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.
Michio and me, 1985
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.