There is widespread concern in the global Reiki community over the teaching and learning of Reiki by distance. Many Reiki teachers feel that offering online Reiki courses is irresponsible, that these courses discredit the image of Reiki, and that they are inferior to traditional, in-person Reiki courses. These are significant concerns, and as someone who teaches Reiki by distance, they are ones I have spent a great deal of time thinking through.
The issue of responsibility is contingent on whether the Reiki teacher accepts a duty of care for the student. If a student struggles during the course, perhaps going through an emotional crisis triggered by the healing energies, is the teacher willing and able to support them? The Reiki community is concerned that adding physical distance to a course means teachers will sidestep responsibility too easily, and that they will provide inadequate support to students when it is needed. What we need to consider, then, is whether the level of emotional support that students need can be adequately provided over a distance.
Let’s consider a related field, the practice of online counselling. While it is controversial in the counselling field, it is supported by research and is gaining popularity. A study published in the Lancet found that providing cognitive behavioural therapy over the Internet helped people recover from depression. Online therapy widens access to the therapist, allowing otherwise-isolated people to benefit from the service.
Providing remote psychological care is not a new idea. The Samaritans, a telephone counselling service which assists people in emotional distress, was established in 1953, and is still going strong today.
Reiki teachers are not considered counsellors unless they also have counselling credentials. However they are able to benefit from the same technologies as counsellors, including email, instant messaging, and especially real-time audio and video communication, and they can use these technologies to mentor, train and support. The tools are ubiquitous, the question is whether Reiki teachers will make proper use of them to ensure students receive an appropriate level of emotional support and guidance.
At the International School of Reiki, all students connect with the teacher by Skype and email.
It’s lack of quality, not teacher-student proximity, that discredits the system of Reiki.
Poor-quality Reiki courses discredit the system of Reiki. These poor-quality courses cut across the in-person/distance divide: there are inferior in-person courses and inferior distance courses. These courses do a disservice to the student learning Reiki as well as to the practice of Reiki at large. Examples include Reiki teachers offering poorly thought-out courses, which do not stay true to the lineage, despite using the name of the lineage on the certificates. Some teachers insert new teachings without careful consideration, or discard time-honoured ones. There are courses that devalue the system of Reiki by portraying it as something you can learn in a couple of hours, as something which doesn’t require any commitment to practice. These courses can be paid or free, in-person or by distance. It’s lack of quality, not teacher-student proximity, that discredits the system of Reiki.
We need to really get to grips with the issue of quality, and primarily this means two things: the quality of the distance initiation and the quality of mentorship available by a distance. These issues both concerned me very much as I taught my first distance courses to students in Laos and Germany, in early 2014. I was nervous. Would the distance initiations work? Would the students feel anything? Would we have the shared sense of something holy and profound, as I had experienced during in-person initiations?
The answers surprised and delighted me: I experienced precisely the same spiritual and emotional qualities during these distance initiations as I had experienced during previous in-person initiations. The student encountered something profound, a catalyst for inner transformation and a trigger in her ability to heal with Reiki. Read more about my first distance initiations.
Mentorship, surprisingly, turns out to be a more difficult issue. You can learn all the details of the theory and practice of Reiki from a book, but what about real tuition? The interchange between teacher and student, some of it conscious and verbal, some of it unconscious and non-verbal, is easiest when you are both present together in the same room. For this reason, many students prefer to do an in-person course, and many teachers insist that in-person courses are the only valid way to learn Reiki. However again the issue is not black and white; the issue is degree of quality. I was fortunate enough to meet a mature, loving, accepting, wise and experienced Reiki teacher, and his mentorship during the in-person courses (and in emails following the courses) was pivotal in my own healing journey. However, it’s surely no surprise that in-person courses can also offer poor quality mentorship, courses in which the ego of the teacher dominates. The kind of tuition that most helps the students requires effort, whether the course is in-person or by distance. It requires sensitivity, a listening heart, and experience on the part of the teacher. It requires openness and honesty from the student. Provided the distance courses encourages this, and provides a mechanism for the exchange, mentorship is possible.
In International School of Reiki distance courses, the mechanism is threefold. First, the distance initiation is conducted over Skype. Although very few words are said in an initiation, the real-time connection honours the sacred process that is being undertaken, and it strengthens the bond between student and teacher. Second, students are required to completed a practice journal, detailing their experience during the practice treatments of the course. The teacher reads these and responds to the individual issues of the student. The third mechanism is ongoing support by email.
You will hear and read Reiki teachers saying that Reiki is an oral tradition, despite the fact that printed manuals have been a standard part of Reiki courses the world over for many years. These printed manuals are moving online, and are maturing into sophisticated, multi-sensory learning experiences. The global Reiki community is now posed with a difficult question, as the face-to-face mentorship of traditional in-person courses becomes supplemented, and in some cases replaced, by face-to-face mentorship mediated by Skype and other technologies. How we respond to this challenge, in my opinion, reflects not just the degree of our commitment to high standards in Reiki education, but also to our willingness to innovate for the greater benefit of people around the world who want to learn Reiki.
We only need to look in our past to Hawayo Takata, a hero to many students of Reiki, including myself. Takata, of Japanese descent but American nationality, first disrupted tradition by becoming the first foreigner to learn Reiki. In the 1930s Japan was a closed society, and a spiritual healing system like Reiki was doubly-closed. The contents were guarded as secrets, and the thought of opening them to a foreigner would be, to many minds, indefensible. Today we honour Chūjirō Hayashi, who had the bravery to do this when he accepted Takata as his student. Imagine the criticism he must have faced by his peers, at a time that Reiki was still young and when people feared for its credibility. However thanks to the actions of Hayashi and Takata, a chain of events began that very quickly made Reiki a global phenomenon.
Takata, a key figure in so many Reiki lineages, did not stop remaking tradition when she gained her master degree and set herself up as a Reiki teacher in Hawaii. She experimented with formats for the courses, in which you could learn Reiki over just four evenings instead of the traditional lengthy internship programs1Takata’s training took place over a one-year internship. See The Reiki Sourcebook (Revised edition) by Bronwen and Frans Stiene, 2008.. Researchers recently uncovered a startling fact, that Takata taught the very first distance Reiki course around 1978 when she initiated Doris Duke using the technologies available at her time: postal mail and telephone2Takata and Distant Initiation, reikiinmedicine.org/takata-stories/takata-and-remote-initiation, retrieved 7 March 2016.. Takata was an innovator, and part of the mantle of Reiki mastership is not rigid adherence to the patterns of the past, but sensitive, thoughtful and creative response to the challenges and opportunities of the time in which we live.
The Real Decision
You don’t have to look hard to find a list of the pros and cons of teaching and learning Reiki by distance. But lists of pros and cons are what we use to make decisions on buying a new phone or television. We don’t consider Reiki in the same way as a new product. The decision to learn Reiki is heart-led, and so it’s the voice of the heart that we must pay closest attention to. If your heart tells you that this teacher is right, or that teacher is right, then your decision about a teacher is made for you. If your heart tells you that an in-person course is right, or a distance course is right, then honour your heart and take action.