We can’t be totally sure that Melissa D’Errico is the only person on earth who practices usui reiki with one hand. But if anybody wants to wager there’s a second amputee reiki master out there, we’ll take the bet. D’Errico was just 16 when she began learning this traditional Japanese healing art, which (per multiple studies) can provide relief from chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and other challenges that often accompany limb loss.
A congenital upper-limb amputee, D’Errico is familiar with the health battles that amputees commonly face. She was so self-conscious about her limb difference that it took her most of a decade to recognize herself as a fully empowered reiki master. “I was born without my left hand,” she tells Amplitude. “So I just thought, ‘I’m probably only half-good at this.’”
She’s gotten way past those reservations. And she has always been a firm believer in reiki’s benefits for anyone (amputee or not) who seeks peace, balance, and an overall sense of well-being.
Forgive me for asking, but how do you pronounce reiki?
It’s pronounced “ray-kee.” Rei is Sanskrit for “universal,” and ki is “energy.” So reiki means “universal life” or “universal energy.”
And then you practice a version called usui reiki. What’s distinctive about that form of reiki?
It’s named after Usui Sensei, the gentleman who rediscovered reiki back in the early 1800s. They talked about how Buddha sat under the bodhi tree and received all these messages about how to achieve enlightenment. Well, Dr. Usui did kind of the same thing, but he did it in his own way through meditation. He received images of these different symbols, and each symbol denotes different elements of healing. Reiki goes back thousands of years, and nothing was written down—everything was passed down through word of mouth, and not very much transferred to the present day. So Dr. Usui is kind of the grandfather of reintroducing it to the world.
How did you become aware of it?
My father was a reiki master teacher, and he learned under William Rand, who is the gentleman who opened reiki up to America. He’s still around, and he’s still teaching today. He gave me my first attunement when I was 16 years old. I got my second-level attunement through my father. And then he also gave me my attunement to be a reiki master.
What is an “attunement”?
There’s three levels, and in each level you receive different symbols to instill these energetic pathways—like turning on a switch in your being. It probably wasn’t until I was 27 or 28 that I actually really used it a lot and became aware that I can actually do this. With me missing a left hand, I never really spoke about reiki with anyone and never practiced it on other people. I only did it on myself. It took me a long time to believe in myself.
Would it be correct to say that reiki helped you get there?
I think it helped me realize how whole I was. I shouldn’t say I thought I was not whole, but I was born without my left hand, so I just thought, ‘I’m probably only half-good at this.’ But I really had to tune in to my awareness of my missing hand. When I think about how I feel now, compared to how I felt 30 years ago, I practice now as though my missing hand is there. It is there, energetically.
So is the transfer of energy through the hands? Sorry to be asking such basic questions; I’m just not familiar with reiki.
It’s not really a laying on of hands. It’s more of a hovering of hands. You hover over areas of the body. You might start at the crown of the head and then move down the chakras, down the center of the body, and go all the way down to the feet. Wherever you hover the hands, it could be an inch off the body, or it could be three feet. You find where you feel the energy as the practitioner, and you trust your intuition. If you feel like there’s something stuck, something that’s holding energy from flowing, you give loving energy to that area and try to move that stuck energy out of the way. The treatment could take 10 minutes, or it could take an hour and a half. It really just depends.
You can even do reiki at a distance. You have to call upon the energy in the universe, receive this healing energy, and then I can give loving energy and healing to somebody else. Reiki practitioners are not healers. We are basically conduits to receive energy. I mean, we all have this energy. All humans do. But when you’re attuned to reiki, it’s turned up to a higher level.
You mentioned it took a long time for you to believe in yourself as a practitioner—more than 10 years. Describe that journey to me. Was it a slow process, or did something just click for you suddenly?
I have two children. One is 18 years old now, and the other will be 16 soon. When my daughter was nine months old, she had a clogged tear duct. She had it since she was born, and nothing was helping. We were a month away from having surgery for her. So it’s Christmas Eve, and I’m sitting there nursing her, just sitting there and rocking her for about two hours. And it just occurred to me: “Why have I never done reiki on her?” Up until then I had never done reiki on anyone else. I had only practiced it on myself. So I did reiki on her for almost two hours. And the next morning, my husband came in and said: “She doesn’t have the eye thing.” And I’m like, “What do you mean?” And literally, the clogged duct went away.
I don’t know if it was the reiki, or asking Santa for something for Christmas, or praying. It could have been a culmination of everything. But every time I tell the story, I get chills. She ended up not having to have the surgery, and she stopped using the eyedrops. So from then on, I knew I needed to do reiki more often. I’m not saying I can heal everyone or that it always works. But I knew it could work, and that I could help people.
So when people come to you for treatment, is that called an attunement?
No, there’s two different things. Just to receive reiki healing is like getting a massage. But we’re not massaging. We’re technically not touching, we’re just feeling energy. Not being able to touch was a really hard thing for me to learn and accept, because I love touch. That’s one of my love languages.
If I’m giving someone an attunement, I’m basically teaching them reiki. It’s like a six-hour course for each level. I teach them how reiki works and why it works, so they can perhaps practice reiki on themselves.
If someone comes in for reiki healing, what sort of knots are they usually asking you to untangle?
A lot of my clients have emotional stuck energy. Some have physical pain, but most of them are seeking relief from emotional or mental pain, things they have been living with. Sometimes it’s their last call—nothing else is working, they’ve tried psychotherapy, they’ve tried other modalities, and they’re not making progress. They might be dealing with a divorce or a death in the family. I’ve had people come in who are suicidal. Other people are just tense and need to relax.
I have a young lady who’s in high school, and she suffers from an eating disorder. I have tried to help her become confident enough to learn how to cook, how to eat, how to portion, and how to be empowered to harness her own energy. Universal energy is is intelligent. It knows where to go and what to do. But I might detect something that’s preventing it from getting where it needs to go. That release of energy, when it happen, can get very emotional.
What about physical pain? Do you often work on people who are dealing with chronic pain, disability, limb loss, that sort of thing?
I’ve worked on people who have breast cancer, severe scoliosis, spinal injuries, things like that. I’ve never worked on an amputee, but I’ve been trained about how to do it. When you do treat an amputee, you treat the whole body. So if a leg is missing, you treat them as if the leg is still there. There’s so much energy that’s stuck, that’s not processed yet, where that limb was lost. So the reiki energy can really push that out of the way and bring relief.
If somebody wanted to find a reiki practitioner in their area, where would you send them?
You want to be careful with who you go with. The best way to be confident on who you’re choosing is to go through a national organization. I’m certified through the International Association of Reiki Professionals.
OK, I just Googled them and they have a portal to find a reiki master. So basically, anyone I find in that database is probably well trained and credible?
Yeah, if they’re listed there, they have to be legit. They have to upload their certificates that prove they’ve received education from good sources. There’s also a podcast I would recommend to anybody who’s curious about reiki. It’s called Reiki Lifestyle, and it’s hosted by Colleen Benelli, who works with William Rand. She and her daughter do something called the weekly reiki share. It’s a distance reiki event every Tuesday. They do it on Zoom, but you can turn your camera off and just listen. They’re basically guiding you in a meditation and offering distance Reiki. That’s a great place to start for anybody who just wants to give it a try.