Troubled by financial difficulties, in 1914 a highly educated and devoutly Buddhist Japanese businessman named Mikao Usui embarked on a solitary three-week retreat on the slopes of Mt. Kurama, near Kyoto. It is not known for certain what he did there, although some say he engaged in the long-established meditation practice of standing under a waterfall, letting it flow over his head. Upon his descent, Usui announced that he had received a great spiritual gift: the ability to heal others by channeling through his hands a primordial consciousness to which he gave the name Reiki, based on Japanese words meaning "higher power" and "life-force energy." After practicing on family and friends, Usui established a Tokyo clinic in 1922. He and his staff treated many victims of the following year's devastating earthquake. Word spread. Today, thousands of Reiki practitioners carry out Usui's teachings around the world.
To a recipient, "Reiki might feel like a pulsation, a vibration, a light touch that is calming, soothing, refreshing, and relaxing," explains Reiki master Catherine Walters, who offers a free class and demonstration at Angel Light Books and Gifts (3347 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley) on Saturday, August 8. "Reiki treats the whole body and goes to the core of the issue. It doesn't treat symptoms." Nor is the practitioner actually doing the work him- or herself. Rather, "the practitioner is a conduit, an open channel."
Used to promote mental as well as physical health, Reiki differs from psychotherapy in that Reiki recipients are not expected to divulge at length their psychological histories. Although many of Walters' sessions are like shared meditations involving little or no conversation, recipients nonetheless sometimes "release a lot of emotions such as grief or fear," and might cry, groan, or make other noises cathartically "as the Reiki hands do their thing."
She feels especially inspired by her work at Pathways Home Health and Hospice in Oakland: "The dying have taught me so much about how the universe is completely abundant. They know we're not just bodies — we're really energy. I love working with cancer patients," says Walters, who is also a certified hypnotherapist, "because they've gotten a wake-up call from life."
While she says that powerful healing can take many different forms, both conventional and alternative, "Reiki is my favorite first aid." She recounts a recent anecdote in which "I was carrying a heavy laundry basket into a Laundromat and slammed my left hand into the rearview mirror of a car. My hand throbbed with pain and I wanted to scream," says Walters, who lives in Oakland. "Instead, I set the basket down, put my right hand on top of my injured left hand and asked, 'Reiki, please help!' Immediately I could feel the energy rush to my hand and in seconds the pain began to subside." A minute later, "I was able to pick up the basket and do my laundry in amazement." 2 p.m., free. AngelLightBooks.com
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