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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Reiki and reincarnation

The Reiki Digest is celebrating its first birthday this week: as of July 1, we've published a full year of weekly issues. And we just got an influx of new readers, thanks to The Reiki Show podcast from the International House of Reiki, which this week is about The Reiki Digest. Whether you've been with us from the beginning or are just joining us, whether you're a full-time professional Reiki practitioner, a dedicated amateur, or simply curious, we thank you for your kind attention and hope you find this publication of value.

We've never really tried to be controversial -- haven't tried not to be, either -- so it was a bit of a surprise to see this description from Bronwen and Frans Stiene, hosts of The Reiki Show: "She tackles subjects that most Reiki resources dare not touch."

This week, however, we tackle a controversial subject that does get touched quite a bit in other Reiki resources: the concept of reincarnation. So what does the notion of past lives have to do with Reiki? As far as we know, Reiki founder Mikao Usui did not include it in his system. Yet even in a recent issue of the only Reiki magazine on the shelves at mainstream bookstores in the United States, in an article on another subject, one well-known writer makes a point of telling readers that he is the reincarnation of "the enlightened high priest of Sayayi, the Great Goddess venerated and loved so much by the people of Lemuria." Then there are all the newspaper articles I've read in the past year in which the reporter assumes that Reiki and reincarnation are connected because the practitioner they interviewed is a believer in both.

I've got nothing against the concept of reincarnation. I've always liked the idea myself. I'm not necessarily a believer, or a nonbeliever, but I do find it an interesting notion, a spiritual parallel to Einstein's E=mc2 equation, which tells us that matter and energy are just different forms of the same thing. If the makings of the universe are sometimes matter, sometimes energy, then couldn't its inhabitants also sometimes have form and sometimes not? In any case, there's no way we can know for sure, so belief in reincarnation comes down to just that: belief. And that's where linking it to Reiki becomes problematic, because as we've said many, many times here, Reiki is not a religion: neither practitioner nor recipient need believe anything in order for it to work. And Reiki is practiced all over the world by people of all faiths, or no faith. Connecting Reiki to any particular religious belief system is generally not helpful to the overall public image of this valuable practice. Many Reiki practitioners are Christian, for example, but when Reiki is presented as a Christian practice, it only excludes people of other faiths.

A 2003 Harris poll found that 27 percent of Americans believe in reincarnation, and young adults (40 percent) were much more likely than senior citizens (14 percent) to do so. A 1998 study found that 35 percent of people in the United Kingdom believe in reincarnation. In many other cultures, the concept of reincarnation is so deeply rooted and pervasive that such a poll would be laughable. Belief in reincarnation even predates Buddhism in Japan, Reiki's birthplace. And the 14th Dalai Lama, leader-in-exile of Tibet, is called the 14th because he is considered the 14th incarnation.

Anecdotally, I had a high-school classmate who was convinced he was the reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln because his birthday was the same as Lincoln's. But that didn't seem to help him much on history exams.

That's where I believe it's important to maintain a clear separation between the system of Reiki and the notion of reincarnation or other religious beliefs. If it doesn't help, then why bring it up? Let's say, just for the sake of discussion, that you fervently believe you were once Cleopatra. Fine. But whether you were, or whether you weren't, you're not Cleopatra now, are you? So why mention it at all? Most of the time, it isn't helpful to go around telling people you used to be Cleopatra, and it can definitely have a downside. People might take you less seriously, especially if you bring it up in the wrong context. Let's say you are a surgeon about to perform a delicate operation, and you're talking to your patient beforehand. If you must talk about your past, it would probably be more helpful to talk about your training and experience in this lifetime, especially with the operation in question, rather than saying, "By the way, I used to be Cleopatra." Now let's say you're not a surgeon, but a Reiki practitioner, working with a client who has come to you for help. Do you think it would give the client more or less confidence in Reiki, and in you, to announce your Cleopatra connection at the beginning of a session?

OK, now let's imagine that it is not you but your client who believes she was once Cleopatra. If your client brings it up, if that's her/his cultural context, then there is nothing to be gained by declaring there's no such thing as reincarnation (if that's your belief). If your client doesn't bring it up, but seems to have, say, a fondness for Roman conquerors, an irrational fear of small snakes and a tendency to wear a lot of eye makeup, it also seems less than helpful for you to conclude, "You must have been Cleopatra in a previous life!" After all, Reiki practitioners do not diagnose, nor should we jump to conclusions or interject our personal beliefs into our work.

It may seem like a contradiction to segue from what you've read so far to what follows, but so be it. If it doesn't help (or have anything to do with the subject at hand), then don't bring it up. But sometimes it can be helpful to consider the possibility of reincarnation -- whether or not you actually believe it -- and there is no better example of that than the book Courageous Souls: Do We Plan Our Life Challenges Before Birth? by Robert Schwartz, published earlier this year by Whispering Winds Press (click here to download a chapter free). Reading this book didn't make me any more or less likely to believe in reincarnation, but it did make me a happier, calmer, less frustrated person overall, as does my Reiki practice. You don't have to believe in reincarnation at all to benefit from just considering the possibility that many of the challenges we face in this life may well be tasks we assigned ourselves.

Most books about reincarnation focus on past lives, but this one is different. Here the focus is on what Schwartz calls "pre-birth planning." Schwartz delves into the stories of people dealing with some of the most difficult situations imaginable, working with several mediums who tell astonishing but plausible stories about how they set themselves up for just such challenges in order to learn and grow during their lives.

Even if you dismiss the notion of reincarnation, it's still possible, even probable that even within this lifetime, many of our problems are actually obstacle courses we set up for ourselves, whether consciously or not. And even if you dismiss the idea that we set ourselves up for some of our own difficulties, simply looking at our problems as learning opportunities, as chances to grow, can help us see our whole lives in a different light.

This week's Celeb-Reiki is, ahem, yours truly.

Our Reiki Roundup turns up fewer stories than usual, perhaps because of the 4th of July holiday here in the US that for many meant a day or week off.

In Ohio, Cox News Service columnist Elizabeth Schuett whimsically suggests that Reiki should be a constitutional right.

The York Press (UK) introduces us to "a former Reiki healer" who now works with an image consultant to give clients "a complete mind and body makeover."

There are still spaces available in the October Shinpiden (Master/Teacher level) course with Frans Stiene in New York City, sponsored by The Reiki Digest. For more information, contact:

Rest in Peace

Sinie Klomp, Reiki Master/Teacher, The Netherlands.


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