Religions frequently perceive “spirit” and “body” independently from each other. Scientists note that spirituality and human creativity both emanate from the same part of the brain’s frontal lobe, though defining spirituality as a “merely” neurological phenomenon may be seen overly materialist.
But if spirituality provides similar benefits as religion at its best — physical and mental well-being, happiness, assisting in identifying one’s place in the cosmos — then the source of these outcomes is irrelevant. Except, of course, that this leaves unanswered the biggest question in this enterprise: Are we more than our physical selves? For that answer, you will need to consult a higher authority than this Vancouver Courier columnist. Sorry. This series is about people finding personal fulfilment through means other than those we conventionally define as “religion.”
Although we are talking about spirituality without religion, it should be noted that some of the spiritual practices in this series can be and are taken up by people who also adhere to “traditional” religions. The point is, conventional religion is not required to practise them.
A perfect example is Reiki. A Japanese practice codified in the early 20th century, Reiki was almost completely unknown to Vancouverites just a decade ago, according to Elana Epstein, a Reiki practitioner here. Although it is not associated with any theology, the word Reiki means “God’s wisdom” or “higher power” (Rei) and “life force energy” (Ki). It involves a practitioner working with the body’s energy vortexes either through the direct application of hands or the movement of hands above or around the body. Although it is unequivocally “Eastern,” it bears similarities to the Christian practice of “laying on of hands.” Successes resulting from the latter would be considered the direct work of God, while Reiki operates on a more amorphous concept of healing energy. Even so, its impacts can work for believers, atheists or anyone in between, says Epstein.
“Reiki connects the individual to that which is outside us, the realm of divine energy, that which comes from divine source — the God of your own unique understanding and definition — and anything that is in the spirit realm,” she says. “That has nothing to do with any religion, any dogma. It is completely separated from that, so a deeply religious person can come into my home, get onto my Reiki table, have a deeply spiritual experience without it calling into question anything they believe in.”
Epstein struggles with what to call the people who come to her — patients, clients — but they tend to be people with a broad range of ailments from migraines to relationship issues or career stagnation. They are referred by word of mouth or by acupuncturists, yoga teachers and sometimes therapists and doctors. In addition to using her hands to shift the body’s energy, she sometimes introduces sound, like a Shaman drum or bells.
Each chakra, or energy point, in the body corresponds with a physical component, says Epstein, who also teaches yoga. If someone comes to her with stomach issues, she sees the physical symptoms as interrelated with the spiritual or emotional traits associated with the corresponding chakra.
“Your stomach, your solar plexus is what in yoga is called the third energy vortex, the third chakra, that will correlate on a physical level to your digestive system and all the things involved in creating physical balance in your body,” she says as an example. “It is your power centre, your storehouse for your will, for making things happen, for promoting change where it needs to happen in your life.”
But how does it work exactly?
“We’re asking for words to explain something that is so intangible,” she replies. “But for me, I can sense on the body when there is a block of energy, where there is nothing flowing in, let’s say, that belly area. I can sense a darker, denser block area and I can sense an opening where there will be a fiery little spark of energy that grows warmer and warmer and warmer.”
If her practices don’t seem to work right away, she moves to an adjacent area.
“I move above or below because maybe the block is actually coming from a different area,” Epstein says. “Our physical body does the same thing. We can often have a hip pain but it might be because our knee is off alignment, or our shoulder.”
As critics point out, there is no proof that such energy forces really exist. But in both religion and things “spiritual but not religious,” not everything is scientifically verifiable.
“Science is now understanding the mystical side of life,” Epstein says. “The physical body and its connection to spirit is responsible for so much more than we’ve ever believed — or that we believe but are unable to prove.”