The Wisdom School

The Practical Mysticism of Reiki Healing

Practical Mysticism
by Rajashree Maa (aka Dr. Joni ‘Kalisara’ Dittrich) in
Mature Interspirituality: Wayne Teasdale’s Nine Elements and Beyond, edited by Swami Shraddhananda, 2017.

According to Brother Wayne Teasdale, “mystical spirituality is always practical: its experience is eminently beneficial to a person’s life and well-being.” (1. Mystic Heart p. 22.)  Mystical experience always benefits the one who has the experience and often these benefits ripple out in good works to others as well.

Reiki is spiritual energy that is mystically activated and perceived.   And yet it is eminently practical.  Its primary purpose is to heal or make whole that which is out of alignment with itself.  What could be more practical than placing hands on yourself or another person to produce deep relaxation, physical and emotional healing, spiritual upliftment and balance?  Who can deny the soothing effects of human touch?  When that touch is infused with spiritual love through healing hands, it has been shown over and over again that people respond positively and that whatever hurts is eased or healed.

Even though Reiki energy itself cannot yet be directly observed or quantified, science has been able to measure its beneficial effects.  This is why hospitals around the world are now inviting Reiki practitioners to offer hands on healing for patients undergoing chemotherapy, wound and burn recovery, women’s health issues, childbirth and various psychological disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and PTSD.

Reiki is also an interspiritual practice that in and of itself leads to mystical awakenings and inner transformation. 

The Gift of Healing

Throughout history there have been reports of mysterious and spontaneous healings.  Such healings have been attributed to forces of nature, gods, goddesses, saints, avatars and “gifted” individuals.  People pilgrimage around the globe to receive the blessings and prayers of well-known healers such as John of God in Brazil, and various sacred healing sites such as Lourdes, Medjugorje and Fatima.

Jesus is probably the world’s most well known healer.  The word “savior” as ascribed to Jesus has as its Greek root, “soter” which can also be translated as “healer.”  Jesus healed the sick, restored vision to the blind and life to those known to be dead.  One merely had to be in his presence to receive healing.  According to Sw. Shraddhananda, this healing energy that Jesus, and other enlightened beings could bestow, was “Shaktipat”  or the descent of divine energy through the grace of the guru (2).

Mikao Usui, a Pure Land Buddhist monk and the founder of traditional Usui Reiki, was likely one such “Shaktipat guru.”  After a devastating earthquake in Japan in 1023, Usui and his students legendarily healed thousands simply by walking through  the streets and offering Reiki healing to the injured and traumatized.  The story of Usui’s awakening is classic.  After a 40 day fast and retreat on Mount Kurama near Kyoto, Usui had a profound mystical kundalini experience in which Reiki lifeforce energy poured into his crown chakra.  As he walked down the mountain in this sublime state a series of symbols were infused into his consciousness.

These symbols were understood by Usui to be divinely given tools he could use to teach others how to activate healing lifeforce energy.  Usui’s school, Usui Shiki Ryoho, developed in 1922, systematized hands-on healing methods for various disorders of body and mind.  Thus, with the proper initiations and training in harnessing lifeforce energy and hand placement protocols, anyone could become an effective healer of all variety of ailments.

Reiki therefore is a practical method based upon mystical revelation.  Indeed Usui himself was a practical mystic. 

Universal Life Force

Usui taught that Reiki is the universal energy of the life force.  “Rei” in Japanese means emperor or supreme, whereas “ki” is the life force.  “Ki” is the same as the perhaps more familiar Chinese word for life force energy, “chi.” Thus Reiki is the supreme or divine energy of the life force.  Lifeforce energy is given many names in many traditions.  In Yoga and Hinduism, it is “prana,” “shakti,” or “kundalini.”  In the Judeo-Christian tradition it can be understood as “Shekinah,” “Ruach,”  “Holy Spirit,” or “Christ Consciousness.” In African, Native American and shamanic cultures  there are many names for embodiment of the Great Spirit.  In Muslim culture, it is the sublime consciousness,“baqa,” or the remembrance of God, “dhikr,” through the  “ruqhyah” or healing words of Quran. To the modern scientist lifeforce is the hypothesized unified field.

In other words, Reiki is the substratum of all life and creation which is known to all religious traditions through mystical experience and intuition.  Reiki healing is the intentional application of the life force to bring balance, wholeness, and healing to individuals and all the interacting systems that support life.

Because the energy of Reiki is universal it is necessarily also interspiritual in nature.  The energy of Christian laying on of hands, for instance, is considered no different than the energy channeled by Buddhist monks or shamanic healers.  Methods may vary from tradition to tradition and varying methods may produce varying results, but the energy of healing is the source energy of that which gives us life.  This energy is what many of us call the divine, or the energy of pure love.

From Universal to Personal

One of the things I love about Reiki healing is its eminent simplicity.  We simply tap into the energy of what we actually are in order to bring ourselves back into balance or alignment.  In bringing our systems into attunement within ourselves and our environment, the body-mind relaxes and the natural healing processes of the body are allowed to do their work.  For example, studies show that Reiki helps to activate a suppressed immune system.  How does this happen?  

I like to understand it this way: by applying pure healing lifeforce energy to energy that is clogged, congested or constricted, the stuck energy is freed up to flow naturally.  It is like removing old tires dumped into a stream that obstruct the flow and pollute the water.  When clogged energy corresponds to organs or tissues in the body, the freeing up of that energy allows the natural flow to resume.  In the case of immune system, glands and hormones may be purified and regulated so that the body can again ward off potential toxins.  Simple, practical but ultimately mystical.

Any Reiki practitioner can give you anecdotal stories of dramatic healings with Reiki: an autistic child uttering his first words while receiving Reiki, tumors mysteriously disappearing after months of unsuccessful radiation and chemotherapies, suicidal depression giving way to states of radiant joy, a healthy child conceived and born to an anxious mother after multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth.   One woman who I worked with 20 years ago when she was first diagnoses with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and given less than five years to live, believes that her long remission is a result of the Reiki did so many years ago.  There have been many instances of tumors found on scans that disappear or shrink significantly after Reiki treatments. 

It is not uncommon for clients on my table to have mystical experiences themselves.  While receiving Reiki they may sense the presence of angelic beings, deceased loved ones.  Clients report that they have seen the eye of god and been visited by Christ or Buddha or Kali or Kwan Yin.  They are often given messages and “travel” to fantastic mystical realms.

These seemingly extraordinary experiences happen frequently and consistently with Reiki healing.  Because so many Reiki practitioners are mystics and not scientists, many of these miraculous events are not quantified or even documented in any systematic way.  Although there have been efforts in last 20 years to research Reiki, these studies are typically not well funded and often do not hold up to the rigorous standards of scientific method, so remain primarily anecdotal.

I want to share with you here one very down to earth story of a very practical Reiki healing.

Bob is a giant of man, a tradesman and mechanic who has done various jobs around my house, such as replacing appliances and fixing a broken pump.  There doesn’t seem to be anything that Bob cannot fix or make.  Recently after moving some very heavy items, I saw the big guy wincing in pain.  At little shy at first to offer my “woo-woo” services, I remembered my own observation that when a person is in real pain, they will accept almost any form of help, regardless of whether it fits with their worldview.

So I asked Bob if it would be okay for me to put my hands on his shoulder.  He nodded in ascent and standing on my tiptoes I reached up and held his shoulder between my Reiki-activated hands.  Immediately his expression softened and his breathing got quieter.  I doubt that he had ever meditated before, but he clearly was in the zone.  After several quiet minutes I sensed that the healing was complete and asked him how he was feeling.  As if waking up from a deep sleep his smiled beatifically and said the pain was gone completely.

A few weeks later he was back at the house, this time fixing my broken air conditioner.  I asked him about his shoulder.  He looked at me with amazement and said, “You know, I was completely pain free for three days, and the pain is still less than it has been for years.  Nothing else, not medication or physical therapy, has ever done that.  I want to know, what is it that you do?”

How do you explain the mysterious process of Reiki energy healing to someone who understands the world in mechanical terms?  I simply said, “Well, Reiki is the energy of life.  It is the energy we are all made of.  When I place my hands on you and activate that energy, I am not giving you my energy.  The energy that is activated in my hands simply activates the life force energy that is in you.  And that allows your energy to re-boot itself and come into what is the healthiest alignment for you.  In this case, it relieved your pain.”  Bob was completely satisfied by this explanation.  From now on, we are going to trade services when one of us needs something “fixed.”

Mystical Origins, practical applications

When Reiki was introduced to the United States after World War II, its Japanese Buddhist origins were often underplayed, as were its mystical elements.  In an effort to westernize Reiki, false legends about Mikao Usui were promulgated, including that he went to divinity school in Chicago and that he developed Reiki in order to imitate the healing methods of Jesus.  Research has found that Usui never visited the US and although he may have had respect for Jesus he was simply a monk with a gift for healing who was mystically given a method that could teach others to become healers.  Reiki’s Buddhist origins made the practice suspect by various Christian organizations, including the Catholic Church whose Council of Bishops still officially condemns the practice of Reiki by its members.  (This in spite of the fact that numerous Catholic priests and monastics, some of whom I am acquainted with, are long term Reiki practitioners who use Reiki when visiting the sick and in easing the death transition.)

In the effort to mainstream Reiki and render it accessible to the general public, it is often taught as a “non-religious” practice. The secularization of Reiki has perhaps made it more palatable to the medical community and facilitated its introduction into Western hospitals and other institutions.  Indeed, Reiki can be practiced without referring to it in spiritual terms at all.  This can make Reiki healing more acceptable to patients who would dismiss energy healing  as either non-scientific or antithetical to various church doctrines.

While some Reiki practitioners prefer to think of it in completely pragmatic and non-spiritual terms, others like myself consider it a highly spiritual practice that belongs to no particular religious tradition.  It is a truly interspiritual practice that is available to anyone who is willing to learn.  Reiki healing is complimentary with all other genuine spiritual practice such as prayer, contemplation and the study of sacred texts.  

Whereas Reiki can be taught without spiritual language, the ability to activate Reiki energy in one’s hands, heart and mind involves a highly mystical initiatory process called an “attunement.”  The Reiki attunements are initiations given only by Reiki master teachers, who were attuned by another master teacher, and so forth through the lineages.

What happens in an attunement is not shared with the general public and the ritual process is not taught to the practitioner until she reaches a certain level of Reiki training, often considered Master Level.   The process is reminiscent of ancient Mystery Schools rites and so a very mystical passage.  Students receiving an attunement often have visions of deities, angels, spirit guides, and may experience unitive consciousness.  They often report a sense of coming “home” or knowing themselves as they truly are.

The attunement is a sort of shakti-pat initiation, or descent of grace that activates and empowers the students’ natural healing abilities.  The attunement process is what sets Reiki apart from other forms of energy healing.  It is understood that the attunement process ensures that the practitioner will not re-absorb negative energies and that Reiki can only be applied for positive purposes, thus doing no harm.  It also gives the student direct access to universal lifeforce energy or what some call the divine.  As one practices Reiki more and more, one’s understanding of the underlying wholeness of all being naturally expands.

Thus, although Reiki hands-on healing is eminently practical, when its mystical origins are disregarded, one of its greatest boons, being a mystical path in and of itself, is at risk of being overlooked.

Reiki and unitive consciousness

Kurt Johnson and Robert Ord (3.) emphasize that all interspiritual practices embrace unitive consciousness.  Unitive consciousness is not merely an intellectual or poetic concept, but is the actual experience of oneness with all beings and indeed with all that is.  It is the experience of being one with and not other than the source of everything.

The fully awakened human is one who in every moment can access this experience of the oneness of all beings and yet still functions as a discrete being.  Most of us do not live at this high level of consciousness most of the time, nor do we have easy access to it.  We get lost in our activities and in the contents of our minds and we experience ourselves as separate and apart from others.  For most humans there are only occasional and brief glimpses into unitive consciousness.  Precious moments at the birth of a child, gazing into the vastness of ocean or night sky, the homecoming of a beloved, or the orgasmic gasp of union in lovemaking may provide these glimpses. 

Reiki provides glimpses into unitive consciousness on a consistent and reliable basis for many of its practitioners. To feel energy emanating from myself that is not my individual energy but is the energy of the universal life force of which I am also made and to feel that energy connecting with the lifeforce that flows through, within and as you, is a truly cosmic, unitive experience.  This is mystical consciousness and there is the possibility of experiencing it each time the practitioner places healing hands on someone in need.   Indeed the practitioner can experience this oneness even when sending Reiki to someone far away.

Reiki healing works across time and space.  This means that healing sent to someone across the globe or healing sent today to heal a childhood trauma or affect the outcome of a future surgery, can be just as effective as hands-on healing in the here and now.   Both the Reiki healer and the receiver often experience a sense of timelessness and bodiless-ness during Reiki sessions.  This sense of being completely aware without the anchors of time, space and egoic identity is characteristic of unitive consciousness. It is the great “aham” of the yogic traditions, and the “I am that I am” of the Abrahamic traditions.

Chances are, most Reiki practitioners and their clients did not initiate their energetic healing work from a state of full enlightenment.  Most people start receiving or practicing Reiki because they are in some sort of discomfort.  They are seeking relief from suffering.  For the practitioner, Reiki is a technology that, glimpse by glimpse, allows entrance into the experience of universal lifeforce energy and spiritual awakening.    As for the Reiki recipient who finds relief from pain and suffering in a method that does not require physical or mechanical intervention, an entire new worldview may begin to unfold.

REIKI as spiritual “technology.”

In The Mystic Heart, Br. Teasdale says, “Daily spiritual practice is the ‘technology’ of inner change.” (4.) He goes on to enumerate transformative spiritual practices such as contemplative prayer, meditation, and sacred reading.  He includes chanting, yoga, certain martial arts, hiking and walking.  I would include Reiki among those transformative practices.

As a daily practice, the Reiki practitioner spends quiet time in meditation and also in “self-healing” which entails activating Reiki healing energy and placing hands on oneself.  This self-healing practice is considered essential to becoming a proficient Reiki healer.  Reiki self-practice is a technology of individual evolution.  It is a practice in self-compassion, and understanding that in order to serve others we must care for our own body and spirit.  Also, it is a purifying practice that readies the person to be a vessel of healing for others.  Reiki self-practice assists the healer in being a pure channel of Reiki energy and averts the possibility of projecting one’s own negativity onto another as well as preventing the healer from absorbing negative energy from the other. 

As Mirabai Starr has said, “Spiritual Practice is a means to prepare us for whatever may lie ahead.” (5)  Reiki self-practice prepares the practitioner to move forward in the face of her own and others’ unavoidable suffering, and to be an instrument of comfort and ease for those traveling darks roads.

In practicing Reiki on oneself and others daily the Reiki healer gradually develops a fine-tuned intuition and her healings grow in their effectiveness and potency, as confirmed by healing recipients.  For some this developing intuition may mean increasing psychic abilities, including the ability to “see” a tumor or growth before it is confirmed through x-ray, or “reading” how old held traumas are contracting into physical or emotional pain.  These abilities instruct the healer in how to work with a client and directing healing energy where it is needed.  

Whereas these abilities are natural outgrowths of disciplined Reiki practice, they are also reminiscent of various Yogic “powers” or “siddhis” which are achieved through deep meditative practice. (cf Yoga Sutras, Book 3)  Healing itself is one of the siddhis attributed to deep practice and great masters across all spiritual traditions have been natural healers.  Reiki just happens to be a technology for developing the siddhi of healing.  And it is a technology that is available to everyone, not limited to fully enlightened beings.  This would seem to make it an ideal practice for the Interspiritual Age.

Reiki and Mature Spirituality

As one grows in Reiki mastery, one naturally practices the vows of Mature Spirituality as laid out by Teasdale in The Mystic Heart.  I believe that most Reiki masters, whether or not they have made an overt declaration, are Bodhisattvas:  those who vow to steadfastly abide on this earth in order to provide service and healing to all beings, systems and the earth itself.      

Reiki practitioners take seriously the powerful gift of healing that has been bestowed upon us and we agree not to send Reiki where it may not be welcomed.  We do not set our own intentions for the healing of another person but rather respect their intentions for their own healing.  We understand that we have an ethical obligation to respect the rights of our clients to privacy and safe touch.

We get excited when a client heals, but we do not take the credit.  We are humbled and grateful for the healing energy that we are simply channeling with healing intention.  Similarly we don’t ignore the benefits and gifts of western medicine and we encourage our clients to employ all healing modalities that they find to be helpful.  Although I am delighted that the woman with non-Hodgkins lymphoma who I mentioned earlier attributes much of her longevity to Reiki, she and I both agree that the medical intervention she has received throughout the years has also been necessary.

Because Reiki is the universal life force which is the substratum of all existence we honor all created things and live in deep nonviolence with all that is.  We respect differences because we know the underlying non-difference between us all.   We look deeply into who we are and the impact that we have on others.  We strive to heal ourselves of our own self-serving shortsightedness and our fears of weakness.  We strive to speak the truth of who we are. We are instruments of compassionate service and our souls wish for all beings to experience optimal harmonic balance and integration on all levels of body, mind, spirit and environment. 

There is a humble wisdom that naturally develops as we are entrusted with divine Reiki energy to use for the well-being of those who seek healing and wholeness.  We begin to see that everything is the energy of the divine and we begin to live more and more in awe and gratitude for that life force and our ability to see it as that which gives light to all.

The practicing Mystic

In time the Reiki practitioner begins to perceive the world in a whole new light.  She begins to embody that light. The rational materialistic paradigm of understanding the world shifts encompassed by the understanding that since everything is energy, transformation and even transmutation of form and matter can occur through the energy of intention, thought, and alignment with the divine. The Reiki practitioner sees the potential and the underlying intention for all livings things to harmonize and co-exist and feels the universal propulsion of consciousness to experience itself as the divine energy of which it is originally composed. The practitioner is not ignorant of the suffering of humanity and the earth, to the contrary she has deep empathy for her own suffering as well as the suffering of her fellow embodied beings. 

Like a Bodhisattva, it becomes the Reiki practitioner’s vow to restore wholeness wherever she can through activating Reiki healing energy.  She also assists in the transformation of that which has been dissolved or shattered through ignorance or the natural processes of life death and re-birth.  A true Reiki master is one who embodies and radiates Reiki energy through the light of her being and in her thoughts and compassionate actions.

People without a spiritual path who come to Reiki for healing may begin to experience everything as sacred, and find their path.  People already on a path may experience Reiki healing and recognize its utility in clearing physical and emotional obstacles to further spiritual growth.  People who learn how to practice Reiki have a tool to help those who suffer and have not otherwise found relief from pain, addiction, and trauma.  As both a path and a tool, Reiki is imminently mystical and imminently practical.