Reiki is a Pyramid Scheme [changes part 2]

Reiki is an alternative therapy (also referred to as pseudoscience and quackery) that was made popular by Mikao Usui in Japan, and then brought to North America by Hawayo Takata. The practice is essentially that of laying on of hands and is focused around the idea of qi/chi, or universal life energy. A reiki practitioner believes that they are channeling universal life energy from the source of all energy (as opposed to using their own energy) and directing it into, usually, a person for the purposes of mental or physical healing. Reiki is just one of many types of "energy healing," or pseudoscience medical practices that involve the manipulation and/or movement of an unknown energy for a given healing purpose.



My first experience with energy healing was while I was attending a Spiritualist Church in Rochester, New York, in or around 2012. During every church service, a large portion of time is dedicated to healing. The church I went to set benches out at the front of the room and white-robed healers stood behind them. Soothing ethereal music played overhead and the congregation closed their eyes in meditation. Folks who wanted direct healing would walk to the front of the room and sit on a bench. The healer associated with that bench would then initiate a fairly typical laying-on-of-hands session, moving their hands from the person's head, to their neck, to their shoulders, and so on. Sometimes the healer made physical contact, while other times the healer held their hands several inches away. After some time had passed, the healer would thank the participant, and then dip their hands in a basin of water nearby. The participant would move back to their seat and this pattern would continue until this segment of the service was over.

I was interested in experiencing this for myself, but was always too nervous and self-conscious to walk up the aisle. Thankfully, once a month this church held extended healing sessions after the service was over. It was during one of these sessions that I had my first taste of energy healing.

I sat down on the bench and the healer began her ritual. Almost immediately I could feel something. It felt like very slow, warm air was flowing down over my head, and then down my shoulders and arms. Her hands weren't touching me, but still I felt something. It was a physical feeling. It felt nice! I wasn't sure if it was doing anything, but I was sure it represented some unseen force, and I wanted to learn more about it.

Not long after that, my church started offering reiki classes. I signed up for Reiki 1 and brought my check for $150.

Oh, right, the cost. I forgot to mention that. While spiritual healing in the church was free (to practice, to learn, and to receive), Reiki is almost never free. People pay for Reiki classes and degrees, and then charge other people to practice Reiki healing, or to teach Reiki.

Most commonly, Reiki is broken into three levels, referred to as Reiki 1, Reiki 2, and Reiki 3. That last level of Reiki is sometimes referred to as Reiki Master Level, or Reiki Master Teacher (Level). In order to teach Reiki to other people, you must have completed that last level.

You might be asking at this point why folks don't just get books out from the library to learn about Reiki? Why spend $150 for a class when you can find all that information on the internet? The answer is a little something called an attunement. While Reiki is all about the movement of freely available universal life energy, not just anyone can do that. During an attunement (you need at least one attunement for each level), the Reiki Master attuning you adds Reiki symbols to your aura (another topic for another day) and permanently opens specific chakras (energy points on your body) such that they are able to channel Reiki energy in the correct way. Simply, this is an initiation ritual that Reiki practitioners believe is required to practice Reiki.

Upon completing the attunement, the student is presented with proof that they are now a Reiki practitioner. They receive a certificate which states the level they have been attuned to, and they, typically, receive a piece of paper that illustrates their Reiki Lineage, that is, a list of Reiki Masters that goes back to Mikao Usui himself (so, your master, the master that attuned your master, the master that attuned that master, etc.), so, you can see that the line of Reiki energy connects you directly to Mikao Usui, the ultimate Grand Reiki Master. Many teachers demand that you display these documents in the room where you practice Reiki at all times.

During my Reiki 1 class, we learned that when Hawayo Takata brought Reiki to the states, she charged $10,000 for the Reiki 3 attunement. This, teachers are quick to point out, did not show that she was exploiting stupid rich people, but instead proved the gravity of such an attunement. Learning Reiki and practicing Reiki is an intensely serious and life-changing decision, one that will leave you $10,000 poorer.

After hearing that outrageous number, the cost of Reiki courses seemed like a deal. $150 for Reiki 1, $250 for Reiki 2, $600 for Reiki 3. (these are typical prices. You may find higher or lower price tags where you are)

People taking these courses are usually not the super rich, though. They're middle class people looking to improve their lives. The weight of the price tag is always softened by the idea that becoming attuned to Reiki is akin to starting your own business.

In my first Reiki class the teacher told us that, as soon as we have our certificates, we could put an ad in the yellow pages and start charging people to perform Reiki.

Naturally, as soon as I got home from that class, I bought a massage table on Amazon, transformed my office (a spare bedroom) into a Reiki sanctuary, ordered business cards, and started advertising my business. A month later I took my Reiki 2 course. After that class the teacher told me that while she usually likes to wait 10 years before she attunes a Reiki Master, I was ready now. The $600 price tag was more than I could handle, though, so I put in a pin in that.

I built a website and sent messages to my friends and family asking them to try out Reiki. For a summer I offered Reiki for free and told people that I'd accept tips, but that I was mostly doing this for the practice. I had a few people over (who very generously gave me wine or cash) and I spent an hour channeling energy into their bodies.

Beyond that summer, though, my Reiki business never really took off. So, I started connecting with other practitioners, reading books, and joining online communities. Before long I discovered that practicing Reiki was not where the money was. If I wanted to really roll in that cash, I needed to get my Master level attunement so I could start teaching classes myself.

It was during that Master level class that I started to see what was happening: I was trying to move up a (albeit short) ladder. Each step cost more and more money, and was a financial burden to most people. While I was selling a product, that wasn't the best way to make money. Attuning more people under me was the best way to earn cash. It was a pyramid scheme. I mean, a pretty badly constructed pyramid scheme, but a pyramid scheme nonetheless.

Even so, I continued on, working to write my own manuals so I could start teaching classes and attuning students in the hopes of finally getting paid the big bucks. I tried to convince myself I was doing the right thing by offering lower prices (like $50/class) and making my course affordable to everyone. Those plans, too, stalled.

Feeling like I was missing some essential piece of the puzzle, I set my Spiritual Business™ aside and, as is so often the answer, looked within. I spent a long time inside myself, figuring myself out, piecing together what I believe and what I want to share and who I want to be. It was that time inside myself that brought me to write this blog post.

I find myself in a tricky spot. I believe in magic. I'm a spiritual person who has been, in one way or another, interacting with spirituality since I was a very young child. The desire to forge a relationship with forces and entities that can't be seen has always, always, been within me. This I know for certain. Conversely, I know that spirituality is not infallible, and that while we need to respect a person's desire to connect with the unseen, we have to also recognize that not every way one does that is good or ethical or helpful or authentic. I've seen a lot of conversation about the thin line between spirituality and mental illness (usually the point being that you need to keep one foot on the ground or you can lose yourself in spirits and magic), but I don't see much conversation about the thin line between spirituality and a door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales person.

Being a witch is very in right now, and having a side hustle is very in right now. Naturally, you can find myriad folks combining both of those things and quite a few who have made a business out of telling you how to run a witchy business of inspiring people to run a witchy business. All of this, I think, cheapens spirituality as a whole and, like MLMs, it depends on people not figuring out the trick, which, as is usually the case, is that you aren't actually selling anything other than the idea of something.

Now, to be clear, I don't have a problem with money being involved in spiritual services. I have friends who read tarot for customers in exchange for money (and I did the same for many years), and that's fine. They are performing a service and their customers are paying for their time and effort. Frankly, it might be a little easier to understand with something like tarot because the reader is using a tool to actually do something that we can see and hear. Reiki gets a little more complex because the practitioner largely just stands still while the client lays still. It's hard to feel like anything worth money is actually happening.

Yet, reiki practitioners feel justified in accepting money in exchange for channeling reiki or for attuning someone to reiki because, allegedly, Mikao Usui himself declared that an exchange of energy needs to happen for reiki to work. This is, I was taught, because after receiving the gift of reiki from the divine, Usui started healing anyone who wanted it. He soon found out, though, that those people who did not give him something for his time did not truly value the healing, and went back to doing the things that hurt them in the first place. It was then that he declared that there must be an exchange made; the client must truly understand what's happening and take responsibility for their own destiny. How we got from that to $10,000 for Reiki 3 is beyond me, but it's those two data points that inform the costs and practice of reiki in America today. Reiki practitioners today sell the idea that if you pay $150 for Reiki 1, you'll have a spiritual break through. If you pay $100 for a healing session, you'll receive a supernatural healing experience.

But, as many of us find out, that isn't how it works.

It's especially frustrating to see how Reiki is practiced today being that one of the major features of Reiki is that you, the practitioner, are only a channel. You cannot heal someone or something on command. All you can do is move energy from one place to another in the hopes that doing so will inspire positive change. But the ego is a powerful thing. Once we start healing people and we get positive feedback for it, we begin to believe that our time is worth more and more and that it makes total sense to demand $350 for sixty minutes of reiki healing. We say, of course it makes sense to charge someone $850 to bestow upon them their Reiki Master Certificate. Our powers are worth it.

But here's the thing: it's not your power. You aren't better at reiki than someone else because, by its very definition, reiki is simply the channeling of universal life energy from the source of all energy to a person, place, or thing. And everyone who has had an attunement has the same ability to do that. We are all the same.

Therefore, it is my belief that reiki (and many, many other similar practices) should not be monetized, and if you want to argue that we should be paid for teaching, that's fine, but hella lower your prices and stop using language that implies you hold an exclusive spiritual gift.

Furthermore, I believe that reiki (and many, many other similar practices) are best used on yourself. I have had wonderful meditations when doing healing on myself that were meaningful and enriching, and I want everyone to be able to have those experiences. It's time to shut down the Spiritual Side Hustle™ and turn those skills on ourselves.

To summarize:
  1. Reiki is legit.(I believe it is, anyway)
  2. Acting like reiki is an exclusive and expensive luxury when it specifically teaches that it isn't is crazy and awful. 
  3. Practice reiki on yourself and others. Teach reiki to others. But don't be a dick about it. 
I think this is all part of my larger distaste for capitalism, generally. The anger I feel at the injustice of the world and our constant need to be accumulating more money and doing whatever is necessary to squeeze every last cent out of everyone, so much so that we have convinced ourselves that doing so is the right and correct way to live, well, it frankly means that I'm probably a pretty bad business owner. And that's ok. It's all part of my 2019 changes and refocusing. 

I plan to talk more about other spiritual services I used to offer in a similar fashion, but I want to say that if you follow me on Etsy, you may see listings pop up in the future for PDF/EPUB files that aim to teach reiki or tarot or whatever to the reader (without need for an attunement, certificate, etc). I just want to clarify that my intention with these documents (should they even come to exist!) is to share information. Anything I list on Etsy like that will be available here, on this website, as a blog post, for free. My Etsy listing will specify this, and folks will be able to read all the information and then will have the option to buy the PDF if they want to print it easier, or to buy the EPUB if they want to read it on their eReader. These files will be inexpensive on Etsy (I'm not going to commit to a price ceiling now, but I imagine they'll be $7 or under, unless they're crazy long, in which case I'll probably break them up into smaller pieces that are cheaper so you don't have to spend more than you want. anyway). All this is to say that, moving forward, I want to share what I know ethically, and, if you want, you can give me money for doing so. If you can't or don't want to, you are still completely welcome to read and learn and interact and ask questions. 

Reiki is a spiritual practice that has value and can help people to deepen their understanding of themselves. However, it has absolutely been hijacked by slimy opportunists, myself included, and I think it is the responsibility of those opportunists to undo the damage they've inflicted. Stop putting spirituality behind a paywall. Stop letting your ego turn everything into a business. Start sharing. Share what you know, share what you love, share what moves you. Just share. 

And, above all else, don't be a dick. 

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