Although we often think that the winter blues manifest during the holiday season, quite frequently emotions can be even more heightened after the festivities are over. Thoughts and feelings can be incredibly volatile during this time of year, especially if we have been unable to process the unrealistic expectations the holiday season may sometimes bring. Additionally, the onset of shorter days with less sunshine may lead to an increase in stress, anxiety and an overwhelming sense of sadness.
Last year’s post-holiday season was especially challenging for me. In an effort to help others who may also be experiencing a sense unhappiness and melancholy, I felt moved to share my story and how I was able to turn a very difficult and distressing time into embracing adeep sense of gratitude. In my despair, I saw myself as having two choices. I could go into that dark place where my soul sometimes wants to hide and stay forever. Or, I could fully envelope my personal Reiki practice, which includes self-Reiki, journaling and meditation. Don’t get me wrong, last year I was in that dark place for almost a week. Even after diligently practicing Reiki for over ten years, I am still human and metaphorically “fall off the wagon” at times. Life is full of circuitous routes and there are highs and lows. Unwittingly, sometimes I still decide to slide on the old jacket of hurt that I wore for so many years. It feels oddly familiar, but incredibly painful. The key for me was in recognizing old patterns and choosing to let go of the layers that sometimes decide to resurface.
Knowing that I needed to release and rebalance myself both energetically and spiritually, I opened my journal and began to write. Several years ago, I began to study and write a form of Japanese poetry referred to as waka or tanka, which is similar to haiku. Waka is arranged in a specific pattern of five lines each containing 5-7-5-7-7 syllables. The founder of Reiki, Mikao Usui, frequently recited waka written by the Japanese Meiji Emperor who ruled in Japan from 1867-1912, as a form of respect and contemplation (Stiene, 2016). One of my first poems was written after sitting quietly outside in the early autumn and watching the leaves begin to fall.
Cicadas strong voice
Signals the end of summer
It ends so quickly
Leaves begin to dry and fall
Autumn breezes fill my soul
However, the waka that I put onto the pages of my journal during the time my heart was heavy and despondent was exceedingly different. My soul was filled with heartache and despair.
Where do they come from
These deep wails of intense pain?
Pent up anger moans
Anguish as intense as death
Strangles my inner being
These words were the beginning of my healing process and the beginning of an emotional and spiritual release. It was also a signal for me to get down to the “work” of my Reiki practice. As I have written before, Reiki is not something magical; it is a diligent practice of working on the self. It requires embracing and embodying the Reiki Precepts. They read as follows: For today only, do not anger, do not worry, be humble/grateful, be honest/diligent in your work, and be compassionate to yourself and others. My soul-searching and healing process had to begin with an opening within me; I was able to begin to do this with writing waka.
In my darkness, I had stopped using my meditation bench. I ignored it. It just seemed too overwhelming to sit down and do the work. There is a beautiful quote by the Native American Elder Sa’k’ej Henderson that reads, “To truly listen is to risk being changed forever.” Change can be terrifying and taking time to listen to the heart requires intentional presence. It is often much easier to look the other way. However, I knew I had to begin. After I began to chip away at my sadness with writing poetry, I was able to start “sitting” again and contemplating the Precepts. I started to deeply examine the origin of my anger using my meditation practice. Where did this anger come from? How can it be healed and how can I peel away those curtains of sadness and find a place of joy again? I continued to write.
Cut deeply into my soul
How can they be healed?
Only with an open heart
And the power to forgive.
Forgiveness sometimes seems unreachable and can be extraordinarily difficult. In forgiving someone else, we often need to forgive ourselves first. I returned to the Reiki Precepts and began to ponder self-compassion and gratitude. I was born in the late 1950’s and self-compassion was definitely not something that was nurtured or even discussed; it was much more about helping others, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. That self-compassion piece is one that continues to challenge me at times and can be elusive for my mind to grasp. However, one way that I can readily tap into it is with my Reiki self-practice. Gently placing my hands on my heart and allowing the loving energetic flow of peace to enter my being helps to bring me in harmony with my body, mind and spirit. As my hands touch my heart, I remember that my heart is also touching my hands; it is a compassionate practice of oneness of all that is. It also helps me to connect with my True Self, which is the spiritual energy of who I am. This spiritual energy is the definition of Reiki; the divine and loving energy of the universe.
Using these tools, gratitude began to speak to me. I have two hands to hold my heart. I have two feet that I use to walk upon the earth, which help to keep me grounded and centered. I recognize that I have the ability to breathe deeply and release my worry and fear with each exhalation. I can hold onto anger or I can choose peace. All of these things I learned from the practice of Reiki. It is an empowering tool for self-development, self-compassion and cultivating a deep sense inner peace. The gratitude is in knowing that Reiki is a practice where there is no giver, no receiver and no gift. It is the energy of sharing compassion with the self and all sentient beings.
Although Reiki is often thought of as a hands-on healing practice for others, it is so much more. It is a tool that we can use to help us during times when we may feel sadness and despair. It can assist us in releasing false beliefs that we may have about ourselves and gently nudge us towards self-kindness and self-love. Working with the tools used in the system of Reiki can bring about monumental changes in how we see ourselves and the world around us, bringing with it a deep sense of gratitude. It is a simple and loving practice that anyone can learn and continues to help inspire me to promote mindfulness, presence and compassion.
Originally published in Therapeutic Thymes magazine, Winter 2017.