Note: this essey first appeared on Taraka.pl, a Polish website. Now, an expanded and updated version becomes available for international readers.
Being called to serve as a shaman, I had to explore various traditions of the old days, and the ways of shamans, healers and medicine man. I came to understand the deep, spiritual and psychological process of initiation. As I did so, I noticed the similarity between the old ways and the modern experiences of Reki practitioners.
In the eyes of some people, a Reiki initiation may appear like a quick way of becoming englightened. Some people call it “an instant enlightenment“ – a statement far from the truth. The initiation is said to be merely a simple “energetic” process during the Reiki class, that takes from 15 to 60 minutes, that allows the person to work with Reiki. These days, we call it an attunement. Some teachers popularized the term of “Reiju”.
The classes themselves are often organized with this New Age feel, and everything is just way too fast. This makes Reiki looks like a worthless method in the eyes of many. After all, if everything can be reached quickly, then is the method truly valuable? But, let me ask, are the words “quick” and “everything” adequate here? Isn’t it that we’re falling into the trap of terminology? It appears that there is a great misunderstanding regarding the entire process of Reiki initiation.
As it turns out, the initiation process into the Reiki practice is not the process that takes few minutes during the classes. In reality, it’s a process that may be quite painful, and it is based upon the reconstruction of the inner self so that the man or woman is ready to be a person working with spiritual energy. And just as Reiki serves as a catalyst of changes, so is the attunement merely an event that begins the entire process oof initiation. There is a great different between the attunement process, and the initiation process, which I’m about to explain.
Now, there are few things that I have to explain to English readers. In Poland, rarely anyone says the word “attunement”, which is quite popular in English Reiki community. Teachers here use the word “initiation”, which makes the things misleading – it’s the reason why I wrote this article in the first place for the Polish readers about two years ago. Secondly, when I speak of Shamanism, I mean a set of practices that involve the initiation by spirits, involvement of spirits, specific tools, altered states of consciousness and the need of serving the tribe. So, think of shamanism in more anthropological terms, and not in the New Age like, neoshamanistic ways where everyone can be a shaman with a bit of workshop and diploma.
My great friend, herself a shaman who received the call from spirits, Agnieszka Cupak, from which I learn a lot about spirituality and Reiki, pointed out that there is a problem with the terms. She prefers the word attunement than initiation, when it comes to the actual process of attuning someone during the Reiki class. It’s the same word I prefer – I, too, call the process attunement, as I recognize the initiation as something more complex. The attunement itself – as a blessing – is more adequate to the practice of Reiju than to the process of initiation, too. Agnes Cupak explained me about her point of view when it comes to the actual process of initiation into Reiki.
According to Cupak, the attunement/Reiju allows us to work with Reiki. But the initiation process takes longer than just the attunement. The initiation is an entire process of inner transformation that, with the help of Reiki, reconstructs our Inner Self. We heal this inner self this way. And this process takes more than few minutes – it can last for weeks, even months. The Western tradition recommends the 21 days of so called cleansing period. It is said that the 21 days are related to the 21 days of Usui’s meditations upon the Mount Kurama, near Kyoto. And these 21 days are often considered to be the period of initiation. But, I believe it’s still too short time – the initiation last longer than that. I’ve been inspired to contemplate upon this matter by the length of the shamanic initiation process – something quite different from Reiki, but something that is a good base for further thoughts.
Due to my sociological interest in the problems of New Age movement (of which short history I’ve published on Scribd, see bibliography), and also due to the fact of being in touch with shamans here, in Poland, I had many opportunities to learn about the process of shamanic initiation and its elements, mainly because of the fact that the shaman’s discussions usually criticized modern shamanic workshops. Different themes became my interest back then: initiation, rites of passage and so on. Because I already practiced Reiki at the time, I was able to spot some common elements of both the shamanic and Reiki initiation. Because of that, today I believe that the process of initiation into Reiki practice can last for years! Years after writing this article for the first time, I received a call myself, and it only strengthen my understanding of the initiation.
Of course, Reiki is not shamanism. Today, by the word shaman, after skipping the anthropological and cultural aspects for now, we call a person that fits the description: it’s someone who has received a call from the spirits and has been initiated by spirits, made it through a shamanic illness and the initiation (and survived both!) and has a tribe (a community), to which he or she serves. As far as I know, no spirits call to Reiki, there is no shamanic illness in Reiki, and a Reiki practitioner does not need a tribe to serve. So, to make things clear, Reiki is not a shamanism. But the actuall process of initiation is quite similar and it makes me contemplate upon the wage of the practice we’re focusing upon, because initiation is a universal experience of both the spirit and the psyche. I mentioned shamanism not in order to show similarities with Reiki (which are few only), but in order to persuade you to contemplate upon the fact that Reiki initiation is a long-term rite of passage. And that would suggest that the practice of Reiki is neither quick nor easy.
The initiation into Reiki is not symbolic. It’s quite real, and it’s a long-term inner process. It is full of obstacles, pain, and the destruction of that which is old, and that which must be destroyed in order to build your new personality. The aspect of desctruction of the old in order to create the new is a common element within many communities, and especially as a part of the rites of passage within these cultures. Like in case of a shamanism, Reiki initiation seems like a process of deconstructing the personality of a man to basic elements in order to put them back into a new, harmonious wholeness. But in case of Reiki, it’s not the spirits who are responsible for deconstruction and reconstruction of the personality. It is Reiki the deconstructs to some degree , showing you the things that must be healed. And often, a man must reconstruct himself on his own.
At the time of writing these words for the first time, I was quite sure that my initiation process was merely just beginning, even if I was already practicing Reiki for years. From where I stand now, I can say I was right – and the initiation continues. And somewhere in the future, the goal awaits – the state of harmony and oneness. Yet I belive that this goal-state of harmony is not the end of the journey, but yet another beginning of another journey, the goal of which is the recognition of the inner Buddha. And later on, the achievement of Nirvana and finding a way out of Samsara, the wheel of death and reborn.
But the journey begins with the deconstruction of our personality to its basic elements, the slow process of destroying the old personality, and becoming aware of your inner darkness. And we all carry the inner darkness within us. It’s a journey of realizing what is pathological within us, and what must be brought back into balance, into a state of inner harmony, and the outer harmony with our envoirnment and Mother Nature.
After attending a Reiki workshop, the time of cleansing begins. The more I teach and practice Reiki, the more I understand that Reiki workshop is merely a time for attunement or Reiju, and the real initiation process starts after the workshop itself. Each person experiences the initiation differently. The process of cleansing gets rid of everything that is no longer needed in our life, and this process of cleansing is part of the general initiation, a continuing process in which we must rebuild our personality – get rid of something old, and introduce something new to our life.
This initiation is what prepares the person to be a Reiki practitioner who will help others. The initiation is meant to destroy that which is destructive and dangerous in our life, that which destroys our inner balance and harmony between the physical, emotional and spiritual realm, and further on, between the individual person and the society and the Nature that surrounds it. Achieving the inner harmony and balance between ourselves and the world around us is one of the first steps on the path of Reiki.
As we progress on this path of initiation, we experience as the memories, fears and worries come out from the depths of our minds. We recall bad experiences of the past, pointless teachings and lessons, and we release the tensions and unwanted emotions, as well as bad spiritual practices. Sometimes, in order to realize that we carry a great pain within us, we must experience aggression, fear and other bad emotions so that they may peak, and once we get over the peak, we start the healing process of that which is no longer needed in our life. In other words, sometimes we must be hit hard so that we can wake up and begin our healing process.
Due to the process of initiation, we come to realize the toxic relationship we may have. We break old relationship in order to create a new, better one. We drop old spiritual practices that never gave us anything so we can reach new practices with greater benefits. We drop old eating habits to introduce more healthy diet in our life. Those are just examples of the things we may experience. Some of these life changes is subtle and small, that we may not realize that the change is occuring. Other changes are big and loud, and they may scare those around us who must get used to our new selves. And this process continues as long as it is needed. For some people, the changes may be small and subtle, even invisible. To other people, the changes may be huge and loud, even dramatic.
Malidoma Some says this about the shamanic initiation:
The wounds made to you are a casing for the gold that you carry deep inside you. In order to find the gold, you must break through the wounds. In order to get to the real treasure that will make you feel proud of yourself, we must experience pain first. That is what initiation is about.
– Dagar’s Shaman Malidoma Some (source: Lubke, G., von. Dawna madrosc na nowe czasy. Rozmowy z uzdrawiaczami i szamanami XXI wieku. Warszawa 2009, page 194. Original title: Altes Wissen fur eine neue Zeit. Gesprache mit Heilern und Schamanen des 21. Jahrhunderts.)
The pain of initiation can be experienced in the practice of Reiki, too. It’s the pain that becomes our companion when we stand face to face with everything that we pushed deep into our subconscious mind. A buddhist practitioner would say that we become aware of the suffering that is an element of our life, that is a result of lust, unacomplished goals and dreams, and passions. The lust, passions, negative emotions and stuch is what covers and hide the treasure – our true, inner Buddha’s nature. The Meiji Emperor writes this about the gold within us.
95 – Mine
If there were
A mountain of gold, radiating
How can you
See the light
– Meiji Emperor (source: Lubeck, W., Petter, F., Rand, W. The Spirit of Reiki (aff). page 294)
The pain must be healed, useless dirt must be removed from the mountain so that the gold within us can be reached. And often all of this is a hard work, and a painful experience. Because we must face the greatest foe – ourselves. We must stand in front of a mirror and look on something that looks lika a battlefield full of wreckage, caused by the healing energy. Because often, in order to begin healing, we must destroy the old structures of our life.
You may be familiar with an old buddhist tale. A teacher seeking knowledge visited a buddhist master, but instead of listening to the worlds of the master, the teacher’s mouth did not close. He was talking and talking. The buddhist master began to pour tea into a cup and he did not stop, even if the tea was already spilling out. The teacher shouted, and the master said: just like this cup is your mind. How do you wish to fill it with new knowledge if it’s already full?
In order to fill our mind, our life with new things, we must first get rid of everything that is no longer needed and that is the purpose of the first part of Reiki initiation – the process of cleansing. Sometimes we simply pour out the tea entirely. But in some cases we me may realize that we have filled the cup with with mud that turned into rock, and we need to work hard to break this rock and clean the cup.
This process of cleansing takes months, sometimes even years. The very fact that the path between the second and third degree of Reiki should take no less than one year is a prove that instant enlightenment thanks to Reiki is no longer the case. The initiation itself continues for 2 or 3 years at minimum. And it’s still just a beginning. Life, charged up with healing energy, offers us trials and lessons all the time. And all of this is meant to destroy the old life structures that are no longer needed.
That which is pointless and useless in our life is being destroyed. Then, it is replaced with something fresh, something that turns us back towards the path towards happiness and enlightenment.
When the old structures are gone, we receive a chance to replace them with new structures. These new structures are different, because they do not make problems in our life. Instead, they guide us towards harmony and happiness. They may stay for an entire life, or they may stay just for some time, unless something better is provided to us. Of course, the nature of these structures is individual, unique for each person. And thus, some people will seek simple things like a healthy diet, more exercises. Others will seek deeper, into meditations and spiritual schools. Other people will return to the roots of Nature, contemplating upon their place in the Universe, the importance of their Ancestors, or their contact with the spirits of the animistic realms.
That what people decide to do – as long as they keep listen to their heart – will be beneficial to them. To them, and to all living beings, just like the buddhist ideals state. But let them turn their back to the healing process, and just like shamans who refused their call, will fall into a trap of madness. It’s because that which comes to light thanks to Reiki has to be healed. Otherwise, with greater strength it will control our life. This will lead only to more chaos and problems.
This entire process of initiation takes a lot of time and is full of ups and downs. We destroy one structure and replace it with a new one, better and fresh. Then we destroy another structure and replace it with something new. And thus, each step is a test, a lesson to help us understand that there is something painful within us, something that must be healed and replaced with new, better and beneficial structures. Just like shamans keep their balance between the world of subtle realms and madness, the practitioner of Reiki balance between the Buddha’s nature and possesion by the lusts of the physical realm.
Both Reiki and Shamanism has a lot in common. Not in a sense of spirits and the call, or all the more New Age stuff related to modern shamanism. I mean that both Reiki and Shamanism are related to more primeval practices. Just like Shamanism was known thousands of years ago, so was Reiki – not as a modern method, but as the spiritual force used in so many cultures and traditions throughout the world. The word “Reiki” is just one of the many names for this energy surrounded by various techniques. The Great White Light as it called by many practitioners, and as it is perceived by many on a subtle level. This Great White Light takes us on a journey. The goal of the journey is to rebuild our Self, so that we can achieve the state of harmony, heal ourselves and then heal others. Sometimes by destroying the dangerous structures of the mind – the causes of illnesses and disbalance.
All of this shows that some spiritual “laws” and mechanisms are quite universal. It doesn’t matter if you do Reiki or you’re a Shaman or practice something else, because some things remain the same.
As I look upon the long process of shamanic initiation, and then upon the events occuring in the life of Reiki practitioner, I begin to see that Reiki initiation should not be perceived merely as a symbolic ascension of the person into the practice, signed with a workshop certificate. For some time now I’m telling people in my classes that I perform attunements – not the initiation.
The initiation into Reiki should be understood as a long, continuing process and a journey of the person, a quest for… what? Understanding, Buddha’s nature, enlightenment, our Self. The initiation into Reiki should be understood as the process of rebuilding the personality and psyche of the man, along with the dreams, virtues and values. The goal of this is to make the person a good, valuable practitioner, but also to make the person capable of achieving spiritual harmony – botht he inner one, and the outer one, the harmony with the world. The attunement which takes few minutes is merely a “ritual” that opens us for Reiki, or as Frans Stiene says, helps us remind ourselves of our inner connection to Reiki. The attunement merely beings the process of initiation. And the initiation itself is not performed by the teacher – but by the Reiki force itself. Each person experiences this differently, as an indiviudal, unique human being.
Thus, if we wish to heal the world, the Reiki practitioner cannot simpy finish the workshop, get the diploma and open a Reiki studio, taking 60 dollars per session. A practitioner must complete the personal initiation. He or she must rebuild the personality, the psyche, and discover the true potential and inner strength. Only through this process this practitioner will be able to help others. Because the main rule of Reiki says: first heal yourself. Only then the practitioner will help others – in small part with the help of better flow of Reiki, but in greatest part, because of the practitioner’s own strength and understanding.
Bibliography, Sources, Further Reading: