Practice as Activism & Activism as Sacred Wellness Practice
My favorite Reiki Principle is also the hardest one to translate directly, and to define clearly. In Japanese it's "gyo o hageme" and I sometimes think of it as devotion to our "hard work and soft work," or doing both our inner practice and outer work in the world mindfully, skillfully, with purpose and devotion.
Here a few other traditional interpretations, shared in Nicholas Pearson's Foundations of Reiki Ryoho:
Be diligent in your work
Earn your living honestly
I devote myself to my work
Pearson offers definitions of "gyo" that range from profession and deed to practice and karma, and that suggest skill and training leading to mastery.
Keeping in mind the context of the 5 Reiki Principles or Precepts taught since the founding of the Reiki system of healing and spiritual development by Mikao Usui in 1922, we're clearly talking about more than just going to work, doing a job and getting a paycheck - though neither is that excluded.
The 5 Reiki Principles are ideals that guide us to live in ever-increasing alignment and harmony with the essence of Reiki, which is invisible, infinite, subtle and sometimes elusive or unpredictable. The Principles offer us a structure to channel the flow of Reiki healing and blessings through our lives and our beings, not to contain or control the energy but to shape and direct it in our lives. We are not expected to be passive instruments any more than we can expect to force Reiki. It doesn't work that way.
We are unique individuals with free will, personalities, even karma and destiny you may say, purpose or calling, gifts and innate strengths and abilities as well as challenges and weaknesses, our ongoing assignments if you will. Our gyo o hageme is our response to the opportunity of incarnating on Earth in this moment, our work and our practice. It is up to us how we express our unique power and develop our personal potential, along with many outside influences, of course, and even internal ones like DNA, physical form and lineage.
I love the dichotomy of this ambiguity, this open-ended exhortation to ... do something, without specifying what. Just do what we're meant to do! Or what we want to do. Or what we can do. Do Reiki certainly, but what else?
This is not really a foreign concept in our modern world. Think of the advertising slogans "Be all that you can be" or "Just do it." Or the rallying cry to "Be the change you want to see in the world." These are not exactly leading us to the same actions, if we follow the sources behind the messages: the US Army, Nike, and Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, they all stir something vital within us, something emergent, beckoning.
I also love the contrast this creates in the gokai, the practice of learning, chanting and living the Reiki Principles. The other Principles are so clear and simple, which is not to say they're simplistic or easy to follow, not at all. The others admonish us to refrain from cultivating anger and worry, to be grateful and compassionate. Perhaps easy to agree to but difficult to understand fully let alone embody consistently.
Gyo o hageme can refer to either our personal spiritual/wellness practice, or our work in the world - or, I would argue, both. And, I believe, both our inner and outer work or "hard work and soft work" are activist in nature, or have an activism component, whether we're aware of it or not. This is where it gets tricky.
Activism could be described as action with moral or social impact. When we're not aware of our activism, the effects of our practice or our work, we can be complicit in maintaining systems of oppression and suffering, which intentional activism is generally trying to transform. We usually think of activism as conscious action for a purpose we believe in. This is also consistent with mindful action, mindfulness practice, intentionality.
It's not that some people are activists and some are not. Activism is archetypal - we all have the capacity for it, whether we choose to develop it or not. And it's not limited to politics.
When our activism is not intentional, the effects of our personal practice could end up being self-centeredness or even self-righteousness, feeling our practice is better than others. Or we can just go through the motions at a meaningless job, or worse, contribute to a company that's polluting the Earth or exploiting people. We could even find ourselves in open conflict with people we don't agree with, getting caught up in the fervor of the moment because we feel compelled to do something but we don't know what, and end up causing harm to ourselves or others when we're actually wanting to create positive change.
On the other hand, we can volunteer to help kids learn to read and so create change in our community with our activism. We can cultivate such inner peace and compassion through our Reiki meditations that we're more able to de-escalate confrontational situations, and so bring more peace into the world with our activism. We can choose to work for - or start - an organization with a community benefit mission and so create greater economic justice with our activism.
In these cases, activism, practice and work simply lose their hard boundaries and blend together with purpose, self-care and service all combining into a lifestyle that doesn't feel like it's pulling us in too many directions at once, where we're not victims of competing interests demanding our limited time, and also not in opposition to others, or trying to force change without being prepared.
So activism, practice and work are all archetypal energies we can develop, integrate and balance in ourselves, our lives and our communities. They're not different types of people, they're all us!
Here are some examples of integrating my practice, work and activism in my own life. In response to the outrage and demand for transformation following the police killing of George Floyd, I started a Healing Racism group based on mindfulness that now meets weekly through our Spiritualist church, where I'm the Lay Pastor. As a Reiki Master Teacher, I volunteer with local organizations, run a non-profit wellness project, and share many free offerings along with paid programs and sessions. And I am devoted to my daily personal Reiki practice with the intention that it not only helps me feel better and enjoy life more, but also helps me to better serve the world.
When we walk our talk and practice what we preach, we align and amplify our efforts and intentions. Our gyo o hageme becomes our way of life, our way of being, even our true nature revealed and our purpose embodied and activated.
What are some examples of ways you combine your personal sacred/wellness practice, work and activism? I love to learn from you!
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