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May the force be with you

Or not, as the case may be. Gerard Kelly is initiated into the therapy known as Reiki, but finds it leaves his aura less than vibrant.

Rosi arrived with a portable couch, a music system, several crystals in varying sizes, incense, candles and a large stuffed dog called Bruno. She is a Reiki master. I had not known what Reiki was until the day before her arrival. "It's an alternative healing thing," I had been told. And that was it. I had assumed it was Oriental, and involved chanting, needles and strange leg positions, but I hadn't counted on stuffed dogs. I feigned nonchalance.

"You don't travel lightly, Rosi. Do you use many implements?" "Just these, " she said, holding up her two hands.

"And what about the crystals?" I nodded towards the make-shift altar she had made, the crystals arranged on top in a line between the candles.

"They help create a restful environment."

"And him?" I asked with a touch more alarm, pointing to the dog.

"Oh, I won him at a fair in Southend the other week. He's become my mascot. "

I relaxed slightly, doubtless helped by the crystals.

Reiki, as Rosi explained, was founded by a 19th-century Zen Buddhist monk who re-discovered all those healing arts practised by Buddha, Jesus et al and distilled them into a manageable, practical method. It is based on an awareness of a life force that surrounds all living things and that can be chanelled to heal. These energies, Rosi was at pains to point out, are not created by Reiki practitioners but flow into everybody through something called a "crown chakra" at the top of the head. The healer merely heightens awareness of this beneficial life force energy. Treatment induces a sublime, glowing radiance that reduces pain, speeds recovery and leaves the patient refreshed, optimistic and alert to a higher spiritual plane.

At this point my initiation was interrupted by a neighbour who called to borrow a spanner. Rosi remained a model of tranquillity. I, at some remove from an awareness of the universal life force, did my best to distract my neighbour's attention from the altar and Bruno and towards the toolbox. His stay was brief, and Rosi was soon able to continue.

"Everybody has a life force, which can be perceived by some people as an aura and which varies in colour and intensity according to your physical and spiritual well-being." I looked sceptical. "It's been proved scientifically, " she insisted. "It's a fact." I asked if she could see my aura. "Oh, yes, " she said. "It's yellow at the moment, which signifies the emotions."

"And how intense is it?" I asked. "Is it vibrant?" "Fairly vibrant," she replied, a touch hesitantly.

I was a little overwhelmed by all these revelations, but Rosi patiently answered my queries.

"Do you have to believe in all this transcendental stuff to benefit from Reiki?" I asked.

"No, it's not a faith. It exists and it works whether you believe it or not. If you are ready for Reiki, you will be drawn to it as a thirsty horse is drawn to water." I felt highly hydrated, but Rosi was unconcerned.

"Everyone must find their own path," she said, beaming.

After some lunch, Rosi showed me what a healer actually does. A healer, she said, learns to fine-tune the energy field and direct it to damaged areas of the body. This is accomplished in a series of weekend seminars called attunements. We didn't have time to go through this ritual, but she agreed to give me healing. Even though there was nothing physically wrong with me, she insisted I would feel the benefit.

I lay on top of her portable bed, fully clothed. Rosi began to go round my body, placing her hands for a few minutes on the crown of my head, then the back of my head, throat and so on. A curious heat emanated from her hands. Tensions and pains, she explained, arise when your flow of vital energy is disrupted or blocked. "Everyone accepts that stress causes headaches. Well, every physical symptom is associated with an imbalance at a higher level. " Ulcers, for instance, could be anger eating away at the gut. Diarrhoea may be a discharge of old feelings that haven't been dealt with.

She spent some time holding my right shoulder. "Do you have trouble with this?" she asked. "Problems here are often associated with family burdens and responsibility." I reassured her that my shoulder was in perfect working order, silently relieved when she stopped working on it.

"But how do you explain things happening to you, like losing a limb?" "Maybe you didn't need it," she answered.

I thought this a little brutal, but Rosi assured me that such incidents had their place and were part of the great scheme of things. I asked if Reiki could help with all medical problems. Rosi said that it could. She had personally helped people overcome all kinds of ailments, including life-threatening ones, though practitioners do not advise people to stop taking their medication. Reiki can even be "sent" over distances; healers do not have to be present, they just have to direct their thoughts to the afflicted person.

"But if you came to me with a sore back, you might leave with a sore back because it is you, at some unconscious level, who decides if you want to be healed."

I said that sounded like a win-win situation for her - she could take credit for cures but avoid responsibility if there was no improvement. She agreed it was a positive form of therapy. The essential thing was that, at some level, people had to want to be cured. "That's why I have found animals to be especially responsive. They are so open - they have no preconceptions."

By this time, I was feeling very relaxed and dozy as Rosi applied her hand-holds to various parts of my body for five or so minutes at a time, concentrating deeply.

"How do I know you're getting in touch with my energy field?" I asked. "You could be wondering whether you turned the gas off before you left the house. "

Rosi assured me that she was reaching out to the universal life force and wasn't thinking about the gas. I started to close my eyes. Then, I realised I couldn't feel her hands anywhere.

"What are you doing?" I asked, concerned.

"I'm just adjusting the balance in the left and right halves of your brain, " she replied.

Reassured by this minor operation, I drifted off into sleep.

The treatment lasted about an hour and a half, although Rosi explained that it could be longer or shorter depending on need. As she prepared to leave, she warned me that I might feel groggy for some time and that, because the treatment had brought toxins to the surface, I should drink lots of water. I thanked her, said goodbye and went in search of a large glass of toxins.

Rosi Caswell can be contacted at theInternational Reiki Society School of Training, tel: 0441 080791

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