by Simon G. Brown
(Author of Modern Day Macrobiotics)
I was first introduced to macrobiotics in 1982 when my sister Melanie fell in love with a man who had been following a macrobiotic lifestyle for several years. Melanie went to macrobiotic courses at the Community Health Foundation in London and became a fully-fledged zealot. We used to argue passionately about the philosophy behind macrobiotics but I had to admit the foods were giving her more energy and her skin a radiant healthy appearance.
I had grown up with the feeling that my heart could be stronger, I had occasionally suffered palpitations and experienced pains in my chest. I had read enough to know that my current diet was far from ideal. Surprisingly for my age I experienced several acute attacks of gout at this time. I was in my early twenties. Melanie persuaded me to try a macrobiotic diet for three months. If I did not feel better she would stop nagging me. I accepted her challenge and learnt how to cook the foods. At first the food was pleasant but a bit bland. I missed my sugary foods, breads and deserts. However as time went by my enjoyment of my new foods increased and any longings for my old diet weakened. Within six weeks I noticed a gradual improvement in my health.
I was surprised to find my digestion and bowel movements greatly improved even though I was not aware of any problems before. My energy levels increased and where there used to be a heavy feeling, sometimes accompanied by a mild headache I now felt lighter and freer. It was as though a great weight holding me back was lifted. By the third month I had no re-occurrence of the gout and I felt more secure about my heart.
Naturally I continued and went to more classes, learning more about the ideas behind macrobiotic thinking. Melanie had now married a well-known macrobiotic teacher and counselor called Denny Waxman. He asked me to join him in running a macrobiotic centre in Philadelphia in 1984. I move to America and immersed myself in a complete macrobiotic lifestyle, running courses, helping Denny with his counseling and of course continuing to eat macrobiotic foods.
There was strong macrobiotic community in Philadelphia and I met many people who had recovered from all kinds of illnesses - arthritis, cancer, diabetes, asthma, eczema, migraines, ovarian cysts, heart disease, digestive disorders. I was able to see first hand the amazing healing powers the macrobiotic diet had. People who had been given a death sentence after the diagnosis of terminal cancer had managed to reverse the condition.
Despite some cynicism about the concepts surrounding macrobiotics I was still experiencing significant improvements in my health and witnessing the extraordinary range of benefits other people enjoyed. During this time I was able to study with Michio Kushi, generally recognized as the main authority on macrobiotics. His lectures were always a revelation, I came out feeling my mind had been stretched and expanded in ways I did not think possible.
I also used to assist him with his consultations where I could see first hand how he would design a specific macrobiotic diet for each person. These were heady time in macrobiotics, full classes, people queuing to get a personalized diet from counselors and large macrobiotic communities. I also enjoyed many cooking classes with Michio's wife Aveline and twice a week helped cook macrobiotic meals for the ninety or so people that came to the centre for macrobiotic dinners. For those two years in America all I did was study, work and talk macrobiotics.
In 1986 I was invited back to London to run the Community Health Foundation, Europe's largest natural health centre at the time with a macrobiotic clinic, teaching rooms, cooking school, foods shop, bookshop and restaurant. Here you could learn anything from tai chi to acupuncture. I was able to continue my connection with Denny Waxman, Shizuko Yamamoto and the Kushis as they became regular special teachers and counselors in London.
In London I started my own counseling practice and taught on macrobiotic courses. The culmination of this phase was writing a book with Doctor Hugh Faulkner, 'Against All Odds' charting his recovery from pancreatic cancer. He was given three months to live but through macrobiotics enjoyed another seven years of good health, eventually dying in his mid eighties.
Since 1993 I have continued to live a macrobiotic lifestyle bringing up four boys and helping others start their macrobiotic journeys. I was fortunate to be able to enjoy a successful career in feng shui writing many books on the subject. This book takes me back to my roots and here I want to give you the benefit of more than twenty years experience eating macrobiotically, helping thousands of other people with macrobiotics and raising my own family.
The word macrobiotics was first used by the German physician Dr. Hufeland who published his book Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Life in 1796. In 1793 he was called to the chair of medicine at Jena. His focus was on a diet of natural foods. Although primarily vegetarian he did include some animal foods. His books were later published in Japanese and it is assumed that George Ohsawa, generally considered the founder of macrobiotics, became familiar with his ideas whilst formulating his own philosophy on diet and health. George Ohsawa had recovered from tuberculosis of the lung and colon in 1911 using a diet recommended by Doctor Sagen Ishizuka.
The diet was essentially one of whole, living natural foods eaten in season. Doctor Ishizuka was a military doctor and during the late 1800s had great success in helping many people recover from the serious health problems of the time. He carried out many clinical trials and published two large volumes of his works. His theory was that the correct balance of potassium and sodium as well as acid and alkaline in the human diet leads to good health.
George Ohsawa was so grateful for his new lease of life he dedicate the rest of his life to continuing Doctor Ishizuka's work. He used the word macrobiotic, joining the Greek words macro meaning great and bios meaning life. His intention was to create a diet and philosophy to help people live a great life, to live life to the full. Having come so close to death every day was a gift and George Ohsawa was determined to make the most of the rest of his life.
Perhaps as a result of his near death experience Ohsawa put a huge emphasis on appreciation and made it one of seven essential criteria for good health. From his writings he clearly felt life was precious and had little patience with those who did not fully engage in life and did not treat their bodies with respect. Ohsawa developed a philosophy to go with the Doctor Ishizuka's ideas on food and wrote nearly three hundred books during his lifetime.
The foundation for macrobiotics was that each of us is responsible for our own life and health. At the time this was a radical and pioneering thought. People tended to just live their life and when they were ill went to a doctor for medicines. There was little consideration given to diet. George Ohsawa traveled extensively spreading his message wherever he went. He ran courses on macrobiotics and in Japan trained a group of students to go out into the world and spread macrobiotics to other continents.
Five of these, Michio and Aveline Kushi, Herman and Cornelia Aihara and Shizuko Yamamoto moved to North America. Others were to go to France, Germany and Brazil. Their greatest achievement was to successfully popularize a huge range of Japanese and Chinese ideologies, practices and products in the west, pioneering the health food movement. Under their macrobiotic umbrella came shiatsu, Do In, nine ki astrology, meditation, reiki, chanting, the I Ching, and oriental diagnosis.
Macrobiotic centers and communities sprouted up throughout America and Europe during the late 1970s becoming the place to go if you wanted to learn about ki energy, yin and yang, the five elements, trigrams and karma. During this time there was a huge explosion of interest in everything from the east.
Michio and his colleagues were also responsible for bringing tofu, miso, sea vegetables, umeboshi plums and bancha tea to the west. When I first went to America it was even common for people involved in macrobiotics to make their own futons. Members of the macrobiotic community embraced acupuncture, aikido, tai chi helping them get established.
Inevitably many of the practices that were associated with macrobiotics in America and Europe grew up and eventually left the macrobiotic family. As time went by even subjects like ki, yin and yang and the five elements were no longer seen as special to macrobiotics. Macrobiotic ideas that were pioneering in the late seventies, early eighties became mainstream by the 1990s. Logically the pool of new things to bring to west dried up and this coincided with a time when more and more people came to macrobiotics to recover from serious health problems, largely fuelled by Dr. Sattilaro's book 'Recalled by Life' which charted his recovery from cancer.
Now macrobiotics took a more serious turn with the emphasis on healing. As the successes grew and more people wrote books about their recovery from various forms of cancer through macrobiotics the whole macrobiotic diet became know as a cancer cure diet. One of the results of this was that the diet itself became more focused and clear. George Ohsawa had put the emphasis on how to choose healthy macrobiotic foods rather than list out all the recommended foods along with the different ways to prepare them.
Using his immense experience in healing Michio Kushi detailed what he described as the standard macrobiotic diet. The popularity of macrobiotics with those recovering from serious illness meant that the diet and approach became more purist, with the focus on clean, healing foods. This tended to put off people who were looking for a general healthy life style and even gave the macrobiotic approach the reputation of being extreme despite being broadly in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization.
Modern day macrobiotics is a summation of all that has gone before, taking the best of each phase and incorporating the healing foods within an open, flexible approach to healthy eating.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food", said Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine.
Macrobiotics is the ultimate healing diet. It is a flexible, safe way of eating that helps you find the foods that are just right for you. The idea is that through good health you can live life to the full. Because one of the primary influences on our health is the food we eat, macrobiotics focuses on a diet that is in essence the foods eaten by the world's healthiest societies. In fact the macrobiotic diet excels in all measures of healthy eating.
It is high in fiber, low in saturated fats, has a high mineral and vitamin content, high in complex carbohydrates, uses ingredients with a low glycemic index and load, balanced in terms of sodium and potassium as well as acid and alkaline, and consists of a wide variety of ingredients and cooking styles. Macrobiotics works on many different levels. You can use it to feed yourself more energy, to build a more healthy body, to improve your mind or to experience greater emotional stability.
Macrobiotics is a flexible approach to diet where you can use it for a short time to feel better, do it one day a week to keep your digestive system working well, try it for four months for a more dramatic improvement in health or eat that way for life. Your choice over which foods you put in your mouth will have an influence on you that goes far beyond whether you enjoy the taste. You really are what you eat as all your cells are built on the food you eat, water you drink and air you breathe.
Therefore it is important to know how a food is likely to affect you in the long term. Macrobiotics clearly describes how different ingredients; combinations and cooking styles interact with your digestive system, influence your blood quality and ultimately build a healthy body and mind. One of the long term goals of eating macrobiotically is to reach a point at which your body can begin to tell you which foods will be best for you.
The idea is that your body has a record of eating various dishes and the way you feel as a result. Imprinted in the memory of your being are all the meals you have ever eaten and way your body responds. Your body knows that every time you have something sugary your blood sugar levels become elevated leading to a period of hyperactivity. You know biologically that every time you drink coffee you become more acidic and loose fluids. Most of the time we shut out any connection we have between food and the more subtle influences it has on our bodies. Hhowever by focusing more carefully on what you eat and how you feel it is possible to bring that connection up to the surface in a way you can use it to help make food choices that are ideal for you, that are unique to your individual situation.
An important part of macrobiotics is to be able to recognize and include whole foods in your diet. These foods are still alive up until the point at which you cook them and retain their living energy. It is not just the nutrients you consume when eating but also the living energy of the foods. The living energy of the foods you eat interacts with your living energy and as a result makes you feel different.
When starting macrobiotics it is helpful to experience a diet that is totally made up of whole living foods. Generally I would recommend that at least three quarters your foods are whole living foods for general good health. This means plenty of whole grains, like brown rice, whole oats and barley, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts and fruit. Another reason for eating whole foods is that they retain greater concentrations of nutrients as processed foods oxidize loosing some of their goodness.
WHAT MAKES MACROBIOTICS SPECIAL
Macrobiotics has developed over the period of nearly a century. There has been plenty of time to test the foods and develop its full potential. It has evolved from a healthy rural Japanese diet into a set of principles that can be applied to any diet anywhere in the world. During its growth it has been examined by each new theory on healthy eating, by all the new nutritional discoveries and by the hundreds of thousands of people who have tried it. Macrobiotics has been around long enough to demonstrate its longevity as a tried and tested way of eating - this is no fad. It is a safe, common sense approach to healthy eating and healing.
Macrobiotics has always had a strong link to traditional oriental medicine. In particular Michio Kushi developed the link between the ideologies used in healing and macrobiotics. Both traditional oriental medicine and macrobiotics are based on the idea that everything has a living energy. This is similar to the principles used in practices including acupuncture, tai chi and yoga. This living energy, known as chi in China and ki in Japan and prana in India flows through our bodies carrying our emotions, beliefs and spirit.
This energy or life-force influences the way we feel, our moods and ultimately our health. Rather than using needles or herbs you can do something similar using food. Food is a very powerful healing medium as the food is carried into your blood and on to every cell in your body. We have to eat anyway so why not make each meal a healing experience for the body.
There are many influences on your energy; the weather, other people, your home, exercise, however one of the most powerful is food. Food has its own living energy and when you eat it you take this energy deep into your body, directly changing your own life-force from the inside. The food you eat not only changes your body on a biological level but also on an energetic one. Each meal has the potential to change the way you feel, your emotional state and even your long-term attitude to life.
You can estimate the kind of life-force a dish has by looking at the way it grows, its growing season, where it grows, how it is processed and the cooking method. This means you can choose a meal to change your own energy in a way you think will be most helpful to you.
For example if you wanted to be more relaxed you might choose something that grows in the autumn when the environmental energy is more settled, a food that has a round shape and that grows steadily. A sweet taste would be more relaxing. For example a pumpkin or swede. If one of these were to be cooked slowly into a vegetable stew or soup you would have a dish that contains energy that spreads out evenly and slowly helping your own energy flow in a relaxed manner.
To feel more settled you might add vegetables that grow down into the ground like carrots or parsnips. This body of knowledge is unique to macrobiotics and is an important part of being able to create a diet that uniquely helps you feel the way you need to and do the most with your life.
Macrobiotics is a unique and different approach to healthy eating as it recognizes that every food has its own living energy and that this energy influences the life-force within us.
1 It is a broad varied diet primarily consisting of grains, vegetables, fish, beans, seeds, fruit and nuts.
2 Many people have claimed that eating a macrobiotic diet has helped them recover from illness.
3 It is a flexible approach to eating that can be used from a few days to a lifetime.
4 Macrobiotic principles show you how to choose and prepare foods to feel the way you want.
5 You can eat anything as long as you know what the likely influence of that food is and are sure it will lead to good health.
6 The high fiber component of macrobiotics keeps your digestive system healthy.
7 Being low in saturated fats a macrobiotic diet enhances your blood quality improving your circulation and heart.
8 Having a low glycemic index and load macrobiotic foods encourage even blood sugar levels making it easier to loose weight and enjoy emotional stability.
9 The foods are well balanced in terms of acid and alkaline as well as sodium and potassium.
10 The predominance of complex carbohydrates means that the meals provide plenty of sustainable energy leading to greater stamina.
11 The general macrobiotic diet is high in proteins, iron, calcium and other minerals and vitamins.
12 Macrobiotic is a complete approach to healthy eating that encompasses selecting ingredients, preparation, cooking and eating.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM WRITING MODERN DAY MACROBIOTICS
Having written so many books on feng shui, nine ki, face reading, chi energy and Do In it was very exciting to finally write a book about macrobiotics, my introduction to all the other subjects.
In particular I wanted to write a book that shows just what an excellent way of eating macrobiotics is. In every way you could test a diet, whether using sodium and potassium, acid and alkaline, nutritional content, glycaemic index or load, macrobiotics excels.
I learnt a lot during my research and as a result have altered my practice for the last eighteen months to include a higher proportion of vegetables and fruit with slightly more raw foods. There is a wealth of positive information on the benefits of eating whole living grains and this inspired me to go back to eating more whole grain but whereas I ate more brown rice than anything else I now enjoy a much bigger variety of whole grains.
Working on the GI section was a revelation as some of the foods like rice cakes, puffed rice and syrups raise your blood sugar almost as quickly as refined sugar. The more whole the food is, the less it upsets your blood sugar. Many fresh fruits lead to better stability than refined grains.
I now am more careful with fried foods as the oils we use break down under the high temperatures introducing free radicals into your body. I now probably have more oil but eat it raw on vegetables (apparently increasing our absorption of nutrients) or add it to soups or stews where it cannot exceed 100C.
The results of all my research are in the book. In addition it was important to me to explain how the living energy of the foods we eat interacts with our own emotional energy in a clear understandable way. Here I have tried to focus on the essence without bringing in too many potentially confusing concepts. If you get the chance to read the book, please let me know if you think I have succeeded!
I am very keen for macrobiotics to be seen as a more open, flexible approach to eating and that it is something you can do now and again to feel good, use to recover from a health problem, eat in a relaxed way for general well being or dip into when you feel like it. This is reflected in the diet plans I designed.
I also wanted readers to understand that macrobiotics is not an all or nothing, fanatical diet and I hope this is reflected in the diet for life section where I point out that anything can be macrobiotic it is more a question of knowing the likely effect of eating a food and deciding whether that is something you want.
One of the biggest criticisms is that eating macrobiotically means you spend most of your time in the kitchen and I have tried to dispel this myth by showing how many foods can be prepared in ten minutes and how with a bit of organization you can spend one hour cooking and enjoy a complete whole food macrobiotic meal with leftovers for the next meal. It was my intention that the recipes would reflect the latest practice and here I had some welcomed help from Dragana and my sister Melanie Waxman.
MY THOUGHTS ON MACROBIOTIC CONCEPTS
I think it is excellent that there is now more of a conversation going on about macrobiotics, as it indicates a regeneration of life and vitality in the subject. As macrobiotics has gone through a quiet phase I also think it is now healthy to go through a period of enquiry and experimentation. We need to do the biological equivalent of evolving to meet a changing world and we need those mutated cells to speed up the process.
This will only happen through people breaking out and trying new ways to reactivate the energy in macrobiotics and other people joining in to support and help build on their success. To make this happen I think it is essential to encourage and embrace new thoughts and actions so that we can see what works and what does not without resorting to criticism and blame.
Here are some random thoughts of mine that have developed over twenty-five years of being a macrobiotic student, running macrobiotic centers in America and London, being a teacher and counselor, writing books and running a health food shop.
To put it all into context we need to take a brief look at the last thirty years of macrobiotics. One of George Ohsawa, Michio and Aveline Kushi and Herman Aihara's greatest achievements was to successfully introduce or at least popularize a huge range of Eastern / Japanese ideologies, practices and products to the West. Under Michio's and his colleagues' macrobiotic umbrella came Shiatsu, Do In, Nine Star Ki astrology, meditation, Reiki, chanting, the I Ching and oriental diagnosis.
Macrobiotic centers were the place to go if you wanted to learn about ki / chi, yin and yang and the five elements. The macrobiotic community was responsible for bringing tofu, miso, sea vegetables, umeboshi and bancha tea, to the West.
When I first went to America it was even common for people in the macrobiotic community to make their own futons. Members of the macrobiotic community embraced acupuncture, Aikido, Tai chi helped them to become established.
Michio deserves all our gratitude for not only being able to deliver these subjects in a clear understandable form, but also for having the generosity to spend so much of his time giving out his amazing knowledge. Inevitably many of these practices grew up and eventually left the macrobiotic family.
Interestingly once they set up their own schools some tried to actively assert their independence by distancing themselves from macrobiotics. As time went by even subjects like ki / chi, yin and yang and the five elements were no longer the sole preserve of macrobiotics.
Things that were pioneering in the late seventies and early eighties became main stream. Ohsawa's thoughts on taking responsibility for your life and health, once radical, now rolls off everyone's tongue. Logically the pool of new things to bring to the West dried up and this coincided with a time when more and more people came to macrobiotics to recover from serious health problems, largely inspired by Dr. Satalaro's book 'Recalled by Life'.
Now macrobiotics took a more serious turn with the emphasis on healing. I don't think it was a conscious decision, simply that people needing help turned up and the macrobiotic community responded. I think this transition from an amazing adventure into eastern philosophy and healing to something more focused left a lot of people behind. Where was all the excitement, the pioneering spirit now?
To some it just seemed like macrobiotic counselors were playing at doctors - the very thing George Ohsawa had railed against with his ideas of self-responsibility. That huge transition has now run its course and macrobiotics is now facing another challenge.
The first and most important idea to grasp when thinking about subjects like macrobiotics is that concepts and reality are never the same. This is essential to understand our relationship to any ideology. Reality is our unique subjective experience of life. Concepts are human being's attempts to explain reality.
We never succeed entirely; concepts are always only an approximation that works some of the time. The general rule is that the more complex the concept the further from reality it becomes. Therefore concepts including yin and yang, five elements, twelve theorems and principles, levels of health, judgment, spirals of materialization, evolution etc are not an accurate description of reality, they are one view of reality.
As much as I like thinking about them there is a clear distinction in my mind between macrobiotic ideology and real life.
It seems to be human nature that when a group of people with similar interests and beliefs get to together they push each other further and further down an intellectual path, competing to impress each other, eager to keep up so each can remain a part of the group. Some of my happiest times have been sitting in a cafe or restaurant with macrobiotic friends discussing macrobiotic philosophy.
The problem with this is that whilst incredibly stimulating for those in the group, the group as a whole sails off into the distance, getting further and further away from reality, loosing their connection with the rest of the world. Inevitably the gap between the group and the rest of society becomes too large for other people to cross and the group becomes isolated.
I believe this happened within macrobiotics. For this reason macrobiotics became a force that only appealed to those with an overwhelming reason to eat macrobiotically - hence its reputation as a cancer diet. These people have little interest in the concepts; they just want to get better. The concepts alone are no longer appealing enough to bring in large numbers of new people - times have changed.
Where concepts are important is that they color our perception of the world we live in. If you understand the concept of yin and yang you will have different ideas on diet and health. Concepts allow us to discuss our subjective experiences of reality in a way that can challenge us mentally to think about a subject in more depth.
The only real reason to cultivate another belief system is to give a different meaning to your life. If as a result of starting macrobiotics someone believes they are more in control of their life and that makes them feel good, the concepts that lead to this are helpful. If however the concepts lead to a fear of food, confusion and anxiety they are not helping.
The concept itself, whether yin and yang, the five elements etc is not the issue; the only consideration is the result of believing that ideology. It is not essential to be consciously aware of concepts; they may be interesting, enlightening and inspiring, but not essential to acquiring knowledge.
In fact you do not need any of the macrobiotic concepts to eat macrobiotically. Anyone can acquire everything they need to eat macrobiotically just by living with other people who eat that way. For example most people acquire the knowledge to eat Indian cuisine by going to Indian restaurants, children naturally acquire a second language by living in a different country. If you eat macrobiotically for long enough you will know what it feels like to take in living whole foods and develop the sensitivity to know which foods disagree with you and which help you recover from illness.
Ultimately you will intuitively know which foods are best for you. I believe that now in macrobiotics we only need the concepts that attract and encourage interest in macrobiotics and allow a person to develop and deepen their practice. It is not worth getting hung up or attached to any concept, concepts are useful as stepping stones. I have even heard concepts described as useful lies, they provide a working framework within which to experiment; they are not reality and certainly not the truth. Too many concepts can put people off a subject, making it difficult to understand and giving people more reasons not to do it.
Reality is how you feel after drinking some bancha tea, giving a hug, smelling a flower or simply laughing. Paradoxically macrobiotic teaching that aims to have us really live the Big Life has tended to be very dry and concept orientated. In my training only the cooking and eating of the foods and giving and receiving shiatsu were reality based.
By putting so much emphasis on concepts we neglect to build a solid foundation to macrobiotics and that it becomes ephemeral, transient and nebulous - it becomes something that is all in the head; it can become a self-indulgent form of mental masturbation. Not something that people are going to queue up to get involved in.
PEOPLE ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
As a subject macrobiotics is not readily accessible, understandable or clear. This has nothing to do with the name (which I like); it is that unless the whole basis of macrobiotics is communicated properly over a long period of time it can be complex, confusing and ambiguous. Of course such contradictory characteristics can also be strengths but they do mean that in its current form macrobiotics will never have mass appeal; to gain mass appeal the whole diet and philosophy needs to be summed up in a word or sentence.
Think of all the long term popular diets; Vegetarian (no meat or fish), Vegan (No meats, fish or dairy food), Food Combining (high protein foods and high carbohydrate foods at separate meals), Raw Food Diet (the title says it all), Atkin's Diet (high protein low carbohydrate) or High Carbohydrate Diet (it's in the name). Glycemic Index (Eat food that contain sugars that break down slowly).
All of these rely on only one concept. You can understand them immediately and they quickly become part of the global conversation. Even practices like homeopathy are based on one concept. It is not just a question of redefining macrobiotics it is a question reinventing macrobiotics so it has one prime concept that is clear and understandable. At this point in time I am not sure that many of the concepts are helping. Nor do I perceive that those people practicing macrobiotics use them anyway.
People are most likely to adopt something from someone else's experience of reality. "I started a macrobiotic diet and within a few days my energy levels shot up, I lost excess weight and just feel so much better." This is their reality and no-one can argue with it. Compare this immediacy with trying to get a friend to eat macrobiotically by explaining the concepts.
In my experience I found that even the basic cooking became a prisoner of conceptualization. During my time in America in the early eighties far too much emphasis was put on important things like how to layer vegetables in a nishime dish (and worse the vital categorization of vegetables for the nishime in terms of yin and yang was contradicted from one teacher to another so it was confusing to know what the layers should be) with the result that students became fanatic disciples or felt disempowered and fearful in terms of something as simple as cooking vegetables.
Some teachers even made an issue out of which direction to stir a soup! This would be acceptable if the teachers could explain it. Just saying you stir in a certain direction because energy spirals into the planet isn't enough. Who is to say that going with the flow is better than stirring against it? Surely it all depends on whether you want the energy of the food to be more active or peaceful.
As water does not consistently form a spiral in one direction when draining through a plug this ought to lead to questions and discussion regarding whether the energy spirals into the planet in one way all the time. What does happen to the spiral once it has passed through the plughole? Why would your pot of food necessarily be in the centre of a spiral of energy?
I use this to illustrate that by giving out even one poorly thought out concept during a class, students will either become very dogmatic or begin to question the validity of everything else that is claimed in the name of macrobiotics. Worse we invite ridicule of macrobiotics when the students go out and tell their friends about what they have learnt.
Non-credo needs to start with those teaching it. Ideas that started out as fascinating insights into the world we live in soon ended up being regurgitated as macrobiotic principles by people that did not really live, practice or understand them; a vital insight becomes nothing more than a stagnant second or third hand opinion. Theories that had not been put through any rigorous intellectual analysis or practical testing found their way into the growing jungle of macrobiotic philosophy.
Macrobiotic teachers went through a phase of feeling they had to put in every concept, even though they clearly could not engage in a meaningful discussion with students if they went 'off script'. I remember going to classes where the teacher could not even explain why there were basic contradictions in the concepts they put forward or why the macrobiotic version of yin and yang differed from the Chinese version.
When the teaching of a subject degenerates to this level the concepts become a major handicap to the whole movement. I have also noticed that in teaching macrobiotics on more advanced courses there is an element of pressure on the teacher (self imposed?) to impress his or her audience, to come up with that amazing revelation, to prove a depth of understanding not witnessed before.
I am sure it is part of human nature and we all have these little impulses to shine. In macrobiotics it meant that there was little consistency in how the concepts were interpreted and expressed. All the teachers I have met have been sincere and well intentioned and I think it is nothing more than general human nature that these situations arise - they are certainly not unique to macrobiotics.
I think we need to recognize that students generally put more value on a well-organized course that methodically and carefully takes them through to completion and leaves them with a feeling of having something tangible and lasting to offer the world . Many trainings in similar fields are skills based. In macrobiotics this would be the cooking, diagnosis and working with people; unfortunately too many macrobiotic classes have involved someone talking whilst everyone else sits down taking notes.
THE MACROBIOTIC DIET
I also think we now need to get away from classifying food as part of the macrobiotic diet or not part of the macrobiotic diet; or that foods are good or bad. Instead we need to be able to explain the likely effects of eating different foods and let people choose if that is something they want. More advising than prescribing. For example it is possible to describe why you might want to drink coffee and what the possible ill effects could be, or under whic circumstances you would want to avoid it, without declaring it inside or outside the diet.
Clear, simple guidelines are important for people starting a new way of eating, for example Òtry the standard macrobiotic diet for three monthsÓ, but they do not need to be put forward as the macrobiotic diet in its entirety. Michio's 'Standard Diet' is an amazing piece of work and a very well thought out diet plan. This alone stands out as one of the greatest contributions to macrobiotics.
From my experience it works in terms of helping recover from poor health. However, if macrobiotics is more than recovering from health then long term practitioners should not feel confined by a particular version of the macrobiotic diet. As far as I am concerned it is fine for someone to eat macrobiotically in terms of whole living foods for one day a week as a form of cleaning out his or her digestive system, to try it for three months to improve a health complaint or do it for life. It does not have to be all or nothing.
The 'all or nothing' approach (I am not really sure where this came from but again may be part of human nature - a group of people doing something together see someone wandering from their version of the set path as a threat / failure / letting down the group / compromising the principles?) has led to guilt, regular secret binges among people involved in the movement and a kind of emotional pressure that people outside the movement rightly interpret as fanaticism.
I think we need to let go of the feeling that we need to sell macrobiotics, to argue the case or even to persuade. This would effectively prevent people making ridiculous claims on its behalf and create the impression we are fanatics out to convert people. Why not let it grow organically by example, by people simply having good experiences with macrobiotics; make it a happy movement that people feel naturally drawn to.
I suspect that macrobiotics will always be something of a specialist approach to food and health and it will mostly appeal to those who have the time and desire to take on something more challenging. Regardless we need to make sure that everything within macrobiotics makes it accessible and easy for them to continue.
GROWING THE MACROBIOTIC MOVEMENT
One other casualty of over conceptualisation has been the ability of macrobiotic leaders to reproduce themselves. In nature every organism has to survive and reproduce. In macrobiotics during the eighties the demands to master all the concepts to the extent that people could go out and teach macrobiotics themselves became so great that the new generations of teachers and counsellors never really made it.
People studied for years but never got the blessing or encouragement from their peers to go out and make a career of it, with the result that the whole movement imploded. I always found Mishio, Aveline and Shuzuko very encouraging and was present when they encouraged others but there was also a group of people who had studied for many years with them who may have felt that having spent so many years in macrobiotics ourselves we want everyone else to reach the same level before also being a teacher, cook or counsellor.
Looking back it should have been possible in the early eighties to have had a macrobiotic teacher / cook / counsellor in every large town, as has happened with other practices. Our failure to reproduce has meant that macrobiotics has not been taken out into the community and spread on a one to one basis. People need to have a clear vision of the end when embarking on a training of any kind and this has not been clear to potential recruits.
HONESTY AND MATURITY
We need a frank and honest appreciation of what macrobiotics is and what it can do. Yes it is the best diet I know for healing, but it has limitations. It does not work for everybody and it is not necessarily appropriate for everybody. A true master is someone who knows the limitations of what they do.
Most people would rather get advice from someone who has the maturity to advise on what something cannot do rather than listen to a zealot whose perspective is blinded by naive enthusiasm. I think the ability to acknowledge one's limitations comes out of confidence in what you do. Bravado and bigotry can be a mask for insecurity and lack of understanding. There is nothing wrong with accepting the problems and challenges that macrobiotics has and it certainly does not weaken the strength of the argument.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
In my opinion to make macrobiotics more appealing we need to prune out all the concepts that get in the way of people starting and practicing macrobiotics. This is not a criticism of any of the concepts but simply that there are too many of them. One should be enough, possibly three at the most. At the same time we need to meditate on what makes macrobiotics different, special or interesting. What should that concept be? If I were to choose one concept it is; 'That people and food both contain energy, and that when you eat, your energy changes according to the foods you choose and the attitude you have towards your food.'
This encompasses the way foods grow and their preparation for the table and a description of the nature of the energy of the food and our attitude; yin and yang and the five elements provide good working models, but as they have been borrowed from traditional Chinese medicine (and in the case of yin and yang altered) this needs some thought. We only need to be experts in one thing to be of value to society.
All that is required is one concept that people can understand, feel inspired by and use in their daily life. Later if they wish to deepen their interest, they can embark on a structured program of study and possibly start a career of their own in macrobiotics. To be successful the concept needs to be one that generally has a happy outcome for all those that use it.
It certainly needs to be free from inducing the fear factor, a guru mentality, fanaticism, isolation, or obsession. Although as a concept this might seem removed from current nutritional thinking in my view we need to be different and distinct to stand apart from the wealth of nutritional based diets that come and go.
I welcome all the views that people have and I am always interested in listening to those that are different to mine. For me now is the time to get back to basics and focus on one thing we can do well. Personally I have a great appreciation for my journey through macrobiotics and enormous respect for all those that helped me along the way.
I would not change any part of my experience so far - I have met incredibly stimulating people who have enriched my life immeasurably. It worked for me but I am also aware it did not for many others. Let's renew the spirit with new open discussions and explore new ways to move forward.