Somehow, Always, My Heart Breaks Open

There are moments when I become acutely aware of suffering. This morning, when I was walking, I came across an injured sparrow. She was lying motionless in the middle of the street, one of her little legs splayed out at an awkward angle. I guessed she had been hit by a car windshield or bumper.

I didn’t want her to be run over or stepped on. Although I knew she might not welcome my touch, I picked her up, holding her between my hands, and went over to a little park by the side of the street. I sat on a flight of stone steps and pondered what to do.

The sparrow lay quietly between my palms, not struggling, not trying to escape, not trying to peck me. Not a good sign. I thought about taking her home and calling to find someone for small bird rehab. But it looked to me like she was beyond rehab. And when I thought about leaving the area, it felt like panic arose from the bird. This little piece of the city was all the world that she had ever known.

I thought maybe someone would come by with a cell phone. I always leave mine at home when I do my morning exercise and meditation. But no one came. I prayed, asking for help for the little bird, and help for me.

The little bird urinated and began to struggle and I let her go. Her poor little wings tried to fly but couldn’t. Her back arched and her legs pumped and she made her way over to the garden area beyond the steps, about a foot from where I was still sitting. She lay there, heaving, clearly in pain and distress. I wondered if I should leave, whether my presence was stressful for her.

But when I imagined leaving, I felt a pull towards her. I didn’t know if it was her or me – my not wanting to leave her to suffer and die alone, or her not wanting to be alone. She was clearly in pain, her body vibrating, eyes shutting and opening.

We sat there for a while. I was motionless, to cause her the least possibility of distress. Other sparrows flew in and fed from the plants nearby. I saw the shell of a little egg in the dirt between me and the bird. This little park seemed to be a center of sparrow life.

I prayed for the bird. I asked Sparrow Spirit to come to her, so she would be comforted. I prayed for all the nature spirits and guardians in the area to come to her, and for the Great Light to shine brightly on her. Having done this, I felt it was time to go. I wished her well and walked away.

There are people who deal with death every day of their lives: doctors, nurses, pastors. This is not my experience. But rather, every day of my life, I deal with suffering. Beneath my palms, palpable, present, overlapping my awareness, is the grief and fear and suffering of my clients. And beneath my palms is the strength of my clients. And within my palms is connection to the Great Light.

I often feel that my heart will break. This morning, I thought that my heart would break as I witnessed the suffering of a precious sparrow. But somehow, always, my heart breaks open. Inside our shared pain is embedded the beauty of life, pure and simple. It is so good to be here, so good to share this planet, so good to breathe, together.

Tomorrow morning, I will go back and look for the little bird’s body. She may have been carried away by a predator or scavenger. But if she is still there, I will bury her, and pray for her good journey.

Especially lately,  it often feels that I – that we – are holding tiny candles in the midst of a moonless night. And indeed, night comes to us all. But I will continue to hold my candle, regardless. Each candle may be small, but many of us are holding strong, and light only comes in one size: infinite.

Is it Accurate to Categorize a Reiki Style as “Japanese” or “Western”?

In late May, I was fortunate to attend the first of a webinar series given by Dr. Justin Stein on the history of Reiki. Dr. Stein is a well-known Reiki scholar and has researched and written extensively on Reiki and the cultural context in which it arose. What follows is a brief summary of Dr. Stein’s first webinar, posted with permission.

East Meets West: Varieties of Reiki Practice

According to Dr. Stein, different styles of Reiki are commonly categorized as “Japanese” or “Western.” However, there are two main problems with this categorization. First, Usui, given his historical context, could not have escaped being influenced by the West, including American Spiritualism. Second, Japanese Reiki styles have developed to some extent in relation to Western Reiki, and therefore have been influenced by it.

Dr. Stein sees all Reiki forms as hybrids of Japanese and Western elements, with the Western content varying substantially between lineages. All styles have much in common: all are seen as promoting healing in a holistic manner, all are based on a natural ability that is awakened by a teacher and deepened through practice, all trace their lineage back to Usui, all are taught in graduated levels, and all are centered around a set of basic principles known as the gyokai or the Reiki precepts.

There are also elements that differ between Reiki styles. Some use meditation and recitation practices, while others do not contain these teachings or do not emphasize them. The exact procedures for awakening Reiki in students vary across time and between styles. The type of touch and hand positions are different, again across time and between styles. In addition, there are variations in symbol usage, anatomical understanding, the role of conscious intention, whether or not spiritual entities such as Buddha or angels are included in practice, and the attitude towards promotion and advertising.

When these differences are looked at across styles, there is very little consistency within the two supposed categories of “Japanese Reiki” and “Western Reiki.” On the other hand, when we look closely at Mrs. Takata’s work, especially keeping in mind her need to reach a Western audience in the mid- to late-1900s, we can see that what she presented was quite similar to Usui’s and Hayashi’s teachings.

Most of the new elements in non-traditional Western Reiki styles occurred after Takata. Some years ago, the late Phyllis Furumoto, Takata’s successor as spiritual lineage bearer of the “Western” Usui Shiki Ryoho style of Reiki, met with members of the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai, widely acknowledged as the most traditional Reiki organization in Japan. The teachers of the Gakkai expressed surprise at the similarities between what Ms. Furumoto learned from Mrs. Takata, and what they had learned from their teachers. And of course, even in the Gakkai, teachings have varied across time due to changes in societal context.

Upcoming Webinars

I found Dr. Stein’s discussion of similarities and differences between Reiki styles to be enlightening, and I am looking forward to his upcoming webinars, which are on June 28, July 26, August 30, and September 27. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Reiki Centers of America and will be dedicated to the English translation of an important Reiki book. For more information, see