The Macrobiotic Guide
home macrobiotics store about news features search
 

 
 

A Macrobiotic Guide
Interview with Bill Tara,
the author of ‘Natural Body, Natural Mind’
By Christina Pirello

 
 
 

Bill, I’ve read your book, ‘Natural Body, Natural Mind’ three times now and it has become my ‘go to’ book whenever I need to figure out how to articulate a theory or idea in a lecture or a class…or sort something out for myself.

I find that its wisdom works for both the beginner and the most experienced of those living naturally. For me, its message about living well takes on any number of issues that people face and strips away all the excuses not to live a better life.

I love this book so much. It sums up all I have learned from you over the years and illustrates why, to this day, I consider you my mentor and role model in the work that I do.

 

A few questions for you …

Christina Pirello: What made you take the direction you did with this book? By that, I mean that so many books on macrobiotics focus solely on the role of food and disease. In ‘Natural Body, Natural Mind’ you take the reader on a different journey, not downplaying the role of food, but putting it in perspective. What was your thinking?

First thanks for the kind words.

Bill Tara: Macrobiotics has been closely identified with disease for the best part of the past thirty years. In the late 70’s the focus on cancer within the community was a huge turning point. Up till then the focus of macrobiotic study was on the development of human consciousness, the issue of “judgment”.

The success of many people using a macrobiotic style diet to reverse disease was dramatic and inspiring, but the long term results to our core principles were profound. We went from a community of people focused on the development of consciousness to a group focused on the therapeutic benefits of food.

We became the diet and disease people. This phase influenced the psychology and composition of the community greatly. Those drawn to macrobiotics were much older, more conservative and extremely focused on physical healing or disease prevention.

The concept of personal responsibility for health of early macrobiotic practice was trumped by a new approach where individuals were advised, in a very detailed way, what to eat and what to avoid.

This was increasingly done with little or no demand that the “clients” understand the rationale behind the suggestions. This was a huge shift in focus that gave birth to a different attitude toward food. Macrobiotic practice became prescriptive rather than a process of self-discovery.

The dominant macrobiotic ideas regarding foods became an issue of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods as opposed to an understanding the relative qualities and effects of foods.

The low protein, low oil diets that were often prescribed for those with cancer characterized this phase of development and became the accepted template for general eating. Eating this way was referred to as a “healing diet” and eventually became eating a ‘clean’ diet. By those criteria most healthy macrobiotic people were eating ‘dirty’.

When I set out to write this book I wanted to take the issue of food and health and expand it into some of the areas of life that originally inspired me about the potential of macrobiotic ideas.

The way our ideas about food show up in culture and the way that food impacts our emotional and spiritual life have always been personally interesting. This sounds ambitious, but this is really a very simple book.

Since my initial involvement with macrobiotics I have been aware that the issue of food is much greater than physical nutrition. What we eat represents a whole range of attitudes we have regarding our relationship to society and the planet. It is one of those aspects of being that says volumes about our politics, our connectedness with our fellow humans and our spiritual values.

It is this ‘connecting the dots’ that makes macrobiotics unique and valuable. There are many approaches to diet that offer reasonable solutions to the question of what we should eat for health. My feeling is that macrobiotics takes the conversation to the next level.

Christina Pirello: In Chapter Two, ‘The Authentic Self,’ you talk about the gift of life and quote Meister Eckhart on becoming one with the unknowable. For those who have not read the book (yet…), explain what you mean by the authentic self and becoming one with the unknowable, since it is such a large part of this book.

Bill Tara: I use the term Authentic Self to describe that aspect of our being that most closely conforms to our personal potential. This authenticity is often a secret that only we know, it is the sometimes hidden passion in our life. Some are living their passion but most of us do not, it is locked away behind self constructed walls.

Being healthy is synonymous with living a life that is passionately engaged. It is allowing our imagination, intellect and spirit to express our own unique qualities into the world.

The interesting thing about this is that when we are living our passion - doing what we really want to do - we strip away some of the more superficial aspects of our personality. It frees us up to experience life in a way where we become more fully engaged in the moment, more intuitive, more vibrant.

The psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi, who I quote in my book, refers to this state as being in “flow”. We have all experienced this feeling; the trick is in sustaining it. This is the state of being that Oshawa referred to as Supreme Judgment but it is really beyond definition, which is why I refer to it as the unknowable - it is embracing the mystery of life.

Christina Pirello: In Chapter Four, ‘The Question of Consciousness,’ you talk about breaking the spells and enchantments of dreaming in our modern world. You call the gift dangerous. Please talk about the ideas behind getting past our self-enchantment with this gift to dream and create and how to use it for the benefit of humanity and the environment.

Bill Tara: We are all storytellers and story weavers; it is a central part of our humanity. Stories are the way we organize information about life and communicate feelings that are difficult to describe in logical thought. We create stories about who we are and why we do what we do.

Some of these stories have the ring of truth and help us evolve and some are hollow and false. These personal stories can either help us uncover our authentic self or bury it. The personal stories lie within the larger social mythologies that we create about the big existential issues such as why are we here? What is the purpose of life? How should society function?

If we know that these stories are simply guidelines and metaphorical in nature it is easier to adapt to the changes that happen around and within us. If we think that they are accurate and literal descriptions of a larger truth they can become destructive, they become enchantments.

If we look at the issue of food we can see very clearly the immense power that enchantments play in the choices that are made.

The modern American diet is powerful enchantment. The consumption of meat and dairy to their present levels, the refining and chemical “enhancement” of foods, the lure of convenience - of fast, frozen and microwaveable foods all depend on the glassy stare of the enchanted shopper.

The power of advertising and the cowardice of medicine and politics help to hold the enchantments in place. No one wants to call attention to the emperor’s lack of clothes.

Society holds on to these beliefs and maintains the enchantment even in the face of science and common sense. Look at a fast food add on television. What is being sold? It is not food being sold - it is a particular cultural image that the food is attached to.

The neatly dressed multi-cultural, middle class and healthy customers in the add speak to an ideal of American culture but don’t have much to do with the people who really eat with regularity in McDonalds. I have ventured forth into these forbidden zones of dietary tragedy and know that the real consumer is overweight, sad and lower income.

We identify with certain foods no matter what culture we come from. I live in Europe now and every culture has a way of eating that is overwhelmingly influenced by social forces and cultural enchantments, not by health concerns.

In all honesty I have to give equal time to the macrobiotics and other alternative ways of eating as well. We have our enchantments too. The idea that you can eat your way out of every problem or some of the more exotic and esoteric ideas that are found in macrobiotic thinking are also very powerful enchantments and can be destructive.

There are certainly some macrobiotic, vegan and vegetarian followers who become orthorexic – so obsessed with their food that it literally makes them sick – because they have fallen under the spell of some dietary enchantment.

Christina Pirello: When you talk about consciousness and perceptions driving our actions, please talk about the role food plays in creating…or inhibiting that force in us.

Bill Tara: In the mid 1970’s I was seeing many people for health counseling in London at the Community Health Foundation. At this time I had attended some lectures by Dr. Jack Worsley and became friends with Dr. Sidney Rose-Neil, both of these men were influential in introducing acupuncture to the UK.

I was fascinated by the Chinese theory of the Five Transformations and found it interesting to apply the diagnostic theories to my clients. I was especially drawn to the observations on the connection between organ function and behavior. This lead me to write my book, “Macrobiotics and Human Behavior”, I think it was the first Western book on the subject.

The connection between what we eat and the degree of internal stress that is created in the organ systems of the body is most certainly a huge influence on our sensitivity to our environment. We know this to be true when the stimulus is extreme but we are unaware when it is subtle.

A cup of coffee, a shot of vodka, a cigarette, a bar of chocolate – they all effect the way we behave, that’s why we eat, drink or smoke them. Why would we assume that the rest of what we eat or drink would not produce changes?

The brain is nourished by our blood. It is the most sensitive of all our organs to small changes in blood chemistry and it is our organ of perception. What we eat and drink has the largest influence on blood quality – this is only logic.

The question is how large is the effect of food on thought, emotion and behavior?

I spend a good deal of time on this issue in the book since physical health, emotional history, family, and culture all play a role in the way we perceive the world and how we act on those perceptions.

Christina Pirello: Please talk a little about ‘The Lessons of Wind and Water’ and how our modern obsession with precision and the need to have a sensible explanation for everything, including matters that used to rely on faith have inhibited our ability to be natural, authentic humans.

Bill Tara: The truly magic parts of life cannot be expressed in an equation. We experience the world in two complimentary ways, thinking and feeling. Our present culture prides itself on thinking.

When there is a problem we call in the experts, form a committee, examine the facts, balance the viewpoints and make a mess. Feelings have been relegated to maudlin personal interest stories and reality television. We lack the power of deep feeling, intuition and instinct – we don’t trust the more primitive nature of our impulses unless they are rationalized in ideologies.

I say that yin and yang is a feeling based approach to the world. We can study all we want but the reality of yin and yang is a visceral phenomena. It is something that is felt, it needs no rationalization.

We might ask ourselves if an issue such as global warming is a difficult scientific problem that requires new technologies or is it a tangible representations of our disregard for life? Is cancer a phenomenon that requires more study and a chemical “cure” or is it an example of our childish attachment to a way of eating and living that kills us? One set of answers implies that we are doing nothing out of line, don’ really need to change our way of life and simply need to think things out.

The alternative choice means that we need a dramatic change of heart and accept the fact that we need to reassess our lives and make fundamental changes. This proposition usually calls up the response that, “people will never do that”. My response is that not everyone needs to. It doesn’t take many people to be the catalyst for social change.

Being reasonable in the face of danger is not always the smart way to go. Obviously we need technologies and thoughtfulness to solve these problems but it is probably unreasonable acts that will turn the course of many of our contemporary problems. I am saying that we need to enliven our mind by allowing our feelings and our intuition to have voice.

Christina Pirello: You talk in the book about the gift of food. In our modern culture, we see cooking and even eating as another burden to endure in our busy lives. Please talk a little about the gift of self nourishment…on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels.

Bill Tara: Well that’s a big question…a big landscape to travel through. Let me just briefly say that in the last few months I have had the opportunity to counsel many people who have worked hard to establish the level of financial and social recognition that defines success in most cultures. I don’t find them any more healthy or happy that the less wealthy people that I often meet.

Popular enchantments regarding food and nutrition are driven mostly by commercial enterprises. Concepts of healthy food are gradually disappearing. They are being buried beneath concepts such as super foods, micronutrients, supplements, elixirs and protein powders.

The simplicity and sensibility of eating fresh food prepared in the home has deprived us of a direct connection to one of the most fundamental sources of our health and well-being. When we have to have our food and, increasingly, our water processed by industry we need to ask ourselves if this is really an improvement.

All the issues of health, economics and ecology that trouble the world are an outcome of a particular relationship we have to the world we live in and where we place value. Simple acts such as cooking food, moving our bodies, creativity or play have been subsumed by the drive to ‘get ahead’ or more commonly to ‘keep our heads above water’. This is a sad fact and there are no magic tricks to change it.

The interesting thing is that when the heart attack lays us low, a bad diagnosis is presented or some personal tragedy strikes we question were the true value of life lies. After all, what is life about? If the purpose of life is to earn and spend we are doing a good job.

If the purpose of life is to enjoy this beautiful earth, to live vital healthy lives, to care for each other and to celebrate the gift of life and our personal potential we are abysmal failures. The psychologist, Eric Fromm said that the decision was between living a life that was about having or being – he was right.

The enchantment of ‘Having It All’ is a very seductive one. The word economy means managing the resources of the home – the word ecology means understanding the home even an optimist like myself sees the irony in this. The task for us all is to participate in the creation of a human ecology that provokes a more humane human economy. This act means embracing a certain eccentricity of body, mind and spirit.

The conventional and accepted way of life commonly promoted is one that is moving in a dangerous and unhealthy direction – creative and life-affirming eccentricity is called for. I firmly believe that a macrobiotic vision for modern times has much to offer in the development of this movement in world society. It could be fun.

Order your copy toady!

'Natural Body - Natural Mind' by Bill Tara
is available in our Amazon Store

Posted: June 2009
 

 

terms of use | contact us