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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.

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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.

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.

Don’t cling to things. August 18, 2014

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“When did doilies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you?”
—Gandalf to Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

“We can get attached to anything, from our heirloom china to our comic books. Things are not meant to be loved but to be used wisely.”
—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

I’m a collector, so I’m guilty as charged. I love my fossils and crystals and shells and books and Pueblo pottery and marbles and spices and, and. So sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like if the house caught fire and everything was lost. If I smelled smoke, what would I try to save first? My jewelry? My Reiki certificates? My treasured family photos?

No. I would try to make sure that, with, of course, the help of my partner Rob, all of our beloved animals were safe and secured outside, in carriers or in the cars, before I even called 911. (This would involve taking out my purse with my IDs, keys, and so on, so they at least would be out of the flames.) Then, if it was possible, I’d rush back in for my family photos, the Reiki certificates, and the laptop on which I’ve written all my books. But the collections, which have given me so much pleasure over so many, many hours throughout my life?

I would hate to think of all those beautiful objects going up in smoke. I would hate to think of my mother’s best antique china cracking and chipping in the heat, my heirloom furniture, my antique rugs blackening and vanishing forever. But as long as Rob and our beloved black German Shepherd Shiloh and our cat Linus and our birds and fish got out safe, I’d be nothing but grateful. As Sri Eknath says, “Things are not meant to be loved.”

Just for today, be grateful for what matters.

On the same path. August 12, 2014

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“It is not good to compare one person’s progress with another’s.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

All of us who follow the Reiki Way are on the same path, but we follow it in our own way. Some of us will sprint down the path like marathon runners, determined to win the race, then sit by the side of the road for a while to rest. Others will hop, skip, and jump along, focusing on this element or that as they catch our eye. Some will walk steadily along, concentrating on putting one foot before the other. Others will see things off the path that they want to stop and explore, and may wander so far away that they can’t find the path again, or may spend a very long time moving forward (pretty hard to do when you’re moving sideways). Some people may just lie down in the middle of the road. And others may decide to turn around, go back to the path’s beginning, and start all over again.

When you attend a Reiki class, and especially if you teach them, you know that they attract all types. There are the gifted, high-speed students, who just seem to “get” everything right out of the starting gate. There are the intuitives, who can see things their classmates can’t, and the empaths, who can feel what their classmates feel. There are the students who come because of their own problems or their families’ problems and give their entire focus to those issues, which can be tragic and dire indeed. There are students who feel a calling and come with the goal of starting their own Reiki practices, perhaps working in hospices or with shelter animals or special-needs children and their families or with the grieving and bereaved. There are people who come because they’re curious about what Reiki is and want to learn more. There are the collectors, who want to add one more certificate to their wall. And there are the students who earnestly participate but don’t seem to absorb anything, the ones who ask at the very end of the class, “Now who was Dr. Usui again?” and “How does Reiki work?” and “How do you spell Reiki?”

It’s too easy to make value judgments about students and classmates based on their perceived abilities: Are they articulate, asking perceptive questions and adding valuable experiences that enrich class discussion, or do they sit quietly through the class, apparently contributing nothing? Are they enthusiastically taking notes, fully engaged, or seemingly staring into space? When they practice hands-on Reiki, are they confident that Reiki energy is pouring through them at their fellow student’s need, or are they timid, saying that they don’t feel warmth or tingling or anything so maybe they just don’t have what it takes to do Reiki?

I’ll leave you with an experience I had, not in a Reiki class but in a college classroom last fall semester when I had to take my partner Rob, the actual professor, in to class for a couple of weeks after he had cataract surgery. Rob is a very engaging teacher who loves his work, and most of the students were enthusiastic, alert, and responsive during the class. But one woman clearly wasn’t. She never looked up once, instead spending class time wolfing down a huge cheesesteak, fries, and cola. She was enormous, so her meal was hardly surprising, but it surprised me that she was eating it in class.

If I had been Rob, I would have told her to take her food and lack of interest elsewhere. But when he went around the room and had everyone discuss their favorite book, this woman looked up and gave a passionate and very articulate commentary on hers. I was stupefied. As it turned out, she supported herself as a night nurse while working towards a degree, and had to rush off to work as soon as her classes were over, so the only time she could eat supper was during her last class, which happened to be Rob’s. I still can’t say that I support her menu choice, but I had obviously grossly misjudged her, and the lengths she was willing to go to get her diploma.

We are all on the same path.

Just for today, don’t make comparisons.