Confessions of a Reiki Master
Many years ago, I was in London on my way to dinner with fantasy editor Stephen Jones and, while negotiating on foot the semicircle of Oxford Circus, a double-decker bus sideswiped me and I sailed several feet into the side of a stone fountain, where I hit my head and sustained a bruise to my till-then good right ankle (the left having been injured in childhood).
Next day I rode by bus to Scotland to act in two shows at Edinburgh’s International Fringe Festival. I was staying in a room just below The Meadows in the southerly part of town and performing at the Royal Scots Club, which was about an hour’s walk north. That meant I had to go up and down the steep volcanic ridge that comprises Old Town’s central spine at least twice a day. With both ankles giving me grief, I had to purchase a cane in Pitlochry. By the end of the summer, when I returned to New York, my ankle was healed, but I soon discovered that I was still having difficulty walking on the level streets of Manhattan. The ailing ankle had temporarily masked the fact that my back was also traumatized, and it remained so for a long, long time.
It is anecdotally relevant that some injuries reputedly jog the sufferer into a higher level of paranormal sensitivity than he or she possessed before the accident, and that appears to hold true in this case. In Edinburgh I found many places I could not endure standing near or walking past, and in each instance I subsequently learned that each spot was a scene of some ghastly atrocity, and was allegedly haunted.
To preserve a modicum of scientific open-mindedess, I cannot prove, not even to myself, that the injuries I sustained made me more sensitive to ghosts, though I suspect they did. However, there is no question that my back pain led me to explore new avenues of energy medicine and intuitive knowledge, things I’d always been skeptical about; as I wrote in The Masters of Solitude, “the need to believe is an almost inescapable trap of the ego.” So I questioned the process at every step, but came to realize that there are new dimensions of mind and that hard-to-define commodity known as Spirit.
The process began with my quest for relief from the back pain that my encounter with the London double-decker brought about. I tried osteopathy, chiropractic, kinesiology, and sports medicine; all were helpful, yet at best temporary fixatives. In between visits to the doctor(s)/technicians, I had difficult days and nights. One particularly excruciating memory is a time when it took me several minutes to slump from a recliner chair onto the floor, and rise from there a long time later.
One afternoon I saw a new sign in the neighborhood: Gentle Chiropractic. That seemed utterly oxymoronic, but the first appointment was free, so I set one up. The practitioner, a woman named Kathleen Kelly (now a practitioner in Florida), surprised me by spending a lot of time doing various manipulations involving my feet and ankles. “How,” I wondered, “is that going to help my back?”
Well, it did. After a relatively few weeks, I got more relief from my ongoing and recurring back pain than I ever thought possible; furthermore, I found I could turn my neck in a way that, till then, had always produced dizziness. Whatever her system was seemed little short of magic.
After several sessions, I asked her what the sign on the wall meant: Level I Reiki Workshop. She said it was a Japanese form of hands-on healing, and it would be very useful for me to take inasmuch as Level I is aimed at self-healing, so I could use it to self-treat my back. That struck me as quite generous of her, since, if what she said was true, I would no longer need to come to her weekly for costly treatments.
I took the workshop. It was a fascinating experience, though when it was done and I went home, I was quite skeptical that it would prove effective in the long run. But I did the prescribed exercises every day. After several weeks of this regimen, and despite my doubts that it was really going to work, one morning I woke with a severe charley horse. Instead of just writhing and groaning till it disappeared, I tried out what I’d learned, placing my hands on the knotted muscle. To my amazement, the pain went away like volume diminishing when one turns the knob of a radio.
A few weeks later, the real test of reiki came when I had a “gall bladder” attack. I put quote marks round “gall bladder” because I’d already had the organ surgically removed, only to learn it still possible to experience the same attack when in stress, or if one eats unwisely. If you don’t know what a gall bladder attack is like, it is said to be the closest approximation of childbirth pains that a man can undergo.
On the day in question, I had a wholly stress-related attack. Now whenever that happened, I would INSTANTLY reach for a belladonna-based medication. I never used to go anywhere without it. I knew I had to swallow that pill within a few minutes of the first signs of an attack for it be effective, or I would be in agony for hours.
It was with considerable trepidation that I tried reiki, instead. Well, not only did it prove blissfully effective, it countered three other attacks over the next several weeks. The confidence this built meant I never again had to use the medication, just my hands. Within a few months, I’d not only stopped worrying about the problem, but it totally went away. I hope I am not tempting fate by declaring that I have not had an attack for a decade, and do not think I ever will again.
The next and, to me, even more persuasive validation of reiki came about when my late wife Saralee experienced a backache that endured for three straight days. Now she had trained and was practising as a physician assistant, so when I suggested treating her problem with reiki, she was vociferously not interested. I asked what it would hurt to stand still for thirty seconds or so. She did it begrudgingly. With such an attitude, I really didn’t think I’d be able to help her, but in less than a minute, her pain was gone.
Saralee’s first reaction was humorous annoyance, predicated on the fact that she had studied long and hard (and expensively) to become a P. A., yet I had cured her with the stuff of witch-doctor-y. But then she declared that I should go on to the next level of reiki studies.
I did so. Now the first level involved self-treatment; the second concerns treatment of others, and is much more complicated. Reiki, by the way, is a system devised to clear the body’s energy paths; it is more broadly based than the term “treatment” might suggest. Patients do not need to have acute physical problems; periodic adjustments tend toward maintaining both health and energetic/emotional balance.
Eventually, I went on to the third and final level of reiki training: mastery. (There is another school of training in America that divides the curriculum into four levels. But Dr. Mikao Usui, the Japanese originator of the system, taught reiki in nine levels, a curriculum it could take twenty years to complete.) Level three taught me a few new things, especially how to teach reiki, but mastery mainly consisted of a long meditative ceremony. Many years later, I attuned a young man into mastery. At the close of the ritual, he said in a hushed voice, “I feel like I have become a Jedi master!”
It is perhaps peculiar at this late stage to provide a more extensive definition of reiki. The word is Japanese for the energy field that goes by various names – in India, it is called prana, in China, it is chi. Bernard Shaw, in his plays Man and Superman and Back to Methusaleh, refers to it as “the life-force,” which has its direct echo in the Star Wars films; amusingly, my second level reiki certificate states that I am qualified as a handler of “pranic and Jeddi energy,” so maybe my student was right.
Even though I had attained mastery, I still needed an intellectual framework to comprehend why reiki works even when both operator and patient are skeptical. I found valuable information when I read Vibrational Medicine, a fascinating examination of many varieties of energy healing by Dr. Richard Gerber, a Midwestern internist; Hands of Light, by Barbara Brennan and Joseph A. Smith, and, especially, The Therapeutic Touch, by Dolores Krieger, a nurse at NYU Medical who developed a system of tactile treatment that is essentially similar to reiki, and which has now been taught to many thousands of medical workers in and around New York, notably at the program Ms. Krieger set up at Columbia-Presbyterean Hospital in Manhattan.
A major result of working with healing energies is how it changes, broadens, and deepens one’s inner life. Eventually I became able to see faintly what is described as the aura,a concept I had always scoffed at, but I believe, as do other energy workers I’ve talked with about this, that extensive practice in this field alters the optics of the eye. At any rate, reiki has made me more comfortable of the parameters and limitations of life, and later, with other disciplines I studied, brought me to an unprecedented (for me!) respect for intuitive knowledge. (My daughter Terry has sometimes joked, “Daddy, you’re scaring me — you’re sounding way too Californian.”)
I am reminded of the story of the five blind men who feel different parts of an elephant and each think they now know what the creature is like. The tale is sometimes suggested as a model of humanity’s blindness to the vast scope of the “hidden world,” an argument that used to irritate me. But after increased energetic awareness, I find there may be some truth to the observation. The cosmos we are beginning to unriddle may be both more complex and simpler than prior organized systems of spiritual thought maintain. We too easily forget a significant detail in the parable of the blind men – while each one failed to grasp the totality of elephant, none of them were wholly wrong, either. They all had their hands on real
working parts of the beast. If they had only heard of “interdisciplinary convergence!”
Herman Hesse played with an aspect of that notion in his final novel, Magister Ludi, in which a scholarly society in the far future devises an intellectual challenge known as The Glass Bead Game, in which players seek connecting strands between art, science, religion, music, architecture: systems that approach the same wonders in ways more similar than separate. Heart and head, Hesse hints, may only reach accord if they work together. (This is the major concern of The Masters of Solitude, though when Parke Godwin and I wrote it, I had not yet read Hesse’s book.)
I do not embrace the Asian view of the world included in reiki meditations, and certainly have no use for any other system of religious thought, so the fact that energy work is practical and effective in – literally – my hands, I am both amused and puzzled. Reiki has rendered me unlike myself, as earlier self-defined, yet in the process, I may have perhaps become more myself. Who knows? I don’t, not yet, maybe not ever. But as the button-molder says at the end of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, “Well, we’ll meet again at the final crossroads, Peer … and then we’ll see.”
Department of the Bleeding Obvious
There is little reason, at this stage, for me to review Avatar. By now, if you are a devotee of fantasy/science fiction and haven’t seen it, you are doing yourself a disservice. There is no need for me to go into a detailed analysis of the film, but I do wish to go on record as saying that I have never seen such a large body of fatuously stupid negative reviews as have been appearing right and left (especially right). Even The Onion gave it a lukewarm reception. Now The Onion, a once-brilliant satiric newspaper, has been going disastrously downhill for the past several years, but it still contains excellent reviews of new film. Even though its critics give lower grades than I would to many movies, I am always impressed by their expertise, common-sense, and perceptivity. But they are SO off base with Avatar!,
I have seen it five times, and will likely see it yet again. (Five times in digital 3D; once in IMAX, and I do recommend digital. Though IMAX makes its vast scope even more impressive, foreground details are less sharply defined.) Avatar is the greatest fantasy/SF spectacle I have ever seen; in one glorious sequence, I thought, “This is what it feels like to be able to fly!” My assessment does not ignore the splendid achievement of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (though he never will be forgiven for the colossal stupidity of excising Tom Bombadil). But Avatar is even greater, and moviegoers obviously think the same thing since they keep seeing it again and again. It has broken all box office records – a fact its blinkered critics should recognize and respect.
I have not yet seen Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, but I am looking forward to doing so. The coming attractions led me to read the series by Rick Riordan. Not only is the underlying concept clever, it is worked out with astonishing and consistent detail. There is endless, hair-raising adventure, a splendid sense of humor, and a protagonist both sympathetic and admirable.
The Percy Jackson books consist of five novels and a companion volume that contains three excellent shorter stories that fall chronologically between the fourth and final volumes. They are not quite on the emotive level of the Harry Potter series, though they come close at times. I am pleased to see that the first movie has been directed by Chris Columbus, who was at the helm of the first two and best Harry Potter films. Okay, that is a slight overstatement; “Goblet of Fire” was quite well done, too, but the third and fifth Harry Potter films are greatly flawed, as I have pointed out in earlier columns. I am sorry to report that the sixth is not much better. A great pity, since its inept director is doing the final two in the series; I hope he learns, at least, to stop filming important expositional scenes in extreme long shot so that one cannot see the actors well or, crucially, their mouths as they speak!
Finally, as I write, the new Tim Burton-Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland has not yet opened, but I have seen its previews. It looks worth seeing, as one would expect, given the artists involved. I do think, though, from what the coming attractions reveal, that it is misleadingly titled. Wouldn’t it be more accurate, Mr. Burton, to call it Variations on a Book by Lewis Carroll?
(I am indebted to my friend and colleague Carole Buggé for suggesting the title of this column, which I had more prosaicaly named “The Energies of Life and Death”).