In the West, there seems to be this insidious tendency to make things unnecessarily complicated, almost on the basis that if it’s more complicated, it is better. We have to take things and make them bigger and better; we have to add stuff.
In Japan, of course, they seem to go in the opposite direction, paring things down to the bone, getting rid of any unnecessary frills and flounces, leaving us with the pure essence of a thing, simple and elegant. Think of Japanese garden design, flower arranging, the tea ceremony, and you will see what I mean.
This contrast can be seen in the practices of Western Reiki and original Japanese Reiki.
Fiddly attunements vs simple empowerments
Western attunements tend to be quite complicated affairs.
There are lots of different Western ways of connecting you to Reiki, some of them quite contradictory in terms of the way that they are supposed to work, but they do all work. Some have lots of puffing and blowing; some are more restrained. Some have lots of tapping and patting, others don’t, some attune your hands, and some attune your fingertips.
Some have different rituals at Reiki 1, Reiki 2 and Master levels, while others have exactly the same rituals but you repeat the process a different number of times at the different levels. They all involve your head: they are busy, you are drawing symbols, saying names, putting things in different places, saying various affirmations in your head and imagining things.
The Japanese approach is rather different.
The way that Mikao Usui empowered people was simplicity itself, and his surviving students are passing on a simple, elegant connection ritual called ‘Reiju”, which is a way of conveying what Usui Sensei bestowed on his students.
Reiju is the same in its form at all levels and is a lovely energy dance, rather like following the flowing form of Tai Chi or Qigong. Reiju is not a ‘head’ activity, because you simply merge yourself with the energy and follow the form. It is a real pleasure to carry out, as anyone who has learned it will attest. Reiju is pure simplicity.
Rigid Reiki hand positions vs freestyle
In some Western lineages there are rigid sets of hand positions that you have to follow, in all treatments.
Some people are taught that not only must they always use these ‘correct’ hand positions, but they must also spend a set amount of time in each hand position. They move their hands like robots from one position to another on hearing a ‘bell’ on one of a number of special CDs used as a guide.
Yet Usui’s method took a simpler approach: rather than following a standard set of hand positions, you were expected to work at developing your intuition so that your hands were moved by the energy to the right places to treat. The hand positions you used would change from one person to another, and from one treatment to another within the same person, based on their individual energy needs; a simple and elegant approach, free from dogma and rigidity.
Reiki symbol sandwiches
But it is in the use of the Reiki symbols, the Reiki energies, where there is perhaps the greatest gulf between Usui’s original method and the techniques used in the West.
In the West, Second Degree Reiki involves being ‘attuned’ to three symbols, two that can be used when giving treatments and a third used in the ‘sending’ of Reiki long-distance. These were not ‘new’ symbols that were introduced to the world by Usui after a moment of enlightenment, as the Mrs Takata-inspired history of Reiki tells us, but existing symbols that he appropriated into his system quite late in Reiki’s history.
Depending on what lineage we have, we are taught different ways of using these symbols. In one lineage you may be taught to use all three symbols in each and every hand position when you are treating someone. Another lineage will tell you that the second symbol is hardly ever to be used, or is only to be used in a narrow and predefined set of circumstances.
In most lineages the first symbol is seen as some sort of ‘power’ symbol that doesn’t seem to do much on its own but makes other symbols stronger, and you are taught to put the symbols on top of each other, or mix them together.
Some people have developed quite complicated arrangements where you use one symbol, and then put another on top, and then another one, and then another one, and so on. This technique has been called the ‘Reiki sandwich’.
But are these approaches an unnecessary complication, and could there be a simpler approach that might be more effective in practice?
Keeping it simple with symbols
We Westerners seem to focus more on the Reiki symbols than in Japan.
For example, according to Hiroshi Doi, the Usui Reiki Ryoho Gakkai (‘Usui’s Reiki Healing Association’) does not use the Reiki symbols. Students are shown the symbols out of historical interest, but they are expected to work directly with the energies that the symbols represent.
We also know that most of the people that Mikao Usui taught were not given symbols, but used other approaches to connect to the energies that in the West we use the symbols to represent.
What is interesting too is the way that Usui had his students use these energies, because it challenges the Western way of using symbols: rather than being some sort of ‘power symbol’, the first energy was seen as focusing on the physical body, it was seen as a physical healing energy.
This was the solid energy of earth.
The second energy was seen as producing harmony, it was celestial energy, working on the thoughts and emotions, the energy of our spiritual essence, a bit like the second symbol/energy is seen in the West.
So now we have energies that will deal with healing the body, and the mind / emotions / spirit, the whole spectrum.
Not only that, but these energies were used individually, on their own, not mixed endlessly with other energies and symbols in complicated arrangements and sequences. You chose an energy using your intuition, and you focused on it.
By focusing on one thing, rather than trying to do lots of things at the same time, you intensify the effect.
Isn’t that simple?
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