Tag Archives: Reiki

How I Met Fryderyk

Clésinger's marble bust of Chopin, after the death mask

Written in 2005, planned as Chapter 1 of that book I haven’t written yet, but have been giving you bits and pieces of here:

During my freshman year of high school, I had a peculiar experience.  It made me pretty peculiar, too, I think.  It’s a little embarrassing to remember now, but I suppose one has the right to be a bit silly at the age of 14.

We had an innovative interdisciplinary course of study that linked developments in history, art, music, and literature.  Somewhere in the middle of the year we got up to the early 19th century, and there was an emphasis on nationalism and Romanticism.  Our music teacher showed us a 1945 movie about Chopin, A Song to Remember, starring Cornel Wilde and Merle Oberon.  (This movie gave Liberace the idea for his candelabra thing; I wasn’t the only one affected!)  It was rather frightful in its WW II era way, but my reaction to it had little to do with the actual quality of the movie itself.  I was absolutely incensed by it.  I was sure that everything in the story was wrong, and that was what I told everybody, including the music teacher, who did not take kindly to this.

I was so bothered that I started reading everything I could find about Chopin, his friends, and his time.  While I didn’t find specific facts about him surfacing as I read, I did feel that a lot of it was more like remembering than like learning something for the first time.  And yes, it turned out that I was right; that movie was inaccurate at best.

I became obsessive about this subject, and I suppose people thought I was a little tetched or something.  It was good timing, though, because this was the mid-1970s, and there was a spike of interest in George Sand as part of the women’s movement.  In fact, PBS’s Masterpiece Theater put yet another film production in front of me, a Sand biography called Notorious Woman (if I remember correctly).  It covered Mme Sand’s life overall, not just her time with Chopin.  Rosemary Harris made an excellent Sand, and George Chakiris a delicately beautiful Chopin, though with the wrong coloring.  There was a lot more truth to that film.  At any rate, my friends, who unsurprisingly were writers and musicians, also developed some interest in the people and events that were holding my attention, and Mme Sand became a sort of spiritual grandmother for some of us young female literary types.  So I felt that I was just a little bit less strange.

I have to make it clear that until I saw that first movie, I had absolutely no interest in Chopin and almost no awareness of his existence, despite the fact that I had been studying piano for a year or so.  My mother had a fairly extensive collection of classical recordings, but Chopin was conspicuously absent, which is hard to explain since she loves his work.  I was listening largely to Mozart at the time.  If anyone had asked me what Chopin had written, I couldn’t have thought of anything other than the so-called “Minute” Waltz.

There was one little piece of hard evidence, or at least a physical object, tying me with Chopin and his time.  I took a lot of art classes in high school, and the people associated with him were recurring subjects in my work.  I tried to draw them as they would have appeared going about their daily activities, in whole scenes.  That seems now like an odd thing for a teenage girl to be doing; I suppose I was trying to clarify my memories, or whatever they were.  One painting, which I never finished, was intended to be a scene at Nohant, George Sand’s estate, although I didn’t know what her home had actually looked like.  Later I found a photo of her salon, and a piece of furniture I had painted was right there in the picture.  It was the piano stool, and it was sufficiently unusual in design that I felt my painting it could not be a coincidence.  In fact, it looked like my painting, but even more like the image I had had in my mind; I had seen a mauve paisley fabric, which showed clearly in the photo, but in the painting I had represented the paisley pattern with simple little crescent lines.  I have no idea whether this stool was in the house during the time that Chopin lived there—and it was not there when I visited Nohant in 2002—but I felt that I must have made a real connection of some kind.

There was little else to go on.  Sometimes I felt that a revelation was just beyond my grasp, and I would do my best to reach for it.  I even sat in the dark at times with my hands on the piano keyboard, feeling that something ought to come through, but unsurprisingly, nothing ever did.  I sometimes stared at pictures and willed myself to remember.  I gave up, went on to other things, figured that if I was meant to understand, the knowledge would eventually come to me.

I was a classical guitar major in music school, and although I did keep up playing the piano to some extent, Chopin faded somewhat into the background of my life.  I concentrated on early music, Renaissance lute repertoire in particular, and disdained Romanticism, as was the fashion in that field.

Nevertheless, I found myself mostly teaching piano, not guitar, for a living (not much of a living, I’m afraid).  Through the years I often felt that I must have once been a much better pianist than I was able to be in this life.  It seemed like I was blocking myself from playing as well as my training and experience should have allowed.  I remember a breakthrough at a lesson in 1989, which seemed to confirm this theory.  The week before, I had been playing one of the mazurkas, or rather totally failing to play it.  My teacher, Jane, agreed with me that there was nothing in this piece that I couldn’t handle, that I must be stopping myself for some reason from playing the way we both knew I could.  To my great surprise, I found myself pouring out the story about the movie and the piano stool and all.  Jane, God love her, took me seriously, and I felt much better.  At my next lesson, I sat down at her Steinway and became a different person, just for a few minutes.  For the first time in my life I knew what it actually felt like to be a pianist.  Where I had stumbled, I flew.  Jane and I stared at each other and asked, “What happened?”  It was obviously something big.  “Maybe I was one of his students,” I joked—a reasonable guess, as it turned out.  Unfortunately, those magical few minutes were not to be repeated.

I thought that might be a good thing, in a way.  If I were to let myself loose at the piano, I thought, I wouldn’t have much interest in anything else, and I wouldn’t do whatever it was that I was supposed to accomplish in my present life.  If I had been a keyboard player before, well, I had been there and done that.  Still, the suggestion that I could become something far greater as a musician rather haunted me.

I should point out that, despite my strong interest in Chopin, I never felt that I loved him during those years.  I didn’t see him as a great human being.  I bought into the view of him as an eternal victim, not really able or willing to take care of himself or make his own decisions.  I wasn’t crazy about the conservatism and social prejudices that were attributed to him (which I now know were not so true).  I did have a certain fondness for him, and identified somewhat with him because of our mutual hypersensitivity, tendency to work in small forms, concern with detail, that sort of thing.  I saw him as a sort of cousin or uncle, related to me but a bit distant, whereas it was George Sand for whom I felt actual love.

In February 1993, everything changed.  Everything.

It happened quite suddenly and in a most unexpected way.  I hate to say this, but it was triggered by another movie.  Our local PBS station ran the 1991 film Impromptu, which concerned Chopin, George Sand, Liszt, and various of their friends and lovers, concentrating on Sand’s courtship of Chopin.  I hadn’t really planned to watch it.  I’d been on very much a left-brain sort of path the past couple of years, and I wasn’t particularly interested in neurotic artists anymore.  I felt I was above that sort of thing.  However, one of my guitar students, who had gone through a Sand phase in college (and even married a pianist), strongly recommended the movie, and curiosity got the better of me.  I taped it and watched it late at night by myself.

The movie was silly—intentionally so – and not at all factual, but true of those people in much the way that Amadeus might be said to be true of Mozart (yes, I know that is arguable).  So I was sitting there chuckling at the movie, when all of a sudden I found myself curled in a ball on the couch, screaming uncontrollably (or rather, quite controllably, because I managed to be extremely quiet—I just couldn’t stop).

The thing that set off the screaming was George saying to Fryderyk, “Who has taught you to be afraid?  No wonder you’re choking to death!  Someone’s got to show you how to breathe!”

This actually made a certain kind of sense, but I’ll have to back up a bit to show why that’s so.  The short version of the story, though, is that the next day I was able to play the piano at a completely different level from the day before.  This continued, and there were a number of other more or less bizarre effects.  I wasn’t playing really well, but I seemed no longer to stop myself from using what ability I had.  And suddenly I was having a lot more fun.

While the movie apparently acted as a trigger, it seems that I had been leading up to this change without realizing it.  For one thing, I was quite literally trying to stop choking and learn to breathe.  I was doing that as a project for my anatomy and physiology class.  I conducted a little study of the effect of playing a wind instrument on respiratory health, knowing that music lessons are often prescribed for people with asthma.  Partly I took this up because the teacher required a project, partly to try to clear up the case of bronchitis I had developed over Christmas break and couldn’t seem to shake off.  I had been coughing for weeks, and knew from experience that playing the flute would help me to clear out the goo that was still clogging my chest.

As I practiced each day on the flute, I found that I had to consciously force myself to open my chest and really breathe deeply.  There seemed to be a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear clutching at the muscles of my chest wall, and I had to constantly fight myself to push my way through it.  It soon became easier, though, and through the month of my study I cleared out a lot of phlegm and much of the emotional blockage.  My lung capacity increased by almost 50% (as measured in the school lab), and I felt more energetic and relaxed.  My teacher loved the project, too, and gave me an A.  It was near the beginning of this period of flute practice that, as I said, everything changed, and breathing was a major theme at the time.

Meanwhile, I was working with physical therapy and yoga to loosen up my body, while stretching and contorting my brain with the science classes.  I was practicing Reiki and opening up my perceptions.

Back to the main thread of the story.  After my episode of screaming, I felt a bit shell-shocked, but finally was able to go to sleep.  The next day, when I went to the piano, there were little flashes, just a few seconds at a time, of a level of playing far beyond what I could normally produce.  If I held a certain sort of concentration, it would come through more easily, but I couldn’t sustain it.  At the same time, I felt like I was picking up little suggestions, rather like getting a lesson from an attentive and caring teacher.  And I felt like he was around, just out of reach.  It was an intriguing sensation.  Nothing very definite, just a sense of presence.

I buzzed with this for a day or two.  My thoughts ran to physics, which had been part of my recent studies.  Bell’s theorem in particular, the one that shows in a mathematically rigorous way that reality must be non-local, in other words, that everything affects everything and that action at a distance is not only possible, but is necessary to any coherent model of the universe.  “If he can affect me,” I mused, “can I affect him?”  After all, for the past 19 or so years I had felt some connection there, gotten some tantalizing little bits of information now and then, and always hoped that something would someday break through, but I had never had any power to make that happen.  I came to the conclusion that, reality being non-local and time being non-linear, I had to be able to reach him.  And I was determined to try.

Although I had never had the slightest success with experiments in astral projection, and had shown little talent for telepathy, I had some hope of accomplishing my goal.  I had a new tool to work with, the Reiki technique for treatment at a distance, which allows one to reach across both space and time.  I had a hard time even believing this could be done, even though I had received such a treatment myself a couple of months earlier, and it had worked beautifully.  I began with the thought that it couldn’t hurt to try, and with the intention simply to communicate in whatever way might be possible.  I aimed mentally for Paris, 1838, and went through the prescribed procedure.  I was planning to look for him in his Earth life; it didn’t occur to me to try to find him in present time.  The image in my mind was of walking up to him, putting my hands on the back of his head.

The first thing I noticed was a strong pull on my left palm, whereas I was used to feeling the right hand working harder during a distance treatment.  Then it seemed that the Qi was flowing three or four inches out from my hands and disappearing suddenly, as if into a black hole.  That was new.  I suddenly thought that I ought to be trying to say something, but I had no idea what.  We didn’t even have a language in common, as far as I knew—did it matter?  Feeling a bit awkward, I tried to convey general pleasantries like, “We appreciate you, we love your work, we’re so glad you exist.  Take heart, because your efforts will not go to waste.”  Silly me, I was thinking in terms of treating him, helping him, maybe somehow saving him, as if he needed saving and needed me to do it for him.

I remember a sense of him bounding toward me, delighted, bowling me over like a huge puppy.  I assumed that he was pleased and relieved that I had finally figured out how to get in touch after so many years.

I drifted off to sleep without breaking the contact.  The next morning, I awoke feeling absolutely wonderful—and realized that, as far as I could remember, I had never felt that way before.  “Well,” I said to myself, “I may not have done anything for him, but I sure did something for me.”  The only thing that felt other than perfect was a sense that my body just wasn’t right somehow; I felt like I should be taller and much thinner, and my pelvic bones felt all wrong.

I spent the next few days in a kind of Zen flow state.  Everything to which I turned my hand came out exactly as intended, without effort.  The bright moments in my piano practice lasted longer.  My daughter, age five, hung around in the doorway and applauded, or went off to dance while I played.

I coughed horrendously for about two days, cleared out a lot of gunk, and then seemed to be finished with that.

I suddenly felt that my wardrobe was all wrong and went shopping for pastel florals.

I noticed that I was showing all the classic symptoms of being in love.

It was tough to study for that week’s anatomy and physiology exam; I was mooning about like a sixteen-year-old, listening to music, reading poetry, drifting toward Paris.  I had a strong sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sometimes it was a peculiar sort of stretched feeling, as if one arm were reaching into some other dimension, with the rest of me here.  It was not especially uncomfortable, but it certainly was distracting.  It was the week before Valentine’s Day, and I was feeling hearts-and-flowery as never before.  Probably everyone appreciated the extra affection.  They just wondered why I was so cheery all of a sudden.  People started to tell me things like, “I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something so different about you.”

Things took a negative turn on the night of February 13.  One way to reach a person who is far away is to concentrate on a photograph, and I decided to look up a copy of the only extant photo of Chopin, the one taken not long before his death.  I had no thought of actually trying to contact him right then; in fact, I was in medical mode, wondering exactly what had caused the severe facial edema and trying to remember details about right-sided heart failure.  I wondered what he was feeling like at the time.  Suddenly, without warning, I fell headlong into the picture—at least that is the best way I can describe it.  There was no time to get my shields up.  It was like drowning.  I could hardly get a breath past the crushing pain in my chest.  My stomach twisted with nausea.  The worst, though, was a feeling of absolute, unending despair, and I sank to the floor of my music studio, sobbing, under the weight of it.

I remember offering to give any healing that might be available, but that part is vague.  Mostly I remember trying to break the contact and failing repeatedly.  None of the ways I had learned to protect myself worked.  I ended up beating my hands into the carpet as hard as I could, and gradually the sensations faded away.

I felt ill through the next day and was in an altered state in which everything seemed dark and sinister.  Nothing like this has ever happened again, thank God, and I still have no explanation for it.  It was not a communication from Chopin or anyone else, just a species of direct experience.  I learned one thing with certainty: never ask a question unless you are ready to accept the answer.

It was an interesting time, those first few weeks, trying to stay in balance through all the changes.  Most of the time I felt a warmth at my sacrum, sometimes running up my spine; that, along with the extra energy and general good spirits, made me feel wildly sexual.  My husband was nonplussed but didn’t seem to mind.  What neither of us knew till months later was that I was developing cervical cancer.  My assumption now is that all that energy pouring into my root chakra was meant at least in part to help with that situation.  However, there was definitely an erotic aspect to it as well.

In the midst of one of these warm, pleasant experiences, I thought with all the force I could muster, “I wish I could see your face.”  I never did get a visual image, but my own face suddenly seemed to be changing.  It felt as if someone were molding my bones like clay.  This scared me too much, and I broke away.  But that effect began to stay with me most of the time, a feeling of having someone else’s face, but only on the right side.  It was just as if a perfectly straight line had been drawn smack down the center of my face, and completely different things would happen on each side.  If a particularly strong contact was taking place, this was even visible.  The muscles realigned themselves so that the shape of my face actually changed subtly on the right side and I wore two different expressions.  There was a certain amount of discomfort at first, because that shape didn’t fit my bone structure too well.  For example, my jaw thrust forward too much and started to ache. My nose sometimes felt twisted under the opposing forces—in addition to feeling overly large.  It was amazing.  I could touch my face with my fingers and convince myself that the structure was exactly what it had always been, but my internal perception was totally at odds with what my fingers told me.

This was severely weird but very useful.  It provided me with a means of communication, because the affected side of my face could change expression without my having anything to do with it.  I particularly remember one time that I asked him a question about something that upset him terribly, and the right side of my face twisted in a grimace of absolute agony, while the left side remained absolutely relaxed.   There was no way I could have done that on purpose, no matter how hard I tried.  Most of the time (fortunately) it was much less dramatic, like a smile with only half of my mouth.  Eventually I concluded that this form of communication was not good for me, and I was able to put a stop to it.

So what was it like, this face that I lived with but never saw with my eyes?  A broad, high, rather flat forehead; flat cheekbones; very prominent, narrow, aquiline nose, with a tight, “nose in the air” feeling; pointed chin with the jaw pushed forward.  A tense face overall, pulled back strongly at the temples, with a tightness around the pursed mouth that verged on a constant expression of disapproval.  Yet a face that smiled easily.  A face that was entirely consistent with that of my favorite Romantic-period composer.

I made no official statements at that time, or in fact for years after, putting a name to that face.  Although my family and friends understood that I was in contact with someone who appeared to be Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, I did not speak of him that way.  I referred to him coyly as “my invisible friend,” “my guy,” “my spirit guide,” that sort of thing.  I had no proof and was not ready to commit to being quite that crazy.

(Of course, with a five-year-old in the house, there was nothing especially odd about invisible friends.  We were inundated with assorted little girls, bears, puppies, kittens, parrots, other animals that I couldn’t keep track of, even a Vulcan.  You couldn’t walk through our house without tripping over “somebody.”  My daughter didn’t notice my own somebody, which was fine with me.)

I might have expected that this masculine influence would bring out my own masculine side, but just the opposite happened.  I started feeling hyper-feminine, and went in for floral prints, flowing skirts, and hair bows.  It was as if I had become another person.  It was only much later that I found out who it might be.

While I did not find myself suddenly writing in fluent Polish or playing amazing new original melodies, there were some events that lent weight to the idea that I was indeed hearing from Chopin.  Early on, there was the Mozart episode.  My husband made his debut as a symphonic percussionist with the largely-amateur Albuquerque Philharmonic, which needed an extra pair of hands for Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol.”  The concert began with the overture to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, a piece which (I admit sheepishly) was entirely unfamiliar to me at that time.  The strings were frightfully out of tune, and I wasn’t a great fan of Mozart then anyway, so I was wincing at the first few measures and wishing I could go home early.  But at the same time, there were shivers of pleasure going up my spine, as if someone was awfully happy to hear that piece.  “Oh, come on,” I thought, “it’s so out of tune!”  “Yes, but it’s Mozart!” seemed to be the reply.  It felt as if he were actually jumping up and down with joy and excitement.  “Oh, yeah, you love Mozart.  Okay, so tell me what’s so good about it.”  There was a rush of sensations in my chest, like a computer file downloaded too fast to be read.

It was the first time that I was absolutely sure someone else’s thoughts were in my head, someone with entirely different opinions and reactions.  Later I read that Chopin considered Don Giovanni to be the pinnacle of musical achievement.  Frankly, I still disagree, but my opinion cannot carry nearly so much weight as his; he was a rabid opera fan and immersed in Mozart’s work throughout his life.  I have taken every opportunity to attend performances of Mozart operas, though, in an attempt to fill in this gap in my education and to get a better understanding of something that was (and is) so important to Fryderyk.

The identity of my friend was less important to me than the relationship itself—though I often thought that if I were to find out that I was wrong about him, I would feel unutterably stupid and wouldn’t know how to go on.  Something absolutely central to my life, a support I relied upon, would have been pulled out from under me if had I found out I was being deceived.  Now, as I write about this 15 years later, I can say with confidence that I have never been deceived, and I have gained more and more evidence that my friend is who and what he appears to be.

Near the beginning of these experiences, Jane told me, “What you are really trying to find out with all this is who you are.”

Around the same time, I heard from my friend Maggie in Ohio.  “There’s a lot that I’m not sure of,” she wrote.  Amen to that, I thought.  Maggie had been in and out of the local mental hospital a number of times in the past couple of years.  She was living in her own reality, like the rest of us, but her reality was a bit farther removed from the average than most people’s.  There was a certain celebrity she had been in love with for much of her life, and from time to time she became convinced that he was actually with her and even that they were married.  She had all sorts of strategies to make her delusions fit in with the inescapable facts of her daily life.  “David isn’t here because he’s filming in L.A.,” she might say.  So was there a provable difference between Maggie and me, I wondered?  Sure there was.  I hadn’t landed in a hospital.

I couldn’t entirely blame Maggie for attempting to make something better out of her genuinely dismal life.  I think what made her escape so much further into fantasy at that time was the fact of her biological clock inexorably running down, with no hope of getting what she wanted most, a husband and children.  But her maladaptive behavior made the things she wanted that much more remote.  Seeing her situation, I tried to analyze my own needs and motives to see if I might be inventing some sort of similar wish-fulfillment for myself.  When I first encountered Fryderyk, I was coming off a severe blow to my self-esteem and my plans for the future.  However, I had already made other plans.  Certainly I felt a need to be loved and cared for, a need to be needed, a need to feel that I was special to someone.  But my marriage was in excellent condition, my daughter was doing well, I had close friends, and I was finding opportunities to serve others.  I didn’t think that these experiences found me at a point of unusual weakness or vulnerability.  I remained open to the idea that I might possibly be delusional, but I was pretty sure that it was all for real, and I longed for clearer understanding.



Filed under spirit communication, the unexplained

Attack of the Bishops

Originally posted August 5, 2009 at Gaia.com

Last March, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a report condemning Reiki and directing that it should no longer be used in Catholic hospitals or institutions.  Many people in the Reiki community and the rest of the world of healing practitioners were shocked.  A number of them wrote eloquent and well-reasoned responses.  Unfortunately, reason does not seem to have had much effect thus far.  I’m going to quote from the bishops’ presentation here and explain why it made no sense.  I am attempting to feel love and empathy toward the bishops, who I’m sure think they’re properly doing their job as they see it, but as you’ll probably notice, I’m still in a major snit about this.

Why would a group of bishops feel that they needed to weigh in on a medical issue like this, which is obviously not part of their area of expertise?  Their answer:  “From time to time questions have been raised about various alternative therapies that are often available in the United States.  Bishops are sometimes asked, ‘What is the Church’s position on such therapies?’  The USCCB Committee on Doctrine has prepared this resource in order to assist bishops in their responses.”

And why do I care about this?  I’m a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and the Ki, or Qi, that the bishops don’t believe exists is the center of my practice and my life.  I’ve taught Reiki, and I have many years of experience doing it and other forms of what we loosely term “energy medicine.”  I had 12 years of Catholic school, and while I’m as lapsed as a Catholic can possibly get, I have a certain respect for some of the people who are sincerely working within the Church, and do not wish to see them harmed by this kind of ignorance.

And if the bishops can dictate what medical treatments can be done, I might as well talk about theology.

“The Church recognizes two kinds of healing: healing by divine grace and healing that utilizes the powers of nature.”

“As for the first, we can point to the ministry of Christ, who performed many physical healings and who commissioned his disciples to carry on that work.” Exactly. A number of Reiki practitioners who identify themselves as Christians (some of whom are clergy themselves) have pointed this out.  “In fidelity to this commission, from the time of the Apostles the Church has interceded on behalf of the sick through the invocation of the name of the Lord Jesus, asking for healing through the power of the Holy Spirit, whether in the form of the sacramental laying on of hands and anointing with oil or of simple prayers for healing, which often include an appeal to the saints for their aid.” In a footnote, the bishops add:  “Some forms of Reiki teach of a need to appeal for the assistance of angelic beings or ‘Reiki spirit guides.’  This introduces the further danger of exposure to malevolent forces or powers.” Amazing– I was taught, as a small Catholic child, to ask for help from my guardian angel, but now apparently this is a horrible and non-Catholic thing to do.  And it’s fine to appeal to saints, who are dead human beings, for help, but to ask for the help of spirit guides, who are often also dead human beings, is dangerous.  Now, I’ll give the bishops a point for this one; it certainly is possible to find oneself in contact with beings who are unsavory and not working for our good.  However, the attunements and procedures of Reiki are intended to create some protection against such an event.

“As for the second, the Church has never considered a plea for divine healing, which comes as a gift from God, to exclude recourse to natural means of healing through the practice of medicine.  Alongside her sacrament of healing and various prayers for healing, the Church has a long history of caring for the sick through the use of natural means.  The most obvious sign of this is the great number of Catholic hospitals that are found throughout our country.“

“The two kinds of healing are not mutually exclusive.  Because it is possible to be healed by divine power does not mean that we should not use natural means at our disposal.  It is not our decision whether or not God will heal someone by supernatural means.”

“As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, the Holy Spirit sometimes gives to certain human beings ‘a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord.’  This power of healing is not at human disposal, however,  for ‘even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses.’  Recourse to natural means of healing therefore remains entirely appropriate, as these are at human disposal.  In fact, Christian charity demands that we not neglect natural means of healing people who are ill.”

What is the distinction, exactly, between “natural” and “supernatural” healing?  I would say, along with most workers in the vineyards of energy medicine, that the power to heal is innate to human beings, as to all living things.  This working of the Source of all is natural in every sense, yet many people would identify it with God.  What the bishops refer to as divine power is not something that exists somewhere “out there,” separate from the world that we normally experience.  The dichotomy between “natural” and “divine” is ultimately not very meaningful in the context of healing (or anywhere else), but the bishops, spiritual leaders though they are, seem to believe that the material world exists apart from spiritual reality.

“As we shall see below, however, distinctions between self, world, and God tend to collapse in Reiki thought.  Some Reiki teachers explain that one eventually reaches the realization that the self and the ‘universal life energy’ are one, ‘that we are universal life force and that everything is energy, including ourselves’ (Libby Barnett and Maggie Chambers with Susan Davidson, Reiki Energy Medicine:  Bringing Healing Touch into Home, Hospital, and Hospice[Rochester, Vt.:  Healing Arts Press, 1996], p. 48; see also p. 102).” I’m having a lot of trouble understanding why this is a problem, especially since the most venerated Christian mystics, such as Saint Teresa of Avila, have spoken of their experience of oneness with God.  I was under the impression that official Catholicism considered this a state greatly to be desired, but the bishops seem quite uncomfortable with the idea.  At any rate, physics has made it clear that everything is indeed energy, and everything is interconnected and interpenetrating.  Sorry, bishops.

“Although Reiki proponents seem to agree that Reiki does not represent a religion of its own, but a technique that may be utilized by people from many religious traditions, it does have several aspects of a religion.  Reiki is frequently described as a ‘spiritual’ kind of healing asopposed to the common medical procedures of healing using physical means.  Much of the literature on Reiki is filled with references to God, the Goddess, the ‘divine healing power,’ and the ‘divine mind.’  The life force energy is described as being directed by God, the ‘Higher Intelligence,’ or the ‘divine consciousness.’  Likewise, the various ‘attunements’ which the Reiki practitioner receives from a Reiki Master are accomplished through ‘sacred ceremonies’ that involve the manifestation and contemplation of certain ‘sacred symbols’ (which have traditionally been kept secret by Reiki Masters).  Furthermore Reiki is frequently described as a ‘way of living,’ with a list of five ‘Reiki Precepts’ stipulating proper ethical conduct.”

The Reiki symbols have never been presented to me as “sacred.”  While I would say that everything is sacred in some sense, I would find the idea of these symbols having a religious meaning or being venerated in themselves rather bizarre.  It’s possible that some teachers present the symbols this way, but that hasn’t been true of anyone I’m familiar with.  Likewise, the attunements have not been spoken of as “sacred ceremonies” in my experience.  It’s true that the symbols used to be kept secret, but they have been so generally published and disseminated that by now they are a very open secret indeed.

“Nevertheless, there are some Reiki practitioners, primarily nurses, who attempt to approach Reiki simply as a natural means of healing.  Viewed as natural means of healing, however, Reiki becomes subject to the standards of natural science.  It is true that there may be means of natural healing that have not yet been understood or recognized by science.  The basic criteria for judging whether or not one should entrust oneself to any particular natural means of healing, however, remain those of science.” Yes, and that’s fine– the science on Reiki looks good from what I’ve seen of it.

“Judged according to these standards, Reiki lacks scientific credibility.  It has not been accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective therapy.” If Reiki has not been accepted by the “medical community,” how can it be that those nurses are using it in hospital settings?  Are nurses and hospital administrators not part of the medical community?

“Reputable scientific studies attesting to the efficacy of Reiki are lacking, as is a plausible scientific explanation as to how it could possibly be efficacious.” This is simply not true.  There is a body of research on Reiki, as well as similar types of healing, that supports its effectiveness.  Some of this research was described in responses to the bishops from the American Holistic Nurses Association and practitioner William Lee Rand.  I am not going to attempt to recap it myself; please check the applicable websites.

“The explanation of the efficacy of Reiki depends entirely on a particular view of the world as permeated by this “universal life energy” (Reiki) that is subject to manipulation by human thought and will.”

“Reiki practitioners claim that their training allows one to channel the ‘universal life energy’ that is present in all things.  This ‘universal life energy,’  however, is unknown to natural science.”

Apparently the bishops are completely unfamiliar with Qi Gong, Therapeutic Touch or the like, or even with acupuncture.  They must never have read about the work of Valerie Hunt, Rosalynn Bruyere, or others who have participated in measurements of the human energy field.

“Some people have attempted to identify Reiki with the divine healing known to Christians.  They are mistaken.  The radical difference can be immediately seen in the fact that for the Reiki practitioner the healing power is at human disposal.  Some teachers want to avoid this implication and argue that it is not the Reiki practitioner personally who effects the healing, but the Reiki energy directed by the divine consciousness.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that for Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior….” Apparently non-Christians have no access to divine healing whatsoever; the only access available requires a not only prayer to Christ but a specific viewpoint about Him.  And God is such a limited being that the Divine does not work through anything except this one kind of prayer.

“… while the essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a technique that is passed down from the ‘Reiki Master’ to the pupil, a technique that once mastered will reliably produce the anticipated results.  Some practitioners attempt to Christianize Reiki by adding a prayer to Christ, but this does not affect the essential nature of Reiki.  For these reasons, Reiki and other similar therapeutic techniques cannot be identified with what Christians call healing by divine grace.”

“Reiki Masters offer courses of training with various levels of advancement, services for which the teachers require significant financial remuneration.  The pupil has the expectation and the Reiki Master gives the assurance that one’s investment of time and money will allow one to master a technique that will predictably produce results.“ I don’t know that anyone teaches that Reiki will give predictable results.  The Reiki classes to which I’ve been exposed have emphasized the idea that the body and the energy transmitted will do whatever is most needed by the person being treated, which may not be what either the patient or the practitioner consciously expects at a given time.  The practitioner is not the source of Reiki, nor the commander of it.  We are taught to get out of the way and let the healing happen on its own.

This issue is difficult to think about clearly, however.  While healers do not and cannot truly control healing, and while trying to be in control usually makes our work less effective, we also know that intention (including prayer) has great power.  I intend to write about this in a separate article.

“The difference between what Christians recognize as healing by divine grace and Reiki therapy is also evident in the basic terms used by Reiki proponents to describe what happens in Reiki therapy, particularly that of ‘universal life energy.’  Neither the Scriptures nor the Christian tradition as a whole speak of the natural world as based on ‘universal life energy’ that is subject to manipulation by the natural human power of thought and will.” A reading of such “apocryphal” writings as the Gospel of Thomas would give quite a different perspective on early Christian tradition, but the bishops wouldn’t pay any more attention to those than they would to me.

“In fact, this world-view has its origins in eastern religions…” Ki/Qi is simply a fact, and observations of it in ancient times did not depend upon religion.  “…and has a certain monist and pantheistic character, in that distinctions among self, world, and God tend to fall away.” Again, why is this presented as an objection?  Were we not taught that God is everywhere?  Isn’t this dissolution of the distinction between God and self the essential experience of mystical Christianity?  Ah, but here is that dichotomy between the “orthodox” Christians and the “heretics.”  Any suggestion that individual humans can experience union with God, without the mediation of the Church hierarchy, must be squelched immediately.

In their conclusion, the bishops state:  “For a Catholic to believe in Reiki therapy presents insoluble problems.” It is so very tiresome to hear references to energy healing couched in terms of belief. There is no requirement to believe or disbelieve.  Reiki works, and is a fact.  One does not speak of believing in aspirin or erythromycin; one simply uses them as appropriate.

“To use Reiki one would have to accept at least in an implicit way central elements of the worldview that undergirds Reiki theory, elements that belong neither to Christian faith nor to natural science.” This is another highly questionable statement, since a case can be made that to do healing is to perform a quintessentially Christian act, and since Reiki is as subject to natural science as any other human endeavor.

“Without justification either from Christian faith or natural science, however, a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man’s-land that is neither faith nor science.  Superstition corrupts one’s worship of God by turning one’s religious feeling and practice in a false direction.” The bishops’ definition of “superstition” appears to be anything that does not fit their specific dogma.

“While sometimes people fall into superstition through ignorance, it is the responsibility of all who teach in the name of the Church to eliminate such ignorance as much as possible.” And some of us are taking responsibility to try to eliminate ignorance from the Church itself, but this appears to be a gargantuan and probably impossible task.

But here is the punch line, or shall I say the punch to the gut:  “Since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy.” This is where we leave the realm of theological speculation, where real harm is being done to real people, including those involved with a program of free clinics for seniors for which I volunteer.  A Reiki practitioner who worked with us had to leave the program.  Fortunately, since I am seen as an acupuncturist and the powers that be have no idea what else I do, I have not been molested.  But knowing that patients all over the country are being denied treatment that could make a huge difference for them is intensely painful to me.

I am also utterly astonished, and deeply offended, to see the entire basis of my profession ridiculed by people who have made no serious effort to learn about it.  The bishops have no experience or training as healers themselves, yet they feel qualified to proclaim that those of us who work every day in this field are benighted idiots, that we are merely deluding ourselves and our patients, that we are caught in the grip of “superstition.”  How do they think nurses are trained– do they believe that nurses not only have no concept of science or intellectual rigor, but that they are so stupid that they can’t even tell when their treatments are useless?  Do they think that we would all keep doing Reiki year after year, and teaching it to others, because we simply imagined that it helped people?  Do they think that patients, as well, have no idea whether a treatment is benefiting them?

Ah, but I forget– individuals know nothing, understand nothing, and can perceive nothing, except by the grace of those who have put themselves at the head of the Church, the one and only arbiter of truth.

I cannot imagine voluntarily giving authority over my own beliefs, thoughts, and activities to such people, but there are thoughtful, serious, intelligent human beings who do work within the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, and quite a few of them do Reiki.  The bishops referred to websites created by some of these practitioners, largely in order to ridicule them.  It did not appear to me that they actually read the contents.  I did, and I found these writings valuable, although in many ways they are not consonant my own point of view.  I encourage you to take a look:


Obedience to God or to Man?


For the American Holistic Nurses Association, including their response to the bishops, see http://www.ahna.org

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