Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On Reiki

On Reiki and other titles

Several years ago I took Reiki initiations. I had already become a healer and while I was still trying to figure out what to do with the skill, thought it would be good idea to get, well, credentials. Reiki was the first of a series of certifications that I would attain in order to make sense of my my spiritual life, mainly for others, as it has always made sense to me. By the end of my credential gathering, I had a few titles, and sometimes I still consider gathering a few more, but finally a title or certificate is only a peice of paper. It’s no free lunch, and one still has to prove oneself.

My Reiki initiation was a little different, in that I rejected my first Reiki teacher part way through the process. I just didn’t like her: she was a showboat and maybe a showoff. When she bragged about her past life memories of the city of Atlantis, I got upset. Why would anyone want to brag about that? Because it makes you an “old soul”? Speaking of credentials, is that one of them when you’re working in the field of New Age spirituality? A self professed claim to have been around a long time? Anyway, it had squat to do with Reiki. I got the hell out of there and so did another guy, who later called me to see how and where I had ended up.

I ended up in the hands of another Reiki Master whom I just liked better. Debby felt like a more kindred spirit, with an eclectic spirituality similar to mine and I didn’t mind ponying up about a thousand bucks for the series of initiations. Back in those days, there were numerous people who had paid about ten thousand for the same thing, again, so I am told. Nowadays it’s possible to get initiated pretty cheap, or free even. But regardless of the price, and even though I may still choose to use my title (after all I did pay for it) I wouldn’t take Reiki initiations again if I had it to do over. Here’s why:

“Reiki”, so I am told, means “life force”. I don’t think anybody holds a patent on that, and no matter what you call it, I don’t think any person has an inherently better method of utilizing it, just because they may have a title. The title “Reiki Master” is particularly ridiculous once you’ve been through the initiations because essentially it’s a religious ritual that you just sit through. At the end of it you’re a “master” even though you haven’t been trained to master anything. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great healers who hold the title, but then there are plenty of great healers who don’t. Why is that?

Reiki has a mythology attached to it. Some say it has a lineage, there’s a controversy attached to that which is easy enough to find, but that’s a little on the soap opera side and I don’t want to recount it. Controversy aside, the Reiki story began when a guy named Usui apparently climbed a mountain and meditated/fasted in a cave until he had a vision and an epiphany. Upon returning from the cave he found that he could perform healings by using certain symbols, Reiki symbols, that he had been given in his vision. Later he discovered that he could give other people these symbols and that they could be healers too, but somehow just knowing the symbols wasn’t enough, he had to pass on, or “initiate” the student with these symbols energetically. That’s the ritual.

In theory there was an unbroken line of Reiki masters, starting with Mr. Usui, who passed these initiations from one person to the next so that every Reiki Master today could be traced back to him. There is some variation on that story that you’ll get from anybody giving Reki initiations. Is the story true? My teacher said to consider it a myth, and not to worry too much about the literal truth of it. In the end, who cares. It does not matter.

My Reiki teacher, Debby, the one I liked, right up front explained to me that she had traveled a bit in Asia, and discovered that aspects of the Reiki myth simply weren’t true. Names, dates, places appeared to be wrong, possibly nonexistent, perhaps fictional. One of the claims flying around is that Reiki healing is attached in some way to Tibetan Buddhist healing techniques. It’s in the literature.

Later I went so far as to ask more than one Tibetan Buddhist monk about Reiki, and none of them knew what I was talking about. I also paid for a healing once from a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche: interesting techniques, familiar techniques for those who are students of Shamanic healing, and the “Medicine Buddha” of whom I was given an artist’s rendering and an incantation to memorize let me know that my Religious Studies degree had at least been accurate regarding some of the differences between Theravadan and Mahayana Buddhism. What was not validated was any connection whatsoever between Reiki and Tibetan Buddhist healing techniques.

Why would I even be so dumb as to ask: after all Usui lived in Japan, did his Spiritual Journey in Japan, a long way from Tibet. Also Usui was reportedly a Christian, so I would tend to find it far more likely that there be a connection between Jesus, a well known healer by reputation, and Reiki, than I would expect to find between Usui’s vision and Tibetan Buddhism. That is if Usui was not a Buddhist. But who cares? It does not matter.

Thinking about Reiki I got reminded of a story I had heard about Hopi boys-- between the ages of 8 and 13 they go through an initiation ritual into adulthood. Their whole lives they have been taught to interact with Kachina’s, both in doll form and in fullsized sentient form. They respect them, sometimes fear them, sometimes the Kachina spirits make them laugh but they are always teaching lessons and it is always understood that they are real supernatural beings with real powers, even though they appear to be men in costumes.

On the day of initiation the boys are led away from their homes by the Kachinas. Out in a field they are covered in blankets in a pile, basically being terrorized that the Kachinas are going to do something terrible to them. In the end the Kachina’s take off the masks and reveal themselves to be their parents and other familiar tribe members. At that point the boys are in on the secret, they’ll be taught to grow up and wear the masks of the Kachinas for the next generation. They are the spirits, they have the powers, just as their fathers and grandfathers before them.

So, is a Reiki Master wearing the mask of the Kachina and just doesn’t know it? Could be. I have little problem here in that I'm not Hopi and so I don't really understand what it means to be wearing a Kachina mask, I don't therefore understand what it means to take it off, nor do I understand the viewpoint of a child who sees his father appear from behind one for the first time in his life. So this is where I stand simultaneously: I'm a Reiki Master taking off my mask, I'm also the child observing the mask come off and seeing someone familiar behind it.

Reiki initiations give permission, to your average Joe or Jane, to be a healer, to posess supernatural powers and to perhaps be a miraculous healer. That does matter. But what are the consequences of this? What I find tragic, is that Reiki really caught on a while back and became so commonplace that it is now one of those certifications that every other massage therapist has added to their list of credentials.

Not every Reiki Master performs “miraculous” healings, and I’d venture to say that most do not. Usui purportedly did. So what went wrong? Today, Reiki has garnered a reputation only as a “feel good” therapy, but back in the day-- Usui was putting broken bones together and healing them . Did the original energy get stretched too thin? Did somebody memorize their Reiki symbols incorrectly? I don't think so. Sheryl and I have written about the importance of the client being ready and willing to accept healing, and how sometimes it is not in the highest interests of the client to be "instantly" healed.

I’ve got no problem with “feel good” therapy, and anymore I don’t even have a problem with a couple of fairly useless certifications that I’ve collected. And even though I work in a field which some people would call “mumbo-jumbo” at best, I have a big problem with superstition, with misunderstood outcomes, and worst of all, with a massive short circuiting of human potential.

Aha, human potential. Maybe I’m being too anthropocentric, but I think that every human participates in a complex reality which includes so called miraculous events. No certification required. The sooner we realize that, the better. I think that we all have the potential then, to bring about miraculous events, once we understand how our conscioussness can connect with the world of matter.

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