Finding Fulfillment with Macrobiotics
by Michael Rossoff, L.Ac.
A basic goal with macrobiotics is to be truly satisfied with our daily eating. Many people, even after years of study and practice, remain unfulfilled. This becomes the unspoken cause for over eating or for habitual bingeing. There is a way out of this dilemma. It requires a clear understanding about the nature of foods, about our relationship to foods, about our mistaking the effects of other things we do and about our expectations for our life.
The nature of foods includes two essential factors. First is the nutritional side: the protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins contained in all foods. These are the measurable aspects. Yet these measurements do not convey the “vitality” factor of foods. Many people mistakenly believe that calories indicate this important side. Calories are a measurement of the heat given off when a food is burnt in a laboratory, not the inherent “vital force” contained within each food.
Chinese medicine evaluates all substances by their energy nature—either more yin or more yang. It also uses the 5 Phase Theory, which further distinguishes yin and yang into five classifications: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Yin-yang and 5 Phase are efforts to give meaning to the invisible quality of energy.
We need nutritionally sound foods, with ample vitamins, proteins, fats and sugars (carbohydrates). Even more central is the need for strong energies within these foods. The simplest way to achieve this is by buying organic foods whenever possible. The energetic benefits are worth the added expense. Likewise, tamari, miso and other common macrobiotic foods are much more enhanced with nature’s vitality when they are made by traditional methods.
Our relationship to food is deep and primal. It is also blended with years of habits, emotional entanglements and unconscious drives. We must distinguish our needs from our endless desires. We need to honor food as providing us both nourishment and sensory satisfaction. All too often the best macrobiotic practice is assumed to be very limited in food selection and range of flavors. No wonder macrobiotics has a reputation as a bland diet!
Macrobiotics must respect that there are numerous ways to gratify our natural senses. These include culinary herbs (such as basil, thyme, anise, rosemary and sage), daily use of salts (including miso, umeboshi, tamari and seaweeds) and oils (good ones include sesame, canola, and olive), and a valid place for sweeteners and fruits, fish and flour products and occasional beer or wine (for those who like it). Further, the art of cooking is fundamental to fulfilling the senses. This includes various cooking styles, food combinations and the subtle aspects that turn food into a beautiful and delicious meal.
Many people eat well balanced meals and assume they have achieved balance in their diets. But they often ignore the other substances that they take and the effects these can create. For example, some people take vitamins (and minerals). Others are ingesting “medicinal” items like blue-green algae, concentrated herbs, shark cartilage, melatonin and DHEA. Still others are on prescription medicines for high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or take hormones like estrogen or synthyroid. All of these—from the algae to hormones—have distinct and powerful effects. None are neutral; rather each is either more yin or more yang. Therefore, they often create intense cravings. For example, women taking estrogen often crave strong yin, like chocolate. Unless we recognize that these items exert powerful forces that demand to be balanced, we can easily feel strange, unexplainable cravings and desires. We can feel out of control.
What are our expecta tions for our life? The greater our clarity, the more simple it becomes to stay on a reasonable path for success. Otherwise, we are easily susceptible to the myriad influences from others, whether the “others” are family, friends, commercialism, or society’s norms. This degree of clarity requires that we come to know ourselves better. Who am I? What are my potentials? What are my dreams and aspirations? This is Inner Work. This is personal refinement and self-improvement. Macrobiotics won’t give you the answers. Rather it can offer you the well being to create the calm and open-minded reception necessary to discover the answers.
You may ask, How strict do I need to be to pursue and achieve the goal of well-being? To me the question is wrong. Better to ask, What is appropriate broadness to eating and lifestyle that will achieve this goal? The first question comes from the assumption that macrobiotics is a healing diet only. But a “healing” diet differs from a broader, natural macrobiotic approach by degrees of limitations. A healing diet may be necessary to create a “jump-start” to the self-healing powers, but even over the long term it will naturally broaden.
Others believe that “strict” means and that spiritual achievement automatically flows from a rigidly disciplined diet. This “spiritual diet” is the most unsuccessful because the degree of strictness has no end in sight. We always have room to grow spiritually, so we can stubbornly justify more and more narrow eating. But this is just fanaticism detached from reality—a true sense of how things are. Even fasting, the ultimate extreme, is impossible to maintain for very long. And so it should be.
Instead we need to cultivate the ability to switch from broad to “stricter” eating whenever we feel so inclined, whether for spiritual or any other reason. This is no longer experienced as “strict,” but as “simple” eating. Now each bite of such humble food can deeply satisfy all levels of nourishment. As satisfying as this can be, we need the flexibility to also eat broadly for our greatest adaptability to life in these modern times.
To me, “real” macrobiotics encompasses a spirit of learning through our experiences, using the Unique Principle of yin–yang that can inspire a greater understanding of all that is inside and outside of us. It is like using a magnifying glass to focus the sun at one spot. Then a spark ignites the fire. This is utilizing macrobiotics for living with a spirit of adventure and discovery.