We're all beginners. Every moment of every day we're all experiencing things that are new to us: new air, new thoughts, new ideas, even new weather. Who'd have thought that wind and rain could exist in so many different variations? Here in the UK and elsewhere too, brand new types of weather are always just round the corner, waiting to batter and soak us in different and interesting ways. Our nails grow and we clip them, our hair goes the same way. Old flakes of skin are constantly being replaced as if by magic, and it's all just part of ordinary life. Everything about us is changing all the time and that gives us the chance to be beginners.
When I say we're all beginners, I'm not suggesting that we should unlearn all the useful things we know and go back to prodding at the earth with sticks or wondering what kinds of tools we can make out of rocks. Being a beginner gives us the opportunity to look at things with bright, clear eyes, understand new ideas without having to peer through all our baggage, and know that we have the freedom to reassess all those thoughts and ideas we take for granted and actually change them if we want to; changing ourselves too, at the same time.
Each moment we look at the world from what we call the present, and we do things with it. What we do in this moment is really important because the present is what we have. It is simple logic: We are here now. That means we have the present moment to think, feel, act, or not. And it's our own choice, what we do in this instant, right now. We are all surrounded by commitments that compel us to do things each day: we work, we shop, we cook, we look after other people and ourselves. But if we take a moment to stop and think about what is really happening, we soon become aware that the present moment gives us a lot of freedom. We may not be able to choose exactly what we do, but we can always choose how we do it. Our commitments are changing all the time and therefore, the only constant that remains is the present. We can fulfil our commitments feeling happy in the present moment, or we can do it fighting every step of the way.
For Reiki practitioners who are working at an advanced level, the way time works can start to take on a much more fluid meaning than "Past is before, Future is after". Time can begin to merge as everything becomes part of the way we experience the present. As we progress, the present is where reality meets us and its boundaries get wider and more insubstantial, the further we go. This means that what we do with the present is important and the decisions we make about how to deal with each moment have consequences. If we face them with the bright, clear eyes of a beginner then we have a good chance of doing the very best we can.
So, why am I talking about being a beginner and how time may exist?
Practising Japanese Reiki is a challenge. Anyone who's been on a Japanese Reiki course knows that the whole, comforting, "my teacher is in charge of my progress" thing is stripped away pretty much from the outset and replaced with, "my progress is down to me". Those of us who have been dipping a casual toe into the idea of daily practice are faced with a stark, "If I don't do it, nothing will happen". This is scary and difficult. Those of us who have an established daily Reiki practice will probably find it confirms how we already feel about it. The ideas of being a clear eyed beginner and of having the freedom to choose what we do in this instant, can help us with our Reiki practice. This works whatever stage we are at with it. Whether we are just starting to practice regularly, making changes to what we do currently, or working within an established practice, these ideas can help us to approach it in a way that will enable us to progress in the best way we can.
Beginning is difficult. The responsibility of taking our practice into our own hands can be intimidating. When I think about how my practice works I realise that I've often felt like an adventurer cutting a path through virgin forest. This seems to be an experience many practitioners have:
Ch'an Master, Sheng-yen said:
Hikers know that there are no passable roads in a virgin forest. However, a road will open up when you pull away the grass, thorns and wisteria. Swimmers know that there are no paths in the water, but as you swim you will create a pathway. Cultivation is similar. You only need to get on the path and walk and you will create your own path.
At other times I've felt like I was putting in loads of effort and nothing at all was coming from it. This isn't an experience that only Reiki practitioners have. From spending many years since childhood struggling to learn to play a musical instrument, I've noticed that it seems to be right at those darkest times when the "banging head against wall" feeling is strongest that real progress is being made. Having the willpower and discipline to keep practising when nothing seems to be working is often when we make the biggest breakthroughs in our Reiki, our music, whatever practice it is we are trying to learn.
If we do things, things will happen. With Japanese Reiki we are lucky because there is already a well thought out path for us to follow. Our intention to practice and following this through with action mean that progress is inevitable. The practices we commit to may depend on whether we are Shoden, Okuden or Shinpiden students. As we study further we are offered new choices for how we practice.
Hands-on healing is a practice that all Reiki practitioners begin with and this will probably remain with us as an active part of what we do, throughout our life. Receiving attunements and empowerments helps us to start looking within and begin exploring ourselves. Meditations and exercises help us to work with the ki that surrounds and fills us. Precepts help us to explore what our life and path mean and where they are going.
Then we have the opportunity to add Jumon chanting and working with symbols to our practice, as we begin to work with the concepts of Earth, Heaven and Oneness. We look further within and deepen our exploration.
As Shinpiden students we are given the tools and opportunity to begin stripping away everything we need to, as our practice now includes working with attunements and Reiju. This allows us to work with our teacher and fellow students in a space that can become increasingly pure until it is as empty and bright as light. Many of us who are working as Shinpiden practitioners may feel that this is where the cutting into virgin forests really begins. We have started delving deeper and deeper into our energy and mind. It can now become our own path to create, as we each experience it in a unique way.
All of these practices are well thought out, reliable and effective. They are helped by approaching them with the keen eye and clear heart of a beginner who is determined to use a few present moments each day to work on themselves and let the cause and effect of life include personal practice and personal progress.
If we are working effectively with Japanese Reiki practices we may start to find that our life and practice begin to change until they are no longer separate things. Our life starts to become our practice. This means that we are using all the things that happen to us in everyday life to deepen our experience and wisdom. This way of thinking and practising corresponds with the way people work when they live in a religious order or community. In that situation people let go of their separateness and submit to a rigorously disciplined communal life. This may involve doing many routine and menial jobs at fixed times of day, interspersed with sessions of regular spiritual practice. What this allows them to do is let go of their continual thoughts about what they need to do and when. They start to see between them as the daily, set routine liberates them from thinking about the trivial. The repetition and routine gives them the space to turn their life into their practice. In the midst of strict discipline they find complete freedom.
When we think about our own lives and everyday commitments they are probably not as rigorous or repetitious as those of people in a religious order, but we can use them in the same way. Taking on our everyday commitments with the clear, bright mind of a beginner means we will experience our lives fully and appreciate the present moment. The order and routine of our life can become a tool we use to start turning life into practice. Making our commitment to Japanese Reiki part of this gives us a fantastic head-start with a well defined path to follow, teacher to help us and reliable practices to work with.
Approaching this as a perpetual beginner means that we can use all the advantages that a beginner has, all the time. We will not have to lose the alertness, the freedom, the readiness, the clarity and the excitement that a beginner has when they learn. Sometimes it can be difficult to trust our experiences and we may wonder whether our ego is getting involved. As a beginner we can cast off the expert's ego and learn to experience things afresh and as they are. The eyes of a beginner are honest. We can use them to let go of our preconceptions and prejudices; these things do not help us. I think there is a lot to be said for being a beginner.
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