As one studies Reiki, the necessity of and type of attunement becomes a prominent issue. There are three main issues: whether an attunement must be done in person or whether it can be done via distance or by watching a video; whether distance attunements are valid "traditional" Reiki, and whether training must be received in-person to become part of a Reiki association and become an accredited practitioner.
I'll begin by describing what I believe an attunement is. Reiki is acknowledged to be universal life energy that is present in and permeates all things (just like chi, prana, the Tao), and a Reiki attunement is intended to align a student with that energy so they can be a conduit for Reiki. An attunement is only a small part of Reiki training, though. Reiki precepts, hand positions, techniques, and so forth must be learned as well.
So what does an attunement look like? Well, it looks like this (search "reiki attunement" on YouTube for more). Essentially, it's a guided meditation to introduce a student to meditation, energy work, and using intent. Since Reiki is a spiritual and mental discipline, such "attunements" are a very good idea, especially for people without any complementary background. An attunement can be repeated as many times as desired; Mikao Usui, the founder of Reiki, used to do attunements on his students every time he worked with them. They were the same process each time (called reiju) and didn't differ with one's degree of Reiki training.
So, on to the issues... I'll start with whether distance attunements are valid traditional Reiki. The easy answer to that is that no, they're not traditional, but then again, very very very very little of modern-day Reiki is traditional either. As mentioned earlier, Usui's reiju didn't differ from degree to degree, as modern-day attunements do. Nor did Mikao Usui work with chakras, prana, Angels, crystals, Tibetan or Egyptian symbols (Mikao Usui was Japanese...), spirit guides, and so forth. Even the hand positions of modern-day Reiki have changed dramatically (following the chakras, as opposed to five original positions all around the head).
So do distant attunements work? I'd say yes, though quality may vary, as is no doubt true in person (I've linked to what I think is a good one above). According to the theory of what Reiki energy is and how it works (especially given that Reiki II teaches distance healing), and since the attunement is really a guided meditation to help the student feel the energy themselves, there's really no logical reason a distant attunement can't work.
Of course, for people making buckets of money off Reiki training classes (it's typically about $1,000.00 to train up to Reiki Master/Teacher), the conclusion that distant attunements are perfectly valid hits them directly in the pocketbook. So let's talk about Reiki training. Quite frankly, in the Internet age, the concept that training must be received in person is an anachronism; you can complete university degrees through online learning, after all. Books and information are widely available, distance attunements are available, and people can practice their hand positions and techniques on themselves, friends, family, animals, and by attending local Reiki Circles. All for free or very low cost.
The main issue is quality control and assurance that students have actually done the learning, rather than becoming "Instant Reiki Masters". For individuals practicing Reiki on their own for no profit (on self, friends, family, etc.) we can simply hope that these people will continually learn more, hope that they're discerning in what they read and believe, and take responsibility as a community to mentor them and guide them towards good material and to lead by example. One Reiki author refers in the second paragraph of her first chapter to 12 source planets that originally colonized the earth (yes, this is in fact the plot of Battlestar Galactica!)... let's make sure new people get guided to more credible sources such as The Reiki Sourcebook.
For individuals who plan to practice Reiki as a business, though, some sort of externally validated accreditation is often desired. Unfortunately, current Reiki associations have taken the anachronistic stance that training must have been received in person (and at substantial cost) in order to be accredited by them. To be honest, I think it's symptomatic of the fact that spirituality and money really shouldn't be mixed; when money changes hands, things become infinitely more complicated.
The Canadian Reiki Association, for example, requires that Level 1 and 2 Reiki training must be at least eight hours long in-person training each, and that Master level be at least twelve hours long. In addition, applicants must submit practicum/case study forms to demonstrate experience in order to become certified practitioners or teachers. Most other Reiki associations follow similar guidelines.
In our bureaucratic, capitalist society, I suppose this isn't surprising. But is there a better model? I think that the idea of submitting practicum forms to demonstrate experience to become a certified practitioner is a good model. But to be a mere member and be embraced by the Reiki community, there shouldn't be such exclusionary policies as requiring education to be in-person (typically at large expense). Instead, part of the certification process should perhaps include a written exam on Reiki knowledge, and/or submission of a video of the applicant conducting a Reiki treatment session. Given that in-person classes probably vary greatly in quality, a written exam and/or video would ensure quality control just as well as requiring in-person class attendance, without putting a hefty price tag on participation in a spiritual practice.
So, for the dedicated student of Reiki, my advice is that if you're learning lots from a variety of sources, and interacting online and/or through Reiki Circles with other practitioners, then your Reiki training (including distant attunement) is probably as good or better than that received by many who've shelled out hundreds of dollars for in-person training. As long as your intent is pure, you're already on your way to being a Reiki Master in all the ways that really count.
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