My Protracted Journey Beyond Procrastination – or How I Finally Came to my First Reiki Attunement

I never met my maternal grandfather. Even though no one said so, I think it may have been Groucho Marx. “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member”, is a pretty good summary of my self-esteem issues through the years. It also might partially explain why it took about eight years to go from my first Reiki experience to my first Reiki workshop.

Planning a much needed weekend break in a Cork hotel, my partner and I decided we would treat ourselves to therapy sessions. When I realized they offered Reiki I didn’t consider the alternatives. I had heard a little about Reiki from a practitioner I dated years ago, who told me that she’d give me a session but never did, perhaps because of her own self-esteem issues.

I had vague expectations of the session. I supposed I expected to feel something magical or supernatural. I’d practiced DIY chakra meditation before, and experienced degrees of elation and frustration, but I’d never been to anyone from the spiritual/healing arts (if that isn’t too broad an umbrella). I won’t sidetrack this post by bringing you through the highlights of how I acquired my baggage. Let’s just say I wanted to believe more than I actually did believe that Reiki, or much else, would work for me.

I was brought into a small clinical room that was offset with subdued lighting, candles and soft music. The very young practitioner had me lay on the plinth with my shoes off, and proceeded to treat me head to toe, moving up my body at intervals with her hands an inch or so away. “OK, this is pleasant”, I thought, but I wasn’t sure it was much else. Maybe I should have chosen reflexology.

When the session was over, I was advised to take my time getting off the plinth. I felt a little light headed, but I didn’t think much of it – probably just the result of relaxing after a stressful work week. I walked out into the sunlit hallway and that’s when it hit me – a euphoria that I hadn’t felt for a long time, and even then there may have been controlled substances involved. I felt better than great, not least because there was no denying the tangible result of the session – Reiki worked on me, big time. I poured myself into a chair, where I could have blissfully remained for the rest of eternity, and waited for my partner’s session to end.

After my epiphany with “Holiday Reiki” (as I later came to think of it) I couldn’t wait to get home and find a local practitioner I could attend regularly. One phone call to the local holistic centre set me up with the first of many excellent sessions with a Reiki master who performed what I came to think of as “good for you” Reiki. The sense of peace wasn’t as dramatic as what I experienced during my first session, but I felt like there was some real work being done in my body, mind and spirit. In a session, I could have emotional or physical reactions brought about by the release of blockages as the Reiki worked with my energy, even if I couldn’t quite articulate it as such back then. It was during this time that I began to appreciate Reiki is primarily a healing art.

For the next several years, I attended these Reiki sessions on a monthly basis, and probably became quite complacent. Eventually, the practitioner started suggesting that I didn’t need her anymore. She enjoyed working with my energy, but she thought it was time for me to learn Reiki myself. Sure, it had crossed my mind to be attuned. It was a nice idea of something I might do someday if I ever develop confidence around it and a deeper trust of my own feelings. But now we were finishing up the treatment sessions. It was decision time. My practitioner clearly thought I could do this. Why was I not so sure?

For the next two or three years I was stuck in limbo. I absolutely wanted to learn Reiki, and I was absolutely stressed that I would be a damp squib at it. By this time, my partner and I had our first child together, plus there were the kids from my first marriage at our house on a regular basis, so I was easily able to tell myself that I couldn’t give up an entire weekend to a workshop. Money for the workshop gave me another excuse. Of course, I didn’t see these as excuses then. These were reasons I had to leave Reiki for some vague time in the future.

Despite my anxious excuses, I could feel myself being drawn to it. I had looked at it, walked around it, come so close to it. I just couldn’t quite cross the line of being part of it. On occasion, I would run into my ex practitioner who calmly reassured me that it would happen when I was ready. Uh, OK.

Then one day my partner and I were having an instalment of our ongoing dialog about how to improve our lives. Out of nowhere she said I should go do a Reiki workshop. She knew I still wanted to, because I mentioned it from time to time. Things started to shift for me when I realized I had her unsolicited buy in. II still had confidence issues, but excitement was beginning to overtake anxiety – this was really going to happen. We agreed we’d find the time and money, even though our second child together had just been born, so we had even less of both.

The last point of procrastination was finding a Reiki Master to study under. I spent a few months of my “spare” time searching the Internet, and realized I wasn’t getting a strong feeling about any of the Reiki Masters. So I consulted my ex-practitioner, who recommended a person who turned out to be a good match for me. I also visited her for one more treatment session as a warm up, since it had been several years since the last session.

Was I over my under confidence? No. Was I still anxious? Sure. But the desire to become directly involved with Reiki carried me through to finally getting started, and continuing on through master level. I’m grateful to the experiences and people who helped me get started. And, no, I haven’t completely gotten over myself, but I’m making progress.

If you’ve ever done a Reiki Workshop, or are thinking about doing one, I’d like to hear your story.

An Exercise in Selfless Futility

Disclaimer: I do not mean to imply that we should all be completely selfish, but I do think a bit of selfishness is a good thing, just as I believe that “selflessness” can actually be selfishness in disguise. Also, it might not work out the way you intended.

In today’s anecdote, an attempt is made to turn an accidental act of selfishness into an act of selfish selflessness, with a lose-lose result.

This happened to me during the weekend when there is an annual major rock festival taking place just outside of the town in which I live. So that town, which is busy enough any given Saturday, was crazy with people. Since most were unfamiliar with the place, the traffic was cluttered with drivers trying to figure out where they were and where they were going. Meanwhile, with my daughter’s christening approaching, my partner and I needed to get into town to get organised.

It can be hard enough to find a parking space on a regular Saturday, but it was nearly impossible today. Then I spotted a space coming up on my left just outside the Catholic Church. We pulled in thinking this was too good to be true.

And it was. Suddenly a young man, a festival goer, came running up to our car hurling invectives and doing his very best angry Donald Duck impersonation. Apparently, he was saving this space for his mates, even though he had to run half a block to get in my face about it.

Immediately I began feeling guilty. Even though I had no way of knowing that the space was “reserved”, I could sense that person’s frustration and shouted back that he could have the space (the window was closed and he was still a distance away). So, even though I had two unhappy babies in the back seat, and a partner at my side who does not like car travel at the best of times, I backed out of the space, performing a selfless act so as to (selfishly) make myself feel like I was doing the decent thing for this guy, even though it meant the four of us would have to crawl through more traffic for an unknown amount of time. And then I realized that was selfish, because I was calling on my family, without even asking, to do the decent thing with me, even though half the people in the car had to voice their opinions in impatient, pre-verbal whines.

Had I been paying more attention to Donald instead of making restitution to him, I would have realized that he did not pay attention to my shouts through the window. He had already given up on the space and was halfway down the street again in full conniption, even though my occupation of “his” parking space totalled no more than 10 seconds. I imagine Donald was so caught up in ranting about how I was a selfish jerk that he wasn’t open to seeing that I wasn’t actually conforming to his perception of me.

And so a third-party pulled into the space I vacated. I drove around the block twice more. I don’t know what happened to Donald. Had I stayed put, my family would have benefited. Instead, none of us did. In this case, it would have been better to be selfish.

A Few Thoughts on Selfishness

To a lot of people, selfishness is a four-letter word masquerading as an eleven-letter word. But the ability to be selfish, to think of yourself first, is an important part of having a happy, healthy life. I mean in moderation, of course. There is a delicate balance within a group dynamic (i.e. more than just you).

There is (at least) an element of self interest in everything we do and  there are consequences to our actions. That could be why entering the less familiar territory of trying to perform a purely selfless act can be like negotiating a minefield. Allow me to try to explain.

Let’s say you want to go to a Springsteen Concert. That’s great, because you are helping to provide an income for that artist, a selfless act. However, are you being selfish because someone else who really wanted to go could have bought those tickets instead of you, and now the concert is sold out? But what if that person doesn’t buy the tickets because they are having their own internal conversation about selfishness? Follow that thought to its ultimate, logical conclusion- nobody buys Springsteen tickets and Bruce has to take a job as a garage mechanic to make ends meet, which is tragic and very selfish on our parts.

On the other hand, are you being selfish because concert tickets are expensive and that money could be used for something else? Let’s say that you have enough money for one concert, but your girlfriend/partner/wife has no desire to hear three hours of the Boss, especially since she only likes “Streets of Philadelphia” and he sure ain’t going to play that. He’ll be selfishly playing new songs and deep album tracks for people who have already been listening to him for thirty or forty years, instead of selflessly trotting out nothing but the greatest hits for people who selflessly gave up their time and money to attend something they know little about, are only vaguely interested in, and will complain about later. Those people would be better off seeing the Rolling Stones, the most selfless band in the world by that standard.

Sorry, I went off on a tangent. Anyway, you decide to perform an act of self sacrifice and spend that money taking your girlfriend/partner/wife to see Rod Stewart, which is what they selfishly want. You know that this is a good selfless act because it is killing you, but it will make her happy, and maybe she will transfer some of her feelings for Rod to you when the night is over (selfish).

You sit morosely in the theatre while your girlfriend/partner/wife bounces up and down in delight. Rod croons to her and occasionally smacks himself on the ass in her general direction. Why? I don’t know, but the ladies seem to like it. Meanwhile, the crowd chant from “Badlands” plays on a continuous loop in your head. Hours go by, maybe days.

Finally the lights come up. Your girlfriend/partner/wife smiles at you and says, “Wasn’t that great?” Well, no, it wasn’t but you’re not going to say that. You don’t say anything. You smile and nod, close to tears. You’re lost in misery, wondering how many years it will be until Springsteen comes around again, or even if he will come around again.

You look up but your girlfriend/partner/wife is halfway to the exit. You catch up with her and she gives you a look that could peel plaster. “What’s wrong”, you ask. No answer. Then it hits you – you did not have an appropriately positive reaction to her pleasure from your selfless act. Why? Because you were selfishly too busy feeling sorry for yourself. A nasty row ensues, which results in you breaking up/sleeping on the couch/filing for divorce.

As you walk away she shouts “You should have just gone to the Springsteen concert”. At least you agree on something.

Five Blind Men and an Elephant

There is an old story about five blind men and an elephant. Each man tries to determine what an elephant is like by sense of touch, but since each man is standing in a different position, they each feel a different part of the elephant. One man feels the trunk and declares that the elephant is like a snake. The man feeling the elephant’s foot says it is like a pillar. For the other three, the belly is like a wall, the tail is like a snake, and the tusks are like spears.

There are many versions of the story, with different descriptions of the elephant parts, varying degrees of conflict over the opinions about what an elephant is and a wide range of resolutions, or lack thereof. Interestingly, some different versions are attributed to different belief systems.

In the Buddha’s version, the men come to blows and resolve nothing, much to the amusement of the king who instigated the episode. The Buddha then compares the blind men to preachers and scholars who are so entrenched in their own views of what is “true” that they remain wilfully ignorant of all else:

O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.

Influential Hindu Ramakrishna Paramahamsa used the elephant story as a parable to show how people limit God to what they understand. “In the same way (as one of the blind men), he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that He is nothing else.”

Though the story is ancient, it is still relevant. Parallels can be found in the arrogant way in which some demand respect for their beliefs and offer disrespect in return. It’s the mindset that can justify burning someone else’s sacred books, marginalizing and condemning people who do not sign up for the “one true way”, or overthrowing one type of dictatorship for another one. Such closed mindedness is a breeding ground for fear, hatred and anger – the blindness of ignorance. In such an environment, religion is often used as a tool to manipulate the masses, stifle dissent, and beat the opposition into submission.

As a child I was told what to believe, and then I believed what I was told. As I grew up I became aware of other belief systems, and began to question the conflicts in my own. Which religion had the answers? Was there one? Was there a God who punished people for not chosing to be on the winning team? People told me, directly and  indirectly, that there was such a God, but I could never accept that. It didn’t feel right.

Ramakrishna experimented with belief systems other than Hindu, including Christianity and Islam, and determined that they all led to the same God. I believe that as well, although I’ve only a vague idea about what or who God is. But that’s kind of the point of the elephant story, isn’t it?

The version of the elephant story I like best is the Jain version. after hearing each blind man report, the king explains that they are all correct. The reason the men disagree is because they have all experienced one aspect of the elephant. The elephant is more than the total of their shared experiences. It is more than any of them could discover on their own.