TIMES OF CRISIS can be times of illumination, too. My own life’s journey through different forms of movement and body work has always been precipitated by great challenge and difficulty. I learned to dance (history here ) as a way of becoming strong after a series of debilitating illnesses in my twenties. I studied T’ai Chi (classes info here) in my thirties to find balance, when the dance became a little obsessive and threatened injury. Dance Movement Therapy was a training that helped me deal with the emotional repercussions of supporting a seriously ill partner – and has led me, indirectly, to look after others who have been exhausted by the caring role. The Alexander Technique picked me up, when I was flattened by a back injury, as grief over multiple losses finally caught up with me, and laid me low. Now Reiki has come along – helping me recover from a serious shoulder fracture (See my Reiki In Leeds page, here )and build a new course for my life, more internal, more reflective, as I go into my Third Age.
Reiki books: theory versus reality
As a writer and an inveterate student, I am always looking for the answers to imponderable questions. Reiki can be pretty opaque and difficult to explain. How does Reiki work? Where does it come from? What is it all about? As I have gone through the Reiki training and ‘attunements’, I have looked in books – and found out about the history, and various interpretations of the hand positions, the philosophy, the spiritual power behind the word. But of course, the answer, in the end, is in the experience itself, of giving and receiving Reiki. So whilst there are some fascinating books on the whole concept of Reiki, and I have listed a few favourites below, there is nothing quite like the reality. Feeling warm hands upon you – laying warm hands upon another. It is a meditation, of sorts. And a deep well of serenity, just waiting to be tapped.
Meditation is the thing
When I was involved with learning the Alexander Technique, I asked my teacher for his book recommendations. He paused for a long time. I expected weighty tomes from F.M. Alexander himself, long disquisitions on the exact art and science of this beautiful psycho-physical technique. Then he said, “Actually, the book that helped me most when I was training, isn’t about the Alexander Technique at all. It’s called ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’ by Eugen Herrigel.” So I bought the book. And what is it about? Meditation. Being prepared, mentally, for whatever art form – or life practise – one is about to perform. The Japanese art, or archery, teacher “knows from experience that the preparations for working put him simultaneously in the right frame of mind for creating. The meditative repose in which he performs them gives him that vital loosening and equability of all his powers, that collectedness and presence of mind, without which no right work can be done.” Reiki, like archery, requires that one steps out of one’s own way, and allows the energy to flow through the hands – as the arrow springs, with unerring accuracy, from an archer’s bow that is calmly held.
When things fall apart
In summer 2004, a few months after my husband had died – following his ten year gruelling battle with cancer – I spent some time at a buddhist meditation retreat, Dzogchen Beara, on the wild west coast of County Cork, Ireland. I sat in desolation, watching the sky and the waves outside the magnificent meditation room, and feeling that my life was over. All energy spent. All hope darkened. In the little bookshop next to the shrine room, I picked up a book by a buddhist thinker and writer Pema Chodron, called ‘When Things Fall Apart’. This book, wise, calm, challenging, yet comforting, became my constant companion, and it still is, all these years later. Every page has a nugget of wisdom. Her descriptions could be as much about Reiki, as they are about the art of meditation itself. In her chapter on Loneliness, when she advises us not be afraid of feeling alone, she says “right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart?” Since practising Reiki, on myself and on others, it has seemed to me that, more than anything else, Reiki is about compassion, about settling down alongside oneself, and alongside others. About simply being and accepting things – just as they are. So this is the book I would recommend most, for anyone involved with Reiki. And it’s not about Reiki at all!!
Of the books that are about Reiki itself, it is the ones that are personal, direct and autobiographical that appeal to me most. Lofty claims about Reiki’s miraculous powers leave me cold. But individual journeys through the mystery of the Reiki process, draw and delight me. A small book called ‘Principles of Reiki’ by Kasja Krishni Borang is a lovely little memoir of the author’s own initiation into Reiki. Her descriptions on living in an ashram in India and looking after the herd of deer – treating some of them with Reiki, and then going on to work with other animals in the same way – is quirky and affectionate. And for something more rigorous, on the mind and spirit of Reiki, Frans Stiene’s ‘The Inner Heart of Reiki’ is very compelling. In the end, it is about being, rather than doing, that is the heart of the matter, a message for life, if ever there was one…”‘Doing Reiki’ is about being busy: we always try to ‘do’ something. And by always doing things we forget to be. ..When we remember how to truly ‘Be Reiki’ then there are no traces to be found, and we are finally completely free, like a bird, roaming the mighty sky.”
Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel (Penguin)
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron (Element)
Principles of Reiki by Kasja Krishni Borang (Thorsons)
The Inner Heart of Reiki by Frans Stiene (Ayni Books)