Form and Freedom

An Interview with Paul David Mitchell / May 2002

By Oliver Klatt

Oliver Klatt: Paul, first of all many thanks for your openness to this interview. You were initiated by Mrs. Takata as a Reiki master and you have been practising Reiki for more than 20 years. Since 1993 you are the Head of the Discipline in the Usui Shiki Ryoho System of Reiki Healing. Together with Phyllis Furumoto, the Lineage Bearer, you form the Office of the Grandmaster of Usui Shiki Ryoho. How did you come to fill this position? Did this position exist before? What was your process within the last ten years? How do you see yourself in your role as Head of the Discipline of Usui Shiki Ryoho today?

Paul Mitchell: To answer the question about my being recognized as Head of the Discipline, I need to give you a little history or context. When I met Phyllis Furumoto the second time in 1979, it was clear to me that she was to be Mrs. Takata's successor. My experience of Mrs. Takata provided the model of what it meant to be the Grandmaster in Usui Shiki Ryoho. She was the Grandmaster. There was no Head of the Discipline at that time and no knowledge of there ever being one. Our knowledge was limited to our experience of Mrs. Takata. From our first meeting, Phyllis and I experienced a strong connection. After the death of her grandmother, I was one of the masters who responded to Phyllis' call to be a part of a master community and was one of the founding members of The Reiki Alliance. Very early on, in 1984, Phyllis asked me to work with her in the preparation of the masters she was training and initiating. I supported her in her role of Lineage Bearer and she delegated some responsibilities to me.
In 1989 there were some problems in our personal relationship and I stopped working with her. In 1992 it became clear to me that this personal separation was not serving the Reiki community. As I looked beyond the personal, I saw that I felt called to share with Phyllis somehow in the role of Grandmaster, to carry and care for the system and its integrity. We arranged a meeting and it was one of those magical healing moments where all the past stuff just fell away and we were present to one another. I shared with her my perception of my role and she acknowledged that it was also true for her. The first recognition came from her which seemed essential and right.
We began to work together at a new level, clarifying the system and communicating that clarity to the greater Reiki community. Much of that work has been within the Reiki master community, supporting a deepening in the practice that is passed on to the students.
Over the past ten years I have deepened my dedication to the practice, seeing myself not as the author, but as a carrier of a gift to humanity. Throughout history, gifts have come through individuals. These gifts have the power to live on beyond the founder, but how and wether they survive depends on those who choose to carry on the work. I feel that I was asked to give up some of my personal freedom to explore, innovate, experiment and instead, allow myself to be a vessel to carry on a specific practice.
I do that, and I am available to others who wish to know what that practice is and what it can offer us. I have had to learn to be humble and compassionate in this role, to hold, on the one hand, that there may be no "right" way to do Reiki and, at the same time, to sound a tone for a form of practice that was sounded by my teacher and by her teacher before her and so on. In this surrender, what I have received is passed on through history and my own understanding and embodiment of this practice and its gifts deepens.
Serving in this role calls me to look beyond my own practice and my own students to the world of Reiki, and to be available to the greater community of those who seek to practice Reiki and, perhaps, Usui Shiki Ryoho.

Oliver Klatt: What is the gift of the Usui Shiki Ryoho System for you personally? What do you think about other forms of Reiki?

Paul Mitchell: To talk about what Usui Shiki Ryoho has given me is difficult because basically you are asking me what my practice of Reiki has given me over the past 23 years.
When I say Reiki in this context, I am referring to Usui Shiki Ryoho because that is what I received and what I practice. Reiki has given me a reliable and constant guide on the path of discovery of Self, as body, personality, spiritual being, human being, One being. This journey includes healing, purification, change, expansion, and service. It enables me to give to others in situations where in the past I felt helpless. Mrs. Takata assured me that Reiki would teach me and it has. It has taught me about life, healing, honor, surrender, boundries, resistance, change, radical trust, the sacred, money, grounded spirituality, compassion.
Reiki has taught me about being a student and being a teacher, it has reconnected me with part of myself that I lost personally and parts of my humanity that have been lost culturally. Reiki has reconnected me in many ways and continues to do so.
It is difficult for me to say what I think about other forms of Reiki, mostly because I would be speaking about them as an outsider. I know the form I practice. I have met many people who practice other forms. I have found that they are in love with what they have received and feel that it serves them. I want to be able to embrace their experience and their right to their experience.
Most of the other forms of Reiki that are taught today are the result of individual teachers changing and reinterpreting what they have received. Sometimes I am afraid that others will not receive what I have received, that something will be lost. In the past I worried about that quite a bit. Now only sometimes. I just have to accept that it is so. Each of the elements of the form that I received and practice has gifts, presents challenges, calls me deeper. I would not personally take on the responsibility to deny any of my students the opportunities my practice has given me. I realize that I was blessed to have as a teacher someone who practiced for over forty years. The depth of her experience and knowledge was boundless. I feel humbled to be able to stand on her shoulders, to be supported by the energy of her being. Perhaps that is why I am able to be so faithful to the practice I received and why I still sometimes worry about others. Of course, it is useless to worry. Trust, respect, compassion, these are my ideals.

Oliver Klatt: As Head of the Discipline of Usui Shiki Ryoho you take care of the form of the Usui Shiki Ryoho System of Reiki Healing. What do you define as this form? Why do you think we need to have a form for practising and teaching Reiki? Wouldn`t you say that, somehow, Reiki also works without a form, just by putting on hands?

Paul Mitchell: We are all subject to, and at the affect of the movement of time, what we look back at and call history. This question about what I define as the form of Usui Shiki Ryoho is the result of the movement of history.
When I learned Reiki from Mrs. Takata, form was not defined, a practice was passed on, an event that took place on many levels. When I was trained as a master and empowered to teach, again, it was just a practice being passed on. I knew that I was learning a system of healing with Reiki, and was vaguely aware that system implies form.
As time went on, others felt free to make changes in the system, in the form. The result was a call to "define" what was originally passed on by Mrs. Hawayo Takata, the form known as Usui Shiki Ryoho. (I mention Mrs. Takata often. It is because I know as historical fact that Reiki has spread to the world from her.)
The process of definition was to put descriptive words to the practice we received. In focusing on what we were given we could see that there were nine elements to the form:treatment, symbols, initiation, history, spiritual lineage, oral tradition, form of teaching, money, precepts.
Why the need for a form? I immediately go to a philosophical answer. There is an absolute and a relative universe. In the absolute universe, form is irrelevant. Form emerges from the absolute universe and the relative universe is born. In absolute oneness there is no relationship, form and the relative create/allow relationship. Take our human experience, or the experience of being human. Without the form of physical body for spirit to infuse, there is no humanity. So on one level form is necessary as an absolute, it just is.
Then there is context. I see that the nine elements of the form create a tapestry, a context for this healing art that I believe gives birth to the aspects of the practice, Healing Art, Personal Development, Spiritual Discipline, Mystic Order. I see that giving a full treatment as I learned it creates a certain context for healing that I do not see when I just place my hands and let Reiki flow. This is not to say that just placing ones hands does not "work", but I find this measure, this concept of "it works" so flat and nearly meaningless. Placing ones hands always "works" in the sense that something is happening, an energy transfer occurs.
I am finding it hard to express what I mean here. The elements of the form create a dynamic, a formula that I experience to be rich, deep, many faceted. A simple analogy is a recipe: Combine certain ingredients in certain proportion and you get a predictable result. Change the recipe or consider certain elements irrelevant and you may still get something. A question I like to consider is: Where do I want to put my trust: In the vast experience of my teachers or in my own creativity or whim?

Oliver Klatt: Don`t you think that there may be something in between? Or even beyond that? For me, this is not a question of "either...or". Personally, I also put my trust in your vast experience, Paul, who is my teacher, as well as in my own experience that grows with the years that I practice Reiki and teach Reiki classes. And I also trust in my own creativity, originated in my connection to what I would call my inner Self to handle specific situations within a wider context which is held by the form of my practice, Usui Shiki Ryoho. What do you think?

Paul Mitchell: This is a complex and difficult question to answer because again it gets into life philosophy and world view, basic questions about how things really work. For me it has to do with appropriate boundaries, authority, dimensions and definitions of freedom. Here is how I understand it. Again, this practice is something that I carry. I am not the author or creator of the practice. This fact defines the boundaries of where I can use my creativity. Now, each of us must integrate the practice into ourselves, must make it our own. This is a natural process.
A good friend of mine told me that in a certain Native American tribe, the individual shamans had a great degree of freedom in their personal practice, but when they taught a student shaman, the teaching was exactly the same. The result was that there was freedom in practice, discipline in teaching andthe "gift" or the "art" was preserved generation after generation. I think we need to take a step back and look at this concept of freedom in what we know as modern and democratic cultures. The right to be creative seems to be the ultimate goal. Obedience and discipline have become bad words. What we have lost is the ability to act for future generations. Imagine if we lived by another Native American concept, making your decisions for the good of the next seven generations. We find it difficult to get beyond what seems good to us in this moment. There has been this concept that Dr. Usui rediscovered this practice because it was lost. How are things lost? I think it would serve us well if we could have the discipline to examine what the cost is, what is lost when we feel "inspired" by our creativity in the moment and change something.
I love the scene in the movie "Jurrasic Park" where Malcolm tells the creator of the park that what he has done is very dangerous because he has stood on the shoulders of those who have gone before. He has not experienced the discipline that brought the knowledge and therefore lacks the ability and maturity to use it. I found this a very interesting observation. It is not a question of freedom and creativity, there is a place for these. It is a question of boundaries and limitations. Limitation is also seen as a bad word. Often we lose sight of the paradox of freedom, that it is in working within the boundaries of discipline that great freedom is attained. This is the characteristic of all practices that have endured.
I don't have the answer here, but I think I see that much of what is good and essential can be sacrificed in the name of freedom. What is the place of balance? If we knew the answer we would be living in a very different world.

Oliver Klatt: Paul, how would you describe your personal style of teaching a Reiki class within the form of Usui Shiki Ryoho? Can you name the "gift" or the "art" of what you feel that you preserve by not changing the form? Would you say that you pass on exactly the same to your students as Mrs. Takata passed on to you? Or might there be a difference? And: How do you practice Reiki for yourself?

Paul Mitchell: The image that I have is of a river of energy, that energy is reiki. Because reiki is life energy, it expresses itself in infinite forms and aspects. There is a specific expression of this energy called Usui Shiki Ryoho. Its form create the banks of the river. The banks define the qualities of the river's flow, depth, breadth, volume, texture, use. When I teach a class, I step into the river in a special way and invite others to step in with me with the expressed purpose of connecting them to this flow of energy for healing.
"Exactly" is not a useful word here, mostly because I know that there is more going on than I am aware of. Over the years as my understanding of the quality of what I have received has deepened, I see that in the medium of oral tradition, this "passing on" of the gift of reiki works on many levels.
What I can say is that I hope that I am passing on what Mrs. Takata passed on. My guarantee, such that it is, is that my intention is to do so and I follow as faithfully as possible the form that I know has brought this to me.
There are qualities or principles that create a context for how this practice is received and held and practiced by the student. This is part of the "gift" that I received from Mrs. Takata. I was taught a beginner class, very very simple. I was allowed to be a beginner and assured that I would grow in my relationship with reiki as I practiced. I was taught to trust that what I received was what I needed. I was taught to trust and practice the form I was given. I was empowered by this simplicity. Part of that empowerment meant responsibility. It was my responsibility to practice.
It is not difficult to pass on a few hand positions and five principles. The difficult part is to stay simple. It has taken me many years to really trust in simplicity and to give the students their responsibility. If I can do this, give my students the simple form of practice I received, the five principles, the story of this practice, get them to trust enough to practice even when they may be frightened or confused by results, then I have given them a powerfull tool. This tool is about healing, trust, gratitude, honor, freeing ourselves from anger and worry. It is a tool that awakens us to the art of living. Can I do this as my teacher did? I can only do my best.
My practice of reiki is simple. I give myself a full treatment every day. I use my hands on myself during the day. I keep the principles in my mind and heart as a guide for my daily living. I use reiki in times of confusion and uncertainty. I give treatment to family and friends and clients.

Oliver Klatt: Paul, thank you for sharing this. This is helpful for me and supports me in my daily practice. Well, I would like to come to another subject now: You have been practicing the martial art of Aikido for more than 20 years. Since quite a long time you have been offering Aikido classes for Reiki practitioners. What is your intention for that? What do people learn in your Aikido classes?

Paul Mitchell: I began my practice of Aikido almost a year after my first degree in Reiki. I began the training for personal reasons. In 1983 Phyllis Furumoto asked me to present the principles of Ki-training and Aikido to the masters at an early Reiki Alliance meeting. The next year she asked me to work with people who were training with her to be Reiki masters to also teach them these principles. Since then I have offered this training in the worldwide reiki community.
Aikido has a clear spiritual foundation coming out of a spiritual awakening of the founder, Morehi Usheba. I see a strong parallel between the sense of safety and trust that I experience during a reiki treatment, the call of the Reiki Principles, and what is being taught in Aikido as a way of being.
Aikido taught me an inner sense of balance and being centered. It gives me techniques for dealing with difficult situations that also help me understand and practice the Reiki Principles better. I presently teach Aikido in a six day residential workshop called "The Way to Harmony". In this workshop students learn to know themselves more deeply, learn techniques to deal with relationship in a more open and powerful way, and explore challenging issues such as defensiveness, resistance, being a victim, and fear of and use of power.
The workshop is an integration of my life in Reiki, my own style of Aikido, and all that this healing path has given me. To work with students who are already committed to their healing and personal growth through Reiki I find very powerful and rewarding.

Oliver Klatt: You mention your "own style of Aikido", that you teach in your workshop. Speaking about Reiki, you never used this expression, even not when I asked you about your personal style of teaching Reiki - you used expressions like "boundaries given by the form", "discipline in teaching" and "following the form given to you by Mrs. Takata as faithfully as possible". So, would you say that you lay down stricter standards concerning the preservation of the form given to you by your teacher in teaching Reiki than in teaching Aikido?

Paul Mitchell: A simple answer would be "yes", but it would not be accurate. In the practice of Reiki I was trained, initiated, and acknowledged by my teacher as a master. Critical elements to passing on this art are the nine elements. This is a spiritual transmission.
I have simply been a student of Aikido. In my teaching, I never wear the uniform and belt of an acknowledged teacher, I never give degrees or rank, if someone refers to me as an Aikido master I correct them. I use the principles of Ki-training and Aikido as a tool for self-awareness and personal growth.
In his book of Ki-sayings, Koichi Tohei says, "what you learn today you can teach another the next day". In his seminar for Educators which I attended, he encouraged the participants to share his techniques to teach people the principles of mind and body unification. This is what I do in a unique residential experience that helps people explore a path of harmony with self and others. If I were an acknowledged teacher of Aikido, having received the mandate to teach within a lineage (which is what I mean by acknowledged), then I would be as strict as I am in Reiki because then it would be my responsibility to do so.

Oliver Klatt: Thank you for your straight answer, now this is clear to me. I have a final question: What would you recommend to Reiki practitioners of all forms for their daily practice?

Paul Mitchell: I believe that the basic form of practice is daily self-treatment. This is the base, somewhere between a half hour and an hour, treating positions on the head and abdomen. Next is to work to make the five Spiritual Precepts a part of our everyday consciousness and ever deepen our commitment to them.
Mrs. Takata always said that Reiki is first of all for ourselves, then for family and friends. First we treat ourselves and then our family and friends. If our practice naturally extends beyond that, great!
In doing this, organically our individual relationship with this gift of healing and growth to will deepen and mature.

Oliver Klatt: Paul, thank you for the interview!

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