Working with Pain

Thursday, August 20: Understanding and Treating Pain
with Janet DeLong of DeLong Wellness
6:00-7:15pm, via Zoom
A couple of years ago, I heard Janet speak at the Monroe County Public Library, and her presentation stuck with me. She explained that pain is complex, a “sensory and emotional experience,” that can be worked with, as much as managed.

If you or someone you care about experiences pain that impacts quality of life, or if you’re just curious to learn more, please join us. This event is free, but virtual space is limited and registration is required. To register, contact me–please include “working with pain” and your phone number in the comments box.

Sweet, Slow Medicine


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.”

Reiki and Pain Management


detail, “Spectrum”

I recently learned about the Joint Commission, and the Commission’s 2018 new and revised pain assessment and management standards for its accredited hospitals.

What is the Joint Commission? The Joint Commission accredits health care organizations and programs in the United States. It is an independent, nonprofit organization, and is the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. In July 2017 they announced New and Revised Standards Related to Pain Assessment and Management, with several revisions, including a requirement that hospitals “provide at least one non-pharmacological pain treatment modality.”

What does this mean? This means that the American health care system is beginning to address the fact that some pain may be better treated with approaches other than pharmaceuticals. The experience of pain can be complicated and multi-faceted, and it varies for every person. Successfully managing pain—while minimizing risks, including addiction—may be best served by a combination of approaches.

What does this have to do with Reiki? In my work with people navigating cancer treatment, 85% of those surveyed have reported decreased pain and/or stress levels following their Reiki session. I have seen people arrive to an appointment in tears because of pain, and then watched their faces soften into relaxation as they receive Reiki and the pain loses its grip. It can be astonishing for the patient, and even as a Reiki devotee, I can still be surprised.

Does Reiki work for everybody? No. Does it work to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the individual? Yes. Is it a one-stop-pain-free-for-life solution? Absolutely not—and nothing is. But Reiki can help calm the body, the mind, the emotions, and the spirit, softening pain and offering just a little more room in which to breathe. In that space, with that breath, other options can suddenly seem viable.

I find myself encouraged by the implications of the Joint Commission’s mandate. Stay tuned for more on this topic, in future posts.

Rallying the (Love) Troops

Microbiome study

Microbiome study

I recently listened to this Fresh Air interview with science writer Ed Yong about his new book, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life. His subject is the microbiome, the bazillions of tiny organisms that live in and on the human body. I’m fascinated by the recent mainstreaming of this microbiome concept and the understanding that we are “not ourselves” (or rather that we are so much more than we ever imagined).

When it comes to illness, we tend to evoke the language of war: battling, fighting, surviving. Antibiotics, as wonderful and useful as they are, tend to wipe out the helpful bacteria as cleanly as they destroy the bad. Anyone who has experienced chemo, or seen a loved one go through that, knows what a kick in the pants it is for your joie de vivre. Illness and the ensuing treatments can easily start to feel like a war zone unfolding in the body.

But I’ve been trying to re-imagine illness as a challenging journey through a thick, dark forest. Let’s say that skilled, compassionate doctors are forest rangers, peaceful troops familiar with the ecosystem they’re entering. They are prepared to implement a controlled burn (a treatment) that is unfortunate but necessary, for the health of the larger forest (the physical body).

Everyone is well-trained and working hard. Even so, there are no guarantees.

I imagine Reiki as the energizing, vital force that sustains the forest, connecting all the life that lives there as the controlled burn does its work. Maybe Reiki helps rally the “love troops” — everything in the body (and spirit) which is working fine. What if Reiki gently whispers: Okay folks, we’ve got a situation. Outcome to be determined. Everyone who’s feeling strong: take a breath, relax, and do your best to keep things going.

During a Reiki session, the body, emotions, mind and spirit are infused with Reiki. Sometimes this can help ease symptoms, side effects, or fatigue; sometimes the recipient simply feels more hopeful, more confident about and supported in their choices. Maybe the sense of humor improves, which can make a big difference.

Each person experiences Reiki uniquely, so the possibilities are as varied as humans are. Maybe even as varied as each tiny creature dwelling inside each human!


Sharing Reiki in a Medical Setting

I was a member of the Northwest Reiki Association while I lived in Portland, Oregon. A thriving organization committed to community service through the practice of Reiki, NWRA coordinates volunteers in a variety of outreach projects.

Just before I moved back to Bloomington, NWRA offered a volunteer training on sharing Reiki in a medical facility, specifically, in the cancer treatment clinics they partner with. People who are receiving chemotherapy can receive Reiki as well, and the program has been so successful it’s been continued for several years. Compass Oncology’s publication Flourish featured an article about offering Reiki as an energetic response to the stress of chemotherapy.

To be clear, I didn’t actually have a chance to volunteer in a clinic — I was just about to move when the training took place, and I consider myself lucky that I was able to attend. But I wanted to take the training because some of my most powerful Reiki experiences have been with people undergoing cancer treatment. I initially started practicing Reiki for my own well being, then stumbled into offering it to people around me who had been diagnosed with cancer. I also found myself offering Reiki to caretakers, individuals who were terribly depleted by anxiety about their loved ones, maxed out on all levels by a stressful situation that felt completely beyond their control.

I noticed how quickly and deeply people responded to the Reiki they received. And I was glad to be of service, to support relaxation and comfort during a challenging time. All I needed was my Reiki hands — amazing.

Now I’m in Bloomington, and I want to offer Reiki to people who are navigating a journey through cancer. Do you know someone who might be be able to help facilitate a local program like the one at Compass Oncology? Contact me. I’m all ears.