On December 28th around 8 p.m., Susan and I were in a restaurant having dinner with some friends. There was a call on my cell phone from Norio Kushi. Norio and I have been close friends for many years. He wanted to let me know personally that his father had passed away that morning. He wanted to give me the details before the news went public. Knowing this day would come did not lessen the shock.
Michio and Aveline Kushi were my spiritual parents. They invited me into their family shortly after we met. Even though I am dedicating this memorial to Michio, it is difficult for me to think of and remember him without also appreciating and acknowledging Aveline.
I met Michio in February, 1969 when he came to lecture in Philadelphia before we opened our store, Essene. I got to the lecture early simply so I could ask him a question. I told him I was opening a macrobiotic store, and asked him if he had any advice for me. His words were: “Keep it clean. If it isn’t clean, it isn’t macrobiotic.” These words stuck with me forever, and I think his words were one of the keys to our success. The same effort we put into keeping the store spotless, we put into the quality of our food and the quality of service to our customers.
At 19, I was lost and confused, and had no idea about how I wanted to live my life. The one thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want to follow in the suggested path set by society. I had recently read George Ohsawa’s books that talked about a brighter future and how we could create our health and happiness, but I needed more. At the lectures, Michio spoke of everything under the sun, from the meaning of life, to how to cure cancer, to world peace. One, peaceful world was the central theme to Michio’s message. He taught that world peace can only be achieved through healthy people.
On the second day of Michio’s lectures in Philadelphia, I was invited to the home of Rod and Peggy House with about twenty others. At this gathering, Michio said that he didn’t want many friends. The statement startled me. Michio followed by saying he only wanted just a handful of friends who could really understand this way, and together we could change the world. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be one of those friends. Meeting Michio changed my life.
He had an amazing and indomitable spirit. In the early 70s, when I tried to expand the Essene distribution company too quickly, we ran into serious financial difficulties. As we were walking out the door on the way to a lecture, Michio paused and told me not to worry. He said that even if I lost everything, we would simply start again from my own home. This struck me deeply yet again, and demonstrated to me how clear and penetrating Michio’s insight and advice was in all areas of life. Incidentally, we were able to reach a settlement, close the distribution company, and save the store.
No one could keep up with Michio; he was relentless in the pursuit of his dream to change this world. He often talked about lighting fires as he endlessly travelled the world to inspire people and ignite them into action. Michio taught me that anything was possible and I always admired his vitality. His endless spirit continues to inspire my life and my own approach to healing. “The Book of Macrobiotics” largely sums up the heart of his teachings. I wanted to move to Boston to study with Michio, but Essene, being in Philadelphia, kept me there.
I went back and forth between Boston and Philadelphia to continue my studies and maintain my connection with Michio. Michio popularized study houses, which were houses run by individuals or couples where we could live, practice, and study together. The study houses made macrobiotic education both affordable and practical. I attended Michio’s leadership seminar for two months in 1973. In addition, I stayed at different study houses for two weeks twice a year. I also attended every new seminar that Michio created and sponsored his visits to Philadelphia. Through these regular visits, my friendship and mentorship with Aveline began to grow and became a crucial part of my life. During this time, it became apparent to me how Aveline was both a powerful stabilizing factor for Michio as well as a driving force for the entire macrobiotic movement.
In 1981, during my twelfth year of practice, Michio asked me if I ever doubted macrobiotics. When I replied “No,” he told me that now I could change the entire world. I was very blessed to have met Michio at such a young stage of my life. He told me on a few occasions that he was born too early to see the fruits of his labors, but that I would, and I took that to heart. He also told me that the macrobiotic movement would follow the development of this country, where the ideas started in Boston, but were enacted in Philadelphia. This is also part of the reason why I have chosen to remain in Philadelphia.
Michio had a powerful psychic ability that he used in his counseling. He had an amazing ability to see not only people’s specific health, but even certain foods they had eaten on certain days. I was often self-conscious that he would be able to tell I had been eating something he may not have approved of. His long term predictions were amazingly accurate. He painted a picture for society more than forty years ago that I would say that today, are precise. He saw in the 60s that we would continue down a path towards increasing degenerative illness, social unrest, over medication, and the further destruction of the environment. The vast scope of his teachings demonstrated very clearly the relationships and connections between diet, health, environment, and spiritual development.
The last time I saw Michio was August 3rd, 2013 at the Kushi Summer Conference in New Jersey. Michio scolded me among my peers for recommending sardines to a shared client. He asked me if I could help the client with plant-based recommendations alone, and if I was following up regularly to tell them to stop the sardines when they were no longer needed. The scolding was relentless and beyond intimidating and I did my best to remain calm and stand by my recommendations. I finally said “You know, Michio, that not everyone practices the way we like them to,” and that changed the tone. There was a running joke among the teachers about sardines for the rest of the conference. It was an experience that I am sure I will ponder for the rest of my life.
The last time I spoke with Michio was this past October. I called him just before Susan and I left for the teachers’ meeting in Lisbon to ask him if he had any messages for the group. He asked me to give his and his wife’s, Midori, regards and he hoped that everyone would study well together. These were the last words we exchanged. I always called on January 3rd or 4th to wish him and his family a happy new year, so I was very glad to have called him then. Otherwise, we would not have spoken.
There was no stone he left unturned regarding the education about all of health and all of life. Michio had a powerful presence and magnetism; people wanted to be around him. He had an amazing ability to inspire people and encourage them to pursue their dreams. People would travel great distances just to see him, and would also pay large sums of money for his counsel and guidance. He constantly tried to help people see and realize their full potential in both health and life.
It is my hope that the depth and scope of Michio’s contributions will be more fully understood. Before Michio, there was no natural foods movement because there were practically no natural foods. He encouraged the development of local, natural food producers and processors, food stores, restaurants, educational, publishing, and distribution centers. High-quality, natural foods as well as pickled and fermented foods are now widely available and sought after. He was largely responsible for introducing futons, the practice of acupuncture, shiatsu massage and making the work of Masanobu Fukuoka (the author of “One Straw Revolution”) known. His teachings have influenced people from all walks of life, across the entire range of professional and artistic fields.
We are on the cusp of a nutritional and biological revolution which is laying the groundwork for the age of macrobiotics. The future of macrobiotics is with those who can understand, reinterpret, and express the teachings of Michio, Aveline, and their associates for our times. Now that both Michio and Aveline have passed, I find it more important than ever to dedicate the next part of my life to mentoring the new generation of macrobiotic teachers and leaders. I want to align with those who are like-minded so that our combined expression conveys the attractiveness and timeliness of the spirit and teachings of macrobiotics.
It is hard to express the loss and sadness of Michio’s passing. I find it unfortunate that his work is not more widely acknowledged and recognized today, despite how many lives have been transformed by his life. However, I feel that recognition of Michio’s contributions to society will continue to grow, as will his memory. It is my hope that we as his students and associates can bring honor to the teachings that he and Aveline gave to us.
There will be a memorial service followed by a reception in Boston on January 31, 2015 to honor and celebrate Michio Kushi.
There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote has recently been on my mind; it has a strong ring of truth in it. It is clear from much of Emerson’s work that he was able to connect with the common mind and experience of humanity. It stands to reason that we can apply the idea of one common mind to one common heart. The shift that we are currently experiencing shows us that empathy is growing in society.
We can see in the news everyday that there is more awareness in our culture for both the joys and sufferings of others. It has been recognized for some time, on an intellectual level, that our modern society is headed for trouble. Now, we are feeling the emotional aspects of these troubling truths whether in the realm of civil and human rights, animal rights, planetary health, or the connections being made between diet and overall health. What starts in the mind can develop into a feeling, and once feelings are experienced, our ability to act becomes much more natural.
We are all going into the future together for better or worse. Now is a time where we have the opportunity to engage our common mind with our common heart. Experiencing our common heart can enable us to work together and begin moving towards a brighter future for everyone.
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I invite you to take the MACRO leap.
Macrobiotics is not a fad diet; it is humanity’s original way of eating. Perhaps most importantly, macrobiotics is a lifestyle for everyone. The practice is all-inclusive because it is a constant journey of adding healthy, balanced practices into daily life. Practicing macrobiotics is flexible and adaptable to anywhere we happen to be.
This way of life is based on the dietary and lifestyle traditions of all of the world’s long-standing civilizations. These civilizations learned to create health and longevity through adapting to their climate and specific conditions. Each culture contributed to our global culture through its cuisine, history, arts, and sciences.
Our nutrition comes from plant-based foods either directly or indirectly. We receive second-hand and inferior nourishment from animals who have eaten these foods. Grains, beans, and vegetables enable us to make a direct connection to nature and the environment. Choosing local and indigenous foods makes the strongest and most direct connection to where we live. Grains, beans, and vegetables alone also provide enough food to feed and sustain a global population.
Macrobiotics is an empowering practice that awakens and deepens our confidence in our own ability to create and maintain lasting health. We can start immediately with just one meal, and expand and develop our practice over time. As we move in the direction of health, we experience a deeper connection with our own source of life and nature. We begin to move towards fuller physical and emotional well-being, and our fears and anxieties melt away.
The macrobiotic diet has many things in common across cultures, such as the cultivation of grains, beans and vegetables, as well as the natural preservation practices of pickling, fermenting, smoking, salting, and drying foods. Along with an appreciation of broader, universal patterns, there is also an appreciation of unique connections to locality. There is no one “Chinese food,” “French food,” or “Italian food,” but different regional cuisines that express a people’s harmonious relationship with a locality or region. Macrobiotic practice helps us to develop an orderly rhythm to life and a deep resonance with our unique circumstances.
Pickling and fermenting foods using traditional methods naturally preserves the foods. Secondly these methods enhance the taste and nutritional qualities of the food. This transforms the life of the food by inviting bacteria, microbes and oxygen to derive nourishment from the food and transform it into something new. The most unique and enjoyable foods and beverages in the world come from a simple principle of inviting life in. This is one of the core messages of macrobiotics: let life in.
From this, everyone can learn to make health-supporting choices, no matter the circumstance. The orderly practice of macrobiotics supports the transformation of healthy choices into healthy habits. Our health and environmental health are related. The environment is a direct reflection of our collective state of health. The macro leap embraces the outwardly spiraling journey towards health, for with health, there is life. Are you in for the macro leap?
In Oriental medicine, the body is thought to be composed of complementary systems. In our digestive system, we actually have a second brain called the enteric nervous system. The same kind of cells are found in both systems. From birth, our gut bacteria guides the development of our immune system and brain. This ongoing relationship continues throughout our life. The digestive system processes liquids (food and drink); and the nervous system processes vibrations, or thoughts and images. Healthy digestion fosters healthy thinking.
Creating healthy gut bacteria starts with good eating habits. That means sitting down to eat without distractions, at regular, recurring times. In addition, good gut bacteria are fostered by natural activities, like walking, gardening, cleaning and sex.
Our gut is nourished by both prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are in essence fiber and serve as food for the probiotics, which are the actual bacteria and yeast that inhabit our digestive system. Probiotics aid in the synthesis of vitamins and other valuable nutrients.
Fiber has a variety of functions: it activates and scours our digestive system, and binds with toxins and cholesterol to expel them from our body. Fiber encourages the growth of healthy bacteria and suppresses the development of harmful bacteria. Naturally fermented, pickled and unpasteurized foods are important and healthy sources of probiotics.
The most important prebiotics are found in whole grains, beans, fruits, and land and sea vegetables. Sea vegetables include the most common seaweeds, like Nori, dulse, wakame and kombu.
Try to get a variety of naturally pickled, fermented, and unpasteurized foods, which come from grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. The most important probiotics are miso, umeboshi plum, sauerkraut, and kimchi. The full value of miso comes out when used as a soup. When miso soup is made, the enzymes become activated and the liquid form is easy to absorb into the digestive system. Umeboshi is a unique Japanese plum that encourages growth of healthy bacteria, and suppresses unhealthy bacteria. It has a salty and tangy taste that goes well with grains.
Try to observe the connection between your digestion and your moods and thoughts. I hear consistently from my counseling clients that they feel better, think more clearly, and sleep more soundly in a very short period of time. A combination of sound eating habits, healthy activities and dietary choices creates the best nourishment and digestion.
Order and structure fosters health, vitality, and creativity. We can see from the recent Huffington Post article that various types of creative geniuses across cultures had specific routines for mealtimes, sleep, and work. Could it be that the structure of their lives was the key to their creativity?
Ben Franklin’s routine stood out the most for me because his meal and sleeping times closely parallels the schedule that I encourage in my book and seminars. The article does not go into the details of their diets, but Ben Franklin talks about his dietary habits in his autobiography. He became a vegetarian at the age of 16 and returned to his vegetarian practice throughout his life. He believed that grains promoted health and vitality. I also learned today that he was the first American to introduce tofu (tau-fu) to the Colonies by sending soybeans to John Bartram in Philadelphia in 1770.
Creativity comes from nature. There is nothing more amazingly and wildly creative than nature itself. Our real creativity comes from aligning ourselves with nature, both with our food and daily schedule. Our approach to macrobiotic practice which encourages having a daily schedule may seem restrictive, but all of these creative people had one thing in common: a regular, daily schedule. We can see from Ben Franklin’s example that macrobiotic practice helps us get in touch with the creative spirit of nature.
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A few weeks ago, I posted about a guiding image of health I refer to when considering a healthy body and mind and I touched lightly on emotions. In this post, I’d like to talk a bit more about how emotions are inseparable from our health.
Emotions specifically depend on liquids. Without liquid, we would have no emotion. Culturally, we can imagine it as: when are we more emotional? When do we visit bodies of water, and for what reasons? How does our language express the observation of emotions in others? What kinds of liquids do we use and for which purposes for expressing which emotions? Though these are all interesting questions to ask; I’ll follow up with some answers, as quickly as I can.
People tend to be more emotional during the full moon. People will contemplate beside a lake, follow the path of a stream to explore, bring a loved one or a friend to the bank of a river to watch it flow, or to intake the power of the ocean. When we talk about emotions, we can refer to an overly sentimental person as sappy, or wishy-washy and in the other extreme barren or dry. It is interesting that we drink beer at sporting events, wine for intimate evenings, tea or water to relax or calm down. Liquid carries these drinks into our bodies and the character of each one brings about different emotional states.
Water itself permeates every aspect of life, and the human body and the planet itself is composed mostly of water. Water is associated with the unconscious and is included in all types of ritual- be it something as simple as a celebration at a sporting event or a spiritual ceremony. There are ponds and lakes–places where water gathers. And there are streams, rivers and oceans, which are places where water moves. This brings me back to the vision, or image, of health and the mountain stream’s emotional complement: healthy flow.
There are natural and healthy emotions. Like a mountain stream in equilibrium, we associate streams with tranquility, curiosity, joy. This is our natural emotional state. Our natural emotions, when consistent, encourage a healthy flow in our body and mind together. In an unnatural state, there is disruption. I am saying that emotions are not positive or negative, but that the state of our emotions is either natural and healthy, or disrupted. In disrupted, unhealthy states, our liquid is either stagnant or surging. Stagnancy, or lack of movement, can be expressed as desensitization, depression or numbness. And surges, which seem like “boiling over”, can be expressed as aggression or hysteria.
Emotions also depend upon temperature. Emotion expresses itself when liquid comes to the surface of the body and evaporates. This partially explains how people living in or visiting hotter climates express emotions more readily than in colder climates where we may need to be “warmed up” first. The use of more fire in cooking raises our temperature. Outdoor cooking, such as barbecue, brings out a lot of emotion. Other ways of raising our temperature is in the use spices, stimulants, and alcohol. The opposite, cold, interferes with our ability to express emotions smoothly. Cold affects our bodies through ice, out-of-climate foods and chemicals (especially artificial sweeteners). Extremes of both hot and cold have disruptive effects on our emotions and in turn, our physical and mental health.
It follows then that the state of our emotional health has the capacity to affect the course of our overall health, either in a more natural and healthy flow or into more disrupted and unhealthy flow. Because health craves health, a flowing and joyous emotional state helps us flow with healthy habits. This season is a perfect time while in the company of family or friends to return to our natural state of tranquility, curiosity, and joy.
I’d like to share with you this report from the Macrobiotic Teachers and Practitioners Conference recently in Lisbon.
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Nature continually seeks balance. We can look to the natural world as a model for our health as we ourselves are a part of nature, inseparable from it even. An image I follow in my macrobiotic counseling practice to guide others to return to health is that of a mountain stream.
In this mountain stream, water flows uninterrupted in a perfect amount and at a perfect rate. Within this equilibrium, the water constantly cleans and renews itself. It is fresh, slightly alkaline and full of oxygen. Water comes from the clouds and atmosphere surrounding the mountain, it bubbles up from under the ground and flows down the mountain, and reaches the bottom. Each drop goes through the water (hydrological) cycle and returns to the sky again, in a beautiful, perpetual loop with the mountain. Though the water coming to the mountain may have evaporated from an ocean or a river, in the process of becoming part of the stream, impurities disappear, as they themselves “go with the flow”. They transform into different things, bond with other things, settle in the sediment, become rocks, etc. As long as there is unimpeded movement through the volume it carved for itself over a long time, the stream as a whole takes care of itself.
However, things can cause a stream to lose its pure vitality and balance.
*Lack or Excess of Water Affects Flow
1] Say there is a drought. Imagine the earth beneath the stream loses moisture, and is overdrawn due to lack of rain as water previously saturating the soil drops to a lower level. Though the original source of the water may have been pure, the water putrefies in stagnation. The stream becomes a network of puddles that are now breeding grounds.
2] Imagine heavy snows all winter and in the spring, the snow melts and tumbles into the stream, causing flooding. The flooding erodes the banks of the stream, dredges in sediments that were previously undisturbed and inundates the natural filtration system of the stream.
*Interfering Elements Affect Flow
1] A storm comes. A tree falls. No one hears it, but it falls over the stream, slowing down the flow or perhaps blocking it all together.
2] Perhaps a boulder rolls into the stream and settles there. The water, as it’s flowing, hits the boulder and “splits” apart around the boulder. On the edges of the boulder where the water suddenly changes course to converge again on the other side, sediments and other impurities, collect along the edges of the boulder and build up.
A healthy stream is one whose flow is in balance. I enjoy this image and example from nature because the stream is very much a reflection of our own bodies. For health, there is a balance between the food we eat, our digestion of the food and the circulation of its nutrition. Food is the water, digestion and circulation are the volume of the stream and flow of the water.
*Lack or Excess of Food Affects Digestion & Circulation
1] When our food is too simple or we are not eating enough, then our bodies can stagnate and degenerate, even if the food is natural and unrefined.
2] When we eat foods that are too rich or excessive, our bodies become inundated with things we can not process as well, also leading to degenerative illness.
3] Food of poor quality affects our nourishment, digestion and circulation.
4] Our emotions also behave like water in that they can flow through us, and affect us. Anger is a surge and depression a stagnation. Healthy emotions, on the other hand, like healthy streams, clean and renew us.
*The Trees and The Boulders in our Bodies
1] Blockages in our body can come from clogged arteries, fatty deposits, calcification, chronic overeating.
We can recover our natural sense of balance by aligning ourselves with nature’s orderly cycles. Orderly cycles such as the stream, but there are other rhythmic cycles too, such as that of the sun and moon. If we align ourselves to wake up and go to sleep with the natural rhythm of the day and night, our bodies and emotions align more naturally to the “flow”. If we align ourselves to practice having specific mealtimes, we align with the rhythm of the sun. Aligning in this way also helps up to be more aware of how the food we eat affects us physically and emotionally.
Health is natural and our bodies are always trying to clean and renew themselves and we lessen the burden when we are aware and tend to our food, digestion and circulation. With our unique approach to macrobiotics at the Strengthening Health Institute, we teach people to apply these principles to create lasting health. We can use our diets, eating habits, mental, emotional, spiritual practices and activities as tools to seek and find the balance that nature seeks, much like the mountain stream.
*If you are interested in learning more about me or scheduling a consultation, please visit the home page of my website here.
Susan and I are on our way to Taipei, Taiwan at the invitation of our client. We will be there for about a week to support her on her journey back to health.
We are also going to explore new foods and cooking styles. This will help us to further understand the application of our macrobiotic principles in tropical environments. So many of the vegetables and other foods she has described are so different from the ones we are using to here.
Over the years I had the chance to offer seminars and counseling in many countries, both east and west, north and south. These travels and experiences helped me develop my understanding of the best practice of macrobiotics in each of these regions. Now this opportunity to visit Taiwan will further help Susan and I make our approach to macrobiotics truly international.
We look forward to reporting on our new adventure after we return. Please also check out Susan’s latest travel blog.
At the end of every year I like to write a list of the ten most important social, environmental and personal events of that year. It is a practice that I learned from my teacher, Michio Kushi, many years ago and have found it to be a valuable practice. It serves as a basis for personal and social reflection and helps us clarify a direction for the future. The second part of this practice is to write your own list of goals for 2013.
Interestingly, nature had different plans for me this year. I was under the weather with a cold or flu for nearly three weeks. This was very unusual for me considering if I ever get sick it is for two to three days, not weeks. As a result I missed the holidays and years end for the most part. Most of these year end events remain clouded in mist for me. It is only now, a week into the new year, that I am trying to catch up and regain some clarity in my life.
The events that come to mind immediately are a bit staggering, Super Storm Sandy, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and California Proposition 37 that called for mandatory labeling of GMO foods.
In Oriental Diagnosis, which is an integral part of my healing practice, the small or part shows the large or whole. Our hands, feet, eyes or tongue can show great detail about our overall health condition and direction. This principle applies to social and environmental situations as well. I think that Super Storm Sandy and Sandy Hook Elementary School are indications of the conditions brewing socially and environmentally. It is unfortunate that these type situations will probably worsen for the foreseeable future, as they have continued to in our recent past.
I also find it amazing that Proposition 37 almost passed despite enourmous opposition from Monsanto and related companies. This indicates a change in society that will become an enourmous power over the next several years. Our right to know and our ability to choose health will become paramount.
The most important change that I have observed in society is not limited to 2012. These ideas became more observable a few years earlier and now are in the mainstream. I am referring to the relationship between diet and health. It is now widely accepted that our diet is the number one factor affecting our health and now trumps environmental and genetic factors. The second change is the relationship between food and the environment. It is finally becoming known that our daily choices in diet and lifestyle have an enourmous affect on society and the environment. The power of change is in our hands with every meal.
What is not widely known is that these ideas developed out of Boston, Mass from the macrobiotic teachings of Michio and Aveline Kushi. These ideas of local, organic, unrefined and plant based foods combined with having the ability to create our own health changed and fueled my life since 1969. They are more relevant today that ever. Now that 2012 is behind us we can start to live the lives we would like to see with renewed passion in 2013.