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The Universe is us. January 15, 2015

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“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
—John Muir

Or the ocean lapping the shore, or a waterfall, or a starry sky, or any breathtaking place where you can imagine a multitude of life gathering and yourself among them.

For those of us who follow the Reiki Way, meditation is one way to reach this magic world, where everything else drops away. As Sri Eknath Easwaran says in Words to Live By:

“As I reach the spiritual summit, I hardly feel my body. My mind is still, my ego has been set at rest. The peace in my heart matches the peace at the heart of nature…”

I know places where I can barely sit down before “I hardly feel my body,” even though it’s pressed against cold, jagged boulders; somehow, I have gone out from that place, “I” have gone out from myself. If you have such a place, don’t forget to visit it often. It needn’t be Stonehenge or Sedona, it could be a river two miles away. It’s not the site, it’s your love for it that matters.

Just for today, love your Mother.

Shedding our skin to grow. January 12, 2015

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“Like a snake that must shed its skin to grow, our industrial civilization must shed its material outlook or strangle in outgrown ideals whose constructive potential has been spent.”
—Sr Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“Ecology is essential for the survival of mankind; it is a moral issue which affects all of us.”
—Pope Francis @Pontifex

“If your heart were sincere and upright, every creature would be unto you a looking-glass of life and a book of holy doctrine.”
—Thomas a Kempis

Sri Eknath probably wrote his wonderful comparison of a bloated civilization strangling on itself like a snake on unshed skin in the 1960s or ’70s. Pope Francis wrote his tweet a few days ago. And Thomas a Kempis wrote his comment in the 1300s or 1400s. But they were all making the same point: That the world is much too small, and there are far too many of us, for us to continue to destroy it as though we were the only thing that mattered.

Combining ecology-destroying greed with mindless overpopulation can only result in annihilation, first of the rest of life, then of us. Why would we harm them by our greed when we could see them as “a book of holy doctrine”? Let us cherish them while they’re here and try to change our greedy ways before it’s too late. (And if you haven’t, do watch “Avatar.” It doesn’t address the overpopulation issue, but at least it gets right at the greed, and the lengths we’re prepared to go to to protect our “assets.”)

Just for today, please send Reiki to our precious Mother. If you can, use the symbols, then just hold an Earth marble, or any marble, in your hands and let the Reiki flow.

Through our magic mirror. November 17, 2014

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“None of us see life as it is, the world as it is. We all see life as we are. We look at others through our own likes and dislikes, desires and interests.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

As Sri Eknath is always quick to point out, we’re happy with someone when he or she is doing exactly what we want. He brings us triple fruit sherbet—how nice! But wait, it isn’t tropical triple-fruit sherbet. She remembered the lottery ticket, how thoughtful! But it’s not for the right day. We’d like to go to a certain movie or restaurant. So are we? When are we?

The mirror that shows us our face sometimes stops directly behind us. We don’t see the people who make it possible for us to move deeper, to appreciate the kindness and consideration that are directed at us every day. Perhaps we need to clean the mirror; perhaps we simply need to break it or walk away.

Just for today, try walking away.

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.

Why do we suffer? September 19, 2014

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“Because we cannot accept the truth of transcience, we suffer.”

—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

Everything changes. Our grandparents and parents grow old and die. Our house falls apart. Our kids move away. We get laid off from our job, so our status changes. Our spouse or partner leaves. Our favorite tree gets struck by lightning and dies. We no longer look as we used to because we’ve gained 15 pounds, started to get grey hair, lost muscle tone, gotten a few wrinkles or bags under our eyes. The beautiful old house that we loved to drive by is torn down, or our beloved family home is sold off. Our wonderful neighbors move out and obnoxious, intrusive neighbors move in. Again and again, we see our adored pets grow old and die. We or our spouse or partner are diagnosed with a chronic disease and must change our lifestyle and priorities.

When Shunryu Suzuki Roshi was asked to define the essence of Zen, he said, “Everything changes.” We have two choices: to fight change or accept it. Accepting does not mean becoming an unfeeling stone who does not grieve the loss of a beloved parent or partner or pet, but understanding that we cannot stop change, and the harder we try, the more we suffer.

Sri Eknath Easwaran has a priceless story to illustrate how futile resistance is in these circumstances. He said that when he was a child, his grandmother, who was his spiritual teacher, taught him this lesson in the most straightforward manner. She told him to sit in a chair and, when she called him to come to her, instead to grip the arms of the chair as hard as he could. The little Easwaran did as she said, and his Granny, who was quite strong, came over and tried to pry him out of the chair. Though he held on with all his might, she eventually pried him from the chair, causing him quite a lot of pain in the process. Then she told him to sit in the chair again, but this time, when she called, simply to come to her. When he did, of course, it was an easy, painless process.

I do not think this is the only cause of suffering: physical agony, war and the horrors of war, natural disasters destroying lives and communities, and so on would certainly make my list. But whatever the cause, the message is clear: Make the most of every moment. Enjoy your family and friends. Throw yourself into your work, but also into your personal life. Relish every meal, every movie, every new dress, every vacation. Drink in every sunset on your deck, every gurgle of that little stream nearby, every flower and bird and butterfly in your yard. Never forget to take that moment you’re passing by to pet and talk to your dog or cat or strike up a conversation with your parrot or admire the colorful fish in your aquarium.

Living fully in the now, making the most of every moment, is the true answer to inevitable change. It’s the secret of letting go of suffering. Then, when change comes, we’ll have a precious cache of memories to shore us up against suffering. We won’t forget all those priceless moments. And we’ll have learned how to open ourselves to the present moment rather than dwelling in the past, the endless self-pitying tape of “Why did this happen to me? Oh, poor me!!” That is the ego talking, and living in the now shuts the ego out. Those of us who follow the Reiki Way have no room for ego, and would progress more painlessly on our path if we remembered that everything changes.

Just for today, let go of the chair.

Walking with God. September 15, 2014

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“Whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to him running.”

—Mishkat Al-Masabih

“The Lord always forgives us and walks at our side. We have to let him do that.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

The concept of God is so variable, from a vengeful old man taking personal revenge on everyone in sight to the serene Self within that is seamlessly connected to the All, to All That Is, through the experience of enlightenment, satori, anshin ritsumei. Nature worship, the realm of the shamans and medicine men and vision quests of the indigenous people of so many countries, is another way of connecting to the All.

It fascinates me that these two quotes, divided by centuries and cultures, both depict God walking with us. “Whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to him running.” What an image! “The Lord always…walks at our side. We have to let him do that.” What a concept! In both images, we are first of all walking. We aren’t just sitting there texting on our smartphones or watching an episode of “Orange Is the New Black.” We are walking towards the Lord, or we are allowing the Lord to walk by our side.

Even if we’re speaking of the Lord within, we had better get moving. Walking Zen, walking (even virtually) with Thich Nhat Hahn, a brisk walk as recommended by Sri Eknath Easwaran to clear negative emotions and tone the body, walking meditation, walking in general, all are wonderful for body and soul. Those of us on the Reiki path might repeat (silently or aloud) one of Usui Founder’s Five Reiki Principles (aka Precepts, Ideals) as we walk, in synchrony with our breath. Who knows? We might see God running towards us, or walking by our side.

Just for today, start walking.

Giving up anger. September 10, 2014

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“Hostility is like an infectious disease. Whenever we indulge in a violent act or even in hostile words, we are passing this disease on to those around us. When we quarrel at home, it is not just a domestic problem, we are contributing to turmoil everywhere.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.”

—Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

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

—Maya Angelou

Those of us who follow the Reiki Way should never forget that anger is a choice. Teachers of all religions and all philosophies have said that mastering yourself—that is, your reactions to the outside world—is the key to serenity, to enlightenment. The Lord Jesus was particularly clear on this, moving far away from the “eye for an eye” of the Old Testament. He told his disciples to turn the other cheek when struck, and when compelled to do something or give something, far from trying to get out of it, to do or give even more.

Sometimes it seems that we’re surrounded by hostility: road rage, bullying, random acts of violence, brawls inside (or outside) clubs and bars, rapes. Perhaps the culture of violence we’re constantly subjected to on television and video games encourages this. Perhaps too many people crammed in too little space, under too much pressure to rush to work, encourages this. Perhaps the stereotypes of the angry comedian, the angry politician, the fire-and-brimstone minister encourage this. But we need not encourage this. We have a choice.

Sometimes we seem so small and the world seems so large, so out of control. We see corporations buying up our government, polluting the earth with their monstrous GMO crops and then dumping herbicides on them, and ultimately on all of us. We see the reckless abandonment of animals at shelters, or animals simply dumped off on the roadside or stuffed in garbage bags. We see children and pets left to die in hot cars. We see, increasingly in the age of selfies, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, the victims of domestic violence, their crushed and swollen faces. We see the horrors of war and fanaticism, the beheadings, the mutilations, the disenfranchisement of whole peoples, every day on the news. It’s enough to make anyone angry!

I got very angry today when I read two anti-vegetarian articles. One was talking about the outrage of making American schoolchildren eat a vegetarian lunch for “Meatless Monday.” Mind you, this was one meal in a whole week, and the kids were offered such delicious fare as mac’n’cheese, pizza, and chili. But going without meat for a whole meal? Intolerable! Horrific! How dare the school system inflict such torture on children!

The second article, a blog post, was oblivious to the ultimate point it was making, unlike the first article. The author’s point was that French school lunches were so much better than American school lunches because they were made from scratch. Great! But it turns out that every single meal is meat-based—no vegetarian options—and worse still, one meal a week is made from veal, calves trapped in tiny enclosures so they can’t move and their muscles don’t develop, and force-fed milk to ensure soft, tender flesh. This cruel, hateful practice is hardly a surprise in a country that force-feeds geese until their livers expand to the extent that they make the delicacy foie gras (literally, “fat liver”). But it is a surprise that the author praised the fact that the French were teaching their children not to care about the well-being of animals along with their other school lessons.

So yes, I was mad enough to cry. What wouldn’t I have liked to say to those wretched people! But as Sri Eknath says, any act of hostility contributes to turmoil everywhere. And as I’m sure you’ve all noticed, there’s rarely a good outcome when we respond in kind, rather than responding by being kind. PETA and well-meaning groups like them make themselves targets for endless ridicule, and worse, by doing things like throwing red paint (for blood) on celebrities’ fur coats.

There was a time when people who lived in cold climates had to wear fur coats to survive, had to eat meat to survive. That time has passed, and now both are expensive luxury items that our world can’t afford. But throwing paint on people or firebombing A-list restaurants won’t make that point.

Instead, one response might be making videos of happy, free-range, heirloom-breed chickens who are allowed to live full lives and fed all sorts of grains, veggies, bread, and fruit. Comparing them to factory-farmed chickens, raised in tiny cages stacked on top of one another with their beaks cut off, with lights glaring at them 24/7 to encourage egg production, might possibly turn on a few lightbulbs in human viewers, such as, being stuck in a tiny, windowless cubicle under artificial lighting day in, day out, with an inconceivable production schedule and all trace of individuality cut off: after all, you’re just a “worker bee.” And that’s just for those “lucky” enough to hold white-collar jobs, or jobs at all, for that matter.

Let it go, let it go, let the anger go. Usui Founder made “Just for today, don’t get angry” the first of his Reiki Principles, aka Precepts, Ideals. He knew you could only control your response to the provocation, not the provocation itself. This doesn’t mean you can’t fight for a cause that you believe in. Just don’t do it in anger.

Just for today, don’t get angry.

(Don’t) buy, buy, buy. September 9, 2014

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“It is not only corporations who carry the responsibility for pollution. Insofar as we tell them, ‘Produce all you want! We’ll buy whatever you make’, the rest of us are responsible too.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

“If you hoard material possessions, they will rob you of your soul.”

—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

I assume that most of us who can read (or write) this blog aren’t living in a tin shack with seven other people, or sleeping under some plastic trash bags and cardboard and going to the bathroom on the sidewalk, or forced to flee to a refugee camp and wonder how we’ll feed our children, to say nothing of ourselves. Instead, many of us have the opposite problem: too much disposable income and too much disposable time to spend it.

Shopping as entertainment has become so commonplace it’s taken for granted across all age groups, from teens hanging out at the mall or video games arcade to bored corporate types hitting the upscale stores after work, hoping to find a deal on something to impress their coworkers. It’s such a sad comment on our society when a celebrity wears a multi-thousand-dollar couture dress a second time and every press release covers that. And of course, every season has its trendy colors and styles, and every site you visit is filled with pop-up ads begging you to buy this, buy that, whether you need it or not, so that before you know it, you’re rushing off to buy that leopard-print maxidress and margarita-green purse and earth-toned eye makeup because, hey! Isn’t everyone wearing them?

I’m certainly guilty of this, too. Now that everyone says Windows XP isn’t safe for financial transactions anymore, and it’s still my operating system, I no longer buy anything online, which certainly limits my purchasing power. And since my car and most of my clothes date back decades and were bought used to begin with, that’s not an issue. But take me out someplace that carries things I love—books, rocks and fossils, incense, antiques, a farmers’ market or specialty grocery—and it’s certain that I’ll emerge with something, just because I can’t resist that exotic spice blend or luscious cheese or beautiful crystal or stack of books and magazines. Do I need them? No. Do I love them? Yes.

Sri Eknath says that our mindless purchasing pollutes the world, since as long as we keep buying, manufacturers will keep producing, and advertisers will keep teasing what they produce. (“20% off everything in our store, for today only!” “Buy one, get two free!” “Lowest prices of the year!” “Dr. Oz says eating this will make you look 40 years younger!”)

But, horrific as pollution is, Pope Francis says something even worse: That mindless shopping, accumulating “stuff” just to entertain ourselves, will rob us of our souls. Those of us who follow the Reiki Way can’t afford to lose our souls, to possessions or anything else. That $2 bag of sand dollars at the thrift store might seem harmless enough (it did to me)—a steal!!!—but if you already have baskets of shells all over your home (as I do), maybe it’s time to give them to some children instead of hoarding them yourself. (I did.)

Better to do that, better to give that $5 you were planning to spend at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, or the $160 for a stadium ticket to a sports event, or the money you were planning to spend on a BOGO shoe sale when your closet’s already bursting with shoes, to one of those homeless people huddled under the trash bags and cardboard. Better to do that than to lose your soul. And maybe you’ll help combat pollution, too.

Just for today, don’t buy what you don’t need.

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.