Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Calling of the Magi

One aspect of the holidays I’ve never outgrown is that underlying sense of magic as we approach the winter solstice.  As a child I was always looking for reasons to believe in the stories of miracles and mystical characters rather than trying to prove them simple figments of people’s imagination.  To this day, the contrast of the lights and candles against the darkness of winter as well as the warm spicy aromas of the season against the bitter cold return me to that inner child who anticipates magic and miracles.  

There is a recent post on Upworthy about a mom in California who was inspired to lend a helping hand after seeing photos of Syrian refugee families struggling to carry their children as they walk hundreds of miles to safety.  She started collecting baby carriers from members of her community and soon so many people jumped in to be a part of the cause, she was able to travel to Greece with ten other moms to personally deliver tens of thousands worth of baby carriers to refugees arriving on boats.  The beauty in this story is that instead of allowing her consciousness to fixate on the horrific aspects of the situation, she put her empathy, rooted in her love for her own family, to positive use, inspiring a resourcefulness that helped complete strangers on the other side of the world.  Reading this post reminded me of the story of the Magi who, guided by spirit, took a leap of faith and journeyed from the Far East to Bethlehem to deliver gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh to a child born in a stable, recognizing him as an incarnation of Christ.  To me, these treasured gifts of that time in history are metaphors for the unique gifts that are seeded in each of us which create their own miracles through acts of kindness like this woman’s.  

As the darkest day of the year approaches, the natural world invites us to journey inward to connect with our own creative ingenuity and discover the myriad pathways that can birth its manifestation into the world in order to heal, inspire, and propel humanity into its light.  Just as the Magi faithfully followed a star in the dark night sky to present the gifts they had to offer, spirit invites us to awaken to our own inner genius and allow its own magic to transpire and unify with the greater whole of life, the great light that resides in every sentient being.  

There is a vulnerability that requires courage, but more importantly a detached sense of curiosity, in order to present one’s inner gifts to the world, even when its purpose is to serve the needs of the greater good.  We risk judgment and ridicule, but when we fully embrace our sense of connectivity to the greater whole, a higher love removes the weight of fear.  Honoring a call to share with the world that which generates personal joy and fulfillment to serve a higher purpose is one of the greatest acts of compassion one can experience in their lifetime, as the process carries them to the deepest levels of connection with the authentic and loving nature of life.  To share this inner magic with even one other human being will have made this earthly journey all the more worthwhile.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Flutter of Stillness

Every year in October, just before the leaves peak in New York City, Central Park becomes a rest stop for the birds migrating back to South America for the winter.  During this time, binoculars and high tech cameras are everywhere with bird watchers behind them, quietly and patiently focused on getting a glimpse of these colorful but quick moving creatures.

As I was cooling off after a run one afternoon, I watched three birds dancing in the air in a pattern I had never seen before.  Their swift dives and smooth, swooping turns were magical, not unlike a miniature Quidditch match.  As their dark grey wings expanded, a beautiful bright yellow plumage was exposed.  After observing them for a few minutes, I determined that their dance was indeed likened to a Quidditch match, only the Snitch was a flying bug they were catching for lunch.

When I observe these beautiful birds stopping by every spring and fall, there is a childlike urge inside that wants to chase them to get a better look as they fly around; but then I recognize it is better to remain still, like the bird watchers, and allow the action to come to me.  Quietly observing this colorful flutter of activity creates a quality of peaceful, focused, stillness in the heart center that also comes about through other practices such as meditation, Reiki and yoga.  No wonder bird watching in Central Park has become such a popular activity that transcends both age and culture, as revealed in the HBO documentary Birders. 

Fall is the time when Mother Nature produces her one last flash of outward beauty and color, while simultaneously preparing to retreat into her heart center for the winter, reminding us that we too can find stillness in the midst of activity anytime we choose.  For a long time, I used to feel a bit nostalgic during the autumn months, as many people do, but in recent years I’ve learned to embrace this time of retreat into the darkest days of the year.  This is when our natural rhythms are given a chance to slow down, and in the stillness a renewed inspiration is allowed to shine through.  When Arianna Huffington gave a talk about her book, Thrive, she discussed both the practicalities and the wisdom around connecting with this inner stillness.  Backed by the scientific studies she includes in her book, she emphasized meditation and sleep as necessary ingredients to being focused and productive, but also for improving relationships and discovering greater meaning in our lives.

As I prepared for the first weekend course of this year’s Shinpiden (Reiki III) program, I reread a section from a book on Chinese medicine that describes change and transformation as being sourced from deep within, a different approach from western medicine which is about cause and effect.  While outer circumstances and energetic forces can resonate with the process of transformation, the actual change is internally initiated.  When we connect with this stillness that lies at the heart of everything, we begin to discover that the external flutter of activity in life frequently takes care of itself without any real exertion on our part.  And when we do direct our outward focus on the elements that resonate with what we value most in our hearts, the manifestation of what we desire becomes a joyful process.  The transformations that help us thrive will ultimately come about with ease and grace, without the ego trying to chase it down.

In the Reiki precepts, the practitioner is instructed to morning and evening place their hands in gassho (prayer position) to center the heart and mind.  As Arianna gave her talk, she led the audience through a one-minute meditation, anchoring everyone in a place of peace and self-compassion, exhaling fear and worry with each breath.  She reminded them afterwards that this space is available to them anytime, as well as being a powerful way to begin and end the day.  She also addressed people’s fear that if they unplug and let the mind become still, they will drop the ball and miss out on success.  In actuality, when we allow the mind to experience stillness for even just a few minutes, we begin to gain clarity and operate more effectively.

Overcoming any fears of the dark quiet stillness within offers us the opportunity to find renewed inspiration, as this is the space where the mind and body can ultimately recalibrate.  Anahata, the Sanskrit word for the Heart Chakra, means unstruck or sound made without two objects striking.  The heart is where we find unity with all of life, where we find our equilibrium to just be and allow life to take care of itself.  It is where we surrender and let go of the ego and all its attachments so we can begin to see our lives more clearly.  Without stillness we cannot experience the joyous dance of life.  Without darkness we cannot take pleasure in the colorful textures of the world around us.  Without emptiness we cannot appreciate the fullness of life, just as it is at any given moment.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Legitimacy of Reiki

Fifteen years ago I found myself sitting on a yoga mat for the first time.  I remember that day clearly because the teacher came up to me and sandwiched my heart between her hands.  I almost broke down right then and there before the class had even begun, as I felt a wave of unconditional love and compassion wash over me like a tidal wave.  At the time, I was emerging from a painful period in my life and in that moment I could recognize everything was going to be okay.  I remember Elena declaring at the beginning of each class that we are all perfect and complete in this moment, just as we are.  I had never heard such words before let alone contemplated being perfect, whole and complete at any given moment because the inner critic voice of my ego was always drowning out such a concept.  Little did I know that this brief moment of compassion offered to me was a flash of what was yet to come as I began to heal my life and eventually become a Reiki teacher in order to help others.

The other day a young man in college reached out to me regarding a paper he was writing on PTSD.  He was researching alternative therapies and knows that I am a Reiki teacher.  He asked me what I would say to those critics who claim that Reiki is illegitimate.  I was so grateful for the question because I am surrounded by clients and students who are transforming their lives for the better and sometimes forget that there is still controversy over what I do. 

When Reiki was introduced to the west some important aspects of the practice’s purpose and meaning were lost in cultural translation.  The practice of Reiki in Japan began as a series of tools to assist the everyday person in experiencing greater happiness and inner peace which would in turn generate greater health and wellbeing.  While some of the tools taught to students in the west involved meditation and breathing exercises, the real focus of attention was with the hands on healing techniques.  As a result, Reiki healing is what people often times think of when they hear of Reiki.  They envision someone placing their hands on another and “doing the healing” to them which is an outside-in versus an inside-out approach.  It also does not allow the recipient the opportunity to take responsibility for their healing process which can be disempowering.

In reality, the role of a Reiki “healer” is to be a compassionate presence for the recipient to be able to discover the whole, complete and healed self within.  Whenever I finish a session with a client, I always say to them “Good work today!”  They will sometimes say to me, “But you did the work.”  I remind them that my job is to hold space for their own innate healing process to unfold and their job is to remain open and relaxed in order to allow this to happen.  While it may then sound like a simple and easy task for a Reiki practitioner, it is not.  A Reiki practitioner who is most effective  has made a commitment to stay true to their own healing process in order to remain a clear and open channel for both the flow of energy and to support the relaxed state of the client.  When this happens, there is an ego detachment on the part of the Reiki practitioner regarding the results so that the healing can naturally transpire for the client’s highest good. 

Reiki is not a replacement to therapy or medical care.  Reiki is a practice that holds up a mirror to remind a person that there is a part of the self that is indeed already whole, healed and complete no matter the state of their mind and body.  When they can recognize and relate to that whole and healed part of the self, they can then begin to experience the possibilities of its expression on other layers of their being. 

In quantum physics they have discovered that subatomic particles exist simultaneously in every potential state until they are observed.  Once they are observed, they behave in alignment with the observer.  What Reiki practitioners or teachers do for themselves and others is observe the whole and healed self within that is in alignment with their most authentic and true nature.  The more that part of the self is honored and observed, the more the healing process can fully manifest.  This is why we hear of examples of spontaneous miracles that science cannot explain.  BUT it is also why we can on the other hand experience profound wisdom and wholeness even when a person does not fully recover from a health challenge. 

Unfortunately energy healing practices such as Reiki are critically analyzed from the perspective of linear thinking and energy does not operate on that plane.  It instead transcends it, reaching into the layers of life that one cannot necessarily experience on a tangible level.  Those that choose to experience life from the mind alone will never understand the legitimacy of a practice such as Reiki.  But for someone who is even mildly curious and open to the possibility that there is a transcendent energy source that connects all of life, Reiki holds unlimited potential to transform a person’s state of being.

The human journey is one that is filled with both joy and pain.  When there is pain there is an opportunity to allow a part of the ego to shed its layers, letting go of its hold over us and our emotional attachments in life.  It is through this process that we discover the depths of human compassion that relieve us of our suffering.  When we bridge the human self to the complete self we are reminded that our pain and suffering are not who we are.  This in turn allows us to discover the gifts held within the challenges we face, and find out that underneath it all we have strengths we never knew we had and new perspectives on life we would have never attained otherwise.

What happens in our lives is much more out of our control than we’d ever like to admit to ourselves, and so there is a human tendency to insist on proof or a guaranty that everything is going to be okay.  When we begin to recognize the part of us that is complete and whole, the ego that insists on those guaranties in life fades into the background, allowing for a more powerful experience of life because we are free of any attachment to the outcome.  When this freedom takes place, the greatest potential for happiness and healing can then transpire.

So for those who refuse to validate the practice of Reiki, I challenge them to ever so slightly crack open the door to possibility.  My students and clients who are undergoing chemotherapy, psychotherapy and other medical treatments are not looking to me to “fix” them.  They are becoming active participants in the dance of life and recognizing that while they have challenges, their challenges do not define who they truly are.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Blue Moon Oasis

Last week we had the pleasure of enjoying a July blue moon.  Despite the extreme rain that day, the moon peaked out from the clouds dressed in a crystal blue aura when I arrived home later that night.  I was so grateful to spend a few minutes connecting with her beautiful light.  Since I was a child, I have loved looking up at the night sky.  Its silent, nurturing presence serves up a soothing elixir at the end of a busy day.  Whenever I take a moment to check in with the moon, my mind immediately surrenders and my awareness becomes fully centered in the heart.  I found it so ironic to be standing on a New York City street corner, experiencing this inner peace despite all the noise from the bars and traffic.  

These moments I take to look up at the moon and breathe with gratitude have cultivated an inner oasis where I can let go and connect with who I truly am no matter how my day has gone.  They provide a reminder that no matter how harsh and chaotic the outer world may seem, underneath all of it is an infinite oasis of inner peace, joy, love and gratitude one can access 24/7.  

It is so easy to get caught up in and carried away by the doing of life – “should do,” “have to do,” “if I don’t do” – that we forget the physical world is just a microscopic fragment of reality.  There is a vastness within and it’s only when we quiet the mind that we can enter that special oasis.  This is the space where inspiration and a sense of wonder exist.  It is where compassion resides and healing takes place.  It is where that sense of oneness with everything creates the ultimate state of bliss.  The more often we give ourselves time in this space, the more we can embody love, compassion and grace in our daily lives, gently softening the rough edges of the things that stress us and weigh on our hearts.  Taking just a few minutes each day to connect with the energies of one’s unique inner oasis can produce significant and profound shifts in one’s daily life, and the easier it becomes to slip in and out of that oasis anytime, anywhere.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Nurturing Your Unique Nature

As spring has been serving up her beauty in unusual timing this year, blossoms have emerged against the back drop of trees that have yet to bud.  It is as if Mother Nature has decided to leisurely serve up a seven-course meal instead of the usual buffet that seems to magically appear out of nowhere.  With a much cooler start to the season than in years past, I wonder if the trees that are first to bloom thrive with the increased sunlight while others need the encouragement of warmer temperatures and water in order to sprout.

Nature’s pacing this year provides us a reminder that we are each unique and as such have different needs in order to flourish in life.  Some of us need more sleep while others more protein in their diet.  Some need quiet solitude in order to feel replenished, while others to be surrounded by lots of people and activity.  And our needs change as we change throughout life.  One of the greatest gifts my personal reiki practice has given me is the opportunity to look inward each day to look, listen and feel for what is needed for my highest good at any given moment.  Our daily lives can become so outwardly focused with juggling work, school, appointments, taking care of our families, that we become conditioned to ignore what the inner self needs in order to thrive.  In the practice of reiki, the precepts ask us to “morning and evening bring our hands into gassho” (prayer position) to either meditate or do reiki self-care. Making the time to breathe deeply for a few moments each day, offers the mind a chance to recalibrate, the heart a safe space to find expression, and the higher self a channel through which to guide us with its wisdom.  It is during these moments we can begin to clearly recognize what is needed to experience the joy and grace that are always available to us.

Because so much of our culture asks us to look outside ourselves to find the answers to what we need, this idea of seeking answers from within can seem uneasy, impractical or even a bit crazy.  We may be afraid that what we discover will make us stand out as different from others.  We may also be afraid to express our needs out of fear of seeming weak.  Yet when we move through life fully aware of our distinctive nature and what it requires in order for us to feel well and happy, we operate in an empowered manner that honors our needs and appreciates what makes each of us unique.  

I leave you with this quote I read recently by Ram Dass:

“That when you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘you’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees.  Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”