My wife, Christina, invited me to join her to try something new this week. I joined a Reiki Circle! It was hosted and led by a Reiki Master (I saw her flyer, so I know it’s true) and it was a group session, so there were six other folks besides Christina and me. And I have some thoughts.
I admit that I both knew and know very, very little about Reiki. To the point that I was reading the Wikipedia page about Reiki on the way there to get an idea of what we might be in for. On the off chance you don’t know much about Reiki, let me share a couple of quotes from a couple of sources to compare and contrast.
From the Wikipedia page:
Reiki (霊気, /ˈreɪki/) is a Japanese form of energy healing, a type of alternative medicine. Reiki practitioners use a technique called palm healing or hands-on healing through which a “universal energy” is said to be transferred through the palms of the practitioner to the patient in order to encourage emotional or physical healing.
Reiki is a pseudoscience, and is used as an illustrative example of pseudoscience in scholarly texts and academic journal articles. It is based on qi (“chi”), which practitioners say is a universal life force, although there is no empirical evidence that such a life force exists.
Clinical research does not show reiki to be effective as a treatment for any medical condition, including cancer, diabetic neuropathy, anxiety or depression; therefore it should not replace conventional medical treatment. There is no proof of the effectiveness of reiki therapy compared to placebo. Studies reporting positive effects have had methodological flaws.
This is a pretty good objective description of Reiki. It’s referred to as “pseudoscience”, which is probably reasonable given it doesn’t seem to test well using Western approaches to examining its efficacy.
But, it does feel a bit … cold. A little clinical. Let’s check another source to bound the problem.
This from reiki.org, a site about Reiki and training for Reiki:
Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.
The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words – Rei which means “God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power” and Ki which is “life force energy”. So Reiki is actually “spiritually guided life force energy.”
A treatment feels like a wonderful glowing radiance that flows through and around you. Reiki treats the whole person including body, emotions, mind and spirit creating many beneficial effects that include relaxation and feelings of peace, security and wellbeing. Many have reported miraculous results.
Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of spiritual healing and self-improvement that everyone can use. It has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.
Okay, then! We have established between these two extremes that Reiki both does nothing at all and is capable of “helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect”. Well, that leaves things clear as mud!
Speaking for myself, I acknowledge that while I went into the exercise with an open mind, both curious and hopeful (because wouldn’t it be nice if it could help with whatever ails us?), I was raised in and am most impacted by a Western mindset about such things, so the Wikipedia article probably resonated with me the most.
We arrived for our appointment, which was being held in a store that sells things in support of “Metaphysical Lore: Past lives, grounding, meditation work, ancient knowledge, calming, dreams and more”. So, yeah.
We went back to the room where we would have our Reiki Circle and met the hostess. She introduced herself as a Reiki Master and told everyone a bit about her background and what we would be doing during the session.
Basically, we would go around the circle and, if we wanted to, offer up our names and a little about ourselves or what we hoped to get out of the session. Then she would lead us in a group Reiki session and then we would wrap up by talking a bit about how it went for us and she would offer some parting words. All fine!
Everyone went around and introduced themselves and, pretty typically, everyone could talk a bit about what sorts of things they were dealing with or struggling with and how they hoped this might help them. Several had prior experience with Reiki and for several of us, it was brand new.
Next, we could either sit in our chairs or lay down or do whatever we wanted to make ourselves comfortable. We brought yoga mats, so we rolled those out and I stretched out and prepared to relax for the next 30 minutes or so.
Our Reiki Master began to lead us through what I’d call a guided meditation, but involved a lot more about our chakras and clearing those. She spoke very low and calmly and it was relaxing. I admit that I could not identify my chakras with my feet to the fire, but I listened and relaxed.
One of the nice features of Reiki, I have to say, is that according to our Reiki Master, we didn’t actually have to do anything! This Universal Energy knew what we needed and where it needed to go. She gave everyone permission to just fall asleep and nap if that’s what we needed. This, my friend, is a practice I can get behind! And, to be transparent, it is entirely possible that while I didn’t fall completely asleep, I did get pretty close.
After roughly 20 minutes of this, she began to wrap things up and everyone began to sit up or stretch or do whatever they needed to wrap up.
While she was talking, she had dropped a couple of cards at each of our locations. I can probably best describe the contents of each card as being very fortune cookie-like. Suggestive of something, but you could interpret it in many ways and, like a good horoscope, you could probably find a way to apply it to your world with just a little effort.
After this, we went around the circle again and talked about anything we wanted to, but she did ask about the cards and if they sparked anything for us.
Our Reiki Master went a little off the rails, for me at least, when she started talking about people’s auras and what she saw during the meditation. A little woo-woo.
But, before I sound like I’m coming down on this as exactly the pseudoscience described in the Wikipedia page, I want to make a couple of things clear. I enjoyed myself! It was relaxing! I think the group, as a whole, got a chance to share what they were working through or struggling with while in a group of people they would likely never see again, thus freeing them from any fear of judgment. It was a bit like talk therapy and I think that we should have more opportunities to unburden ourselves and if it’s in a crystal shop and that makes you comfortable, do that! Do what you need to to take care of yourself. Period.
That having been said, I did not feel any magical light or energy. I did not feel better in any measurable way, mental, physical or emotional later that afternoon or the next day. I had very low expectations and they were met.
I will say that, for me, talking about auras, as an example, is a sure way to make me think that something is hogwash and let me explain why. If you tell me that you can see auras or say that that person has a blue aura tinged with yellow and that means they’re working through something heavy, I’m left having to conclude one of three things:
- You have senses that I do not and can see things that I cannot
- You are delusional
- You are lying to me
Don’t get me wrong, I would love to believe that our Reiki Master possesses sense that I do not. That would be super cool. In the same way that I would love to believe in aliens (capable of visiting Earth) or ghosts or bigfoot, I’d love to believe she could see auras because that would make the world a much more interesting place! But, sadly, no one has been able to provide me anything approaching what I’d consider conclusive proof of any of those things.
This leads me to a short meditation on Faith and Community. I will keep it brief.
I wish I had Faith. I’ve never had Faith since I was a young kid. If you can’t show me or prove it to me, my default assumption was and remains that it doesn’t exist. It’s a fiction that you tell yourself because it gives you comfort or provides some other value, but it’s not real.
I honestly envy those who have Faith, because I know that Faith gives them comfort about things that are tough or scary. Things like “Is there anything after this?” are much more manageable if you have Faith that an afterlife exists. I get it. I just don’t feel it. And I can’t fake it.
I also sometimes feel as though my life is less for lack of a Community. I’m not talking about friends and family. I have those and I’m thankful for them and their role in my life. But I’m talking about the Community that comes from shared beliefs and interdependence. And that’s not just church.
Back in 2000, Robert Putnam wrote in Bowling Alone about how “we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures.”
We used to have Bowling leagues, the Elks and Eagles, the Masons and, yes, churches. Even the architecture of our neighborhoods shifted from homes that faced the streets so that we interacted with our neighbors as we would come and go to inward-facing architectures with garages that we drove into and backyards with fences where we spent our time, effectively cutting us off from our neighborhood. Those same neighborhoods became spread out so that we didn’t walk, we drove to the things we needed and those cars separate us from our neighbors and other people. And I think it’s pretty clear that it hasn’t gotten better in the quarter century since then.
I envy those with Faith, whether in their church or whatever they believe in. And I envy those with Community, again whether it’s the church or the Eagles or their Bowling League. There are positive things that come with bringing together those with common beliefs, even if it’s as simple as the feeling of sitting around a campfire and realizing that you have the same problems as the person next to you and that they are struggling as well and maybe just being there for each other, we provide some much-needed support to each other at a time when we could all feel more supported.
Don’t take any of this as anti-Reiki or anti any alternative approach. Do what gives you comfort. Do what gives you strength and community. Do what hopefully helps you grow and become a better person over time. You do you. But, be a good person while you do it.
(Note: One of Christina’s girlfriends told her that what we did is not, in fact, Reiki because there was no laying on of hands and some other requirements. I’m not in a position to challenge that assertion, but I don’t think it changes what I do consider to be the main benefit of our Reiki Circle adventure!)
Images from MidJourney. I would note the header image was created with the new v5. Despite claims to the contrary, Midjourney still has a ways to go before it understands human anatomy.