Why not learn Reiki by reading a manual, surfing the net, or watching a video?

The written word is an intrinsic part of virtually every culture on earth. And there is no denying that technology provides us with information, opportunity, and valuable ways to communicate. Yet neither the written word nor technology can replace the power of our being together, face-to-face.

I was twenty-seven when I sat in my first Reiki class in 1978. We were a mostly young and well-educated group. As we sat with Hawayo Takata each evening, her voice, her stories, and her presence began to loosen our intellectual tightness and soften our assumptions about what-was-possible.

As I listened, I noticed a palpable change in the atmosphere in the room. I found myself moved to a level of awareness I hadn’t known before. I have no doubt that this was one way that Takata prepared us for initiation and practice.

Human presence and personal relationship imbue oral tradition. A told story is alive. The speaker connects with the people present in that moment: background, culture, current needs, spoken issues, unspoken questions, all color and shape the telling. Stories convey a lesson and so the specific details, the emphasis, the words chosen can subtly shift from one telling to the next.

The spoken word is alive. Joseph Bruchac of the Native American Abenaki tribe writes, “The story breathes with the teller’s breath.” Story has the power to break us open and awaken our minds and hearts.

Every Reiki class is a dance, a dynamic interplay with the spoken and unspoken. Each group generates a particular gestalt. We are engaged consciously and unconsciously. The storyteller/teacher responds as a part of that gestalt. And the factors at play converge and effect how we are moved by the teaching we receive.

We can be touched simultaneously on multiple levels—all of our five senses, memory, intellect, heart. The spoken word evokes nuance and paradox. Oral tradition can quicken our understanding and connect us with a larger field of awareness. This experience brings a potency and insight that can change us.

Joseph Bruchac concludes, “If we imagine that technology can take the place of the living human presence experienced through oral tradition, then we diminish ourselves.” We forget the true power of the spoken word.

This article is adapted from a piece that appeared in Touch magazine, Summer 2011.