A spiritual tightrope to mental health

It can be pretty overwhelming to actively start a spiritual journey. What does that even mean? Where do we begin? How can we separate religion from spirituality and energy from magic? Believable from farfetched? Even these questions, never mind the answers, eluded me before I began my spiritual journey.


My first experience of spirituality actually ended up leaving me temporarily disillusioned from it. I had met a woman who described herself as an energy healer and had just opened myself to blindly trusting/following her. It was only a month later, after a lot of crazy events, that I realised that my life was becoming inwardly and outwardly chaotic and that it would continue to do so if I continued on this path with her. It was after a paranoid phone call from her that unbound her truth from my own and distinguished for myself between ‘believable’ and ‘farfetched.’ It wasn’t that I thought she was lying, in fact I knew that she fully believed the things she told me which made it worse. This phone call involved a story that leaned heavily towards the farfetched side of things which begged the question, is it possible to be highly sensitive to energy but not grounded or secure enough to stay sane amongst the imbalances of the world? It had been happening for a while, but this was definitely the decisive moment in which I let go of this idea that someone who could sense things as being this ethereal being that knew all the answers. Because in reality I think we can all sense things, we’re all naturally intuitive when not being clouded by the mind.


It is only recently that I have begun seeing the link between spirituality and mental health. For me now anyways you can’t have one without the other. The practice of spirituality is all about looking inside yourself and separating yourself from your thoughts which is a technique that’s often taught in CBT therapy. Psychology and spirituality often overlap, I know this now through pursuing both, but this wasn’t always obvious to me.


Overtime spirituality has become less overwhelming to me, especially when I view it in terms of mental health. Lady Gaga said in an episode of The Me You Can’t See that the lines between her feeling like she wanted to hurt herself and feeling good about herself were actually pretty close together. That there wasn’t much space in between , that it’s all in the little things . I think this is true for spirituality. Many of us are taught to believe that there will be this explosive awakening . But it seems to me that as Lady Gaga had alluded to, the line between feeling aligned with yourself and the world and the line of getting lost in your thoughts and old trauma patterns are actually pretty close. We just need to do things that align and push us a little bit towards our true self and that is what leads us to feeling balanced and connected.


It was only after I met with Reiki Master Rebecca Bredenhof that I realised that my first experience with spirituality had made me a little edgy around spirituality. The feeling of being led forward by someone else’s ideals and realising that they aren’t your own until it is too late was terrifying to me. So, I was a little reluctant to open myself up to something like Reiki again. I’d put Reiki in a box as something more mystical that had no practical application or basis to real life. Despite this, it was when I was out for a walk, on a little street beside my house that I randomly looked around me and saw there was a Reiki Centre and I knew that I wanted to explore this once and for all, to see for myself rather than have an opinion paraphrased from other people.


Reiki is a practice that I had always heard about in the background or that came up often among new age spiritualists. Like a lot of people, I find myself wary of these practices, not because of what they aim to achieve or what they mean, but mostly because I’ve found in the past that the loudest of the new age spiritualists tend to be the ones that miss the point completely. At least in practice if not in theory.


I had originally wanted to do an interview as I had tried to write something before from my personal opinion and it just didn’t sound right or natural. So, I thought it would just be a simple case of questions followed by answers. Nothing can go wrong with the writing if it’s just questions and answers, right? It was with this attitude that I approached my first interview with Rebecca Bredenhof, Reiki Master. I had my list of questions in my hand and my recorder ready on my phone. I had thought that this would lead to a more natural interview flow and allow me to relax and not worry about remembering everything we spoke about.


It was clear to me when I came to meet her that these were all tactics that I had to let go of. She welcomed me in, instructed me to take my shoes off and we went upstairs to her studio. The studio was a soft welcoming environment, like a warm cushion. The sunlight was shining through the windows onto the satin pillows giving it a warm tone, and I felt instantly relaxed despite the sound of roadworks outside. There was a room where group Reiki took place and then a private room where the private Reiki sessions took place. The place was beautiful, but it had a humble vibe, both fitting of a Reiki master of 25 years and of newcomers beginning their journey.


As we sat down to talk, she was reluctant for me to record the interview and was hesitant to dive right into the questions, wanting to know a little bit about me before we began.

I told her a little bit about myself and then we naturally came onto the topic of Reiki. Looking back, I’m happy she steered the interview this way, had I had it my way, it would have been stale and devoid of any natural flow, just my questions and her answers.


Reiki is a type of energy healing and a spiritual practice or a way of living. She spoke of it as originating in Japan 100 years ago and that the word Reiki comes from the Japanese words “rei” (universal) and “Ki” (life energy). Quite a young practice in the realm of spirituality I thought.


We spoke more about what brought her to becoming a Reiki Master, how she had never intended to teach and become a master. In Reiki there are 2 degrees you can follow, the 1st degree and the 2nd degree and after that if you feel an impulse to teach you can begin your masters training. Rebecca had told me that she had only wanted to do the first degree, so she would be able to look after her health, which is one of the many benefits of Reiki. As she continued her study, she became compelled to complete the second and then compelled again to begin her Master training. And now she is here, in a corner of the Hague in her own Reiki studio.


We spent some more time talking about her experiences, the most amazing of which was her 16-day research trip to Japan where she and a group of researchers visited the spots where Reiki originated. I also got very side- tracked by her specialisation work with ancestral line healing and could probably be compelled to write a whole thesis on the effect that trauma in your ancestor line has on the people of today and in turn the political and social world.


I was finding this all very fascinating, but I still didn’t feel like I actually knew what Reiki was. I didn’t have a tangible answer. I should’ve known I wouldn’t be given one in words, everything I’ve been learning about spirituality and alignment has been teaching me that being conscious is not something that can be thought, only felt. It is not a mental concept.


It was here that she offered me a short Reiki treatment. She had thought that I would be able to write better of the experience being able to share my own, once again leading me away from the mental concept and leading me towards the feeling. I lay down on a table, similar to a massage table, and she put a pillow under my head and knees along with a blanket over my body. I asked her if anyone ever got nervous before this, she surprised me by saying no. Do you feel nervous? She asked. I let out a little laugh- I still don’t know if I was or not.

She sat behind me and the session began. She began by placing her hands on my face for a long time, then the side of my head and then other parts of my chest and torso. The physical feeling, I can describe, is that it was warm, her hands felt warm through the blanket and I felt my body get warm. Throughout the session I had moments where I was lost in thought, and I’d get annoyed at myself for not being present. But eventually as the session went on, I relaxed, and I let go. And there were a few points where there were just no thoughts, I’m not sure how fleeting these moments were but they were enough. It wasn’t until we finished the session that I felt the full extent of the relaxation. Like something had released, like an energised sleepiness as paradoxical as that sounds. A pure lightness of being.


Rebecca had said that as a practitioner giving Reiki was one of the most relaxing things she could do. She spoke of her own practices of doing it on herself which she did every day, how it had made her life easier and more complicated at the same time. Easier in that she felt balanced within herself, more in tune with her body and to any illnesses that may have manifested there. More complicated in that she could not help but to look at the balance of energy in the world. A world so out of balance politically and socially. I think this is something we can all relate to on some level, it’s so easy to become drained and overwhelmed with the injustices of the world and how small we all seem in comparison. Speaking to Rebecca about this made me realise that it’s okay to feel these imbalances, and that we’re not meant to fix them in one big swoop. And that we are not, in fact, small. That we can make a big difference by a combination of smaller acts. It made me realise how much of a difference she herself must be making, the power of putting one person out into the world feeling aligned and able to give to others, even if it’s just yourself, is immense and leading the way for a greater consciousness to develop and for beautiful things to occur.