Chapter 1: A Brief Introduction to the System of Reiki
Ariel is a shy gray mare at BrightHaven Sanctuary in northern California. She was rescued from the Mexican rodeo circuit, and has many scars that bear testament to her difficult past. She is now living a peaceful life where humans require nothing from her, and she can just be a horse and live in her herd. Yet due to her history, she is extremely untrusting of humans. When she first arrived at the sanctuary, she would stand very far from my Reiki students when we would come out to the pasture to share meditation. Even though she wouldn’t physically approach, she would watch us very carefully, her ears pricked at attention, showing lots of interest in what we were “doing” while we were meditating.
One morning, I decided to go out to the pasture to meditate alone before my students arrived. The morning was warm, sunny, and quiet-the perfect meditation space. I stood outside the fence, closed my eyes, and began my Reiki meditation. I opened my heart to the horses in the pasture. After several minutes I felt as though someone was watching me. I opened my eyes, and sure enough, Ariel had walked all the way across the pasture and now stood just outside my reach, staring right at me. I placed my hands, palms up, just inside the fence and continued my meditative breathing. I could feel a beautiful, peaceful atmosphere all around us. Another of the horses, a paint named Mocha, walked up to my hands, touched them with her nose, looked at Ariel as if to say, “See how safe she is?” and walked away. I noticed several other horses in the pasture had come closer and stood in various poses of napping and relaxation. It seemed as though they had all come forward to show Ariel how to connect in this meditative space.
Ariel had watched Mocha’s approach very carefully, and was clearly keeping an eye on her herd members for direction. Slowly, Ariel took one step closer to me, then stopped and watched the other horses. Then she took another step: still her companions dozed and relaxed. Finally, she very slowly stretched her neck toward me, eventually touching her nose to my palm. She jerked her head upward as if she could not quite believe herself-she had actually approached this human for physical contact! I continued to breathe and meditate peacefully, and she returned her nose to my hand, this time resting it gently in my palm, her eyes slowly closing.
In that beautiful moment, I felt many things: I felt deep peace and contentment enveloping both of us and radiating out into the whole herd. I felt my heart opening so wide with love for Ariel, for the trust she was giving me. I felt immense gratitude for the support of her herd in bringing us together. I felt happiness that she had found her way to the safety of BrightHaven. I felt a bright hope and deep inner knowing that she would learn to trust humans again. There was so much in that moment, and yet there was no movement, no sound, and no words.
This experience was a true “equine Reiki moment.” In other words, it was a moment in which a lot was going on, and yet nothing was going on! It was a moment of being present with a horse, with an open, grateful heart and with compassion, but without judgment or worries about the past, without trying to do something to “fix” a problem. It was a time for potential, not a time to push Ariel into what I thought she “needed” to do. When we learn to share peace with our horses, rather than pushing our healing agenda onto them, amazing things can happen!
This is what the practice of Reiki will help you to do: to connect with your horses in a way that makes a deep and lasting healing possible. Ariel has continued to make incredible progress, and shows more and more joy in her life and trust in her human caretakers at BrightHaven. What a brave, bright spirit she is!
In order to help you to be able to create a similar “equine Reiki moment” with a horse you love, let’s take a moment to discuss what Reiki is and how practicing the system can enhance your own well-being, as well as help horses to heal.
Reiki is a system, and Reiki is spiritual energy
The name Reiki, pronounced ray-key, comes from the Japanese words rei, meaning spirit, and ki, meaning energy. Another translation used is True Self. So we could say that the word has two meanings, referring both to a Japanese system of meditative techniques and to our True Self.
You can see both of these meanings reflected in Ariel’s story. The story starts with a specific state of mind and meditative practice that I have learned from the system of Reiki. In addition, the connection that occurred through this practice is one in which Ariel and I each were able to shine the light of our True Self, our inner essence, which contains so much love and compassion and peace that all healing possibility exists within it.
In this book, I will use the term Reiki to describe various meditative practices to help us to remember our True Self (which is comprised of spiritual energy and which I like to call our “true heart”) in order to achieve healing. I will share many stories of how these specific practices have helped to illuminate the true heart of both the practitioner and the horse. I have found over many years of practice that sharing these Reiki meditations with our animals brings profound peacefulness. Meditating with our horses is a simple path to achieving wellness for all.
As you can see from Ariel’s story, meditating with our horses helps us cultivate compassion through a profound depth of connection. When we connect heart to heart with another being, we remember the ultimate truth of existence-that we are all One. This is the place where healing starts. I like to call this “the Reiki Space.” It is a place we remember rather than something that is new to us, because our hearts already know that we are all connected on this planet. This kind of profound connection is a part of our ancient wisdom, although we may have forgotten it in our attempt to “civilize” ourselves. Our animals are often more in touch with this truth than we are, as they are still so connected to the earth and the laws of nature. Connecting heart to heart with our horses in meditation is a key that can help us open the door to experiencing our True Self or spiritual energy. Within this profound space of energetic heart connections, many wonderful miracles of healing can take place.
Reiki is healing touch
Two parts of the system of Reiki incorporate touch: self-healing and assistance in the healing of others. Reiki practitioners are taught formal hand positions to use when doing Reiki on themselves, as well as hand positions for sharing Reiki with other humans. Because we are very tactile creatures, we humans feel support and compassion in a very direct way through touch. Human clients often describe feelings of relaxation, harmony, and well-being after a Reiki session. When sharing Reiki with horses, it’s best to consider touch optional, and use it only when horse-initiated. As in Ariel’s case, horses are generally very clear on whether, when, and where they like to be touched.
When our horses choose it, Reiki may involve direct physical contact in the form of light touch on areas of the body that our horses are comfortable with. Thus, each practice will look unique based upon the preferences of each horse. Although Reiki is just as effective without this direct contact, for many horses, the power of touch is a very strong way to convey compassion and care while nurturing a heart to heart connection.
Reiki starts with you
The practices of the system of Reiki help us, step by step, to learn how to hold a space of balance and peacefulness within ourselves, even in the midst of a chaotic or troublesome situation. At first we learn how to maintain an inner balance and calm while we meditate, sitting or standing quietly and undisturbed. In time and with practice we will see this calmness gradually spread out into other areas of our lives, when we aren’t formally “practicing.” In essence, the peaceful space that meditation creates will begin to follow us wherever we go. Our horses will sense this, and benefit from it also. I call it the “Reiki ripple effect”-when we practice sowing the seeds of open-hearted compassion and peacefulness in ourselves, over time we see the fruits of healing, contentment, transformation, and renewal in our lives.
Reiki is compassion through mindfulness
The most common depictions of Reiki I have read and seen are focused on the surface practices of Reiki as a “hands-on healing” modality for helping others heal bumps and bruises, and indeed that is where I started in my own practice eighteen years ago. Over the years, however, the animals I have connected with have challenged me to let go of these more surface aspects of “curing” and focus instead on the deeper teachings of Reiki and the healing of the spirit. The heart of Reiki practice is about meeting our horses’ healing challenges with grace and surrender while we to learn to listen to and be present for them in this very moment, in a compassionate space. We must learn how to meditate with our horses for peace with whatever will be, instead of pushing onto our horses our own energy, intention and agenda for what we want. This is what I like to call “being Reiki”-experiencing an openhearted mindfulness with our horses-and it brings with it amazing healing responses.
Reiki is peacefulness
Because horses are so sensitive to our inner states, when we learn through meditation to create an inner state of balance, almost immediately we can see our horses respond by also becoming calmer and more peaceful. Self-healing can most easily happen when we are truly at peace, and we can see our horses heal themselves much more easily when they, too, are peaceful. In addition, learning to connect with our horses from this calm inner space will also help deepen our relationship with them. Species differences seem to melt away in the Reiki space of a peaceful heart. Peace is an energetic language beyond words, one that horses already understand. They are ready to speak it with us; we just have to remember to listen. The quieter we can become, the more we can hear. To practice Reiki with our horses is to learn how to “Be Peace” with them.
Reiki is meditation
Reiki is a system of spiritual meditation that utilizes practices such as:
Contemplating the Reiki precepts
“Just for today: Do not anger, do not worry, be humble, be honest, be compassionate.”
Practicing traditional breathing techniques
Sharing healing sessions
Visualizing and drawing symbols and chanting mantras
Offering initiations to Reiki students
If we take a deeper look at each of these practices, we can see that at the heart is an intention to create a meditative state of mind:
Precepts: When working with the precepts, the key is to contemplate them in a meditative way, so that we can go deeper into their meaning and purpose in our everyday lives, bringing change and healing to all that we do. It is very important to remember that the precepts are about a state of mind, not a set of actions. The heart of Reiki is this state of mind, for when we are living the precepts, we are connecting to our True Self, and healing will happen naturally.
Breathing techniques: When working with the breathing techniques, the key is to follow the breath into a meditative space where healing can happen. Breath is the bridge between the body and the spirit; therefore, we must learn to connect with our breath in order to begin the healing process at the deepest layers of our being.
Sharing healing sessions: As practitioners, if we want to share healing with a person or animal, the key is connecting heart to heart. To do this we must go deeper into a meditative state of mind, which can support the healing process. Often people use the word “treatment” for this experience, but I think this is a very loaded term, and perhaps not the best one to use. The term “treatment” creates a feeling of separation, implying that one being is now the “healer” who is giving something, and the other has something “wrong” or is lacking something. Thinking of the relation between spirits in these terms nurtures ego and negativity. The most effective Reiki healing happens when all of these judgments and separations disappear and we remember that we are all One: all perfect, beautiful bright lights in our true essence. I like to call this process “sharing Reiki,” for this invokes more of the sense of connection that is at the core of Reiki practice. Since everyone involved can experience the peacefulness, compassion, and love that Reiki brings (as well as the healing that follows), not just the “client,” this is a meditative experience that is experienced and participated in by all, not “given” by one to another.
Symbols and mantras: When practicing the system of Reiki with symbols and mantras, whether through visualization, contemplation, or chanting, we learn that they are tools to help us to release our busy minds and find our inner “still point,” or inner meditative space, to facilitate healing.
Initiations: Reiki teachers learn to share a healing ritual when meeting with our students called an initiation. The intent of an initiation is to create a meditative space of open-hearted connection, a peaceful, compassionate space that also will support the student’s healing process and spiritual journey.
Both teachers and practitioners of the system of Reiki often describe how their Reiki meditation practice has healed their lives-from the inside out-and made their world a better and more peaceful place. Our horses appreciate and are drawn to the peacefulness of the meditative state, and enjoy being our meditation partners. The more we practice, the stronger is this peaceful atmosphere we are able to create for ourselves and those around us.
Reiki is an equine-assisted therapy practice
When sharing Reiki with horses, practitioners often find an amazing result-we see that the horses are helping us to heal, even though we may initially think we are there to help them heal. This is a result of the beautiful gift of their presence. Just being with our horses is healing-connecting with them through petting, speaking to them, or even just sitting with their gentle presence has an immediate healing effect on us. This is because horses are fully present, without expectation, judgment, or agenda. They accept us unconditionally as we are, and this causes our hearts to open without our even trying (and sometimes without our even being aware of it). It is when our hearts are open that healing can truly begin. In this way, horses are also mirroring to us the best part of our True Self. Even better, they show us when we’ve got it right by manifesting their relaxation and connection with us. The more we relax into that peaceful space, the deeper they will relax with us. The more we feel healing within ourselves, the more we will see that they are experiencing healing as well, and so on.
Reiki is a state of being, not doing
The system of Reiki teaches us to let go of our agendas, the feeling of time pressure, our desires to force and to fix-we can simply stop, open our hearts, and be with our horses. This sounds very simple, doesn’t it? But actually it is quite difficult. What it really means is that we have to be completely and utterly present in the here and now. Our first instinct might be to run from difficulties, hide from suffering, or shift our focus into anger over the past or worrying about the future. Or we might put all our efforts into trying to change what is. So stopping ourselves in the midst of all our intellectual and emotional gobbledy-gook is not that easy. This is why the practices of Reiki are so powerful. With the open heart and compassionate presence that meditation brings, we can see attitudes, situations, and emotions all shift towards balance, understanding, and acceptance. Be patient, be Reiki, and healing will happen!
Reiki is ideal for healing horses
Reiki’s effectiveness is not dependent upon physical contact. The practitioner does not manipulate or direct the healing process: the horse connects with and accepts Reiki in the way that is most comfortable-either hands-on or from a distance, or a combination of the two. Because Reiki is essentially a meditative practice, it is easy for anyone to try and it can do no harm, even when practiced by a novice. The stronger our own peaceful state of mind is, the deeper the responses we will see in our horses. Reiki is about connecting to the subtlest of energies-our energy of mind and heart-and thus it touches the deepest source of our essence (True Self) and always supports a path toward balance and harmony. We don’t need to focus on what is “wrong” with a horse (in fact, we should always keep our thoughts positive!); simply by meditating and creating a space of peaceful connection and compassion, profound healing shifts toward balance on all levels of being can happen.
The heart of the system of Reiki is the five Reiki precepts for balanced living, as taught by the founder of the system, Mikao Usui. These precepts are not only the foundation for self-healing in the system of Reiki, but can also be used as guides when working with our horses.
Just for today . . .
Do not anger.
Do not worry.
To understand these precepts more deeply and see how they can help us share healing with our horse companions, let’s take a look at them more closely, one by one.
- Do not anger. Horses can live long lives, and for this reason may be entrusted to many homes and guardians throughout their lifetimes. We may sometimes see the results of past abuse or neglect when working with horses, especially those who have come to us later in life. We can begin to feel ourselves becoming very angry about how a horse was previously treated, what he had to go through, and so on. This anger will merely distract us from our primary goal, which is to help the horse. If we are angry, our horse will sense this and will not want to connect with us.Reiki meditation helps us to see deeper into the heart of our horse and see his potential for healing, which will make it easier to work through any difficulties we face with patience and calm. Approaching our horse with inner peace rather than anger will help everything will flow toward healing much more easily.
- Do not worry. Over years of working with horses, we might find ourselves dealing with many different kinds of health problems, both physical and emotional. As we nurture horses toward healing, we may find ourselves worrying: about other problems that might manifest, about the expenses of treatment, about how and whether the horse will be able to fully heal from illness and injury, and so on. Worrying about things beyond our control is not helpful.It’s ok to observe the things you are worried about, the things about the situation that frustrate you, or any other bothersome thoughts and emotions. Just don’t hold onto them too tightly. Imagine these thoughts and emotions transform into clouds in the sky. Watch them float away. Just let them go without judgment. Your horse will be drawn to the peace that surrounds you as you learn to let go.
- Be humble. Working with our horses can bring us back to humility. In many ways, horses are so much more sensitive than we are to the lessons of healing and life, and we have much to learn from them. Our horses can become some of our most profound spiritual teachers. Reiki practice helps us to open our hearts, to hear what they have to say to us.
- Be honest. Horses require absolute honesty-they just won’t accept anything less. We must learn to be completely present in the moment with them, because this is how they live. Reiki practice supports us in meeting them in that mindful place; it is there that we can most easily be who we are with a truthful heart.
- Be compassionate. Developing a relationship with a horse teaches us to dissolve the boundaries of separateness. It teaches us to work together and develop a partnership that transcends species and language. This partnership may begin with groundwork and riding, but at some point will likely also encompass a health challenge. Through this partnership we will learn that in reality we are not so different from our horses, and compassion will grow.
Reiki techniques help to bring balance, calm, and a sense of deep connectedness to and open-heartedness with our horses. When we become aware of this connection, the automatic by-product is an overwhelming sense of well-being and compassion. It is this compassion that is the heart of meditating with horses. To be able to stand with a horse who may be suffering in this deep, peaceful, and compassionate space is the most profound kind of healing we can ever offer to him, or ever to experience ourselves. True, lasting healing is about peace of mind and heart, and this is what sharing Reiki with our horses is all about.
Reiki Practice: Horse Hatsurei Ho with Precepts and Affirmations
*Note: This Japanese meditation has been adapted from the practice of Hatsurei Ho as taught by the International House of Reiki. Hatsurei Ho is a Reiki practice used to develop one’s spiritual energy. This practice helps develop the hara, the energy center located in the lower belly, below the navel. Focusing on the hara is a central practice of Japanese Reiki, and assists with energetic grounding, centering and balancing.
- Stand near your horse(s), keeping your eyes open with a soft focus. Place your hands palm over palm on your lower belly (your hara).
- With each inhalation of breath, feel the energy coming in through the nose, moving down to the hara, and filling the body with a beautiful, healing light.
- On the exhale, expand the light out of your body through your skin and continue to expand the energy out into your surroundings.
- Repeat Steps 2 and 3 for several minutes.
- Place your hands in the gassho position (palms together in front of your heart). On the inhale, begin to bring energy into your hands. Feel the energy move along your arms, down though your body and into the hara.
- On the exhale, visualize energy moving from the hara back up through the body and then to the arms and out through the hands.
- Repeat for several minutes. Then return your breathing to normal and sit in the space of energy for a few minutes.
- When you are ready, relax your hands at your sides and set the intention that you have an open heart to share peace and healing with your horse.
- Recite the precepts and corresponding affirmations below three times; invite your horse(s) to share this space with you for healing. This is a very gentle intention: simply open your heart to connection.
- Visualize each precept entering your heart as you inhale. As you exhale, imagine the manifestation of the precept (the affirmation) expanding infinitely out from your heart and into the universe. Open your heart to your horse in this beautiful space.
Precept: do not anger; Affirmation: loving-kindness
Precept: do not worry; Affirmation: courage
Precept: be humble; Affirmation: surrender
Precept: be honest; Affirmation: joy
Precept: be compassionate; Affirmation: harmony
- Stay with your horse, relaxing your mind and heart into the beautiful space of connection, for as long as you like. When you are ready, thank your horse for connecting with you and set your intention to finish your practice.
Case Study: Jet
by Allison Chun
Jet is one of the therapy horses at Haku Baldwin Center in Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, a nonprofit that offers free therapeutic horseback riding lessons for special-needs children. I am a volunteer for this program, and Jet is one of my favorite horses because he is always so careful when he has a child on his back; he is fully aware that he is carrying precious cargo. One day he started limping and was diagnosed with an injured suspensory ligament in his right hind leg?a very serious and potentially crippling injury. He was taken out of the program and put on stall rest but he kept getting worse. Soon his other leg was bothering him more than the injured leg because he was leaning on it heavily to compensate for the injury, as horses do.
I had been sharing Reiki with Jet about three times a month as a volunteer, and another practitioner was coming in about as often to do massage. Jet’s vet check at the end of summer was not good. The barn manager started preparing everyone for the eventuality that he might need to be put down. He could not just be put out to pasture, because if he ran around and further injured the ligament, he would be in a tremendous amount of pain as well as permanently crippled. His quality of life was also questionable. He was confined to his stall at all times and in obvious pain. An agreement was reached to reevaluate during his December vet check and make a final decision then.
I started sharing Reiki with Jet five times weekly on average, both in person and remotely. The massage volunteer had stopped working on Jet, so he was only receiving Reiki. I shared Reiki with Jet throughout the autumn until his December vet check.
I have almost no knowledge of horse anatomy or injuries, so I didn’t try to direct Reiki toward his injury?I didn’t even know what his injury was. I was also concerned about his quality of life, and didn’t know if it would be better for him to transition out of his current corporeal body or if we should keep trying more medicine and painkillers. When I practiced Reiki, I asked Jet to share it with me to help him do whatever it was he wanted to do?to get better or to transition on his own or to let us know he wanted help transitioning by not getting better. I didn’t want him to suffer or to hang on just because we humans weren’t able to let go of him. I had no idea what would be best for him, so all I could do was stay open and trust that he would accept Reiki and use it to help him do what he needed to do. I couldn’t hold any expectations, because I didn’t know what to hope for!
I was working at the horse center on the day of Jet’s December vet check. We trotted him down the length of the barn and back. The vet, a very stoic and understated guy, looked and sounded very surprised. Jet looked much improved?in fact, Jet looked pretty good! Everyone was stunned. Jet was put on a daily rehab exercise program. It was a long recovery period, but after several months Jet started working again in the riding program. I am full of gratitude to the system of Reiki for enabling me to share healing energy with Jet, and to Jet for teaching me so much about trust, openness, and the magic of letting go of expectations!
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