Several months ago now, when I was suffering from some severe anxiety, several of my blog friends suggested that I try reiki and I owe you such a debt of gratitude; it turned out to be exactly what I needed. I was fortunate enough to find a practitioner with whom I immediately bonded, and our sessions have consistently helped me to be more serene and grounded than I’ve been in a long while. And yesterday, as seems to be the normal progression of things with this therapy, I spent the day learning how to practice reiki myself.
If I haven’t mentioned reiki before now, it’s because I’ve been struggling to get my head around it. If I didn’t actually feel better after sessions I would find it hard to believe it could work at all. My practitioner, J., never touches me; instead I lie on her table and (as far as I can ever see) she waves her arms around my head and that is it. It has been almost embarrassing to think it works, even though I have more respect than most for the mysteries of human nature and a lively awareness that there is so much about our functioning that we have no way to understand. Learning how to practice it for myself was one of the strangest experiences I have had, but like all disconcerting events, there was much that was revelatory about it.
Reiki is about regulating the flow of energy in the body and in particular tapping into the forces of protective, guiding energy that keep us centred and provide clarity into our identity and our purpose. As someone recovering from chronic fatigue syndrome, I feel I have a special awareness of the odd caprices of that most powerful and fundamental of human forces, vitality. Energy changes all the time as we progress through life, from the carefree abundance of childhood, through the fierce localised explosions of adolescence into the steady stamina of middle age. It isn’t just a question of creature comforts that fuel our energy reserves, we need to be nourished by more than food, warmth and sleep (although not much can happen without those), we respond violently to excitement, sorrow, distress, inspiration, grief, rage and desire. Energy ebbs and flows in complicated patterns through an intricate matrix of circumstances, both inside and beyond the body. And then unaccountable things happen to it. Chronic fatigue was akin to being powered by a leaky car battery. I would rest and rest and rest, and when I set off I would feel fine. But all too soon I could feel my energy seeping away, draining out of me faster than seemed possible, and I would be emptied out, operating in the place of depletion which, let me tell you, is a frightening place to be.
I wasn’t at all sure yesterday that I would be able to do what was asked of me. Not just physically (since five solid hours of training was more than I’d put into any occupation in a while) but simply capable of this strange, mystical engagement with a quality of being that was certainly not in my own control. J. showed me where I should place my hands, and became my guinea pig. ‘You’ll find it much easier to do reiki on someone else,’ she told me, ‘everyone does.’ At first I placed my hands on her, as she suggested, and felt nothing more than the opening up of contact that touch always performs between our self-enclosed but sensitive bodies. Then, following her instructions, I held my hands six or seven inches above her and was quite simply bowled over to feel the force field of energy emanating from her, the same sort of dense resistance that you experience in deep water, a soupy, springy massing of the air that I could rest my hands upon. When it felt right, I could sense the strong connection between her energy and mine and the energy of the world around us, joining us all up in a complex web like a child’s dot-to-dot drawing.
After that it felt easier when I placed my hands on myself. Instantly I was drawn into an ongoing narrative taking place in a language I did not know. Fits and starts, sparks and sputterings, heavy undertows, short circuits, powerful tides. I realised that as a teacher, I already knew more than I supposed about people’s energy. You have to be attentive to its flow in a class, to the pockets of coiled mischief that have the potential to disrupt the room, to the dips of concentration that stretch out in great deserts of empty inattentiveness. I didn’t realise that I knew about all of this. It also started to make sense to me that people with chronic fatigue are often quite forceful, determined types. Chronic fatigue is about pouring too much energy into everyday activities, to the point that a fuse is blown in the system. The greater the energy input, the worse the collateral damage. I understood with more clarity now what J had been telling me; that there is a point of steady ticking over that my body most wants to inhabit, and the key now is to habituate myself to returning to it, over and over again.
When I returned home, I had a try at feeling my son’s energy field, only to be rewarded with one of those witheringly contemptuous stares for which 16-year-olds have a genius. Then Mister Litlove bounced in like the Tigger he is, asking equally mickey-taking questions and waving his arms about in the air before, of course, wanting to have it done to himself. But neither of them really needs reiki – Mister Litlove in particular having the longest battery life of anyone I have ever met. But I’ll be practising steadily on myself, not just because I am intrigued by the discontinuous flow of my energy, but because it feels so nice, so different, to do something that relies entirely on the intuitiveness of the body and not at all on the analytical skill of the mind.