When reviewing the NIH/NCCAM Reiki Backgrounder some years back, I suggested to my NCCAM colleagues that Reiki is more accurately grouped with meditation as a spiritual practice, rather than placed in the energy medicine category.
The point may seem moot, another round of academic hair-splitting, but what a difference this shift could make in today’s health care.
How so? Let’s take a look.
Reactive or proactive?
Today’s medicine is reactive by definition (otherwise it’s called Preventive Medicine).
Spiritual practice, however, is proactive.
We reach for medicine as a reaction to feeling ill, but we practice as part of our regular daily self care, cognizant of both the damaging effects of accumulated stress, and of our need to settle into home base at least once a day.
We practice because our common sense tells us it is necessary, even when our hearts don’t register the longing to phone home.
Conventional medicine groups spiritual practice under lifestyle modification. You make a deliberate choice, a commitment to self-care that becomes part of your daily routine, practiced every day like tooth-brushing (and for some, more like flossing).
Quite distinct from spiritual practice, today’s medicine is a body of knowledge and interventions.
Medical techniques — energy or otherwise — are deliberate interventions designed to fix symptoms while minimizing risk. The process follows the medical model of diagnosis, treatment plan, treatment implementation, evaluation, and recommendations for future care. They are reactions to a perceived problem rather than the daily promotion of health and well-being.
Whether the intervention is surgery to rearrange the body or energy techniques to reorganize the biofield, they are done to us from outside. Even when giving ourselves an energy medicine treatment, we apply the techniques from outside, as if our bodies were someone else’s.
That’s somewhat true of hands-on Reiki self-treatment as well. We apply our hands to the outside of our bodies. But what happens then?
Spiritual practice heals from within
As a spiritual practice, a Reiki treatment doesn’t rearrange the biofield as much as it reminds the system of its capacity to self-heal. That remembered wellness often leads to a rearranged biofield, but that’s happened spontaneously from within.
A Reiki hand sounds the metaphorical wellness chord, the “sound” of which calls the human system to reorganize around its inherent wellness. That reorganization increases consonance in the system, and reduces dissonance in the system. What’s different is that the process happens organically from within, rather than sweeping the dissonance away from outside, as is done by an energy medicine treatment.
The Reiki hand may be the soft mallet that sounds the gong, but the resonance, reorganization, and healing come primarily from within. Yes, the practitioner plays a role, but Reiki healing remains essentially self-healing. The Reiki practitioner’s hand is necessary condition, but the receiver’s system responds to that condition and determines the healing.
In energy medicine, the therapist does the housecleaning, whereas through spiritual practice, we alter our state from within.
Reiki is a spiritual practice that has therapeutic applications. That doesn’t make it energy medicine, but it means it can look like energy medicine.
Why does it matter?
It’s up to Reiki practitioners, especially professional practitioners, to know and communicate the difference between spiritual practice and energy medicine. If Reiki practitioners aren’t mindful of the distinction, the essential understanding of Reiki practice could easily get lost.
Maintaining the distinction between spiritual practice and energy medicine is particularly important in health care. Physicians need research evidence to recommend treatments. They cannot tell patients to spend time and money on treatments without data to support safety and efficacy.
But lifestyle modifications do not require the same level of evidence. Doctors can make suggestions how their patients could move toward a more healthful lifestyle without needing a stack of research papers.
Splitting Reiki hairs can be useful. Regardless the conclusions we come to, thinking the questions through deepens our understanding.
The clarity that arises from a contemplated practice helps us build credibility, while resisting the medicalization of Reiki practice. By doing so, we just might be ensuring its survival.
Spiritual Practice? Energy Medicine? What’s the Dif?
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