Vampires and Garlic Gardens

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Garlic by David Ondrik

I recently read an article in an issue of Breathe about empaths and “energy vampires.”

This is a phrase I’m hesitant to use, because it encourages us to (literally) demonize other people, especially those whom we find personally draining or difficult. 

Most of the time, a person we think of as an energy vampire is simply someone who is not conscious of themselves, or their impact on others. Think about when children are sick; we love and want to care for them, and when they are deeply depleted, they need more of our ki—our vitalityto sustain themselves. Generally speaking, we don’t think of children as vampires!

What if we apply that same patience and compassion to adults who aren’t able to straightforwardly ask for what they need, due to stress, illness, or past trauma? It’s entirely possible that the person who is draining you thinks that they don’t matter enough to affect other people—a sad situation, indeed.

How do we feel more kindly towards people who exhaust us? The best defense against anything that feels depleting is self care. Deep self care—Self Love, really—is the best protection, because when we are well-rested, well-fed, exercised, and truly engaged with our own life, we are less susceptible to getting swept up in someone else’s drama. When we find ourselves feeling drained by a person or situation that we believe has snared us, it’s usually a sign that that we need to take a good, compassionate look at ourselves. Are we offering up our own life force for the taking, consciously or not?

Another thing to be aware of is our own capacity to BE that energy vampire. What? Me?! No way! Yes. This does not make us a bad or weak person; it means that we are human, and we have down times, just like everyone else. If we’re not attentive to our own needs, and aware of our own less-than-helpful coping strategies, it is easy to tip over to that “dark side,” where we harbor unrealistic expectations of our friends, family, and co-workers, worrying about our unmet needs and unconsciously trying to pull people in to help us.

Building up our psychic immune system is the best way to avoid—and to avoid becoming—an energy vampire.  When I say “psychic,” I mean of the psyche, of the soul or the mind. We strengthen the psyche so that it’s flexible and resilient, able to spot and easily move around or accommodate difficulty, and also able to recover more quickly when knocked down by a challenge. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes, and often they blindside us—such as unexpectedly harsh words from a friend, or criticism from a colleague. When our psyche is strong, we can stand confident in ourselves, sure of our healthy connections with others and in our ability to weather whatever happens next. We can watch something play out, and even though we may not like it, we can wait and see what happens rather than jump into the fray.

Garlic has a long tradition of being beneficial to the immune system (although contemporary medicine isn’t entirely on board with this). And as the old stories go, garlic keeps vampires at bay! So how do you tend the garlic garden of your psyche’s immune system? Here are a few strategies:

  • Schedule yourself first: sleep, good food, exercise. Mind your work, your relationships, and your household.
  • Find a daily practice that requires focus: Reiki, meditation, yoga, martial arts, writing, art.
  • Set your phone to “do not disturb” an hour before bed; turn off your computer and television, too.
  • Go to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual, at least once a week. 
  • Take a social media break. Focus on doing what nourishes you, rather than posting about it.
  • Spend your free time doing things you enjoy, hanging out with people you like, and participating in work (and fun!) that is meaningful to you.

Do these seem too simplistic? Simple is good. Simple is healthy. Simplicity doesn’t drain your resources; it builds your primary resource, which is YOU, and your vitality.

If you often find yourself drained by others, try to resist being the girl in the flimsy negligee, barefoot, inching her way down the dark hallway with a wooden stake in her hand. You know where that scene ends up! Instead, get your boots on, go outside (yes, even if it’s nighttime), and check in with your psychic garlic garden. Touch the cool dirt, break off a garlic scape, and breathe in the pungent scent. Look at the stars, and feel yourself a part of this real life on Earth.

There’s no need to waste precious time being afraid of imaginary monsters.

Journey to Mt. Kurama

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This photo by Becky Holtzman; all others by photographer David Ondrik.

This summer I had the opportunity to visit Japan—something I’d hoped to do for years, long before I even knew about Reiki. As luck would have it, my visit was based in Kyoto. Mt. Kurama, the sacred mountain where Reiki was first perceived by Mikao Usui, is about an hour’s train ride north of the city. Traditionally, Usui is said to have discovered Reiki after a three-week fasting meditation on the mountain, in 1922. Of course a visit to the origin place of Reiki was at the top of my list!

The train ride was beautiful: as the city eased into suburbs, lush rice paddies and vegetable gardens began to replace dwellings. Our train tunneled through maple trees as we moved into the mountains. Finally, we were deposited at Kurama Station, and our trek began.

We paid the entrance fee at the main gate, and received a lovely, pale purple “Summer” ticket, which told us that Mt. Kurama is “imbued with life energy, a wide variety of life forms resides here in serenity, and the rich natural environment continues to flourish.”

Perhaps a quarter mile up the trail, we encountered another large stone entrance gate. Just beyond that, we found a beautiful, large, hand-constructed ring of vegetation, an ephemeral and marvelous entrance. We thought perhaps this was from the Bamboo-Cutting Ceremony that had happened a couple of weeks previous. The multiple thresholds opening onto the Kurama trail created a sense of ceremony, of being led deeper into the pilgrimage.

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Beyond the green-gate was a flight of steps, which ran alongside a huge, old Grandfather Sugi tree—estimated to be about 800 years old, adorned with a rope and a “lightning strike” paper streamer (called a shide), elements from Shinto rituals. Gigantic trees, and reverence for them,  was a common theme in my experience of Japan. When you look at these old beings, and see the many lichens, mosses, plants and insects that live on and whirl about them, one can’t help but appreciate these magical ecosystems-unto-themselves.

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The trail up the mountain alternates between paved path, dirt switchbacks, and long flights of stone stairs. So many stairs! Lanterns line the route. The mountain is home to dozens of Shinto shrines, both tiny and large. The bright reddish-orange of the lanterns, a shade that also trims the shrines, positively vibrates against the various greens of the forest. 

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One of the things I had most been looking forward to was visiting a particular shrine near the top of the mountain. My (admittedly out-of-date) guide book said it was a not-to-be-missed quiet treasure of Mt. Kurama, nestled into a sacred grove of massive sugi trees. As we neared the top, I mentioned this to my partner, who hesitantly broke the news that the shrine had been destroyed in 2018’s Typhoon Jebi, the strongest typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years. Ah. Well.

After traversing the Tree Root Path…

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—a labyrinth of living tree roots right out of a fairy tale—we came upon the shrine. Uprooted trees were everywhere, and parts of the shrine lay in piles. The exception was a small stone bowl resting on a short pedestal, and also a rectangular stone basin—perhaps the former purification trough. In this basin, dark tadpoles swam with vigor. Life wants to live!

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Near the wreckage of the shrine, amid the overturned trees, several humble wooden benches had been installed, low to the ground. A small sign was staked into the ground by the benches: Meditation Place.

I sat down, and looked around me: the downed trees, the mud, the shattered shrine, and the robust green of the still-standing trees. I searched for feelings of sorrow in the wreckage at the sacred site, but wry humor is what came forward: the traveler-from-afar fantasy I had harbored, of having a perfect meditation in the perfect place where Reiki was literally born … that fantasy had tumbled down the mountain.

In fact, I was having the perfect meditation, in the perfect place; it just didn’t look the way I had expected. As the birds sang and the insects buzzed, I let my gaze drift back and forth between the downed trees and the trees still growing. I felt the heat of my partner’s leg next to mine, heard our breathing, and I asked myself to be present in this landscape exactly as it was: uprooted and tempest-tossed. I loved this sacred grove, which had made a sacrifice to forces bigger than itself: the wind and rain, a climate that is raging in ways this old mountain might be untroubled by, but which is challenging to the hundreds-of-years-old “youngster” trees. 

Echoing through it all, continual birdsong.

Several years ago, right before another big journey, a good friend asked me if I felt happy. I thought carefully before responding. I replied that I felt content in my life—that I experience happiness as a transitory emotion, while to be content is to be rooted in satisfaction, a sense of “this is enough,” even as happiness, sadness, and all the other human emotions wash over and through my days, again and again. I thought of this conversation as we descended Mt. Kurama, considering how once we commit to a journey, we can find contentment with whatever we discover along the path. All that’s required of us is to show up.

Bloomington Hospital Site Regeneration

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Image from Akron Rural Cemetery, Glendale, Ohio

On April 16, at the Hospital Reuse presentation at City Hall, a slide was shown that told us that we, the citizens of Bloomington, will be repurposing a piece of land that for 114 years has served a single purpose—as a hospital. Although I have been following the hospital site redevelopment for years, this was the moment when I first thought of Asclepius, and the significance of healing places.

Most of us are familiar with the Rod of Asclepius, the snake-entwined staff that is the symbol of medicine.* The ancient temples of that Greek god, the asclepion, were powerful places of pilgrimage that people traveled to in search of healing.

How many people have traveled to some incarnation of IU Health Bloomington Hospital hoping to be healed? I doubt there is a single citizen in this town who has not had a loved one patched up, a beloved child born, or a dear one pass from this life into the Big Mystery in that hospital. Many of us have been healed ourselves, or received bad news, or good news, or most common of all, uncertain news. At this point the land is unarguably sacred—to many of us personally, and to our community as a whole. It may also be valuable in dollar signs, but its real value lies in its meaning to the citizenry of our region. New York City’s Central Park occupies land that is worth a gazillion dollars, but to the people of New York, the park is priceless.

Discerning the best way to respectfully work with this piece of land that has literally touched every one of our lives should be our common goal. When the buildings are razed, the water-sheeting asphalt jack-hammered up, how will we bring this sacred property back into the fold of our community? Connecting with the neighborhoods of Prospect Hill and McDoel Gardens, knitting together the space between the B-Line and the properties west of the hospital, is critical: more than developing, it is welcoming that land back into the community. Instead of rushing to develop it—and there are many different ideas about what that word even means—we should aim to seamlessly weave it back into the neighborhoods that surround it, with an eye towards regenerative development, and perhaps inspired by the Slow Movement. In this way we may begin to honor all of the lives that have moved through the “healing temple” that is currently there.

Perhaps you live at a distance from the hospital, and think this issue has nothing to do with you. But if you’ve had any interaction with the hospital, then this does have something to do with you. Consider how your fellow Bloomingtonians, the residents and businesses that border the hospital site, have by default been holding space for our community’s well-being for over a hundred years. (How many times has an ambulance screaming down 2nd street in the middle of the night awakened me? That, I will not miss.)

The word “heal” is related to “whole.” Mending takes time; it cannot be rushed. To repurpose this utterly unique piece of land, without folding its history into its future use, would be a missed opportunity. Wouldn’t we prefer that this continue to be a place of healing, on another level? When I imagine what that land can become, I envision a place that holds space for the healing powers of nature, where life is able to live, and where wholeness is supported: not just for those with deep pockets, but for everyone in our community.


* Note: Or maybe we’re familiar with the caduceus, the staff of Hermes, which is often confused with the Rod of Asclepius.

Working with our own Earth

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Image from NASA, via NPR

Monday, April 22, at 6pm, I’ll be offering a guided meditation to celebrate Earth Day. No meditation experience required. This event is free. For more information call 812-327-1330 or contact me.


In the early 2000s, I had the good fortune to hear biological pioneer—Bioneer—Kenny Ausubel speak to a small group of ecologically concerned people. At the time, I wrote down these words: The quickest way to heal an ecosystem is to connect it with more of itself. (Is this a quote? Not that I can find. A paraphrase? Who knows!)

I have thought about this concept time and again; more often, since I began practicing Reiki. If each individual is a small ecosystem—which studies of the microbiome suggest—then it’s worth considering the ways we get disconnected within ourselves: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. The impacts of disconnection—of missed connections—on our personal lives, on our families and workplaces, in our local and global communities, can be enormous.

We care for what we feel connected to. What we call “nature” is a vast, stunningly diverse variety of life forces, which all together make up the amazing Earth-ship that we call home. As humans, we tend to place ourselves at the top of the heap, but openhearted humility and clear-eyed observation suggest that we are but one (rather domineering) species among millions of animals, insects, and plants.

“Matter is NOT opaque and dark; this is what I think the planet is trying to tell us,” says Marion Woodman, in her lecture series, Sitting by the Well.

“And once you experience that light in matter, you are one with the flowers, you are one with the trees, the birds… And it breaks your heart to see the cedars dying. Or to recognize what we are doing minute by minute to this planet. But then you think: So what are you doing to your own body…

“Something you are doing to your own earth. And then, in working with our own earth, we come to recognize the earth on the planet that we love.”

Reiki fosters healthy connection. I think of this as true Life Support. And it begins in real life, embodied life, when people share space together, breathe the same air, make eye contact, and communicate with words, facial expressions, body language. When we connect our individual ecosystems to one another, we recognize healing as a practice to be applied daily, not a noun to be achieved.

This Earth Day, join me for a guided meditation, to hold Earth in healing practice—both Big Mama Earth, and our individual-body earths. Everyone is welcome!

A New Year, and Rethinking “Energy”

Lately I’ve been thinking about the ways we use the word “energy” in communication. I don’t just mean Reiki practitioners, rather in the broader cultural context. When we say energy, we assume people know what we’re talking about: “I like that guy’s energy,” or “I felt energy move through me,” or “The dog must be sick, her energy is off.”

Often we’re referring to something ephemeral, a “vibe.” But are we really referring to something ephemeral? What if we were willing to spend some time becoming more specific about what we mean? When I tell someone I’m feeling low energy, I could be talking about my body, my emotions, or maybe my spirit. Perhaps it’s some amalgam of all three.

Energy is kind of generic. I once heard a Reiki master describe it as the equivalent of whatever. To me, it’s like the word stuff, which can refer to anything from belongings (I’ve got a garage full of stuff), to tasks (We’ve got a ton of stuff on tonight’s agenda), to lovely abundance (Look at that banquet table full of stuff!).

It’s all about context. And so it is with “energy.” If you ask a physicist to describe energy, they will likely start talking about thermal, radiant, kinetic… and I’m not comfortable using any of those “energies” to describe Reiki!

When we really ask ourselves, “What am I feeling?” it encourages us to look a little deeper. When we look deeper, we are better able to find real solutions. Am I low energy in my physical body? Maybe I’m dehydrated, or am in need of good food, or a solid night’s sleep. Am I low energy in my emotional life? Perhaps it’s time to reflect on what’s going on in my relationships: family, friends, the groups I interact with, and my community. Am I spiritually low? It might be wise to make an effort to connect with something bigger than myself: God, goddess, the Universe, or even the natural world. A friend refers to that Something Bigger as her “committee,” a concept I love, because it suggests many facets sharing a unity of purpose.

Self-observation is powerful, and being specific about what we see, without judging it, can provide us with valuable information. When we practice Reiki, or receive Reiki from someone else, we have the opportunity to relax completely into each present moment, and to experience whatever arises. I believe this is different than energy work; it is more like meditation. A skilled practitioner is almost like a guide, one who endeavors to stay out of the way and let Reiki practice speak for itself.

In attempting to weed the word energy out of my Reiki conversations over the past few months, I’ve found that vitality is often a good substitute. For me, vitality carries all the positive connotations of energy, and shrugs off the vaguely woo-woo implications that can be troubling, especially when speaking with Reiki skeptics.

But skeptics are our friends. They push us to observe carefully, and to consider the importance of the language we use when discussing Reiki. Questions—those from others, and even our own—help us learn how to convey the practice with integrity, whether we practice ourselves, or find value in seeking professional Reiki sessions.

It has been exactly three years since the Orange Flower Healing blog was launched. I still find myself constantly revisiting the way I write, and talk, and think about Reiki. It brings to mind this description of the Way, the Tao:

Words go on failing and failing,
nothing like abiding in its midst.*

May the New Year bring you health, contentment, and abiding ease.

*From David Hinton’s marvelous translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching, Chapter 5.

Shinrin-Yoku: The Japanese Art and Science of Forest Bathing

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Interested in trying a bit of forest bathing? Join me for a slow-and-easy excursion in beautiful McCormick’s Creek State Park this Saturday, October 13. We’ll meet at 3pm in the Orange Flower Healing parking lot, so that we can carpool and save on the park entry fee. (You are welcome to drive alone and meet us there, if you prefer). We’ll explore the Wolf Cave Trail (#5).
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I recently read Dr. Qing Li’s 2018 book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness. Dr. Li is the Chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, and his book is an easy read, straightforward and practical. The first chapter describes the benefits of spending time in the forest: decreased stress levels, a sense of calm, increased vitality, and a strong feeling of connection with the natural world. He cites studies that show some measurable health benefits gained from forest bathing, including improved blood pressure, boosted immune system response, and mood enhancement.

The book offers guidance on how to practice shinrin-yoku and suggests methods for bringing “the forest” into our living and work spaces, with indoor plants and essential oils. The author then encourages readers to join the effort to preserve our forests, which cover just over 30% of the Earth’s land. Most Americans experience forests as a place for recreation, but the reality is that the livelihoods and food security of around 250 million rural poor depend on vibrant forests and trees, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Li offers facts and figures, but is also careful to convey the aesthetic power of forests. He offers lines of poetry from Bashō, and provides an outline for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. He also mentions a study, Fertile Green: Green Facilitates Creative Performance, that demonstrated how just a brief glimpse of the color green can influence performance on creative tasks.

The color green is a balm to the human eye, and nature’s age-old method of indicating that water, and possibly food, are nearby. Green is the color of nourishment, potentiality, and growth–and can help set the stage for healing.

The practice of shinrin-yoku aligns perfectly with Reiki practice; some of my favorite Reiki sessions have been in large urban parks, practicing among the trees. And that was before I even knew about shinrin-yoku! I’ve often gone to the woods searching for refuge and comfort, but Li’s book encourages me to think of nature as prescription: Big Tree Medicine.

Take 2 hours in the forest, and call me in the morning.

 

 

 

Qigong Practice and Receptivity

Today’s guest column, about the power of Qigong to increase receptivity to herbal medicine, is written by Sheila Devitt of Sun & Moon Dispensary. Qigong is a subtle body practice from the Chinese tradition, and Reiki, a Japanese light-touch healing practice, is sometimes compared to it. Both practices are meditative and seem to facilitate healing.

Sheila Devitt is an herbalist and actor in San Francisco. We met in the late 1990s, while working for an herbalist. I have long admired her equally strong commitments to acting and herbalism, interests which seem to balance and influence one another in ways that I find continually inspiring.

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I’ve been a practicing herbalist since 1998, first working with Western European and North American herbal medicine, then incorporating Ayurvedic traditions, including yoga practice, and in recent years expanding to include Traditional Chinese herbal medicine. A couple years ago, I had an opportunity to study herbal medicine in Shanghai. I traveled with a group of fellow students and teachers for a two-week intensive. While doing hospital rounds, our translator mentioned that she also works at the Shanghai Qigong Research Institute, across the street. She arranged for our small group to meet some of the instructors and drop-in on a couple classes.

One of the instructors asked about our group of herbalists from the United States. “How can you just practice herbs?” he asked. “We do not separate it from the other branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine” (acupuncture, Qigong exercise, Tui Na massage, and diet and nutrition).

“We practice Qigong so that our bodies will be more receptive to the herbs.”

That simple statement was like a light-bulb moment for me, an “A-ha!” Of course.

Qigong is a form of simple stretching and movement that focuses on the meridians: the same meridians that acupuncturists reference when selecting needle points. One teacher defines Qigong as “a form of gentle exercise composed of movements that are repeated a number of times, often stretching the body, increasing fluid movement (blood, synovial and lymph) and building awareness of how the body moves through space.”

Another teacher says, “Practicing Qigong cultivates positive energy.”

When we practice Qigong, we clear stagnation in the meridians. Receiving acupuncture also clears stagnation, or blocked energy, in the meridians. When energy blockages are removed, or at least reduced, it clears the pathway for herbs to work in the body. When we are less tense, more relaxed, the herbs have an easier time getting to where they need to go, therefore working more effectively and efficiently. (Oftentimes, herbal formulas will include a small amount of a warming, spicy ingredient that stimulates circulation, such as ginger, cinnamon, cayenne or black pepper. This serves a similar function, helping to facilitate circulation, and deliver the main ingredients in the formula to their destination, whether that’s a particular organ or joint or limb.)

Acupuncture, Qigong and herbal medicine are all synergistic modalities: each one amplifies the benefits of the others. I believe that any practice that helps to calm us down, reduce stress, quiet the mind and release tension will also help the body become more receptive to herbal medicine, both physiologically and energetically.

I recently read an article about electricity in nature that said, “Plants, being earthed, have the same negative charge as the ground that they grow upon, but they protrude into the positively charged air. This creates substantial electrical fields between the air around them and the tips of their leaves and branches…”

Herbs as medicine contain a variety of active chemical constituents, that can be identified and measured using various scientific means, but they also retain this electrical energy. Of course it’s highest when the plant is alive, and will gradually diminish once the plant is harvested and dried, but it will still retain some echo of that energy.

When we practice subtle body arts, in the form of Reiki or Qigong, we might well tune in to, and amplify, a similar electrical energy in our own living bodies. I believe in this way, we become more receptive.

Here are links to a couple of my favorite Qigong videos. I often recommend the Eight Brocades series and the Five Element series to my herbal medicine clients. The Eight Brocades is an ancient practice that has been handed down over many generations. I think of it as a foundational set, similar to doing sun salutations in yoga. In the Five Element series, I especially like the link between the physical organs, and corresponding emotions. When our emotions feel overwhelming, as if they are too much to contain, this practice can help us to create a larger, more stable container, and to provide us with a greater capacity to process difficult emotions.

Here are links to a couple Qigong teachers and their practices:
Water Tradition Internal Arts (in California)
Water Study Chi Kung (in Oregon)

When we combine the physical exercise with herbal medicine, we are utilizing simple, gentle, powerfully effective healing modalities that bring peace and comfort in a busy world.

Sweet, Slow Medicine

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David Ondrik, Seedlings, from the Arid Harvests series

I recently read Victoria Sweet’s 2017 book, Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing. Sweet is an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, and also has a Ph.D. in history. She practiced medicine for over twenty years at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, and is a storyteller skilled at bridging medicine and the humanities. She explores the multitude of reasons people seek doctors to sustain them—not just to fix their ailments—and argues that encouraging and allowing doctors to slow down can benefit everyone: doctors, nurses, and patients alike.

“Anything that contributes to healing power should be employed; anything that takes away from it should be abandoned,” Sweet writes. How can contemporary medicine help people to heal in the least damaging way possible? By tending them s-l-o-w-l-y, is the suggestion. This doesn’t mean that medicine should give up moving quickly; rather, Sweet asserts that Fast Medicine and Slow Medicine work best together, alternating as needed. When you’re having a heart attack, you want everybody working at a clip! But when the heart attack is over, it’s time to recover, to heal and address prevention of future heart attacks. This is the time to employ slow medicine, to ask how a patient wants their life to look going forward, and what the patient can do to help their life move in that direction. How can their doctor support them in this important work? Slow medicine is partly about a doctor listening to and observing a patient to learn the areas in which the patient can be empowered.

Although Reiki isn’t mentioned in Slow Medicine, the concept of chi is referenced a few times—Sweet laments its depletion in weary medical interns. Of course, I was thinking about Reiki as I read this book, and how the very particular slow-listening of Reiki practice can serve as a powerful accompaniment to the rigors of modern fast medicine.

Sweet also writes at length about Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century Benedictine nun who emphasized the concept of viriditas or “greenness,” a metaphor for life force, and spiritual and physical health. (Sweet’s PhD in history focused on Bingen and pre-modern medicine.) She says the implications of Bingen’s idea, “which for me was revolutionary, [was] that as a doctor I should be not only a mechanic of the body, looking for what is broken and trying to fix it, but also a gardener of the body, nourishing viriditas, and removing what is in its way.”

Sweet does a great job of expanding this notion of viriditas beyond the individual patient, to the organizational level. What does a healthy health care system look like? What nourishes the garden of health care so that it can provide the right services at the right time, and what stands in the way of hospitals and doctors truly serving the people? I found myself thinking in new ways about the health care (eco) system.

I have previously associated viriditas with the vitality that Reiki seems to evoke, vitality that nourishes and restores balance in myself, and in the individuals I treat. Reiki practice appears to meet people right where they are, never pushing or forcing an issue, always gently encouraging the recipient to balance, however that might appear for them. I believe that Reiki practice is naturally and deeply aligned with Slow Medicine, “where relationship is key and the theme is attention, quietness, openness.”

Practicing Reiki like a Martial Art

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Every once in a while, someone who is curious but skeptical about Reiki will ask if I really “believe” that it works. This can be intimidating, depending on the tone in which the question is asked. It is easy to start stammering, and to fall back on vague “woo-woo” language, which never helps. It only takes a few experiences like this to discourage one from speaking with confidence about the value of Reiki, a practice that is truly better experienced than discussed.

Recently I’ve been trying a response that feels more playful: Do you ask an aikido student if she believes in aikido?

My spouse, David Ondrik (pictured above) helped bring me to this idea. A student of taekwando for 25 years, he took Reiki I with me, and immediately saw a reflection of his martial arts training in the approach: the Grand Master/Master/student relationship; regular practice with fellow students; an individual commitment that, when combined with the commitment of others, becomes the larger community of the dojang.

Martial arts training benefits the body, the mind, and the spirit. An aikido student doesn’t believe in aikido, she practices it. More precisely, she practices because she believes in the benefits the practice brings her. It is an art she has committed herself to, and the power of her aikido practice lies in doing the work, not in talking about it. If you’re interested in what she has–strength, ease in her body, a calmness about her–then you might want to know more about how she attained those things. She may have some simple words to offer, but most likely she will encourage you to experience aikido for yourself.

“Reiki” is two things: it is universal life energy (Rei = universal, ki = life energy), and it is also the practice itself. When people ask if I believe in Reiki, they usually mean the former, universal life energy. All I can say to that is everyone knows when they see someone who is lacking in life energy; a person might seem depressed, washed out, a little blue, bored.

Reiki practice works at the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels (much like a martial art). We all know what physical muscles look like, but what about your emotional muscles? What constitutes mental muscle? And what shape does spiritual muscle take?

In the martial arts, testing day is often a public event. Given the task of breaking through a series of wooden planks, the student take all of his or her experience from practice—the body, the emotions, the mind, the spirit, and their sacred connection to their Master’s lineage—and brings that experience to bear on the task at hand. To an outsider, this task might seem impossible; they might not believe it can be done. The student might not even be certain they can do it. All the student can do is prepare, and then give it their best.

And so it is with the art of Reiki. I am less concerned with believing in Reiki than I am in practicing it. It is through practice that Reiki teaches me, and I can speak of my own personal experience with confidence and ease. I aspire to what Stephen Mitchell writes, in his translation of the Tao te Ching: “He who knows doesn’t talk, but words are no hindrance for him. He uses them as he would use gardening tools. When someone asks, he answers.”

 

The Mystery takes form in the glory of the Earth…

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Epic Earth image from NASA.

Happy Earth Day.

“The Mystery takes form in the glory of the Earth,” Marion Woodman assures us in her wonderful lecture series, Sitting by the Well: Bringing the Feminine to Consciousness Through Language, Dreams, and Metaphor.

Today I’m setting aside some time to send Reiki to our sweet home, planet Earth. I’ll offer healing Reiki — Universal Life Energy — to the waters, the land, the skies; the plants, wild and cultivated; the insects, birds, and animals who run wild, live as our companions, and provide food; and to the humans, whose choices impact every aspect of life on Earth.

A few minutes spent in meditation today can help connect us with our planet and the abundance of shared resources that Earth provides to each and every one of us. If you don’t currently practice Reiki, a conscious expression of gratitude will work, too!