[A]n image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider “unconscious” aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it. As the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason. ~ Carl Gustav Jung (1964)
Symbols are present in every culture across every age and can have multiple connotations or meanings. As Carl Jung (1964) describes, one reason symbols exist is to help us conceptualize something otherwise too difficult to put in to words. The symbols used in the system of Reiki have a similar aim. The Reiki symbols help practitioners energetically connect to something they may not fully understand: their deeper selves (Stiene & Stiene, 2005). Grasping our innate nature or being is not easily done when our Western culture focuses almost entirely on the external. There are even some prominent religious doctrines, though they espouse the way to everlasting life, actually encourage looking outside yourself to find peace. Reiki symbols are taught along with a mantra. Together they can help us conceptualize what our energy looks like, sounds like, and most importantly feels like. Through these direct experiences we can begin to know our true nature. Prior to understanding this truth, I had explored my own Reiki training, investigated other schools, and finally came upon the traditional approach to the symbols. It was an interesting journey that carried me through various waters but eventually led me home.
It is important to recognize that not all schools of Reiki expound on what is now believed to be the original aim of the Reiki symbols, nor do all encourage us to find our true selves. Many use the practice of hands-on-healing as the focus, and the symbols are merely tools to that end. That was my introduction to the Reiki symbols. I was told to keep these treasures secret as they hold the key to greater Reiki ‘power’. Use the ‘power’ to find parking spaces, protect your belongings, or heal someone from far away. Knowing no other alternative, I adopted these ideas and waved the symbols like magic wands over my clients, my belongings, and my life. I began to marvel as I heard about other practitioners and teachers who used new symbols that they discovered which had “really powerful energy”.
In spite of my skepticism, the ‘discovery’ of new symbols by other practitioners was not entirely foreign to me. During my second level training, I had a very interesting attunement experience. I cannot recall to which symbol I was being attuned(perhaps the HSZSN). I do vividly remember, however, sitting in the space of no-expectations with my eyes closed and then being dazzled by a purplish, lavender-like, light. As this was unexpected I became fixed by the radiant color. To my disappointment, it didn’t last long but before the color faded away I distinctly recall seeing an image. The image looked like a backwards ‘e’ like something you would see in a dictionary in a word’s pronunciation except slightly different. It was a bit misshaped and also had other markings. I could not describe it in words. I related the event to the Reiki teacher and she just shrugged it off. So, I too let it go. Sometime later I happened to see an image of the ‘ohm’ Sanskrit character. It occurred to me that my backwards ‘e’ had some resemblance the ‘ohm’ (but it was not exact). Now, I just look back at that attunement with casual curiosity. I can easily understand, however, how someone could cling to such an experience and try to attach more meaning.
Symbols can be mystical and enchanting. My level II training and attunement experience had left me in unfamiliar waters. As I became more intrigued by the symbols, I also became more skeptical. I used them quite often but I also began to develop some unresolved questions deep inside my heart and mind: If other energy practices can treat people at a distance without symbols, why do I need a symbol to do it with Reiki? If others who are not attuned to the symbols get see them and try to use them, will the techniques work? If I am to be an open channel and not ‘force’ the Reiki flow, then why would I need a ‘power’ symbol to make the energy ‘stronger’?
The answers to these questions and others started to formulate when I discovered resources that elucidated the more traditional approach to Reiki practice. After reading chapter 8 of the Japanese Art of Reiki (2005), I was reminded of something my Aikido teacher once said: “Why are you afraid of the sword? The sword is not violent! It cannot attack you like a dog!” He unceremoniously threw his wooden sword on the ground, looked at the sword, pointed to a student, and yelled, “Go get him! Attack him!” Naturally, nothing happened (though the teacher admitted that if something did happen he would retire on the spot). The point was that the sword, like a Reiki symbol, is nothing without the person who is using it. It is the skill of the swordsman that makes it deadly. Likewise, it is the depth of the Reiki practitioner that actualizes the full potential of the Reiki symbol. Then, like the techniques of the sword and the symbol, it is the practitioner who moves beyond them as she/he enters further into the depths of inner discovery. The swordsman aims not to take another’s life but to save it (Saotome, 1989). The Reiki practitioner does not use the symbol, she/he embodies what it represents (Stiene & Stiene, 2005).
The seed of appreciation for the profoundness of the symbols was planned during my study of more traditional Reiki systems. I did not, however, begin to truly comprehend their depth until the Shinpiden course in February 2013. That is, I had acquired a certain degree of knowledge about the Reiki symbols – what they mean and how they can be used to deepen my personal energetic practice; yet, I had not fully put that knowledge into practice. The course helped me gain much needed experiential understanding of the symbols. As I moved further into the practice of actually using the symbols to connect with earth energy, heaven energy, and heart energy, I began to genuinely assimilate them.
In the years of using the symbols prior to the Shinpiden course, I had only used their accompanying mantra to evoke them – to activate their ‘power.’ The air of secrecy around the symbols caused me to feel uneasy at repeating the mantra more than three times, let alone chanting it. Chanting was foreign and unfamiliar. I tried it from time to time but would stop after only a few minutes. Moreover, I feared that my family would think I was strange or had joined a bizarre cult. It was only while I was doing the transition course and saw Frans chanting that I began to appreciate the benefits. I started to chant for longer periods and do it more often. I found myself chanting in my car while stuck in traffic (what better way to make use of the time?). In spite of my growing comfort with chanting, I still had not quite gotten used to it.
Subsequently, I experienced chanting as part of the Shinpiden course and started to really grasp where chanting could lead me. As I listened to others chant, though at different tempos, I could feel the energy growing. I could feel how the vibrations of everyone’s voices were blending and becoming one. I soon discovered that once I was in the ‘space’ of the chanting, time passed unnoticed. I recall hearing the bell signaling to stop chanting and thinking, “Wow, didn’t we just start?” Another critical discovery was the experience of the post-chanting space. The ‘no-form’ environment was the reverberation of the mantra. I could literally feel the vibration of the energy and dwell in it without focusing on the chant. I liken that space to doing hands-on-healing without touching the client. When I do a session without touching the client I can better sense energetic changes; I am not distracted by the physical contact. When I do not notice the temperature of the client’s skin or softness of the blanket, I can better recognize energetic sensations, such as pulses, heat, or tingling.
In conclusion, I have come a long way since my first introduction to the Reiki symbols. From curiosity, to enchantment, to skepticism, and, finally, to profound appreciation, it has been a long journey. Being curious and open to other perspectives has helped to keep me on course. Understanding that symbols help us to explain, or experience, something that cannot easily be articulated was an anchor that kept me from drifting too far out to sea. Discovering the validation that the symbols are a ‘means’ and not ‘an end’ has renewed the wind in my sails. I enjoy working with the symbols from the traditional perspective. Experiencing them through image and sound has led me to new harbors where I can find peace as well as new depths in the energetic experience. I know now I had wrongfully thought the symbols were a boat that could carry me. I know now that I am the boat. The symbols are merely the wind that blows by my own breath. A breath that will help guide me in the direction I want to go . . . back to the harbor that is my true self.
Jung, C. G., von Franz, M. L., Henderson, J. L., Jacobi, J., & Jaffe, A. (1964). Man and his symbols. Aldus Books; London.
Saotome, M. (1989). The principles of Aikido. Shambala; Boston, M. A.
Stiene, B. & Stiene, F. (2005). The Japanese art of Reiki. O Books; New York. N. Y.