When I read two years ago about nuns in Milwaukee operating a “healing clinic” featuring a touch therapy called Reiki, and the consequent disapproval of the American Catholic bishops and the Pope who felt that the ladies were little more than superstitious masseuses, I was conflicted.
Reiki, in which the practitioner claims to transmit healing power by laying hands on someone’s body parts, sounded very “New Agey” to me. On the other hand, because anything that rankles the Pope must be of some merit, I schooled myself about Reiki, tried it on myself—Reiki claims that it is possible to channel your own healing power into your own body—and was very surprised to discover that it works.
By placing the palms of my hands on either side of my head with fingertips touching at the crown, I felt an amazing sensation rush through my head, relaxing my muscles and imparting an overall feeling of calm and refreshment. I was shocked with the realization that perhaps I possess some untapped and dormant natural healing powers. I kept this to myself, knowing that my friends would suspect dementia.
Converted from skeptic to believer, I wanted to learn everything about Reiki. I traveled to the gay retreat center Easton Mountain (a sprawling converted ski resort in the woods an hour outside of Albany, New York) where Reiki master Gianantonio Corna would be offering a Reiki workshop called “Summer of LOVE: An Introduction to the Reiki World” in the course of “Gay Spirit Camp” week.
Corna is a sexy, smart, well educated Italian who is a natural healer and believer in the power of the gentle vibrating energy in and around us. Frankly and perhaps unfairly, I wanted to experience his touch as verification of the validity of Reiki.
Thirty men on mats and cushions surrounded Corna on the floor of a building with a soaring pitched ceiling and wall to wall windows open to let in the warm woodsy air of a sunny August day. The plan for the session was simple. Corna would talk about Reiki, lead a breathing and meditation warm-up, share Reiki energy with each of us, and finally we would have the opportunity to share it in pairs.
Corna explained, “Reiki is an ancient Buddhist treatment allowing anyone to find the answers needed to dissolve toxic cycles, patterns and obstacles that keep us from love, health and happiness.”
A Reiki master is someone who has learned how to harness and transmit this energy that resides in and around each of us. The effects of Reiki are immediate.
Corna says, “Imagine that you are an electronic device. Fresh from the factory, everything worked. But now, you’ve got a past—replete with bugs. Incidents. Glitches. Reiki acts like a reboot button for your being. Whatever you might be struggling with, Reiki hits ‘Reset.’ As the Reiki energy vibrates, your mind stills. Your breath becomes clearer. Your muscles allow gravity to take over. Underneath the surface, Reiki is a powerful current working to fix your insides, too. Reiki can open your heart, and give your love life a needed boost. Obstacles—real or imagined—shrink, and are replaced by an enhanced ability to live and to love. Wonderful side effects are numerous and include reduced suffering and increased vitality.”
As I heard his words, I resisted my inclination to cynical humor, realizing that if any of my friends were seated here with me, they would be trying mightily to stifle laughter while everyone else in the room silently began the process of breath and posture control that focuses the mind and body and is the precursor to all meditative techniques.
Instead, I allowed myself to fully accept Corna’s direction. Relaxing, I began to see that Reiki has much in common with biblical and Christian tradition. When a man is ordained a Catholic priest, the bishop and all other priests present take turns cupping their hands on top of his head to confer the grace of the sacrament. This “laying on of hands” has biblical roots and is sometimes used by the apostles of Jesus to cure people, and other times to confer the power and blessing of God.
I recalled the gospel account (Luke, Chapter 8) of the time when Jesus, jostled and shoved by a huge crowd of fans, stopped suddenly and said, “Who touched me? I felt power go out from me.” His disciples responded, “What are you talking about? In this crowd, everyone is touching you.” I suddenly realized that Jesus had sensed a Reiki connection with one person in the crowd, a woman who had an affliction for many years. She believed that if she could just touch the hem of his garment, she would be healed. Jesus smiled at her and said, “It is your faith that heals you.” In other words, “I’m no magician. You just have to learn to use the power within yourself.”
How did my experience of Reiki in the course of that workshop turn out? Did I feel the vibrating energy coursing through my body when Corna, walking behind the circle, got to me and placed his hands on the center of my back? Not so much. Did I feel it when paired with another man whose touch seemed clammy and slightly cold? No. But when I placed one hand on his forehead and one on his chest as he lay on the floor, he had what he subsequently described as a very powerful experience.
I was reminded of a story told by a man who had worked as a male prostitute in New York City. He described the moment when he would ring the doorbell of a client who had called the escort agency that employed him. Sometimes, the client would open the door, inspect him and say, “You are not what I had in mind” while beginning to shut the door in his face. He would always respond, “Wait a minute. Let me just do this. I’m going to open a few buttons on my shirt and let you place the palm of your hand on my chest. That’s all. Just do that, and if you still don’t want me to stay, fine. We’ll call the office and they will send you someone else.” He said that all the men who did that would then usher him into their apartments. He obviously understood the commercial application of Reiki. (Did I miss my real calling in life?)
Speaking with Corna in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood where he practices and teaches Reiki, I learned not to expect a rush of pleasure or a cure from every touch.
He said, “If my students say, ‘I don’t feel it,’ I tell them that Reiki is everywhere. It is universal but you have to train yourselves to sense it. That is what it means to master something.”
How about those nuns in Milwaukee? Has the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, having voiced its disapproval of Reiki, shut them down? They are still in business, reports Sr. Madeline Gianforte, Co-Executive Director of CORE-El Centro where she teaches and practices Reiki. She says, “There may be the misunderstanding that because Reiki is rooted in the Japanese traditions, it is opposed to the Christian tradition and would seek to convert a person. That is not true. When I teach Reiki, I make the point that the practitioner is just the facilitator. The healing connection is between the patient and his or her divinity. At our clinic we just provide the space for that to happen.”
Jesus, a nun and a male escort can’t all be wrong. Try Reiki for yourself.
For more about Gianantonio Corna, ReikiVitae.com.