There are always extreme elements
in any polarity, yet they are dependent on each other.
Sometimes they're compatible, other times, seemingly
antagonistic, and some times both. For instance, let's
use a medicinal beverage analogy with umeboshi drinka
popular macrobiotic remedy for acid conditions (usually
a result of excessive party food or overeating).
This drink is composed of the umeboshi
salt plum ( sister fruit to the small apricot), tamari,
kuzu, and the fresh juice from fine-grated ginger root.
Although chemically antagonistic, the acid ginger compliments
the drink by making it less extreme as an alkaline remedy.
This makes the medicine more effective because it is
slightly less extreme.
Think of the Tao symbol with one
sheath of black and one sheath of white, yet within
each is a bit off the other. I once had a philosophy
teacher who described it by saying, "...in the
overwhelming bright light of day we have the small shadows
of scattered tree and rock, and during the deep black
of night, we have the dim glimmering light of distant
stars." Meaning, each duality contains a little
of the opposite.
Recognizing opposites is the path to wholeness, because
their balance produces the neutral state of one. This
is why the Tao was called a 'monism.' However, nothing
is exclusively of solely one entity.
There's a little of each in both entities. If you statically
classify something as "yang" or to use a physics
term, ruled by centripetal force, you are merely saying
that the amount of yang in this exceeds it's opposite
(centrifugal force, or yin) quality. You can't say someone
is, "all strength." They must have some weakness.
The degree this weakness is visible differs for everyone,
but in some amount, it's always present.
The philosophy of opposites can
be easily misunderstood, because speaking in terms of
fixed classifications usually leads to dogmatic thinking.
Its laws are not truly understood. There are always
layers and depths to our superficial perception. To
think in terms of black and white minimizes the unique
complexity of how opposites interact and the layers
between them. Between black and white, there is an entire
universe of gray.
6. Opposites Attract, Like Repels Like
In front of us and everywhere
around us, we are constantly witnessing polarity; the
realization that everything exists in pairspairs
of opposites; light and dark, hot and cold, strong and
weak, passive and active, expansion and contraction.
The "laws" (or balancing factors) that govern
opposites are many. These laws can be used to manage
our health, our outlook and our daily lives more effectively.
Let's use two magnets as an example.
The north pole end will magnetically attract the south
pole end. Many of us learned this in grade school. However,
similar poles (North and North) will repel each other
and make you look severely uncoordinated as you try
to connect the same poles. In some cases, two of the
same poles may be of similar energetic quality, but
nothing is identical (see principle #2) and so, degrees
of opposition always exist. In this case, you'd have
mild attraction. So even this, is not fixed, as a principle.
It is principle of general tendencies.
Examples of this principle are
abundant in all realms including, human behavior, chemistry
and food preparation.
One of the main principles of Homeopathy,
is: "like cures like." This is quite different
than repels. This is based somewhat on an immune stimulation
so it cannot be examined in a linear light.
The essential thing to remember
about opposites is they are always seeking balance.
Discovering how to create balance in different realms
of your life, using macrobiotic principles and the foundation
of whole food nourishment, will reward you with a deep
sense of independence and faith.
7. Healing Is a Body, Mind, Spirit Paradigm.
The foundation of macrobiotics
is about developing the ability to recreate our health,
judgment and sensitivity. It offers us potential solutions
to discover new perspectives and insight. I think of
macrobiotics as being a dynamic body, mind, spirit healing
paradigm that heals you from the inside out; it makes
you change the way you look at adversity and allows
you a philosophical framework to rely on for guidance
We heal physically by being aware
how to create more balanced food and health practices
that keep you strong, yet supple, in body and mind.
Your being becomes more relaxed. You feel more creative
inspiration. You recognize and are more willing to trust
the voice of intuition.
Any repair we attempt to make in any part of ourselves,
must also involve other parts. If we have a "physical
problem" we should remember that there are also
emotional, and energetic (spiritual) ways to solidify
that healing. This is why it's macro and not micro -biotics.
A large view means recognizing the value of including
other healing modalities, as well as broader thinking
and a committed will.
8. One Grain, Ten Thousand
From the Arctic circle to the sub-tropics,
whole cereal grains have been used as a principal food
source for thousands of years. That they have sustained
world civilizations is living evidence to their strength
and endurance and obviously why they have remained central
to the diet of many modern societies.
Using the symbolism of one grain
that eventually brings thousands more, we are reminded
about gratitude and the need to give. Nature, forever
productive and infinitely diverse exemplifies this principle:
From One Grain, Come Ten Thousand.
Embodying this philosophy means
to share ourselves with others; our good fortune, our
feelings, service that we do for others, etc. We do
this for the sake of giving and not receiving. The ability
to give is our reward and giftthat is what we
receive. However, like the abundance of crop that could
potentially come from one grain, we benefit enormously
on many levels every time we give.
One grain, ten thousand thinking supports the "no-waste"
concept, emphasizing the use of whole food and not part
in meal preparation. Another application of this was
recently seen in the film, "Pay it Forward",
where one simple, selfless act of kindness inspired
so many others to be equally kind thereby, "paying
9. Vivero Parvo - "Take the Minimum
Ohsawa used this Latin phrase to
describe the ideal way for achieving maximum health;
we take what is requiredby our bodies for nourishment
and in terms of what we surround ourselves with. This
can be applied in a human health perspective as well
as a social one. At the root of our consumptive mentality
is a deep loss of gratitude, fear and physical imbalance.
One of the reasons we consume beyond our needs is because
of its availability, or because we maintain moods of
scarcity. Sometimes, our desire for being full is due
to the growing realization that we are actually in need
of some other kind of nourishment--we are feeling, simply
empty. But, no food can satisfy this type of hunger.
Most of us have little idea about
the origins of our food, how it is grown, how concentrated
or refined it may be, or what kinds of nutrition it
contains. The majority of people are primarily concerned
with taste. Just like children. Several years ago, I
pulled into a small gas station in northern Iowa around
midnight. I went inside and waited for the cashier to
key my gas fee into her register.
She was a young woman of tremendous
girth with bad skin and the warmth of a Mason jar. Not
once did her eyes meet mine. But, I noticed she was
chewing. Vigorously. Whatever was in her mouth required
major effort. This is the exchange we had:
"What are you chewing?" Continuing to stare
at her register, she points to a cylindrical plastic
container that holds, "Bubba's Hearty Beef Jerky."
I pick up the container and read the ingredients. My
naivete' is showing; I am shocked. Aside from dried
beef, there is an entire paragraph of chemical names
as part of the ingredients, with sugar being the second
ingredient after meat.
"Wow, do you know what's in this? It's all chemicals!"
Now she turns to me; an isolated side rotation of her
neck almost robotically. She tilts her head down as
if peering over imaginary bifocals and shrugs her shoulders
helplessly as she manages to utter two words: "Tastes
For most human organisms, excessive
fat, animal protein and concentrated sweetenersour
modern staple foodsmight be temporarily satisfying
but in excess, can be potentially deadly except
for my neighbor who is 91 and looks like he lives on
baked scrap leather. He tells me he, "eats everything."
Worse, he even enjoys it. Imagine that! But I've seen
him eat. And they guy lives on garbage. But, he eats
like a bird. No, not a vulture. A sparrow big
difference. He takes the "minimum." And, somehow,
it works for him.
Ohsawa was an advocate of eating
the minimum; staying slightly hungry, keeping active.
If you have strong passions and things that you want
to do in life, this comes naturally, because your are
feeding a bigger appetite. But, if you are bored by
your current life, what's the incentive to suddenly
If we're discussing the volume
of food we consume, I think it would be essential to
explain what some of the culprits are that make us want
more food. Yep! There are actually a number of reasons
that drive overeating cravings.
There are some accepted psychological reasons for food
obsessions and addictive eating that cover the gamut
from self-esteem and social issues to the immediate
impulse of using food as a way to get stinking numb.
However, my contention is that if we remove the physical
reasons, the psychological become so much more easy
to handle. Maybe not entirely heal, but at least begin
to feel a motivating clarity by witnessing positive
Consider the volume of food that
you eat. If you put the pinky sides of each had together
and cup your hands, as if scooping water from a stream,
this hand shaped bowl is equal to the size of your stomach,
only with a top cover. Consider the amount of food you
had in your last meal and visualize that amount. Isn't
it bigger than the little bowl your palms create? It's
surprising to think about how much we eat.
More frightening to think about
is what we actually absorb. The problem, in a nutshell,
for people who are always overeating is not knowing
what are the responsible factors for such a monstrous
appetite. Here, based on a chapter in my book, "Nature's
Cancer-Fighting Foods" (Prentice Hall-Penguin-Putnam
Books) are five possible reasons for overeating:
1. Low Blood Sugar - Contrary
to popular macrobiotic recommendations, I don't believe
the solution for low blood sugar lies simply in making
a "sweet vegetable drink." It's a nice soup
base, but throwing away the fiber (vegetable matter)
defeats the entire purpose. It is the fiber that will
regulate the blood sugar. Consuming only the liquid
can slightly elevate blood sugar, but, then you have
an equal lowering later on. For someone with noticeable
blood sugar irregularity, it might be best to make a
soup with these vegetables and either eat the whole
vegetable in the soup, or make it into a puree'. Additionally,
don't go more than four hours without, at least, eating
a small meal. Fasting long periods throughout the day
promotes low blood sugar and late night eating. In this
tired state you may find yourself desiring coffee, sugar,
tobacco--any familiar stimulant to get you over the
2. Excessive Salt or Animal
Protein - Too much salt will not only make you want
sugar or more fluid, but can stimulate overeating. Salt
can have a depressive effect on blood sugar and a marked
tightening effect on tissue and muscle. Like those old
sailor's, who look like they eat small children for
breakfast and have very crinkly faces, traditionally
called Old Salts; presumably after living on the water,
breathing salt air and no doubt eating a good share
of it. Salt excess can be alleviated by either an abundant
amount of fluid (for dilution), citrus, or simple sugar
(for neutralizing). Sugars have the opposite reaction
in our body: they promote inflammation. While it's busy
fanning the fires of inflammation, Sugar finds time
to annoy and paralyze our busy immune system while it
discreetly robs minerals from the bodies different storage
sites. Biological mutiny.
3. Inactive Lifestyle -
Becoming more regularly active can increases your sensitivity
to the subtle, and not-so-subtle, effects of overeating.
Your active condition offers a more reliable barometer
of good health and your physical limitation. I'll never
forget a conversation I had with a running partner named
Arty ("Hi, I'm Arty from Nu Yawk"), as we
we taking a long run one early Sunday morning, prior
to a track event. Nine miles into our run, he had a
burst of thundering gas. No one said anything. About
one-half mile later, he turned to me and said:
"Wow, took 9 and 1/2 miles to get rid of that.
What if I had sat on the couch all day? I'll tell you
whut woulda happened: One night at 2 AM my head would
suddenly explode...thank God for long dirt trails..."
Such were the intimate exchanges we'd have on a training
It made me realize that we have the ability to condition
our bodies and control our health so much more than
we imagined. For most people the only control they have
dietarily is the use of stimulants or depressants; they're
tired so they drink coffee or have a cigarette. They're
all keyed up, so they'll have an alcoholic drink. Beyond
these extremes, few people really know how to influence
their health, mood and energy level with food.
Physical activity can be a great neutralizer. Challenging
your physical limitations might mean to walk longer
distances, stretching in more advanced postures, hiking
to increase heart rate or lifting weights to solidify
bone mass. In a toned, active body, it's easier to exercise
discipline because you know what works best for your
body. Exercise also increases your will.
4. Poor Digestion - There
could be an infinite number of related digestive conditions,
but most of them are aggravated, if not caused, by long
time acidity. This can come from: inadequate chewing,
meal time tension, the need for fermentation with meals,
a lack of enzymes to digest properly, parasites, etc.
So, we often end up attempting to compensate by volume.
Calm mealtimes, a bit of pickle with your meal, less
volume, thorough, but not obsessive chewing and a bit
of tea after the meal all insure good digestion.
5. Nutritional Deficiency
- Lack of nutrients, good quality protein, oil, salt
and the five tastes of salty, sweet, bitter, sour and
pungent all conspire to foster overeating if we don't
include these into our daily diet. A fixed template
of a circle divided into percentages can only go so
far? While you can use that initially, it takes consistent
experimenting to find your balanceand this is
a never ending research project because there are always
different ways to balance excess and because your condition
is constantly changing.
6. Emotionality - There
are many emotional factors that are the basis for overeating
or binge eating. If you feel that this is a component
to your overeating, first, remove the dietary imbalance
factors mentioned above that may be pushing you in this
direction. Second, accept that your overeating needs
to embrace an emotional perspective and either seek
support or do some research to better understand more
about these factors. Generally, we can easily anesthetize
ourselves with the sensory pleasure of different foods,
such as sugar, or by overeating. Stuffing your face
literally shuts off the emotional center, at least temporarily,
and insulates us from thinking. Sometimes, this can
be a good thing. However, this soon wears off and we
are no better for a solution. There are a number of
books that can provide more insight, including, Geneen
Roth's, "Feeding the Hungry Heart" and Jane
R. Hirschmannn's, "Overcoming Overeating."
"Mea Culpa" is a Latin
derivative meaning "My Fault." So, we're ditching
blame. Try to recognize Your Role in Conflict and take
responsibility for what you bring to all situations.
Yes, the stimulus of caffeine might have made you a
bit crazy and you shouldn't have really shouted at those
strangers and smashed that parked little pink car you
didn't like with that tire iron, but I doubt, "it
was the coffee" that made you do it. You really
can't blame the coffee. I'd rather think that it was
whatever in you, unsettled and unresolved, and unexpressed
that you ended up expressing as rageonly with
an attentive audience.
Our modern society encourages blame; we blame our spouses,
work management, friends, germs, sugar industry, pollutants,
bacteria, viruses, etc. First, let's see how we may
have a part in any adverse situation. "Don't point
your finger," my grandmother was often heard to
say, "there are always three pointing right back
at you." To develop your spiritual perspective,
first address, "Mea Culpa."
Make Friends Everywhere
In the early days of the Boston
macrobiotic community during the late 60s and early
70s, Michio Kushi was always referring to macrobiotic
people as friends. At a lecture he'd sometimes begin
with, "Ah...tunight, men-knee mahcro-bee-ott-tic
freenze here....dhat's great!" It always felt easier
and more authentic to call someone a friend, than the
more intense brother or sister--unless it's Easter and
you're in church.
Greet people with an open warmth.
Find a way to surrender a piece of yourself. You'll
find enormous strength in doing this. Listen to them.
Extend yourself. Play. There's a mirror in everyone
you meet, family, friends, strangers; your work is to
see it clear.
In the early 70's, if you were
hitch-hiking across the country, or up and down the
west coast, all you needed was one of those macrobiotic
guides with that short list of "Macrobiotic Friends
Throughout the USA." You could almost always show
up at someone's door, and you'd be assured of a sizable
dinner, easy chit chat and a comfortable futon before
continuing your journey. Today, it's not as friendly,
maybe because it's more common, or because people are
more fearful, but a bit more camaraderie would be a
big shot in the arm for a more recognizable and "friendly"
movement. We all need friends. Make friends.
12. Every Front Has a Back
It's native intuition to know that
there are always two sides to every story. Truth is
impossible without lies, integrity meaningless without
deceit. Each extreme provides a contrast that allows
us to measure front and back. I'm crazy about technology.
I wrote a book in the late 70s on an electric IBM typewriter.
I used to use little white powder
tape to cover mistakes, but I can't tell you how many
times I had to restart chapter sections because of a
new paragraph or an afterthought section inclusion.
Computers changed all that. Overnight. With cut and
paste, a whole new world of speed, ease and convenience
opens up. But, then, there's a potential health risk.
Front and back.
Cell phones. Hard to imagine taking
a long trip without one, at this point. But convenience
always has a front and back. The thin shell of a skull
that protects our brain cannot offer real protection
when we are holding concentrated radiation barely 1/4
of an inch from our dense brain tissue. The damage is
real. It's only matter of time before this is agreed
on. I guess there must be a corporate quota of money
to be made before warnings are taken seriously.
It's only instinctive to suspect
that anyone offering you something of big proportion,
will invariably require some kind of payback;. It's
a "front and back" issue. We natively know
what we see isn't always the whole picture. The archetypal
homicidal gangster, with "cold steely eyes,"
who after a couple of drinks, begins to cry about how
he misses his Daddy, reveals a sparkle of vulnerability
into a chosen life of character hardness. On many levels
of thought, energetic, philosophical and even biochemical,
interactions of front and back abound.
Front and back always reminds me
of "fine print." Finding yourself too excited
about certain benefits initially promised but not aware
of the fine print where you unknowingly agree to donate
your first born for a yearly ritual sacrifice, is an
example of being so overwhelmed by the front, you've
missed the back. Happens all the time. Maybe not with
sacrifices, but you get the point. Front and back always
However, this certainly is not a call to walk cautiously
through life, weary of being mislead, manipulated or
taken advantage of. Actually, this will inevitably happen
anyway. And, it'll make you more perceptive, savvy and
aware of "seeing both sides" before making
any firm decisions that affect your comfort or future.
13. The Bigger the Front, the Bigger
Surprise! This principle is an
elaboration of the one previous. We all know that front
and back exist, but being aware of the front and back
depth factor makes all the difference. The great degree
of seduction you experience from something, is usually
proportional to the detailed scrutiny you should consider
before venturing further.
I have a neighbor who just started
dating after a painful divorce and three years of self-imposed
exile. Walking our dogs one morning, I explained the
meaning of big front and big back. She thought about
it for a moment and then her light bulb seemed to go
off: "So, if I lust after this guy in my office
who seems like Don Juan incarnated and makes all the
right moves with romancing me, sending little presents,
writing sweet poetry and slow dancing by the water cooler,
then, after several dates discover he's a cross-dressing,
inarticulate, stingy, germaphobe who hates womenis
this a big front, bigger back issue?"
Everything grows in proportion.
"Not you get, what you see," a popular teen
expression, underscores the lesson of front and back.
14. Respect Your Elders
To me, this seems like the result
of maintaining a one grain, ten thousand, philosophy.
We owe deep gratitude to our elders. Any elder should
be a respected part of the human community. Our courtesy,
willingness to help and protect elders is how we express
this gratitude. They are our teachers.
Something cruel and out of character
that I once did--this will serve as my confessional--had
a profound effect on my attitude toward elders. I was
living in Southern California and flying along the left
speed lane of the freeway in my ultra sleek convertible
sports car thinking I'm too cool for words, when suddenly,
this old man in giant wrap-around sunglasses at the
wheel of a Buick (they're always driving Buicks!) enters
my lane about 50 feet in front of me at half my speed.
I lay on my loud horn big time
and nearly startle the prunes out of him. Matter of
fact, it looked, from the way he was startled, like
I almost inspired a heart attack. Mr. Cruiser spills
into the next lane and I pull up along side, ready to
wave my index finger in that condescending "naughty
boy, no-no!" look and give him the mean Cuban evil
eye, when he pulls off his sunglasses to meet my stare.
He looks just like my beloved grandfather and obviously
is very shaken up. My intrusive horn brutally yanked
him out of whatever world he was comfortably wandering
around in. He's waiting for me to scream or give him
the finger, but immediately I realize how insensitive
and callous my actions were.
At that moment, I had the impulse
to sob. I mouthed, "Sorry!" But, he only stared
at me, expressionless. As I continued to drive I thought
that no doubt, he was somebody's grandfather. And, no
doubt, I scared him good. On one hand, he'll probably
be more aware of entering fast lanes at a snails speed
in the future, but on the other, I should have been
more respectful, compassionate and diplomatic.
It reminds me of a piece of calligraphy that I have
framed in my home. It's from Japan and I was told that
the single character displayed means, "Entu;"
to be like water. When water approaches a sudden block,
it will, despite it's remarkable strength and tenacity,
go around and make a new path. Why couldn't I go around
this old man, instead of blasting him? I'm grateful
to him. Despite that this happened many years ago, I
always think twice about using my horn.
15. Embody Active Gratitude
I once read a quote from Michio
Kushi that said, "Economy is the practice of gratitude."
Reading that quote profoundly moved something in me;
It helped me to understand a more meaningful way to
express gratitude by being more socially conscious and
conservationally minded. Offering thanks, giving to
others, saying grace before and after eating, all constitute
I heard a speaker recently say that our face is "public
property--how much effort does it take to smile at others?"
Smiling, offering warmth and practicing in all things,
kindness, is a form of active gratitude.
Writer and popular American radio
show host, Dennis Prager wrote a very inspirational
book called, "Happiness is A Serious Problem."
In the book, Prager explains that the most common factor
happy people seem to share is a deep sense of reverence
and gratitude. They have no expectations, so whatever
happens they are genuinely surprised and grateful.
I'm not sure it's possible to be a modern person existing
in a large metro area and live with absolutely no expectations,
however, I suspect that the degree of attachment to
expectations is the real issue. It's all right to have
expectations as long as you maintain a frame of mind
that really feels it's equally all right for those expectations
to not happen. I have a friend who is a devout Christian
Scientist. His motto is, "prepare for the worst,
expect the best."
Herman Aihara was fond of this
principle and included it in his teachings to remind
us that our original sustenance and nourishment comes
from the soil. "Body and soil, not two," says
an old Japanese proverb. The soil produces the vegetation
that feeds the animal kingdom as well as humanity. We
eat from our locale to become more attuned to our bodies
as well as the elements.
An ecological perspective is also a social onewe
live with a no-waste principle and realize that the
way we manage our environment is reflective of our personal
condition. It is one of many growth mirror's for us.
Being ecologically minded is just not a trait that we
mechanically demonstrate, it should be something that
we feel; a concern for what we use and do not use and
a concern for where it comes from and how we can replace
Develop the appetite to turn your
weaknesses into strengths. Challenging ourselves builds
discipline and will. Challenging our ability to care
for ourselves was an integral part of Ralph Waldo Emerson's
'Self-Reliance" theory. I find goal making one
particularly effective way of doing this. Every New
Year's Day, under the categories of health, finance,
creativity, relationships, work, emotional character,
education, environment (home) and spiritual practice,
I list numerous goals for each category.
Every month I do a brief assessment of what I'm doing
toward realizing these goals as the year evolves. This
monthly accounting keeps me motivated. And, positive
results usually add even more incentive. The idea is
not to simply produce, but to discover amusement while
challenging our self-imposed limitations. What I do
not accomplish, I re-list the following year if it still
has appeal. How we feel about ourselves, deep inside,
is the most primary relationship we have. Feeling accomplished,
versatile and having a sense of personal pride enhances
18. Cultivate A Sense Of Humor
Ohsawa called 'Good Humor' one
of the basic conditions of health. Humor comes from
the Latin word humere, which means, "to be wet,
or fluid, like water." In Buddhism and Taoism,
water imagery represents flowing freedom and perfect
naturalness. If you think about it, humor has a watery
quality that we can be most receptive to by "going
with the flow," allowing ourselves the mental flexibility
to be open and taken by the imagery of the comic, or
the comic irony of a particular situation.
In foolishness or silliness, there is a sense of the
sublime. Embodying this principle offers us a secret
power in being able to lift our spirits at almost any
given moment. And, it brings us to experience child-like
qualities of our vulnerable, spontaneous and joyful
Feeling or expressing something
humorous is a novel way to experience 'being in the
moment.' Recall when you've really been amused or laughed
aloudwere you thinking about your mortgage tax
that's due? Were you thinking about your childhood and
your cruel stepfather with his martial punishments?
How about your overbearing bosswas he on your
mind? Truth is, it would be difficult, because humor
invites you into the present moment and then locks the
door. Now, you're face to face with joy. And, it engages
100% of your intention (unless the humor is really bad).
Experiencing this and being mindful of it will help
you become more consistently present in everything you
Humor can give us new ways to view
uncomfortable circumstances, thereby becoming a coping
tool. There are many events that occur in our lives
that we really have no control over. For some, this
sense of powerlessness can be grounds for frustration
and depression. By developing a humorous outlook we
find ways to minimize these situations to our best advantage.
We must learn to laugh at ourselves a well as with others.
Obviously, humor does not cure
all, but a sense of humor has a unique way of helping
you navigate through life's daily disappointments and
upsets. It doesn't really change anything for the long
haul, but it usually makes everything instantly more
tolerable and sometimes can give you a new way to reframe
your situation. Humor, the Vitamin "H" of
good medicine, is free, can be shared, and most definitely
can be contagious! Can't ask for much more.
19. Non- Credo (Do Not Believe)
Hardly meant as an attitude of
arrogant denial, non credo simply reminds us to not
blindly believe. It teaches us that the most sustaining
and meaningful ways to learn something is through your
own experience. You can believe that you can climb a
mountain and by looking at it carefully theorize about
its terrain and where climbing difficulty might occur
and how any emergencies would be handled. But to actually
climb the mountain and experience anxiety, fear, the
potential of death and finally triumph, imprints a deep
conviction about your abilities that conceptualizing
cannot. Belief is merely an emissary of the intellect.
Non credo also means to challenge and question for a
20. Growth is Spirallic, Not Linear
The most common pattern found in
nature and all phenomena is the spiral. We see it in
every day patterns; Autumn leaves headed toward the
ground in a spirallic freefall; the helical form of
DNA and RNA; the rings of a seashell, exhaust smoke
coming out of car, sound waves, etc. Within the movement
of a spiral, there is always a return near the place
of origin, but in a more evolved direction.
Our personal growth parallels this
movement; we get better, we get worse, we get better,
we get worse. Growth is rarely linear. No one just,
'gets better.' Often, it's getting worse that becomes
our best teacher and enables us to recover. This give
us a point of measurability toward seeing a larger picture.
21. Seek Significance
The late senior macrobiotic teacher,
Herman Aihara, used to give wonderful lectures on the
meaning of life. Some of his inspiration was based on
the writings of Vicktor Frankl, whose pivotal book from
the 1950s, "Man's Search for Meaning," emphasized
the need for living our lives with purpose. Often, in
macrobiotic lingo, this is called, "dream."
As in, having a big dream. What ever we seek that feels
significant offers meaning; social meaning, personal
meaning and spiritual meaning. Find ways to inspire
life; ways that help, heal or amuse. Seek significance.
22. Cultivate Intuition
Intuition is one our essential
characteristics. It's the ability to recognize impulse.
We hear a certain voice inside of ourselves (among the
many that exist there), and it offers a solution, advice
or insight. If we listen to that voice, over a period
of time, and trust its direction, we'll discover confidence
from its accuracy. This occurs when we begin to recognize
"the voice" and realize that it's the voice
Continually, in small ways we can test ourselves: guessing
who the letter is that sits in our mailbox, intuiting
who is calling us when the telephone rings, maybe finding
yourself lost one day while driving and finding your
back without a map or directions. These are ordinary
and simple games to use and test intuition, and in the
process learn more about how we reason and how we intuit.
More complex intuitive-developing
exercises include asking yourself questions and noticing
your immediate response (intuition doesn't analyze or
evaluate--it's instinctive), You can strengthen intuitive
sensitivity by balancing rest with activity, reducing
stress to comfortable management and a stable, whole
food diet. When the body is more relaxed, intuitive
faculties become more apparent. However, if your body
is engaged in furious hormonal activity, as happens
with the rising and falling of blood sugar, your sensitivity
to energy outside yourself and as well as others, can
Foods that elevate your metabolism
or body heat, such as stimulants (caffeine, sugar, spices,
etc.) contribute to blood sugar instability and heat
up the body, making it less sensitive to intuition.
Whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables, moderate
amount of oils and some fruit are good foods for regulating
There's a very fine line between
intuition and fear. Your clarity of mind will be able
to distinguish whether it's fear, or the voice of intuition.
The intuitive voice is rarely an emotional one. It speaks
calmly and clearly. Once you recognize it, you'll never
forget its sound.
MACROBIOTIC PRINCIPLES RELATING TO FOOD
23. Select Local Foods
In the days before the importation of foreign foods,
people were confined to eating foods that grew within
their locality, just like animals in the wild. A larger
percentage of the foods we import are not suitable for
everyday fare because they grow in climates more suited
to their nutrition. In warmer climates we tend to eat
foods that are higher in simple sugar content, large
leaf greens, less whole grain and less animal protein.
As we go further north into more harsh climates, we
discover the need for more salt, less sweet foods, more
grain, vegetable stews, perhaps a small amount of animal
protein for certain individuals, etc. These foods inspire
warmth and offer more concentrated energy, as opposed
to the more cooling effect of raw foods, fruits and
I remember when I lived in British
Columbia during the mid-70s, there was a growing vegetarian
movement. Many of these young people attended my local
lectures, as we ran a macrobiotic center. They were
interested in the cosmology, but not the food. Their
diets were strictly raw and fruit oriented. Fruit shakes
(now called 'Smoothies'), fruit puree's, dried fruit,
and nuts were their staples. For fat, they'd eat more
oily dishes and nuts and nut sauces seemed to be an
integral part of every dish. During the summer months
and fall months, they'd migrate to the interior of the
province to work as fruit pickers for the short summer
season. However, at the first hint of BC's harsh interior
winter, they'd flee to California.
Since they were vegetarian and not particularly fond
of salt, aside from vegetables, there was very little
of any strong alkaline substances in their diet and
their bodies simply couldn't tolerate the cold. If we
make our blood more summery, that is, filled with more
sugar, it's more difficult to adapt to colder weather.
If the local birds had access (and appetite) for dried
mango, pineapple juice and plenty of cider, all they'd
want to do in the fall is watch television and eat potato
chips, instead of building nests, accumulating food
and miscellaneous bird errands.
When I lived in my first study
house in Boston during the early 70s, we used to have
several house members that would constantly complain
of the cold. While the rooms were indeed, cool, "cold"
was relative to each individual. Eventually, it came
to light that the complainers were the ones slipping
out late at night and stuffing their faces with cheesecake.
Then, they'd return home and raise the heat. Imagine
that! Sneaky people, they were. Then, our household
head put a sign on the wall above the thermostat: "Change
your blood, not the thermostat!' That showed them good.
Considering I was one of the complainers, it was an
embarrassing, but memorable lesson.
Sometimes, it's not possible to
select locally grown food and in that case foods grown
in the same latitude can suffice. Make imported foods
for the odd specialty dish and enjoy them as something
you do for variety.
Foods into Principle & Secondary & Pleasure
This principle gives a grounding order to your eating.
I consider Principle foods to be the basis sustenance
foods such as whole grain, vegetables and beans. Secondary
foods can be considered to supplement principle foods.
They can be whole grain products, animal proteins, fruits
and condiments. These secondary foods help add balance
to our diet. Pleasure foods, for those in good health
or recovering, can be small amounts of, "WYW."
This is what I write on clients recommendation sheets
when I counsel.
WYW means, whatever you want.
Really? Absolutely! Take the smallest amount and allow
yourself to enjoy it fully without fear or worry about
dropping dead within five minutes. "Life is too
short to stuff a mushroom," goes a famous quote.
If you're really obsessing about a food, find it, seek
the best quality, and enjoy a small quantity. No guilt
or remorse is allowed. This is all after the fact. Sometimes
those little pleasures, even a mouthful, can be "medicinal,"
providing a soothing homeopathic effect and literally
stopping the craving instantly.
For people on a healing path, the
concept of a Pleasure food category might be premature.
I encourage them to reframe how they think about feeling
deprived of their favorite goodies and realize that
as a part of their healing, they are no longer eating.
Instead, they just happen to be taking very tasty daily
medicine for a brief period of time to assess its value.
Consider it an "experiment." Sometimes, I'll
ask a client on a healing regime who is having cravings
for unhealthy foods, if they feel "deprived."
If they answer yes, I will ask them, "what's the
bigger deprival?" The bigger deprival is not satisfying
your sweet tooth for 7 minutes, but life, itself.
25. Digestion Begins in the Mouth
According to legend, the archaic Chinese character for
chewing is composed of the ideograms for God and Work.
Perhaps this meant that by chewing you can digest more
thoroughly, eat less, absorb more, maintain low acidity
and find yourself more calm, more present. In this state,
you're closer to spirit. I used to hear all these chewing
commands from macrobiotic teachers and articles about
how many times one should chew.
To this I say, 'get a life.' It always seemed like chewing
100x was the best and most approved goal. That might
work for a while. But, one principle active here is
that all extremes change into their opposite. Fanatic
chewers often become gulp eaters. I suggest searching
for some kind of middle ground. Mark Twain had an amusing
idea. He said: 'Eat what you want and let the food fight
it out." Sometimes, this advice can be therapeutic.
As someone who wrote one of the
first feature articles in a national magazine on chewing
("Mastication" - East West Journal, Jan. 1975),
I now think the pre-occupation with chewing is a bit
tired and displaced. I see so many people at some of
the conferences I've attended chewing diligently, taking
forever and focusing intensely. I would suggest to focus
on taste and allow that to encourage continued chewing,
as opposed to strict mechanics. What chewing really
does is expose more surface area of the food to saliva,
allowing it to pre-digest foods with its alkaline enzymes.
This is the first stage of carbohydrate digestion.
One helpful suggestion for better
chewing is to separate the saliva from the food as you
chew. I know this might sound a bit bizarre and overly
technical, but it can make all the difference in chewing
more efficiently and briskly. Usually, we swallow when
we become overwhelmed with saliva. If you're continually
swallowing saliva (and not food), as you chew, you'll
be able to grind the food more effectively. I used to
call this, "fluid separation." If you've ever
sucked on a cough drop or a hard candy, you do the same
You move it around, allowing the saliva to bathe it,
and then park it somewhere to the side of your tongue
as you separate the saliva and swallow it without downing
the cough drop. It's somewhat instinctive, but being
aware of this can make chewing quicker and easier. Now,
for very busy people what I am simply saying in all
of the above is to: Separate the fluid from the mass,
swallow it and continue to chew.
I rarely recommend counting your
chews, this just becomes obsessive. I recommend thorough,
conscious chewing at one meal weekly where you chew
a gazillion times per mouthful, continually swallowing
the saliva that is being formed so you can continue
chewing the same mouthful. That one meal each week,
will continually make you more conscious of chewing
in general. And it's really not necessary to take a
vow of silence, play special music or act like you're
involved in a ritual molar crushing activity.
26. Be Mindful of Acid & Alkaline
Properties in Food
There's a lot of controversy about relating to food
in terms of acid and alkaline elements. I once contacted
a famous physician who had written a university text
on acid and alkaline in the human body. I was excited
to share my information about acid and alkaline food
fundamentals. He wrote me back a brief email saying
that, "concerning yourself with acid and alkaline
is only useful in end-stage kidney metabolism."
He may have overlooked the fact that over 3 billion
dollars is spent yearly on antacids--a direct result
of poor food combinations, emotional eating, overeating
and acid-based foods.
Whenever I hear someone talking about, "acid blood,"
it's usually an indicator that they know very little
about acid and alkaline. The blood never remains acid
for very longwe're talking about seconds, here.
Whenever an acid is introduced into the blood, immediate
mineral storages (from bones, tissue fluids, bile, spinal
fluid, etc.) enter the blood to neutralize the acid
so metabolism can continue in the alkaline medium it
requires. Your bile may be weakened (which will affect
fat metabolism), your cell fluids (intra and extra-cellular
fluids) can become more acid and you can begin the frightening
process of losing bone minerals, because the bloods
needs for balance come first.
So, in reality, for what science currently know about
blood, the blood is the last to suffer from acids. Measuring
pH balance with pH test papers can only show salivary
acidity or urinary stress. it's actually a very poor
indicator of your internal pH within cells, other body
In many of the raw food nutrition
books, there is some very misleading information about
acid and alkaline that seems derived from the popular
Hay diet of the 1930's. They claim that fruits and vegetables
are alkaline. This is partially correct (vegetables,
for the most part, are alkalizing), as I devote an entire
chapter to this in my book, "Nature's Cancer-Fighting
Foods," When you burn the vegetable to analyze
its ash content for minerals, this becomes the determining
factor on what is acid and what is alkaline.
This process of titration, is done in a lab. Unfortunately,
the sugar of the fruit is burned as well and this is
clearly not something that naturally occurs in the body
during normal digestion. In the human body, we have
to digest that sugar and despite the fruits mineral
content, the sugar ends up leaving us with an acid condition.
Fatigue is one of the first signs of acidity.
Excessive acid can have an inflammatory
effect on tissue, causing tissue to swell and in turn
aggravate joint health, promote tumor growth and weaken
the bodies mineral reserves. Alkalinizing dietary factors
in our diet come from the use of salt, reduced volume,
physical activity, breathing exercises with emphasis
on exhalation, vegetables and sea vegetables.
Acidifying dietary factors in our diet come from the
use of grain products, whole grains (a mild acid that
can be neutralized with soaking, cooking, use of salt
and chewing), beans, excessive proteins, fruits, sugar,
overeating, vinegar, etc. Following a dietary path of
whole grains, vegetables, beans, sea vegetables with
limited animal proteins (optional) and fruits, offers
a wide balance that proves its merit fairly quickly.
27. Use the
Five Tastes, Textures and Colors in Food Preparation
The five tastes are: Biter, Sweet, Sour, Salty and Pungent.
Using these tastes in your daily food preparation can
create a greater sense of variety and sustain more balance
and satisfaction in your eating. What really makes Fish
and Chips appealing for most people is what they put
on it: sodium (salty taste), ketchup (sweet taste),
vinegar (sour taste--common to Brits and Canadians),
salsa (pungent taste) and cole slaw (cooling taste to
balance pungent flavors).
The western diet is so filled with
tastes that you cannot blame someone who initially sits
down for their first grain and vegetable meal and asks,
"don't you use any spices?" Different tastes,
colors and textures offer a whole new world of variety
and make the food more palatable. Eventually, you'll
find that you might prefer simple tastes and don't have
to doctor everything you eat with a myriad of tastes,
but for certain occasions, medicinal dishes, introductory
meals, etc., this can be invaluable. The one taste that
I find people miss most when eating a grain a vegetable
diet is the crunchy taste.
Ever order Chop Suey in a Chinese
restaurant? It's a kind of gooey dish with cooked vegetables
in a thickening (corn starch, arrowroot or kuzu) sauce.
What makes this dish fun and satisfying is the dried
noodles that they give you to add at your own discretion.
This is a good example of texture use. Soup with oatmeal
is not the greatest combination, because their textures
are similar. but soup and bread is the yin and yang
of texture. After eating pot-cooked brown rice with
steamed vegetables for a number of days, someone new
to whole food eating, will kill for a piece of bread.
Textures are necessary. Sometimes, you may just be looking
for a texture in your meal.
Colors cater to our sense of psychological
appetite. If it looks pleasing on a plate, your appetite
can increase. Plain lentils in a brown bowl is not very
appealing to look at. It might look like something you'd
find in a roadside toilet. But, there's hope! Using
a colored bowl, a garnish of parsley and carrot and
voila! You've dressed it up with more visual appeal.
This can make a big difference to someone first attempting
to eat grain and vegetables.
28. Avoid Late Night Eating
Here's a great experiment you can do. Eat a lot of food
right before your got to bed. In fact, eat in bed and
then go right to sleep. For one thing, you'll dream
more. But, while your sleep might be cerebrally entertaining,
you will feel as if a truck ran over you when you awakenthat
is, if you can manage to haul yourself out of bed. And,
your clarity suffers. In Chinese medicine, they say
that the liver is the guardian of sleep. Deep, sound
sleep allows us to enjoy wide awake, energetic days.
That's a good thing. Eating before bed will invariably
make you awaken feeling sluggish and craving a stimulant
to get through your day. That's not a good thing.
But, sometimes, it's just hard
to avoid, isn't it? You've been busy, no time to eat
and you finally arrive home late, famished, but dead
tired. So, what do you do? In this case, eat a very
small amount, if necessary, and sleep slightly elevated.
The reason many macrobiotic suggestions advise waiting
three hours before going to bed after eating is because
this is usually that amount of time it takes for the
stomach to empty. For maximum clarity of mind and physical
energy for your following day, not eating for three
hours before you retire works well.
29. Quantity Changes Quality
Ohsawa was fond of this principle. I think this is a
very undervalued principle. Quantity is not always related
to overeating. Quantity also refers to nutrient excess;
such as too much fat, protein or carbohydrates. Frequently,
people place excessive importance on quality of foods.
Often, in telling me about their current health, a client
will say, "Basically, I eat really good food..."
Or, I'll hear, "I eat super well!" These comments
usually refer to the quality of their food; they buy
it in health food stores, it might be organic, imported,
etc. However, that's not the real concern.
Once, I had this well known client
from the entertainment world. He had been diagnosed
with an inflamed pancreas and balked at my suggestion
to refrain from smoking marijuana. His face turned red
scrunched up, like a kid whose toy had been taken away
and after a moment's thought initiated this dialogue:
"You know how much I pay for an ounce?"
- "I'm really not concerned."
"But it's the most pure Northern Cal home grown--it's
got so much resin, I could throw it against the wall
and it'll stick..."
-"That's not the point. THC resins exist in the
primo brand that you smoke just as it does in what we
used to call during the 1960s, cheap 'headache pot'
from Mexico. Quality is not the issue, here. It's concentration
of nutrientor in this case, resins. It'll still
hinder immune function and promote inflammation."
Another time, I advised a former
construction worker who was anemic and listless to stop
He had a four acre back yard and all kinds of fruit
trees that he carefully tended. "But, you don't
understand," he pleaded, "they're all organic
and we use the best water and soil..." and he went
on and on.
Finally, attempting to use a metaphor that he could
relate to I said, "If I told you that right now,
I'm going to hit you over head with a 2x4, but because
I like you I'm not going to use knotty pine, and instead,
I'll be using some fine polished spruce wood, would
that difference be a consolation?" He looked at
me like I was crazy (and apparently I did sound crazy)
and then laughed.
"Guess it really wouldn't matter, would it?"
Now we were both laughing. It's not about quality, I
explained. Quality should be a givenget the best
whenever possible. But, be mindful of nutrient quantity,--this
is what makes a big and significant difference in trying
to create balance.
30. Learn Food Preparation Fundamentals
you have helped to raise the standard of cooking, you
have helped to
raise the only thing in the world that really matters.
We only have one or
two wars in a lifetime, but we have three meals a day
there's nothing in the world that we do as much as we
- Will Rogers (1879-1935)
The first responsibility of self-care
demands we learn all we can to become more independent,
self-nurturing and creative. Learning how to prepare
food is essential. Cooking can become a very evolving
art when you discover various balancing factors. Cooking
brings out your intuition because when the beans are
ready, they'll really tell you as will the grain or
your soup. Well, they really don't talk to you, but
there is a voice that says, 'you might want to add more
miso to that..." to me, cooking is really about
Preparing food for friends is an
inspiring way to share some of yourself. Learn to select
healthy quality foods and prepare them a variety of
ways. You don't have to be Graham Kerr, galloping around
his kitchen set with a ladle held high, but at least
be willing to learn basics, make some foul-tasting cooking
mistakes and develop your abilities in the process.
Even cowboys know how to make a
good pot of beans...
And that Ain't the Last of Them...
There you have it: 30 principles for macrobiotic living.
Are there more?
They will continually be reinvented.
And, why not?
Verne Varona has become known as one of the most
captivating and dynamic health educators in the
country. For over thirty-five years, his lectures,
workshops and media appearances have motivated thousands
of people to take better and more conscious care
of their health. He is the author of, Nature's Cancer-Fighting
Foods (2001, Reward/Penguin Group), being released
in a revised edition during May, 2014, from Perigee
Books/Penguin Group. Verne's second book, Macrobiotics
for Dummies (May, 2009Wiley Publications),
is part of the internationally popular Dummies series
and is a comprehensive work that embraces a flexible,
multi-cultural health perspective on body, mind