the future of macrobiotics
We were asked to contribute our thoughts on the future of macrobiotics at the teacher’s meeting in Lisbon. I chose the topic of Being Honest and here is my presentation. My intention here is to initiate a topic that I hope will lead to further discussion within the macrobiotic community.
I used this title in terms of being honest with ourselves rather than each other. I think human beings are prone to self-delusion and those of us in the macrobiotic movement are no different. None of what I say is intended to be a criticism of anyone and is more a self-reflection and my personal observations. I have certainly found myself in situations where I have not been totally honest in my work within macrobiotics in the terms expressed below.
I have enjoyed nearly thirty years of eating macrobiotically and I still have a passion for the food, greatly enjoy the company of my colleagues in the macrobiotic movement and have enormous respect for my teachers. At the same time I hope we can all gently challenge each other from time to time and stimulate new discussions that in the macrobiotic spirit can stimulate change.
conception / inner truth
Macrobiotics has been based on a lot of man-made concepts and in reality can we honestly say any of these are true? They are our best attempts to explain the universe we live in but to my knowledge they are not universal truths. In this sense the only truth we have is our own inner truth. Our reality is how we feel. In terms of our macrobiotic practice this could be how a miso soup tastes, how we feel after a cup of kukicha, whether a lentil soup creates feelings of warmth. This thinking was set out by George Ohsawa in his principles of Non Credo, Everything Changing, Being Non Judgemental and Not Being Dualistic in Thinking.
do we have a collective truth?
The big question is do we have a collective truth. Do those of us who have chosen to be part of the macrobiotic community share experiences that can bind us to a common truth? If we all eat a blanched salad will we experience similar feelings? I have a feeling that we do share a collective truth but this has been buried under our more conceptual thinking. It may be that by putting the concepts to one side and being more focussed on our experience of macrobiotics our collective truth will become more apparent.
experience grows into wisdom but have we acquired a collective wisdom?
Wisdom come from experience rather than learned concepts. The macrobiotic movement has been active in the west for more than thirty years and there are families with three generations of macrobiotic practice. My question is have we now acquired enough experience of macrobiotics to say that macrobiotics is what we actually do in real life rather than a conceptual model?
Put another way ‘after all these years should the macrobiotic diet be a conceptual model or simply reflect what we eat in real life’.
Why not look at what people in the macrobiotic community really eat and say this is the macrobiotic way of eating rather than follow an idealistic model. This does not mean people starting macrobiotics cannot follow a particular kind of macrobiotic diet at the beginning or eat a special version of the macrobiotic diet to help with a health complaint but this does not need to be macrobiotics in its entirety. Why not be honest about what we tend to eat in real life even if this does include ingredients previously not considered part of the macrobiotic diet. Ultimately we would have a more realistic definition of what macrobiotic people eat and if we can do it there is more chance others will be able to follow.
honest might speed up our macrobiotic evolution
A lack of honesty has meant that the development of the macrobiotic values of eating has been held back. People advocating a conceptual version of the macrobiotic diet but then eating another version themselves has meant that our collective wisdom and truth has been retarded. Had we been honest enough to highlight the difficulties in following an idealised macrobiotic diet perhaps the diet itself would have evolved more quickly and we would now have a form of eating that is more based on real life experience.
is our diet one of guilt, disappointment and duality?
Does having a conceptual diet that is clearly too difficult to follow in the long term even for those teaching or prescribing it simply lead to feeling of guilt and disappointment in oneself when eating one of the ‘avoid’ foods. Does the idea of good and bad food lists lead to an unhealthy attitude to eating and perversely lead to the very kind of rigid dogmatic thinking George Ohsawa advised us to be careful of?
has a desire to fill classes and appointment books led to over complication?
I wonder whether macrobiotics has been affected by being defined by people earning money out of it. It is only natural to want to be successful, valued and appreciated but have our desires as teachers, cooks and counsellors resulted in macrobiotics being defined in terms that help us make money? Just as if you let lawyers write up laws you will need to pay a lawyer to interpret them, or if you let accountants write up tax law you will need an accountant to fill out your tax returns, does macrobiotics being defined by teachers, cooks and counsellors mean you need a teacher, cook or counsellor to follow it?
distorting the face of macrobiotics with fear and claims
Has our desire to fill classes and appointment books meant we have fallen back on fear and unsubstantiated claims? Rather than just honestly say who we are, what we do and let people decide whether to join in is it at all possible that we have blurred the truth? Is it really, completely, true that eating macrobiotic foods prevents or cures cancer? Is it absolutely true that by not eating macrobiotically we will suffer degenerative illness and a premature death? No of course not.
hanging onto students by overcomplicating macrobiotics, making it too intricate and detailed
I am sure we have all been tempted to put on the next level of cooking class, an advanced course or a special higher teaching. This is a common way to recycle students and keep a centre running. As a result of this do we end up making a subject unnecessarily complicated? Rather than mastering the basics do we end up building something too complicated for most people too follow? Has this resulted in a version of macrobiotics that is so intricate that for many people it is intimidating or something you would only do if you had your own counsellor and cook? Has the endless recycling had a disempowering effect on some students, taking away the confidence and feeling that they have mastered macrobiotics?
for example, macrobiotics became a cancer cure diet you would only eat for cancer
By focussing on cancer during the 1980s macrobiotics became known as The Cancer Cure Diet. In an effort to fulfil this claim the diet became more and more restrictive until for many people it was diet you would only eat if you did have cancer. However even the necessity of this strict version of macrobiotics may have been deluded. I remember working in the US with various counsellors in the early eighties and finding that some people had amazing recoveries but only followed some of the recommendations. Did some people end up spending hours in the kitchen everyday making special teas and condiments unnecessarily
We often compare our way of eating with people eating junk food diets to show how much more healthy and environmentally friendly our diet is. Of course we always come out looking good but is this really honest? Should we not take the bigger challenge of comparing ourselves with vegans, the people of Okinawa, rural Chinese or people eating raw food diets in terms of health or people working with Permaculture in terms of our contribution to the environment. It is possible that cultures eating tomatoes, garlic, olives, some meat or a little dairy food actually show up as being as healthy as us?
what is our common reality? what is our common truth?
For me the one thing we have in common is that we are all interested in THE STUDY OF HOW HUMANS INTERACT WITH THEIR ENVIRONMENT WITH A FOCUS ON HOW DIFFERENT FOODS INFLUENCE US IN TERMS OF BODY, MIND AND SPIRIT. And if that is all we have in common that is more than enough.
what do we actually do?
I think what we have to offer is the opportunity try on George Ohsawa’s magic spectacles and essentially we offer people a different perception to try on and see how it feels. If the macrobiotic perception of life happens to lead to something like better health, a closer relationship with nature or a different understanding of human wellbeing then fine and if it leads to something else that is fine too. We do not need to be attached to outcomes. This might seem simple and basic but I think it is more powerful to have one unified, clear and honest thing we can do together in the name of macrobiotics.
By being true, simple, honest and compassionate we might become more attractive as people. Rather than claiming we have all the answers, perhaps we would be more appealing if we show a more vulnerable, open and emotional side. We have had a reputation of being cold, judgemental, uptight, dualistic and unsympathetic. It is one thing to win the argument but if we loose the person in the process we end up with a smaller community.
the future of macrobiotics
My personal view is that the future of macrobiotics is in a simplified version of macrobiotics that is honest to its core principles. This would be a version of macrobiotics that would take an open view of natural foods and apply our essential principles of living-energy and nutrition to human wellbeing whether expressed through yin and yang, the five elements or modern language. Through this we would escape the good and bad food lists and the idea that macrobiotics is a fixed diet.Our philosophies of non-credo, being non-judgemental, avoiding dualistic thinking and accepting that everything changes can be our own guiding light rather than a dogma we preach to other and hopefully out of this we will encourage each other into a gentle, compassionate, humble expression of macrobiotics.