New Age Ethics and Taming the Reiki Frontier

Posted by on 3 Apr 2013 in Essay | 0 comments

The ethics of energy and spiritual work is a topic I bring up often, not because I want to push a specific viewpoint, but because we don’t discuss it enough.  A component of the imperialistic western mindset, particularly of Americans, is that if something is available, we have the right to use, repurpose, repackage, and redeliver to consumers whatever we so desire. This truth also pertains to the acquisition of esoteric insight in the New Age. 

In classes that I teach, I speak very openly about the many routes on my shamanic path, one of which is Usui Reiki. I’ve discussed in prior blogs my concerns around the New Age handling of Reiki, though I’ve never clearly stated how I came to it, why I incorporated it into my practice, how I do so, and how I bridge its cultural differences.  I’m not Japanese, that I’m aware of.  I’m also not Shinto or Buddhist, per se, though am well-informed of both. I was, however, firmly on my shamanic path when I sought to learn Reiki, and was very familiar with cultural appropriation. For those of you who may not know, cultural appropriation is taking a component of a culture not native to one’s own, and adopting it in some fashion. Why on earth, then, was I attracted to Reiki?

Initially, an off-the-hook co-worker told me about it, and invited me to attend a community Reiki Share in Raleigh. A group of about a dozen people sat in circles of wooden chairs (because the Reiki Master refused to allow us to sit in metal chairs. When I asked why, she said it interfered with the life force.  When I asked how, she said. “It just does.”).  Vague peculiarities aside, we opened the space and the Master came to everyone in the circle and allowed Reiki for whatever each needed.

When she came to me, tremendous pressure fluttered in my chest .  My heart cracked open in a metaphoric break. I was overwhelmed with an indescribable emotions, something I referred to for years as “The Great Sadness.” At that point I’d never allowed anyone else into that space, and I wasn’t intentionally allowing the Master, then. That breach was new territory, and so overcome with sadness and embarrassment was I that she could feel it, too, I shook.

She stepped back from me and said, “You have a lot going on there,”  intimated that I really needed a lot of work, then went on to the next person.  Pressured to believe the healing she had done and the summary of it was this precious treasure, in reality I felt violated and abandoned to deal with its aftermath alone. Of course in hindsight, I realize that unfortunate experience was a great example of what not do so as a group leader, particularly as a responsible facilitator of healing, and what the Master was doing stopped being Reiki the second she opened her mouth (if it ever was). I also learned later that it wasn’t an appropriate “Share.”

I swore I’d never approach Reiki again, and that I wouldn’t attend garden variety energy work stuffs on the whim of lesser-informed friends.

A couple of years later, in my shamanic work I felt led to expand my knowledge of energy healing approaches. I didn’t know of another avenue, so I completed the Shoden and Okuden attunements (Another unsavory interpersonal experience, but a brilliant joining with Universal Life Force.).  I asked that teacher about the cultural appropriation of Reiki, and I had to explain to her what that meant.  She informed me Reiki was for everyone. Shortly after, I completed the Shinpiden level under another Master, via unorthodox means. For those who don’t know, it’s a big no-no to switch Reiki teachers (or was then). Part of the reason I did is despite that my final teacher didn’t directly address cultural appropriation, she incorporated original Shinto and  Buddhist tenets into the study.

That’s how I got to Reiki. How it came to me is something other.

I knew from the peacemaking and culling of personal truth in my shamanic education that I had to go through the same process with Reiki. One thing I never encountered in my shamanic learning is the concept of secrecy, that there are some truths meant to be kept from others, those who are not initiated on the same path.  Being a middle class American with no awareness of gentry and little respect for elitism, this made no sense to me. I honored that one must be ready for certain truths, though the shroud around Reiki–that the attunements, symbols, and process must be kept hidden–gave me pause.  Often such secrecy comes from oppression, or it has elements of control.  Maybe both? I don’t know, because for me, wandering down the path of clarifying such points is going away from the work I want to do, which is in engaging who in the spirit realm will walk with me, regardless of tribe, etc.  Of course I can’t say what tenets of Reiki are true to Usui’s original teaching.  The thing is, nobody else can either. Even if there are surviving originals with perfect branches from Usui’s original roots, they are lost in a sea of disinformation as much as misinformation and ego. Maybe it is all supposed to be a secret, and perhaps that is a cultural separation that I can’t understand. I can say that having worked with Reiki for 20+ years, the personal relationship to it is key.

After my attunements, something still felt wrong. Going back to my shamanic roots, I realized I needed to approach my unrest the way that I had everything else–by going directly to its spiritual manifestation. I asked the spirit of Reiki how I can make peace with it not being my culture, and if I could still incorporate it into my work.  The being, itself, was fairly indifferent, yet there was this spirit of the people who originated it–and it was plural, not just Usui (in how I felt it), and it was long, not just the handful of years that was his life and work.   I was told by that more earth-connected spirit to teach it that way.  That if I would teach the cultural appropriation part of Reiki, and interject that tension and question of privilege that I was permitted to teach it.
So I do.  In my Reiki classes I raise the really uncomfortable questions, as I do in my shamanic classes, for how we each make peace with these concerns, and how we honor them not just in ideology, but in the work, how we make that agreement manifest.

As with all spiritual paths (renegade ones, in particular), my experience is that humans supply the ethics.   My experience is that once I breached beyond the earth nature/spirit layer, no delineations exist.  There’s no gender, no ethnicity, no regional boundary, no belief system, not even deity.  That’s the place my spiritual path started in, literally, when I began to intuit my own origins and drive in this plane.  It was a lesson for me to come back into these earthly layers and understand the pride and lineage of certain practices.  I still source my work from that One space, but I tread carefully among  the delineations   I respect the people who uphold them, the lines, and the legacy they represent. Likewise, I practice what my experience has been, whatever it bears similarity to something.  I don’t claim any traditions, when it comes to spiritual legacy.  I feel certain ones in the mix, and I resonate with specific paths, but I wasn’t raised in them. I wasn’t given permission by the elder of a line, even my own, to work in a certain way.  I also realize I wouldn’t have walked into most of the learning that I have, spiritually speaking, of my own volition.  So much has been led, without regard to how it would retrofit into culture.

Regarding Reiki, it was presented to me as fair game, yet that never felt right.   Not once in my educational experience did Master directly address cultural appropriation. I chose to take that on as my peace to make.  Going into Reiki, I erroneously assumed that addressing cultural ownership would be part of the teaching, because every Reiki Master I’ve known enjoys pointing out their descent from Usui, as in, “My teacher was so and so, who was taught by Master so and so, who was the student of  Ms. Takata (the woman credited with bringing Reiki to America)…”  Cultural titles were taught, not heritage, not the rich traditions that birthed them.

For those who want to learn Reiki in a deep and provocative way, I will be teaching the first two levels in early Summer.  Contact me for details. For those of you blazing your own renegade spiritual trail, remember to ask the spirits not only for direction along your way, but for permission to go there.
And for the record, elementally speaking, what correspondences you work with for energy healing (metal vs wooden chairs) can matter.  Every component of a room becomes part of the space created for doing sacred work, and being aware of how these elements affect the work is important.  Sometimes you just work with what you’ve got and sit down.

 

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