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time, of perpetual awareness of that which exists all the time, one moment following the previous one, the next moment superseded by the next one.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.