I recently read that scientists sequencing the human genome have found human chromosomes hold just 19,000 – 20,000 protein encoding genes, far fewer than the 200,000+ we first thought. By the time we are born, these genes have manufactured our body, complete with a functional nervous system comprising just about all the neurons we will ever have. It has even pre-wired just enough of these neurons in our central and peripheral nervous system for us to explore our environment and learn. But that’s all. The rest of who we become is through the synaptic connections that form, dissolve and reform as we experiment, respond to external input, and absorb feedback as we test our boundaries. What we learn and how we respond changes how we perceive the world beyond.
This is one of the reasons we can all be present at one event, and potentially all witness it differently. If we assume there is one objective truth, then the variable must be our perception, not the event itself.
When first asked to ponder this concept I was in California, attending a weekend retreat to rediscover the inner me. This was the late 1990s, and I had never attended anything like this before. Although I was deeply suspicious of new-age introspection, to my surprise, I found the weekend thought-provoking. This in particular—the idea that each of us has a perspective colored by our experience—resonated and has stayed with me. Reflecting on it has given me a valuable way to explore who I am and who I wish to be.
At that retreat, this image came to mind: I could see myself looking out at the truth as if from the center of a huge onion, each layer a filter coloring my perspective. The layers had been laid down by past experiences, beliefs, and interactions. Some had been created intentionally, the result of interactions with parents, relatives, teachers, peers, and society. Some were of my own making, put in place deliberately or unconsciously at various ages and never thought of again. Perhaps they were useful at the time; perhaps they were the misunderstandings of a child in an adult world. I realized seeing the truth through these layers might drive behavior too, provoking repeated unfruitful patterns that I simply hadn’t bothered, or hadn’t learned, to recognize.
That weekend in California, I did not have Reiki, I just had a problem—the awareness that I was living inside layers of programming that were not necessarily serving me. I felt stuck at the center of this giant onion with no tools to help me out.
I wondered what life might be like if I could just remove all the layers and view the world without filters. If only I could do this, I would be able to comprehend undeniable truth. But then I thought further: such a person could have experienced no part of the world; they would have no discernment. Such an existence would be even simpler than the way a newborn baby sees the world: with purity but no understanding. This way of knowing would be at the cost of all worldliness.
So, each onion-layer is there for a reason. When each layer first came into being it may have served an important purpose; maybe it never did. Perhaps a layer arrived accidentally, or as a protection strategy; some layers are likely to be old programming—societal expectations, dogma, or someone else’s good or bad intention. Such layers may have never served us.
At that retreat I didn’t have any answers, or any safe way to approach and assess the layers of my onion. I could just see them impacting how I viewed myself and the world beyond, and not all seemed to be serving my highest good. It was only after I had learned Reiki that I found I had the tool I needed. Reiki helped me understand that the valuable question is not how a layer came into being (do we really need to know?); what matters is, does it serve me now?
Reiki didn’t require me to talk about my layers, or to reexperience the events that led to their creation. Reiki offered me a way just to be with myself. Without judgment or opinion, it gave me permission to be patient, to be with my onion, to accept all of it as me in that moment, to be ok with this being so, to be willing to accept and witness change should this occur. Then, sometimes, during or even following a Reiki session, I would have an aha! moment. I still have occasional aha! moments. These are moments of clarity when something becomes blindingly obvious—so obvious it seems unbelievable I have never considered it before! For me these aha! moments have always been gentle and yet surprising too. The aha! will often be about something I do that clearly doesn’t serve me, something I do intentionally or cluelessly, sometimes repeatedly! Even in the act of acknowledging this, somehow something shifts, and I know I am changed. In that moment I imagine another layer of my onion releasing and floating free. I will never be the same again; I will see just a little more clearly.
An aha! moment may be of a positive trait: perhaps something we have not previously considered or appreciated about ourselves; perhaps a trait others have observed in us, even told us about in the past, that we may have discounted, or been unwilling to admit. With each aha! we might become aware of the lenses influencing us to act or think as we do. Once seen, if we consider them to be of benefit in the present, we can keep them. Just because we see a layer during or after a Reiki session, doesn’t mean to say it must be released. It might have value for now, even if only for a short time. In the future, we may want to let it go. There is no need to release something before we are ready—even if we are aware of a possible sell-by date!
Is this refinement a process that will ever end? To my mind, no. Choosing how we see, respond, and act in the world is a lifelong process. None of it need be a struggle. I remember looking back after a couple of years of processing my layers, wondering if I was done. I certainly felt much better: I was better able to appreciate who I was, to enjoy what was possible, to trust more and worry less. It was simply easier to see out with so many unhelpful layers gone. Well, I am now two decades on from then and, though I feel clearer still, I can be surprised by what comes up. Some of what arises even now is old, old stuff; some is new—layers of perspective or programming that have arrived since starting this work. Living more aware of these means unhelpful new programs don’t seem to take hold in quite the same way. I am even sometimes aware of them as they come into being. As with anything else that presents during a Reiki session, I welcome these layers that are part of my experience now, sit with them, and see what happens. I explore them with a soft, non-critical eye. If they serve me, they will stay; if they do not serve my highest good, if they do not let me do my work honestly and with integrity, I settle back and enjoy imagining them float away.
by Michael Emanuel
 For an approachable exploration of this subject, see Eagleman, David. (2020) Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. Vintage Books (ISBN 9780307949691)