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In my continuing observations on death, I’ve been thinking about stuff; namely, about what our stuff says about our lives to those who are left behind.  When a loved one has the task of going through the detritus of my life, what will s/he learn about me?  Will it shock/dismay/offend? Or will it bring a smile/inspire/ignite a memory?

I began pondering this after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.  In particular, I wondered about how the parents of the out-of-state college students would cope with finding photos of their children posed with people they don’t know.  I’ve noticed that the college-aged people I know are fond of taking photos of themselves and their friends with the phones, which doesn’t allow for much description.  When that grieving mother opens her child’s laptop and sees her daughter’s smiling face, surrounding by the faces of others, would it help her grief to know how those people mattered to her child?  It seems to me that knowing who those people are and how they fit in her child’s life might bring her closer to the child she can no longer hold.  Knowing her child’s friends might give her insights into her child’s life away from home, insights into the person she was becoming. (note to self: label all my photos!)

When someone dies after a long life, the family assumes there will be few surprises to be found amongst the flotsam and jetsam of that life.  I suppose most of the time that is true, but what about when it isn’t?  How does finding out that grandpa loved something (or someone) that he kept secret affect your memory of him?  What if we discover that grandma had a huge secret that she could never tell anyone?  How would that change the story we carry with us about that person?  We know that diaries and personal letters are private things, but it is common to read the diaries and letters of the deceased.  It helps us to learn more about that person and find connections and memories in the words on the page.  I find the idea of having to keep a part of my life secret, for whatever reason, unbearably sad.  I would be just as sad to find out that a deceased loved one felt that secrecy was necessary in his or her life as well.  I think that just might break my heart.

Then of course there is the stuff that no longer has any meaning but that we simply haven’t let go of yet.  The remnants of childhood, the books we haven’t looked at in years, the debris of a failed relationship.  What story does that tell our survivors about us?  That we can’t let go of what is no longer useful?  Or maybe that we simply haven’t thought about it in so long we’ve forgotten it exists?

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What might someone learn about me if they had to go through all of my stuff?  Assuming my spouse and I died at the same time, a surviving parent or sibling would need to deal with all of the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years.  I like to think that there would be no surprises, that our friends and families know us well enough to know what to expect in that situation.  We certainly don’t all think the same way or believe the same things, but we know that about each other, and it is still possible to love each other and get along with each other while avoiding contentious conversation topics.  I don’t want to cause anyone more grief at my passing based on a discovery that I was too afraid of losing their love to be myself.

What about you?  What story does your stuff tell?  Does it tell your story, or someone else’s?

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As research for a folklore project, I created a series of questions designed to gauge how energy healers perceive themselves, their place in society, and their cohesiveness as a group. This questionnaire is for practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies that use channeled energy as a main therapeutic tool, such as Reiki. If you answer this questionnaire, no guarantee of use is given, but if I quote you it will be anonymously. Feel free to forward this to anyone that you think would be interested in participating. Responses must be received by midnight, 5 March 2009. Please don’t take offense at the “subculture” moniker – it is “sub” as in “subset” and not as “sub-standard.”

To answer this, copy and paste into a Word document (make sure to save it as .doc) and send it to me as a comment to this blog. Thanks!

1. What healing technique(s) do you use?
2. What other healing techniques are you familiar with that use Universal Life Force Energy, Divine Energy, Spiritual Energy, or other channeled energies?
3. If you know enough about other techniques to form an opinion, what is that opinion, and why do you feel that way?
4. Are you aware of other practitioners of your technique, or of other practitioners of techniques you feel are akin to yours, in your area? If so, do you socialize with them in any way (this would include regularly attending a healing circle or other such event)?
5. Are you aware of any jokes told by practitioners about their own technique, about other techniques, about healers in general, or about the publicå/clients? If so, can you share them with me? (include as many of these as you can – some examples included at the end). If not – why do you think that there are no jokes about healers? If there are religious jokes and jokes told by Western physicians about the occupation, why no healer jokes?
6. Do you routinely tell anecdotes or stories about your technique to other people (other healers, students, other like-minded persons)? These stories might resemble the kinds of stories you might tell at family gatherings (“Remember when Aunt Martha’s teeth flew out of her mouth during the speech she gave?”) These stories serve to reinforce beliefs and values in the technique (or group) and to warn against forbidden behavior (inappropriate touching, etc.). An example might be something like “My student told me about this practitioner in another town that was spacing out during the session with an older woman who died on the table and the practitioner didn’t even realize it until after the session was over!” (as a warning to be attentive to our clients, etc.).
7. What phrases seem to be used by many different practitioners or teachers on a regular basis that are not part of the official training text? For instance, I routinely use the phrase “you can’t pour water out of an empty pitcher” to remind students to do self-care, yet that phrase is not “officially” a Reiki tenet.
8. What stereotypes of energy healers are you aware of? Please be as specific as possible, even if you vehemently disagree with the stereotype itself.
9. When you talk to different people about what you do, do you change the language for different groups? For instance, do you describe your work in exactly the same way to a physician, a massage therapist, a fundamentalist minister, a person met at a metaphysical store, and a non-like-minded person sitting next to you at the dentist’s office? If not, how do you change the wording of your description, and why? What would you expect the result to be if you used the exact same wording for each of these groups?
10. What opinion do you think mainstream Western medicine has of your technique?
11. Is it your opinion that all energy healers seem to think alike in areas other than the specific healing techniques? In politics, modes of dress, attitudes toward business, etc.
12. Do you see energy healers in general, and practitioners of your own technique in particular, as a cohesive group, even if you don’t have regular get-togethers?
13. What kinds of things do energy healers share with each other? What professional tips, personal advice, etc., have you been given freely from other healers?
14. How does the mainstream media show energy workers? Is it your experience that the media in general view work such as yours with a positive or negative bias, or objectively and fairly? Do you have any examples you could send me of the type of coverage you are used to seeing? Do you think your local media does a better job of reporting fairly than national or international media?
15. What place do you see energy workers holding in the social structure of your community at large? In the social structure of the USA? The world?
16. Why did you get into energy work? Do you feel that you were “called” to do the work you do?
17. What are your beliefs concerning your work – is there a spiritual component to your work?
18. Is energy work one of the primary ways you use to identify yourself?
19. Do you believe that your practices are generally the same (allowing for some individuality) as those of other practitioners of your technique?
20. Is there anything else about your work or about energy healers in general that you would like to add here? Any thoughts that these questions have raised?
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Some jokes about healers

Version 1:How many ‘Usui Shiki Ryoho’ Reiki Masters does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Four – one to hold the ladder, one to hold the energy, one to hold the ten thousand dollar fee, and of course, one to hold the light bulb!

Version 2: How many manic-obsessive “with time, Reiki can fix anything” Reiki Masters does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Nine – Eight people to participate in a Reiki marathon/group treatment [2 teams of 4 people doing shifts of: 3hrs treatment, 3hrs rest, 3hrs treatment, etc) continuously over a period of 21 days] in an attempt to restore the bulb to fully functioning condition – and one (not so obsessive) person to have the good sense to go to Walmart, buy a new bulb, and redirect the groups healing resources to where they are really needed

Version 3: How many Philosophical Reiki Masters does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: It doesn’t matter, Change must come from within…

Version 4: How many Buddhist Reiki Masters does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: None – There is no lightbulb, no reiki master – nothing to change. all is illusion …
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How many Reiki Masters does it take to change a lightbulb?

* None. Reiki Masters are lights unto themselves
* That information is sacred and only revealed other Reiki Masters
* Well, you have to remember that everything is energy, so….
* None: They concern themselves with inner light.
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Bumper sticker: Reiki Masters do it with energy

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