I am always a bit melancholic as summer gives way to fall, and this year has been no exception. The change of season reminds me that the first anniversary of a dear friend’s death is looming. The boys have gone back to school, I have a birthday around the corner, a deadline to meet, a season’s worth of commitments made long ago that are now upon me.

A week ago, I could feel my own personal dark cloud settling over me like a cloak. And then, almost on a whim, I enrolled in a two-day course on Reiki healing. Last fall, hanging out with my friend Diane, sipping tea on the couch and chatting through the early autumn afternoons, I often found myself wanting to put my hands on her – as if the simple power of touch might somehow bring some small solace to us both. Sometimes, I gave in to the urge and rubbed her feet, or held her ankles in my hands as we talked.

But we are a hands-off culture, and to reach out in this way, human to human, hands to body, almost always means crossing some kind of barrier. We may feel free to talk about anything, but to lay our hands on another person is not something most of us do regularly or casually. For me, the impulse to heal through touch has always been there; what I lacked was any belief that my touch might actually be helpful or welcomed.

Two days of hands-on Reiki and I still don’t know if my hands are of much use to anyone but me. But I have learned this: simply settling into a quiet space with another person and allowing our hands to speak for us, to say to a friend or loved one, “You matter to me,” invites a sense of well-being. There is nothing quite like the gift of time and a loving touch to communicate caring and compassion – that became clear as I took my turn upon the table on Sunday, while my fellow students laid their hands upon my body and invited their Reiki energy to serve the highest healing good. It was so simple. So quiet. So practical. So wonderful.

And you know what? That elegiac case of “the blues” that visits me like clockwork every September has pretty much vanished into thin air. I’m not certain I’m cured, but it certainly seems as if some sort of healing has been going on here. Out for a run, I inhale the soft scents of the late-summer woods and give thanks for the fleeting beauty of the season. Each time I pause and put a hand upon my own heart, I’m almost absurdly pleased to feel it in there, beating steadily away. Laying Gracie out on the bed and laying my hands on her old arthritic haunches, I am filled with gratitude for all the years of walks we’ve shared, for all the mornings she got me up out of bed and out the door. She thumps her tail upon the mattress: could it be that she’s grateful, too? Sliding my palms against my husband’s sore back and breathing with him, I think how lucky we are, to have known and loved and shared one another’s bodies for a quarter century now. “That was nice,” he says, “thank you.” His back may not be better, but we are, reconnected by touch. Out in the garden, my hands at rest on my neighbor Debbie’s shoulders, I watch a hummingbird hovering over the petunias and am struck by the way this tiny, vibrating being embodies words we heard in class: “An invisible but palpable life force energy infuses and permeates all living forms. This energy is infinite, limitless, and pure.” Visiting a sick friend, I can tell she has no energy for conversation. But we can still spend time together in companionable silence as she reclines on her porch, my hands gently cradling her aching head.

I am a beginner, with four days of Reiki experience under my belt. Sitting with my hands cupped in my lap, drawing Japanese symbols in the air in my imagination, whispering strange words to myself, envisioning the highest healing good, I’m not quite sure whether I’m praying or meditating, or just opening myself up to forces already at work in the universe. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe what’s important is simply to live in a state of awareness, and to give ourselves and others the opportunity to take a few moments each day to move back into balance and harmony with our souls, our bodies, our environment, one another.