold your hands over it and feel it warming as you call in the Teachers, Usui Founder, Hayashi Sensei, Takata Sensei, and any other Sensei you feel especially connected to. Ask them to help you with the world’s problems, to heal the world. Name any problems of special concern to you that you’d like them to focus on, such as global warming.

If you’ve been trained in the Third Symbol, draw it and the First and Second Symbols over the marble globe in your hand, 1-3-2-1. If you’ve been trained in the First Symbol, just draw it and put your hand down over the marble globe. If, for whatever reason, you’ve been trained in no symbols, just put your hand down over the marble globe and let the Reiki energy flow out to our suffering world. When you feel the heat (or tingling, or cold, or however the energy comes to and through you) diminish, open your hands, thank the Teachers for spending this time with you, and either blow the First Symbol over the glass globe or, if you don’t know the First Symbol, simply blow over it, set it down gently and with gratitude, close your hands in gassho (prayer position), and bow. Your easy exercise is over, and you’ve sent Reiki out to the whole world.

Just for today, Reiki the world.

Meditating with Dr. Usui. August 30, 2014

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We’re now in the final week of the Usui 21-Day Virtual Retreat, the celebration of Mikao Usui’s life that begins on his birthday (August 15th) and continues for three weeks, with a special Reiki exercise or meditation each week. The retreat is hosted by Mari Hall, and for the past several years, the meditations/exercises have been provided by Frank Arjava Petter. Gassho to Mari and Arjava for providing this wonderful, deepening, free event to all Reiki practitioners with access to the internet!

I especially loved Arjava’s meditation exercise for this week, in which he suggested that we visualize Usui Sensei sitting in our crown or heart chakras or in the palm of our hand, and just rest for an hour with him in the Reiki energy. He said you could do this sitting or lying down, so if your busy day doesn’t give you a free hour, I imagine that this would be a beautiful way to drift into sleep.

As I continued to think about this meditation, I began to wonder, what about inviting Usui Founder into all three centers at the same time? Here’s the exercise I came up with, should you wish to try it:

Sit comfortably upright, with your back well supported (or unsupported, if you’re used to meditating and holding your spine upright). Invite Usui Founder to come sit with you and share his Reiki energy with you. Picture Usui Founder arriving and sitting over the top (crown) of your head, in your heart, and in the open palm of your left hand. (Consulting a photo of Usui Sensei, especially the one where he’s smiling benevolently, before beginning this exercise will help you visualize him, in his traditional dark robes, if you have trouble bringing his image to mind.)

Now, allow yourself to feel that, each time you breathe in, Usui Founder’s Reiki energy pours into you through your crown and descends into your heart, filling you with healing light. Then, as you breathe out, the energy flows down your arm into the palm of your hand and spreads from your fingers out into the world. Breathe slowly, calmly, deeply, holding the image of Usui Founder in each location as you feel the energy flowing from him through you and out into the world. Relax. Enjoy the feeling of the energy, enjoy your breathing, enjoy this time with Reiki’s Founder.

When you feel that the session is over, visualize Usui Founder standing and bowing to you, his hands in gassho (together in prayer position). Put your own hands in gassho and bow very deeply to him in turn. Express your gratitude for his spending this precious time with you and for sharing the transformative power of Reiki energy with you and all the world. Then watch as he turns and walks away. Call after him to say that you’ll do your best to stay on the Reiki path until you meet again. Sit quietly for a bit and let your awareness return slowly to your surroundings. The exercise is over.

How delightful to think that you can spend time with Usui Founder himself, every day if you wish! Even if it’s just for 15 minutes or a half-hour, I think it will strengthen your practice (and your Reiki) no end. Soon, visualizing and calling in our Founder will become instantaneous, so you can ask him to be with you during a healing session or while teaching or taking a class or giving Reiju or attunements.

If you’d like, you could ask another teacher, such as Hayashi Sensei or Takata Sensei, to join you instead of Usui Founder, if you feel particularly close to them. (I love the idea of Hayashi Sensei, in his Hawai’ian shirt and lei, with his twinkly glasses and happy smile, sitting in my palm.) And of course you could call in whichever one you feel you need at a given moment. But I’d begin with our Founder first until you get used to the practice. Then you can see if the energy feels different when you call in the other Teachers! Arjava suggested only calling in ascended (dead) Reiki Masters/Teachers, those in your own lineage(s), and I agree with him. Your living teachers already have plenty on their own Reiki plates!

Just for today, spend some quality time with our Founder.

Making amends. August 29, 2014

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“Whatever we have done, we can make amends for it without looking back in guilt or sorrow.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

Guilt and sorrow paralyze us. Do you ever find yourself thinking back to some comment or action that really hurt someone else’s feelings, something you didn’t even realize at the time? But of course you realized once you saw the look on the person’s face or heard their awkward response, and that look or response, or your words that prompted them, have haunted you ever since. But it’s been decades since you could even remember the person’s name; you have no concept of where they live, or if they’re even still living, much less how to contact them and apologize. And in any case, why would you think they’d even remember you, much less your hurtful remark?

So how do you make amends? Sri Eknath says you make amends by going forward, rather than endlessly circling the drain of what you did in the past. Let’s say you once deeply hurt the feelings of someone who owned a mixed-breed dog by announcing that you would never own anything but a purebred dog, not some ugly mutt. You of course didn’t realize that the person you were speaking to owned a mixed-breed dog that she’d rescued from a shelter; you were just mouthing off. You may no longer remember the person’s name or whereabouts, but you can make amends by volunteering at a shelter, spending time giving love and Reiki to abandoned animals, adopting a shelter animal, or donating money every month to the shelter of your choice so the dogs, cats and other animals can get a little more food, veterinary care, and treats and toys.

Even as an empath, especially pre-Reiki, I’ve done more than my share of this sort of behavior, inadvertently harming people I went to school with or cared about by making pronouncements. It’s not that I didn’t and don’t believe in the pronouncements, it’s that I should have realized that they might have hurt other people before I opened my big mouth. (Classic example: Years ago, a coworker gave me a very thoughtful birthday present. Knowing how much I loved Coca-Cola, she gave me a Coke-themed ice cream scoop. Years later, we were attending one of those dreadful team-building exercises and she happened to be sitting next to me. The instructor asked us to turn to the person on our left—in my case, her—and tell them something they didn’t know about us. Since I’m sort of an open book, I always have trouble with this kind of question. So what came flying out of my mouth? “I don’t like ice cream.” Ouch!!!)

As someone who follows the Reiki Way, I want to make amends. But rather than trying to find and contact these people, possibly reopening old wounds, I’d rather send them Reiki for healing and peace of mind. And give myself Reiki for self-healing so I’ll know when to keep my mouth shut.

What if the person you hurt was your parent, spouse or partner, ex-spouse or partner, your child, your sibling, yourself? The answer is still the same: Make amends by changing your behavior, by being kinder, by being more patient and understanding. Give yourself Reiki and ask Usui Founder, Hayashi Sensei, Takata Sensei, and any other teachers you especially revere to help you. Send Reiki to those you feel you’ve harmed. Remember that distance also heals; give them some space, rather than barraging them with phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and other mindless chatter. Let them know you love them, and let them be.

Just for today, move forward, not back.

Our thoughts shape us. August 24, 2014

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“We are shaped by what gains our attention and occupies our thoughts. Today, amidst all of the conditioning to the contrary, we need constant reminders of our higher nature, and that is why spiritual reading can be very helpful. The media drown us in such a low image of the human being that it is essential to remind ourselves constantly of something higher.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

To think this was probably written in the late 1970s! Poor Sri Eknath, I can’t imagine what he’d make of the “low image of the human being” that the media are drowning us in now!

When the news focuses exclusively on war, horrific global and domestic crime, corruption at all levels and abuses of all sorts, when not a single good or hopeful word emerges from any news anchor’s mouth or appears in any news feature online or in print, watching, reading, or scanning them is a corrosive experience. When crime shows, reality TV, and vampire sagas dominate our TV screens, murder mysteries are our most popular novels, horrendously violent dystopian films dominate the movie theaters, and sensationalism of all kinds, coupled with obsessive celebrity-watching, is the order of the day, our lives have become trivialized and polluted indeed.

Thank heavens Sri Eknath proposes a solution. He recommends spiritual reading, and notes that “Just before bedtime is a particularly good time, because the thoughts you fall asleep in will be with you throughout the night.”

There are lots of great Reiki books that those of us who follow the Reiki Way can use as bedtime reading, whether we read a chapter or a page or a passage. We could read an article in the Reiki News magazine or an inspiring post on a Reiki blog. Or we could simply focus on one of Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals), contemplating it or simply repeating it in our mind as we do Reiki self-healing and drift into healing, restorative sleep.

Just for today, read something uplifting.