Just for today

Mikau Usui (1865-1926), the founder of Reiki, espoused five principles that came to be called the five Reiki principles, which he transcribed succinctly as:

Just for today, do not anger. Do not worry and be filled with gratitude. Devote yourself to your work. Be kind to people.

But successors expanded the form of expression in English, so that a favorite version is:

Just for today, I will not hold anger.
Just for today, I will not cling to worry.
Just for today, I will be grateful for my many blessings.
Just for today, I will do my work diligently.
Just for today, I will be kind to all sentient beings.

Restoring the Zen context of these expressions affirms the notion of the present moment. This is not the now or present moment so favored by New Age thought and so often reduced to psychological justification for doing whatever feels good at the moment. The deeper Zen concept pinpoints the necessity of practicing all the time, of perpetual awareness of that which exists all the time, one moment following the previous one, the next moment superseded by the next one. The chain of future anticipation is quietly released by a practice that begins now, regardless of the past, not because it justifies the past but in order to stop the past from becoming the present and the future, in order to allow the past to collapse of its own accord. After all, we are the consummate product of the past at this moment, and consist of the past whether the past consists of anger and worries, or whether it is a lifetime of entanglements, vices, debts, guilt, and responsibility.

But few can recreate themselves altogether and so facilely. Usui’s formula thus calls for a measured, tentative, but psychologically sound approach, reminding us not to expect too much but to expect something small and to be content with incremental steps. Hence, “just for today” is all we need to do, and if it works, if it is feasible, we can go on to renew the sentiment tomorrow. If we cannot make it last a whole day, then part of it, even a small part of it, even just for this moment — that is sufficient. We can return later, tomorrow, or another day — if we are being honest with ourselves and really intend to change that which plagues us, haunts us, frustrates us. We have no where to go if we cannot make this work today, so let us begin.

Anger and worry are probably the most important tempers that harm a person’s sense of balance. Anger and worry completely invert the ordered balance of the self, turn it inside out, making the self completely vulnerable and dependent on the vicissitudes of circumstances, putting us in the control of emotions and of others. Expressions of anger and worry signify a renunciation not of self but of self-control, self-discipline. Anger and worry are consuming of every spiritual resource, undermining and overthrowing years of positive work in a flash, especially if the anger and worry undermine health and relationships.

At the same time, we can recognize that anger and worry are difficult to control. They are vestiges of animal instinct, unconsciously so for animals and unconsciously so for people, too, until we human beings assert self-discipline in ourselves. How to assert self-discipline is based not on existing psychological states curbed, like biting the tongue or suppressed, like bad memories forgotten, but on a slow and incremental practice that begins with the moment, begins “just for today.”

Cynical modernity argues that there are no blessings to be grateful for because everything has to be wrested from life: money, power, pleasure, things. Here again is an animal instinct enshrined, a Darwinism projected on human capacities. Those so-called blessings that modernity treasures, having wrested from others, are exactly what are not blessings but curses, millstones, burdens, and sorrows. The true blessings are taken for granted, but they are those deeper than superficial items or acquaintances or situations. The blessings can indeed be material things and social control, but wealth and control are relative in world society. Those well off complain about not enough material control, and those in poverty unconsciously envy and covet wealth as a projection of guilt. Hidden within each person is the potential to break through the relative and to discover what are true blessings for themselves. Some blessings are circumstantial, but the most important is self-awareness and the possibility of identifying the self with the universe. This potential is a blessing because it must be nurtured and cultivated in order to emerge and bring itself to fruition, at least just for today.

What is our work on this earth? Is it a career, profession, busyness pursued for gain, idleness pursued for leisure? Is anyone obliged to pursue anything more than the work of the soul in discovering itself, in harmonizing itself (to God, to Nature, to the universe, to the planet)? Whatever form of work one has, that work must always be the work of enlightenment, or, to use a more modern diction, that of consciousness. What we do to buy food and pay rent is not work but social necessity. That which we do to enrich the soul is our work. Let us pursue it diligently.

Usui’s original formulation speaks of being kind to people. That is a functional necessity, but it also raises our temperament to an ordering of emotions and sentiments that will at least not interfere with our higher work and salutes the principle that is within each person.

But to be all-sustaining, our kindness must extend to the whole of living beings, and to the nonliving in the form of the objects around us and with which we extend our personalities. Sentient beings (humans, animals, trees) point us to an interconnectedness that obliges us to recognize a vast context to our existence. Non-sentient beings (rivers, mountains, seas, clouds) oblige us to recognize an order of existence beyond ourselves, and are therefore humbling.

The historical response to non-sentient beings has been destruction and dominance, exploitation for resources. Such social activities become the basis of culture and the values a culture projects. The results serve a few but ultimately undermine all. Without a new psychological disposition, we cannot achieve any sense of enlightenment. Without disengaging from these activities and their deleterious outcomes, we cannot achieve any sense of enlightenment. Without a new form of kindness that involves a reciprocity between our spiritual goals and the well-being of the sentient and non-sentient world around us, we can go no further than our present state, which is one of chaos and lack of self-discipline, a state likely to slip farther and farther into a moral abyss and a material collapse.

The effort of self-change — let alone enlightenment or consciousness — has to start somewhere. We only need for it to work incrementally, just for today. At least that much. Only that much and we begin to see that it can work tomorrow as well, and indefinitely thereafter, at least for ourselves. Reciting Usui’s little formula at the beginning of the day can set our daily course.


The garden is the apex of human creativity as a microcosm of the universe. The garden is multidimensional, tactile, visual, artful, aesthetic, life-giving. It is embedded into the very life forces that the mind seeks to understand.

Yet the successful transference of this intimation is up to the designer of the garden, the conception of philosophical and artistic meaning projected into this filled space. The Garden of Eden is attributed to God, and the great gardens of Persia, India, China, Moorish Spain — all are projected images of heaven. And the special gardens of Japan, the meditation gardens, are abstractions of Big Mind. So the garden has great potential, and our small, circumscribed backyard gardens reflect the simplicity of our skills and the smallness of our worldly desires. (The spacious barren lawns of English nobility, on the other hand, reflected the barrenness of a civilization valuing the utilitarian and ostentatious.)

For a long time, the backyard gardener has been persuaded to imitate industrial agriculture and the dreaded plantation with their endless rows of production. Permaculture introduced not only principles compatible with a natural philosophy but also garden designs compatible with the mind’s mingling of ideas and thoughts, reflecting nature as it is when not obstructed or overthrown by human design. Plants intermingle as naturally as in a forest, meadow, or shady grove, and yet productivity rewarding the human need for food is grown in abundance. The garden should be small enough to reflect the personality of the gardener, large enough to be practical, circumscribed enough to allow for individuality and circumstances. We must depend on the wisdom of nature before usurping its designs with ours.

The manner in which the garden is tended reveals to the gardener the deeper patterns of existence. Is it not more satisfying to grow a plant from seed than to transplant a potted sample grown and nurtured by another’s hand? Is not the taking of fruit, vegetables or leaves, however necessary for food, a kind of violation, a stealing of offspring? (The Jains only ate from what had already fallen, voluntarily delivered by the plant or tree, or they ate food culled by a hireling! The Japanese poets were repelled by the notion of cutting flowers for a vase rather than leaving them where they grow.) Is not the flowering at season’s end not a poignant reminder of when the course of our lives, too, is done, even in the last expression of beauty? Letting a few plants go to seed, however, and carefully collecting the fecund seeds for the next planting, is like receiving an inheritance of the past delivered to precious safeguarding, with the promise of a future, even if we will not witness it.

Like life itself, the garden starts in hope and anticipation, for Spring is in all cultures esteemed as a time for growth, beginnings, fresh possibilities. Like life, hope abets our efforts for success, and small adversities are overcome, beginning with dreaded culling of crowded sprouts, a heartless task not necessarily pursued with diligence or thoroughness by all gardeners. A natural universe does not not spare everything, either, but in paradise (or permaculture), nature takes care of these concerns to our blissful ignorance. As months pass, and vicissitudes are overcome, and the garden yields its work to eye and palette, one may count nature as blessed, and our modest role as coordinator or facilitator breaks humility. We are mere the observer. All of the processes have gone on without our understanding, without our sight, indeed, at the biological level, the microbiological level, mysterious to the eye. At most we have abetted the process, though blindly. Is the whole process just for our hunger, or are we simply a species who drops in to watch?

And then, when everything seems exhausted, we cut down the remnants or let them quietly sleep — but that is later, much later! For now it is Spring and our plans and hopes and expectations are of beginnings, and new growth, richer and more fecund than before. And we will look on best if we are quiet, attentive, easily awed, if let nature take its course, and sit beside the garden in its quiet, as when we meditate and say nothing, expecting nothing, but living in the garden — or the garden in us — in a quiet way. Approached in this way, as a daily ritual, the garden becomes our private universe, if not paradise.

Hermann Hesse wrote in Notes at Easter, in 1954:

My gardening in the course of the years has become nothing but a hermit’s pastime without any practical meaning — that is to say, it has a meaning for me alone.


Renunciation complements solitude, and is a nuanced expression of solitude, disengaging the self from aspects of its environment that do not complement the life of solitude. Thus renunciation has a psychological component as well as a spiritual one, the former addressing the self in the world and the latter intended to further assist the solitary in more integrative endeavors.

Renunciation is not mere abstinence but a conscious decision about one worldly practice at a time, culminating in a holistic self-discipline. Each object addressed is seen as negative, life-stealing, an “unnecessary.” Each renunciation strengthens the self for the next level, the next encounter with the world. The conventional sense of abstinence is not to pursue or partake of something for a given time, for example, religious abstinence from flesh on certain days or seasons. The conventional sense pales in efficacy when one understands that the whole business of eating flesh can be renounced for many good reasons, not all spiritual. In this example, then, the self breaks the limits of society and institutions and proves to itself that renunciation is an intrinsic good. Such anthropological versions of abstinence are useful among the common people for whom even these are sacrifices; they keep good order in their lives. But the solitary does not need such devices after recognizing not only the efficacy but the strengthening that renunciation provides.

Renunciation is entirely up to the individual in defining bounds, objects, and uses. Because renunciation is both horizontal (in terms of objects and cultural contexts) and vertical (in terms of spiritual and psychological efficacy), each individual must choose. Nor can one practice be disparaged and another elevated. The cultural abstinence of religions, for example, is the collective soul’s remembrance, and every tradition incorporates it. To the degree that it is weakened, so, too, is that tradition weakened. But for individuals, renunciation is not intended as sacrifice or self-punishment but as self-discipline, strength, enlightenment, and equanimity.

Renunciation rises to an ethical imperative for the conscious practitioner. Renunciation is not temporal in the sense of being indefinite because then it would hold out the possibility of reversal in the subconscious mind. Hence, while renunciation rises to the level of personal ethics, in part to confirm and convince the subconscious, it is an entirely self-sufficient act, not depending any more on logical or traditional practice or guilt.

Cultural exemplars exist but they remain lofty and unfathomable to the average aspirant — intentionally so because renunciation ought not to be thought of as easily attained. Too easy and the exercise becomes merely a group identifier. Too lofty and the exercise is unattainable. Too strange and renunciation is violently rejected, labelled as abnormal. Each objection is a plaudit of the world, even of conventional religious authorities, who want to scare off extremes and maintain a comfortable indifference and numb acquiescence among their followers. Such arguers show the lack of spiritual practice in their own lives.

Austerities, as they are called in the East, are not Western-style self-flagellation or wearing of hair-shirts. Austerities address the carnal appetites, quietly changed by force of habit and by a deep understanding of the moral truths behind the aspects of health and utility. The moral scandals of presumed practitioners of celibacy in religious institutions today have nothing to do with excessive austerities overwhelming the self, but everything to do with a fundamental indifference to spiritual practice in the institutions, and by social cultivation of narcissism, which feeds mental vanities of pride as well as bodily instincts unaddressed due to the absence of psychological and spiritual exercises.

How far does renunciation go? Everyone thinks of food, drink, sex — the favorites pleasures, the universal pleasures. But renunciation in these spheres is the easiest part. Some people combine their renouncing: spouse and house, property, worldly career or profession, money — all integral aspects of a daily life that constitutes the social norm. Renunciation is negative: not this, not that. Eventually, renunciation is not anything: not becoming, not being, a folding into emptiness. But it must begin with small practices, always in solidarity with a responsibility that is both moral and practical. What good to give up that which helps the spiritual path? Perhaps not everything is to be renounced? The individual must decide. Whatever does not help is where renunciation must first begin.

As we cannot renounce the self that we never sufficiently developed, so, too, we cannot renounce that which we do not understand. That is the nature of social and institutional instruction, in effect leaving the individual at the mercy of guilt and punishment. The solitary must first understand the object of use, the apparent need and utility, and having grasped this can begin to understand the benefit of renunciation. For example, why not renunciation of time as the first step: 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, renouncing noise, distraction, schedules, busyness? That emptiness is the most valuable part of the form which is our self. “Form is emptiness,” is the Zen saying, pointing to the space within the clay pot as the value of the form, for the space holds all the potential. Beginning in this way, renunciation is a natural process.

Renunciation complements solitude in maintaining the emptiness of form, the deepening emptiness sought in confidence and happy reassurance. Renunciation is the solitary ability to relate to the world and simultaneously to shift between the world’s forms and the world’s ultimate emptiness.