The squirrels have formed a regular food court underneath my bird feeder and the flower bed near the beech trees. Twenty times a day, my poor little dog, Delilah, jumps to the window and barks to be let out, races out the door when I open it, and charges over the snow. Unfortunately for her, but infinitely fortunate for the squirrels, Delilah never manages to capture one of the furry, grey mauraders of bird sustenance. The squirrels know the quickest route up the beeches. They know she can’t chase them across the road. They high-tail it, wait for her to retreat to the house, and then they resume foraging, taking time off to chase each other across the crusty snow and past the compost bin in fits of squirrely joy–or maybe in a less benign territorialness.
While I find squirrel culture mildly fascinating, I am much more amazed by the variety of sub-cultures present in our society. There are the usual circles with which we are all familiar, i.e. political groups, motorcycle enthusiasts, wine lovers, church-goers, and those guys that jump into icy water in the middle of January in nothing but their Speedos. There are goths and DAR members, needle-pointers and Beanie-Baby collectors, people whose aim in life is to tattoo every square inch of their body and people who go to ashrams to learn meditation practices. Whole non-profit organizations have been formed for comic-book lovers, STAR TREK fans, and romance novel writers. It’s a wild and wonderful world out there. No matter who you are, you can probably find likeminded individuals who have organized themselves to some extent. If I were to become a journalist, I might make exploring all these sub-cultures my life’s work. Who needs to travel to India or Venezuela or some island off the coast of Africa in order to study another culture? The United States is a smorgasboard of social rituals, symbolic adornments, lexicons, taboos, and ceremonies.
Just recently, thanks to one of my current writing projects, I’ve been introduced to one such sub-culture found here in America and around the world–the Reiki community. Reiki (pronounced Ray-Key) began in Japan in the early years of the twentieth century when a man named Mikao Usui fasted and meditated for three weeks and either received or developed (depending on your view of these kinds of things) a system of energy work that he used to heal people–spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Click here to peruse the FAQ section of the International Center for Reiki Training website.
Reiki is a concept that includes the belief in a creative force (what some call God), a higher intelligence that acts as a guide for the universe and for the individual and a belief that everything is made up of energy, material things being simply a denser form of energy than say, air . . . or the soul. Reiki teaches that individuals can be more in tune to this energy, can use it to manifest peace and health for themselves and for others. Meditation is a big part of this process. Those who have studied and practiced are also believed to be able to help others by placing their hands on a client during an “attunement” which clears any blockages in the clients’ energy centers. For practical purposes, these energy centers are often referred to as “chakras” and are symbolized by the colors of the spectrum, but this is just a way for practitioners to visualize the concept, not necessarily the reality of the energy itself.
A quick journey around the internet reveals hundreds of testimonials from people who claim to have been helped/healed by Reiki. Spas regularly offer Reiki attunements along with their hot-stone massages, seaweed facials, and French manicures. Hospitals encourage trained Reiki volunteers to work with their patients–including the terminal ones.
“No way,” you might say, shaking your head. “It’s just the placebo affect. I don’t believe in any metaphysical energy mumbo-jumbo.”
I say, “Maybe . . . but so what?” If patients are getting some benefit from it, no matter what the underlying reality is, then great. If someone is feeling depressed and stressed out and goes to the spa for a Reiki treatment and comes out feeling calm and happy, does it really matter why? Maybe her energy centers were cleared or maybe she needed some quiet time away from the hassles of work and kids and the daily commute. Either way, she gets to go home, make a nice dinner, and not scream at her husband for leaving the tiolet seat up again. Everyone’s happier!
Can these results be accomplished without Reiki? Of course. Whether or not the energy concept is reality or a mirage, I believe the pschological affects of concentrating on various aspects of your life can be liberating. Too often we travel through life without analyzing where we are going, why we want to go there, and where we want to end up. We mindlessly cram food and alcohol into our mouths without taking the time to enjoy the flavors or ask ourselves if what we are eating is good for our bodies. We feel angry and upset and lash out, but we haven’t practiced analyzing why we are reacting in that way, dealing with the analysis, and then letting go of the emotions that bog us down. We strive after more . . . more money, more prestige, bigger houses, fancier cars, status jewelry and clothing . . . not realizing that greed is maybe just another form of insecurity, that stopping and appreciating what you already have can fill that space that thinks it needs more and more and more.
The Reiki energy centers, as I understand them so far, correspond with psychological concepts that a counselor or pschiatrist might discusss. Taking the time to focus on first, the basic survival instincts, and then moving on to the higher levels of our psyche–communication, intuition, spirituality–can be of great benefit to the individual, to the community, to the country, to the world. When we begin to realize we have enough, we will stop mindlessly trying to get more. We’ll be healthier. We’ll be happier.
Maybe Reiki is just one of many schemas that provides a design for understanding what is real and common to all of us. The Rei of Reiki may be just another way of talking about God. The Ki of Reiki may be just another way of talking about the id of psychology or the strange attractor theory of modern physics. The point is, if you keep an open mind, life lessons can come to you from many different directions . . . Outside the Box.