Monday, April 14, 2014

The Difficulty of True Change

A very glorious and happy spring, everybody!
As we now move into the energy and majesty of the spring, this time falls on two very important holidays for members of the Jewish and Christian faiths: Passover and Easter. Both are ripe with messages related to freedom, renewal, resurgence, rebirth, and transformation. And both stories derive their magnificence due to the intervention of the Divine; the Israelites are able to survive the plagues and gain freedom from Egypt and Jesus transcends death and absolves the world’s sins, both thanks to the intervention and grace of God.
What I always have found so incredible about both of these stories is not so much the presence of God’s miracles or his incredible power, but rather the reaction and resistance of those who are bearing witness to these events. In the Exodus story, it takes Moses 7 days of conversation with God (via the Burning Bush) before he finally agrees to go back into Egypt, and then only when God allows Aaron to serve as Moses’s voice. And once Moses returns to Egypt, not only does Pharaoh ignore the wonders of God, but also so do the Israelites. They doubt Moses event after witnessing such wonders, and after crossing the Red Sea they immediately return to a state of sin and doubt and disbelief. In the Easter story, Jesus encounters doubt and disbelief throughout this entire ministry in spite of his many miracles and divine acts. Even Peter claims to not know Jesus after his arrest, and denies his previous association as one of his Disciples.
So what do we take away from these two ancient and profound stories? Again, what I find so incredible is no matter how grand or raw or absolutely indescribable God’s miracles are, his agents on Earth are still met with disbelief and doubt. What does this tell us about the nature of humanity? What I take away from these two stories is that it is very, very hard to open ourselves up to the presence and power of the Divine. Or, perhaps to expand it into a broader aspect of time, it is a very difficult thing to try and change our belief systems or our actions, regardless of what we are being presented with to the contrary. How many times do we find ourselves literally or figuratively praying for some change in our life (Please help me find a better job…Please help me get healthier…Please help me be free of this bad habit…etc.) and when presented with the solution we become doubtful or
afraid and consciously or unconsciously we choose not to change? How many times do we ask for the Divine to intercede on our behalf but then panic when we feel something in our lives change? It seems we have a tendency to want everything to change while simultaneously wanting nothing to change. I want to be happier and have more calmness in my life, but I refuse to live my life differently or change how I approach the way I am living. I want to be free of disease but don’t want to change my lifestyle or dietary habits. I want more free time and a more peaceful day, but refuse to give up the job I hate because I don’t want to downsize my house or lose my possessions.
I don’t mean this in a judgmental or critical way, as I know I have been very guilty of this time and time again in my own life. Rather, I mean this as a reflection on a pattern that we as a species appear to be repeating over and over again. And why do we repeat this pattern of praying for a miracle but turning our backs when our prayers appear to have been answered? Because it is hard to change!!! Very hard! To truly change the way that the Divine asks us to change is a transformation from our most fundamental and core levels and flow outward into all other areas of our lives. Nobody lives in a vacuum, and even a small change in one aspect of an individual’s life can have dramatic effects on all areas of life.
So at this time of year when so many people around me are celebrating Passover and Easter, what I try to take away from these spiritual traditions is 1) True change is difficult to accept into our lives, and should not be undertaken lightly. Before I ask for a change in my life, either from a Divine or Earthly source, am I truly prepared to accept that change into my life? 2) Am I fully in the present moment so that when a miracle occurs, or a powerful shift or change is about to occur in my life, will I be able to even recognize its presence or power? Do I allow the distractions of the world to keep me from seeing the might and intervention of the Divine in my life, or do I stay diligent in staying mindful and in the present moment so I am aware enough see this change coming my way?
As we all now move into Spring and move through these two lovely spiritual holidays, whether we celebrate them or not, there is so much we can take away from the messages around us and enrich our own lives. With the rebirth and resurgence of life happening throughout all of nature, this is a ripe and perfect time to follow the example of the trees and flowers and undergo our own rebirth and renewal. But as we do, are we ready for what shifts and changes may come?
Be well!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Power of Our Words

Happy New Years Eve, everyone!

As we move into a glorious new year, one full of potential and hope and promise, it is common that many of us seek to make resolutions and personal commitments and goals. I wanted to share a little experiment that I conducted in November in hopes that it can serve as a motivation to become more conscious and aware of the power of our words and thoughts in this upcoming year.

If you have never heard of Dr. Emoto before, I highly recommend you check out his amazing website to see all about the incredible work he has done showing the incredible power of words, sounds, thoughts, and symbols, and how their energy changes us right down to the molecular level. While reading one of his many accounts of the power of words, I came across an experiment that was done with a group of school-aged children. The children (who I believe were in Japan) were given two bowls of rice, and were instructed to say loving words to one bowl of rice whenever they entered the room, and negative words to the other bowl. After about a month or so, the negative rice had turned black and foul while the positive bowl remained clean and sweet smelling. I thought this sounded like a great idea, so I got to work!

I pressure cooked some short grain brown rice, and divided the rice into two sterilized glass jars. I think wrote "I Love You" on a piece of paper and taped it to the outside of one glass, and "I Hate You" on the other. Then, once a day for 30 days I would go to the two jars, and for 1 minute say and thinking loving and kind words to the Love jar (You're Beautiful; I Love You; You are Wonderful; etc.) and negative words to the other (You're Ugly; I Hate You; You Failure; etc.).

At the end of the month, the rice looked about the same (no yucky black mold) so I was curious as to whether the words did anything or not. When I opened up the jars and emptied out the rice, I absolutely saw and smelled the difference!

As you can see, the "I Love You" rice remained very moist and soft. It had a pleasantly sweet, lightly fermented smell (for all my Macrobiotic friends, it smelled exactly like Natto!), and I was struck by how all the grains were in a single mass. I know it may sound silly, but it was like they were all holding onto one another. By comparison, the "I Hate You" rice was very, very sour smelling, and despite the fact that both jars were sealed (so no water could evaporate out) the rice was very dry, almost dessicated looking. It was lacking in moisture, and the grains all fell apart from one another. Again, it was like they were "pushing" one another away.

It isn't anything groundbreaking or shocking I fully admit, but it really struck me that there really was a very noticeable difference between the two jars. It made me think about not only what we do to one another when we say hurtful words, but what is happening when we think them? Either towards ourselves or others, every word and thought gives off a vibrational energy, and that energy is changing us at the very base levels of our physical being. And if these words can change the structure and life cycle of a few grains of rice in just a few weeks, what does a lifetime of angry, hurtful words and thoughts do to our own tissues and cells? Even if we never say these words out loud, they are still being generated and giving off their vibration, and the effects can be healing or damaging, depending on what it is we are saying and thinking.

Just a little thought as we ring in a brand new year. I for one am absolutely trying to be much, much more conscious of what it is that I have remain unspoken, my inner voice and inner dialogue. Just because an angry or hurtful thought goes unspoken doesn't mean it isn't capable of projecting its energy. And hopefully, with continued awareness and meditation and mindfulness, all of us can change the way in which we form our words and thoughts and feelings so that we are projecting more love and healing and kindness out into the world, and down into our inner selves.

Have a beautiful and happy new year, and be well!


Monday, November 25, 2013

My Love Affair with Kirtan

My Introduction to Kirtan
         My then yoga teacher, Gopali Vaccarelli, who is an incredibly gifted teacher and has been a major spiritual influence in my life, first introduced me to Kirtan in 2006. I had never heard of Kirtan before, but all I knew was that it involved the practice of chanting mantras and other words from the Indian/Hindu cultures. It sounded exotic and fascinating, and I was eager to learn more about the yogic philosophy, so I enthusiastically told her that I would be attending the Kirtan workshop she was hosting at her studio the following week.  Gopali had invited her spiritual teacher and mentor, Suzin Green, to lead the Kirtan that evening as Suzin had made a career out of sacred spiritual work and often used mantra and Kirtan as part of her personal spiritual practice and in her healing work with clients and individuals.
         I entered into Gopali’s studio that night, found a spot, and tried to settle into the moment. There I sat before Suzin, a woman who radiated spiritual energy and compassion, and listened to a sound that I had never heard before: the drone of a harmonium. From the first pump of the bellows, I felt my soul transported to another world. For two hours we sang and chanted with Suzin’s amazing voice leading us, and the otherworldly, ethereal sound of her harmonium opening up the portal to a higher plane of existence. I felt completely transformed and in absolute awe of the experience I had just had, and didn’t know what to do next! I continued to practice yoga with Gopali, learning more about mantra and yogic chanting and this approach to meditation. I had tried to meditate before, but found the process intimidating and impossible. But now, with mantra and chanting, I had a mental tool to assist me in my meditative journey. Suddenly I had a very easy way to enter into meditation, and felt I had found a new way of studying and experiencing spirituality.
kirtan        At the same time, I knew I had to study more with Suzin! After speaking with Gopali I learned that at the time Suzin held a weekly mantra and meditation group in Princeton, and I diligently attended every work for almost a full year. I felt I had found my new church, my new congregation. The people who attended were just as interested as I was in this style of spiritual practice, and the room hummed with our combined energy and desire for something deeply personal and profound. I learned so much about the Divine during that time, and began to create for myself a new spiritual practice. Sadly after that year I wasn’t able to continue to attend Suzin’s classes as my work scheduled changed. But I was hooked and was not about to let this feeling and experience go! I spoke with Suzin about how I could continue to practice Kirtan and sacred chanting, and with her guidance purchased my own harmonium and began to slowly learn how to play this exotic and wonderful instrument.
         Since that first evening of being exposed to this incredible practice, chanting with the harmonium remains one of my most precious and important forms of spiritual expression. When I chant, especially with the sound of the harmonium accompanying me, I feel like I am transcending the realms of the physical and am beginning to reunite with God. My mind changes, my thoughts stop, and I merge back with the Divine. It actually reminds me of the writings of the experiences of St. Teresa of Avila; St. Teresa being overcome with the rapturous presence of God and would levitate from the ground in a state of spiritual ecstasy. And while I haven’t had this experience yet myself (although perhaps someday I will!), it has shown me a different side of spiritual experience. Too often prayer and spiritual communion is presented as somber and serious and almost sad, but when I am practicing my mantra with the harmonium I commune with God in a way that is full of joy and ecstasy and incredible joy. It is for this reason, and for all of these other reasons that I have chosen to share Kirtan with you and with the class for my final project.
A Brief History of Kirtan
         Kirtan is a relatively new practice, being only about 500 years old or so, although it is possible that it is older than that. However, it is agreed that approximately 500 years ago in 1506 the Indian saint Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu popularized the practice of Kirtan while India was going through its Renaissance period. The word Kirtan transliterates from Sanskrit to mean, “to glorify.” Also known as sankirtan (to glorify in the presence of others), Kirtan is typically practiced in a large group or sanga which adds to its spiritual nature by acting as a force to bring people together and share in the moment as an integrated whole.
         The act of adding a musical/harmonious nature to the repetition of sacred Hindu mantras is very unique to Kirtan, as up until this time in history mantras were not practiced with any kind of accompanying music or rhythm. Mantra, which comes from the Sanskrit root words mana ‘the mind’, and tra ‘to deliver’, is a commonly utilized practice in many Eastern religions as a way to “deliver the mind” from the chains from material obsessions and instead give passage for the mind to achieve a higher state of spiritual consciousness. Thus mantra was and still is seen as a profound sacred tool in the act of uniting one’s mind with the greater spiritual aspects of the Universe. However, to properly chant and recite a mantra to receive its deepest benefits, the mind must be calm and clear and peaceful. Chaitanya introduced the musical and singing qualities to the act of reciting mantra as a way in which to calm and control the processes of the mind.  
There is also some thought that Kirtan pre-dates Chaitanya, going back as early as the 6th century. Like many early religious traditions, Hinduism had a strong patriarchal influence along with the caste system that was present throughout much of India’s history. These two factors worked together to prevent anyone from learning from the sacred Hindu texts in India unless they were a male child born into one of the upper caste levels. However, this began to change around the 6th century when poets began to travel throughout India singing verses from the Hindu Vedas and Upanishads to share the spiritual wisdom with others. This not only introduced the deeper teachings of Hinduism to the greater population, but did so in a musical manner.
Ultimately, the practice of Kirtan was introduced to the West in the early part of the 20th century as yogis and yoginis began to travel the world to teach the philosophies and practices of Indian culture, Hinduism, and the practice of yoga. Kirtan especially began to take off in this country in the 1960s when the hippie movement grew and members were looking to embrace the spiritual outlook and cultural traditions of the East. George Harrison in particular is credited with introducing a larger portion of the American population with the release of his single “The Hare Krishna Mantra”, which again works to blend the ancient art of mantra repetition with music and singing. From there, Kirtan has become a common practice in many yoga studios, Indian cultural centers, and Hindu temples.
harmonium kirtan
However, it must be mentioned that the Indian/Yogic/Hindu cultures do not hold a copyright on the practice of spiritual devotion through the practice of chanting and singing. As Russill Paul writes, “Every culture has its own form of sonic mysticism. Gospel music manifests the spiritual power of sound, as do symphony orchestras, Hebrew cantors, Sufi Qawwali singers, Siberian shamans, Benedictine monks, and the Tibetan Gyuto choir…Many ancient cultures viewed physical illness as a lack of harmony in the body; they used sound and music to restore its natural condition.”
         Overall, one of the aspects of Kirtan that has been so profoundly rewarding and spiritually nourishing for me is that it can be both a private practice and a congregational practice. There is nothing quite like being immersed in a large group of fellow chanters singing and meditating on the various names of the sacred Divine. But there can be just as much reverie and awe sitting alone and becoming fully engulfed in your own personal practice. The flexibility and fluidity and adaptability of a practice like Kirtan is, to me, a deeply important aspect for a sustainable spiritual practice to have. To become stuck and stagnant in a rut of “well this is what is done” can quickly drain away the precious quality of a spiritual practice, and with Kirtan there is no typical or normal. I have never been to two groups who practiced the same way, or even had my own private practice ever go exactly the same way from one day to another.
Kirtan is alive and malleable and adapts and grows as you yourself grow, and I can see and understand the process of my spiritual advancement and evolution as I see my Kirtan practice evolve and change as well. It is always available to me, even if I am in an environment full of noise and chaos I can allow the chanting to start in the quiets of my own mind and practice without anyone having to know. It is deeply personal, there is no right or wrong way to practice, and is a constant reminder of the peace and joy that can be obtained when one begins to move into a space closer to the Divine.
And what is so beautiful about the practice of Kirtan is that it does not require intellectual and logical understanding and study. Unlike other spiritual practices which demand a “right mind”, to chant in Kirtan requires no cerebral understanding of the meaning or transliteration of the mantra. As David Frawley writes, “Sanskrit mantras have an objective connection between sound and sense. Even if we do not know what they mean, we can benefit from their energetic quality if we cant them with an open mind. Their meaning will becomes clear to us in time. Such meanings are not dictionary meanings but connections to the cosmic energy and to the Divine Word.”

No matter what direction my spiritual path takes me next I know that my Kirtan will always be a part of the process. It has sent deep roots right into the core of my heart, and is as much a part of my being now as my bones and my breath. I love it, I thank it for coming into my life, and I am grateful for the bridge it is helping me to build between God and myself. Kirtan is for me, and in my experience for so many others, a pathway out of the world of suffering and the illusion of death and impermanence. To conclude, I would like to end with one of my favorite Kirtan mantras, the Maha Mrtunjaya Mantra, which is a Kirtan mantra associated with nurturing, rejuvenation, and healing by eliminating fears of death and loss. Some consider it to be the great mantra to become immortal. But since we are all of us already immortal at our core, I like to think that this mantra helps us to remember our immortality. Enjoy!

oṁ tryambakaṁ yajāmahe sugandhiṁ puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam-iva bandhanān mṛtyormukṣīya māmṛtāt

 Shelter me, Oh three-eyed Great Lord Shiva. Bless me with health and immortality, and deliver me from death as the gardener delivers and frees a cucumber from its creeper.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Being Given the Gift of Pain

As someone who is not quite yet 28 years old, I would not initially think that I would have to be worrying about back pain just yet. After all, I eat well, move my body daily through yoga and qigong, and see a chiropractor on a regular basis. So when I began to experience pain and spasms in my lower back two weeks ago that can be best described as crippling and mind-numbing in their severity, I can say it took me quite by surprise. I can vividly remember one instance when I felt a pain so severe in my sacrum that it felt like an electric current exploded up my spine and caused my jaw and teeth to lock. It was so bad I literally saw stars and swear I could actually taste it in my mouth. It took nearly two weeks to finally be back to the point where I could move without wincing, bend over without a lighting bolt shooting up my spine, and walk across a room in under 2 minutes. And during this time I have been reflecting quite a lot about what brought this pain upon me.

Initially, for the first 3-4 days, I was sent into a very negative spiral of the common questions a person may ask themselves when a shift in their health occurs seemingly out of the blue (which of course it wasn’t, but more on that in a bit). Why is this happening to me? I’m better than this! I’m too healthy to be feeling this horrible…But after this initial period of “poor-me” mentality, I took a breath and a step back, and tried as best as possible to meditate on what brought this about. After going back to basics on some of my earliest lessons learned in macrobiotics, I was blessed with a deeper understanding of these foundational truths. And this allowed me to not only accept my current situation, but to do so with an open heart and a grateful mind. I now see that this episode was a gift from my body, and allowed me to move deeper into my understanding and practice of macrobiotics.

There is No Such Thing as “Out of the Blue”

No matter how many times I am taught this lesson, it seems it hasn’t quite stuck yet. Hopefully it will this time! One of the first bits of wisdom I learned as I began studying macrobiotics is that we are all responsible for our health. Nothing just occurs with no reason, for that is not how nature operates. There can be no reaction without an initial action to have caused it to occur. So often in Western vernacular we talk about people who “got” cancer or “caught” the flu. Or that arthritis just “runs in the family” and there was nothing to be done. If there is one thing that practically every holistic philosophy shares in common, it is that we create our reality, and that includes our health. I think the Indian spiritual guru Dada Shri said it best, “The fault is of the sufferer.” I remember when I was first introduced to this phrase, I thought it was a bit mean sounding. But as I contemplate it more and more, I begin to see the incredible wisdom behind its meaning. If I find myself in a state of suffering, I allowed it to occur.  I don’t personally believe that this means we always want to become ill, although perhaps that is the case sometimes on a subconscious level, but rather that ultimately the circumstances that lead to our current state of suffering was due to our decisions and actions. I don’t see this as a critical or judgmental state of mind. Rather, a simple truth that forces us to reflect on what we individually did to bring about our current reality. When I began to look back at what I did to allow this incredible pain to develop within my spinal column, what fault I committed, I began to see how I allowed for this to occur. I had allowed myself to become overwhelmed by stress due to the education center I worked for being closed and losing my job as a result. I began to make excuses as to why I should skip yoga today or put off my qigong practice until tomorrow. I would sit in front of a computer for hours on end job searching, working on graduate school assignments, and not giving myself time to rest. I would work right up until bed, so that my head was still swimming when I attempted to sleep which lead to poor quality rest during the evening. This all occurred over a period of about 5 weeks prior to my spasms beginning, so how could I ever think that this just occurred out of the blue?

The Body Always Knows Best

My body isn’t stupid, so clearly it knew what it was dong. That must mean there was something important in this recent episode that I needed to learn or at least experience. The pain forced me to rest, to stop overworking, to take time to meditate and reflect and think gently about these questions. If I wasn’t experiencing this pain, I would have just continued on at the same frantic pace. So my body literally threw me to the ground and kept me from going over the edge of the cliff to something potentially much more severe and serious. And why back pain? Why did it not manifest in some other part of my body or as some other symptom? Considering it was directly in my lower back and causing deep pain in my bones and spinal column, this would be a sign that I my Kidney and Adrenal energy was experiencing an assault by what I was allowing into my life. After deeper reflection, this made perfect sense. I was experiencing Fear due to the impending impact on my income and financial stability, and Fear about finding a new job that would allow me to do the kind of work I wanted to do and still engage in my private work and classes. And I was exhausting my Adrenals through constant work without nearly enough rest and rejuvenation. My body was showing me that while I may be eating well, food is not the end of the story. Macrobiotics teaches us that while food is important, it is just one part of the greater picture of the influences on our health and our lives.

This awareness of not only where the pain was originating in the body was important to not only know how to treat the local discomfort, but also to discern the energetic and psycho-emotional origins of the issue. In this way my body was giving me exactly the information needed to treat the root cause of the pain to and facilitate healing on all levels. Relying only on methods that reduce the symptoms of the pain, even if using so-called “natural” methods, defeats the wisdom of the body. While seeing my acupuncturist was a true Godsend in terms of pain relief and releasing the energetic blockages, if I had stopped there I would not have learned anything. Using arnica gel helped me to sleep at night, but at the end of the day many of these remedies are following the same thought process as just popping an aspirin to kill the pain. My body didn’t create pain just so I could numb it, it was trying to tell me something important.

Getting Sick Doesn’t Mean You Failed

Macrobiotics seems to have been developing a very intense preoccupation with disease management. This is concerning to me, because macrobiotics is not medicine. And while it is a truly spectacular thing that so many physical ailments can be reversed and managed through a macrobiotic approach to life, limiting our application of macrobiotic theories to disease management is the same view that Western medicine takes to viewing the world. Instead, isn’t macrobiotics really about expanding and evolving as a human being, and allowing our individual growth to facilitate the growth and healing of the world around us? Some articles in this very magazine, especially those recent interviews with William Spear and Bill Tara, have articulated this idea perfectly. We have become too focused on how macrobiotics can shrink tumors or strengthen the lungs, and have lost the greater purpose of personal development and expansion of our consciousness to something greater than ourselves. If we keep this more narrow and limited view, every time we get a headache, backache, or stomachache we will naturally feel as though we are failing our purpose and that our macrobiotic path “isn’t working.” But why can’t illness be a part of the journey and important steps on the path to personal evolution? Maybe illness is a requirement to do so? So instead of thinking, “My back is on fire, what did I do wrong?” perhaps I should have been thinking, “My back is on fire. How about that? What is this trying to teach me?” Admittedly, this is easier said than done, especially in the throws of the pain, but that’s the challenge; to stay mindful and present and see the larger picture in all events, even those that we label as bad. If everything truly has a Front and a Back, what is the Front and Back to illness? Couldn’t one side of that coin be a positive and necessary experience? How many people have said that their cancer, heart attack, or other illness was the best thing that happened to them? Developing an illness isn’t a failure, it’s the initiating step needed to get our journey going!

Lessons Finally Learned

Now that the pain has been healed, I have developed a much renewed sense of joy for the moment to moments events of the average day. To be able to get up out of bed without wincing or tearing up makes the day suddenly seem all the more joyful and full of promise. Meals being prepared without pain make them all the more celebratory and enjoyable. And this has certainly helped my mind refocus its priorities to return to placing my self-care and growth above all else, which has (no surprise) only helped me do better quality work in those other areas of responsibility.

I feel all the more relaxed and energized and healthy from this experience. Who knows, perhaps the past two weeks were my body’s way of releasing an old blockage that has now been successfully discharged. And if that is so, than why would I ever have wanted to wish that experience away? I should embrace it joyfully, knowing again that my body is doing its job expertly. Hopefully I have learned whatever lessons I needed to learn from this experience, and can carry that knowledge along the rest of this journey. And if I haven’t, or l lose my way again, I feel confident that my body will give me another loving reminder to help me out. Either way, I know deeply within my soul that whatever it is, it’s exactly what I’ll need at that time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Nature of Energy

We talk about energy so much in the Macrobiotic community, but what practical purpose does an understanding of energy have to living a fulfilled and joyful life? Yes, we may study energy and energy medicine if we are practitioners of energy healing (Qi Gong, Reiki, Acupuncture, Marma Therapy, etc.) and so we commonly think of energy as this mystical force to be controlled and directed for physical healing.
This is certainly an important aspect of energy (the healing aspect, that is), but an understanding of the nature of energy goes so far beyond that! And whether or not you are a practitioner of energy medicine makes little difference in the importance of at least having a basic appreciation for the nature of energy.
Energy is, quite literally, everything.  This concept is discussed very frequently in the field of physics known as Quantum Mechanics, but the idea that all physical matter (and we mean ALL physical matter, including our bodies and cells and tissues) is at its core energy is an essentially proven fact in both the holistic and scientific fields. The rate at which energy is vibrating will determine how it manifests as physical matter (whether that energy gives rise to carbon or nitrogen or whatever). But remember, if everything is energy, then that means EVERYTHING is energy.  Our food is energy, our thoughts, our emotions, our clothing and houses, its all energy at the end of the day. So everything that we do, think, say, feel, expose ourselves to, it will all have a profound effect on how our energy field (the energy that is creating the physical body we currently inhabit). 
This may sound rather confusing, and that’s because it is.  We’re talking about the very nature of the universe after all! But the reason we bring this subject up today is not to confuse you or give you a headache, but rather to give you an idea of just how interconnected we are to our internal and external environment. As an external example, we so often talk about our food as a collection of nutrients. 
But if food, like everything else, is really just concentrated energy, then we need to think about what the energetic quality of that food is and how it will affect our energy level.  Was the food prepared with love (which will impart that love energy into us when we eat it), or was it processed in a giant machine somewhere by stressed out people? As an internal example, do I put up a brave face every day and show the world that I am happy and confident, but inside I am stressed out of my mind and the thought I wish there was a way out of this! constantly running through my head?  If so, is it any wonder that I will get ill and sick despite the fact that I “look” healthy?
So the question for us all to ask ourselves: What sort of energy am I bringing into myself today?  Am I surrounding myself with people that will either build up or tear down the quality of my energetic vibration? Do I justify eating food that is rotten because I need something quick and convenient, or am I giving myself the gift of nourishing food? Am I open and honest with myself about my feelings and emotions, or do I pretend they aren’t there? These are not meant to be judgmental or critical questions, rather they are meant to help us gain a deeper sense of self-awareness so that we can realize which aspects of our lives are vibrating at a high level, and which ones need closer attention and care.
We cannot escape the truth that everything we experience will affect us in some way. And while we shouldn’t become obsessive or fearful about being exposed to something “bad”, we can at least start the practice of seeing the world at more than just a collection of stuff.  Rather, it is a collection of intricately connected, beautifully dancing energy.  And every day we can make the best decisions that we can to bring in and put out as much healing, loving, joyous energy possible. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why Aren't We More Popular? - Identifying Ways to Increase Awareness of Macrobiotic Philosophy

When I first meet a new friend or just anyone throughout my day, I typically am asked the obligatory, “So, what kind of work do you do?” at some point during the conversation. When I say that I teach macrobiotics, more often than not the response I receive is something to the effect of, “Oh, you’re a microbiologist?” This then begins a long explanation of macrobiotics. What shocks me is not that they didn’t really know much about macrobiotics, but that they knew absolutely nothing about macrobiotics. Many haven’t even heard the word “macrobiotic” before. In an age when many people practice yoga, sees an acupuncturist, knows that dairy foods aren’t really so healthy, agrees that food really is medicine, practices meditation, abstains from fast food, and practices many other actions that are frequently found under the umbrella of a macrobiotic way of life, how is it that the term “macrobiotics” can still be so virtually unknown? What is it that we, the members of the macrobiotic movement, are (or are not) doing that is allowing this obscurity to remain? I think that there is much that we can do to not only increase the overall awareness of the macrobiotic philosophy, but also to continue to move macrobiotics in a forward direction so that it evolves as we, as a society, continue to evolve.

We Aren’t The New Kids Anymore
The cat is out of the bag my friends: food is important for health, and more and more people are realizing this to be true. Now, whether they put that knowledge into personal practice is another story, but at least the awareness is there. When the macrobiotic philosophy entered the United States in the 1960s, the concepts of eating brown rice, vegetables, and legumes and saying no thanks to cheese and wine were quite monumental. And from my readings of early macrobiotic educators and their teachings, it was this message of a whole food, plant-based way of eating and cooking, and living a more natural, less artificial way of life that was so revolutionary and counter to what the culture was teaching at the time. But when we skip ahead oh50 or so years, this message of a natural approach to eating and living is no longer so incredible. Now, I am the first to realize that just because the awareness is there, it doesn’t mean people are putting it into practice. But with the popularity of a variety of different approaches to food and life (vegan, raw, Ayurveda, local, organic, sustainable, slow foods, etc.) constantly on the rise, the macrobiotic movement no longer holds the distinction of being the funky face in the crowd. And this lack of newness, I believe, is holding the philosophy back from allowing people from really understanding that macrobiotics is an entire way of life!

Supporting the Next Generation
Many amazing teachers and educators have made macrobiotics what it is today. It is because of their past and present work that macrobiotics has become an international philosophy and approach to living. Supporting the next generation of educators, chefs, counselors, and writers of the macrobiotic community at the same time is an important step in moving forward. We as a community need to actively encourage new teachers and counselors. I know of many absolutely amazing and incredibly gifted teachers, chefs, counselors, and healing therapists just in the New York/New Jersey area alone. However it is rare-to-never that I see their names listed in counseling directories or giving lectures at natural-living events or in macrobiotic restaurants or conferences. In addition to inviting veteran teachers to share their incredible knowledge, perhaps it is time to encourage the new teachers to share their knowledge as well, and work to give them a platform to begin the next phase in macrobiotic education.

Becoming More Inclusive
When I first read You Are All Sanpaku, one of pages that stuck with me the most was George Ohsawa’s admonishment of the macrobiotic community for not doing more to reach out to John F. Kenndey and help him to prevent the tragedy that his sanpaku condition foretold. As he phrased his exasperation in the book, “You are too exclusive!” And I still see quite a bit of this exclusivity today. I worry that we as a community maintain too much of a yang mental attitude, remaining rigid, contracted, and stubborn in our beliefs and practices. Too often I read articles written by macrobiotic teachers and students alike that bash Western medicine as an affront to nature, making us seem angry, bitter, and narrow minded. I cannot begin to count the number of macrobiotic Facebook groups I have left because of overly aggressive and belittling strings of comments between members of the group over a topic as mundane as whether to boil or pressure cook brown rice. And, a conversation with a fellow attendee at last year’s Kushi Institute Summer Conference made me feel almost angry at the way she was criticizing the food being served instead of expressing gratitude towards the many chefs preparing each of our meals. I feel we as a community need to reflect and ask ourselves how we are presenting ourselves to the greater community around us, and even to one another. Becoming more inclusive and less rigid would go along way toward making macrobiotics more accepted by the greater community.

Evolving Beyond Food
It is a basic tenant in macrobiotics that macrobiotics is NOT just another diet. It is an entire way of viewing the operations and order of the universe, and how we as human beings are a part of this incredible and always changing landscape. That being said, boy oh boy do we love to talk about food! Sometimes I wonder if we aren’t shooting ourselves in the foot by always focusing so much of our conversations about food and eating. How much more is there really to be said about the benefits of chewing? Is it still new information that kale is a better source of calcium than milk? There is such a vast and practically unlimited variety of topics that can be discussed within the macrobiotic point of view, why limit ourselves to just one area? It is rare to find a new book, article, or lecture from a macrobiotic educator that focuses on the spiritual and philosophical aspects of macrobiotics. I worry that we focus too much on food and nutrition and diagnostic study and not enough on the greater, global expression and practice of macrobiotics. One of the things that I think keeps other holistic modalities like yoga so popular is that it is always changing. There is still the foundational asana practice, but teachers are always coming up with new sequences of poses, new applications for yoga, going deeper into the yogic philosophy, it is always something new and different and unique. That is a lesson that I feel would really help the macrobiotic movement to thrive!

Going Beyond Self-Study
To keep a movement going, it takes risk that has to go beyond just self-study. This requires an adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit. Every day a new acupuncturist office opens, or a new yoga studio is built, or a fantastic metaphysical shop opens its doors. This takes risk but the payoff can be just fantastic. As far as I am aware, there isn’t a single macrobiotic restaurant in my state of New Jersey, and I know of very, very few others outside of Los Angeles and New York. There are many counselors working in areas like Massachusetts where macrobiotics is better known, but what about Pittsburgh or Little Rock? It is vitally important that we work to keep our own bodies healthy and vibrant, but how can we expect to affect a global shift in consciousness if we aren’t taking on the adventure to try something new and become the new prophets of this generation? Walk into practically any town and you find at least one chiropractor or massage therapist. We need to be able to say the same about a macrobiotic teacher or counselor or chef.

We as members of this community are charged with the responsibility to see it succeed, grow, and thrive. It isn’t enough to know the philosophy; we have to then share it with the world if we truly believe it to be valuable. The glorious thing is that we do live in a world where technology has made it so much easier to share knowledge and experiences and information with one another! We are at such an amazingly prosperous time where the greater population is starting to wipe the dust from its eyes and begin to look at the world in a new way. People are more open to the teachings and tenants of a macrobiotic path. But, we cannot expect the greater world to just discover it on its own. I would wager that most (if not all) of us discovered macrobiotics due to the generosity of another person sharing their knowledge and experience with us. Are we doing enough to return that favor? If we really wish to see our community survive, and move onto its next phase of growth and evolution, it is up to each and every one of us to do the work necessary to keep it moving. We have to share our knowledge, create new businesses, invest in new teachers and educators, work harder to create more communities throughout this world, and help to be a part of this greater shift in consciousness. It isn’t about sacrificing quality for quantity, it is about believing in the message of macrobiotics enough to help it survive in an ever beautifully changing world.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ready Your Soil for the New Year

Happy New Year to you all!

I apologize for the incredible length of time between now and my last post.  As I am sure many of you experienced yourselves, the end of 2012 was met with an indescribable amount of turbulent energy.  Here on the East Coast, we were met with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, a terrible Nor'easter snow storm, and we all were impacted by the tragic deaths and violence that have happened over the past several months.  With all of this happening, it has been very hard to sit down and put thoughts and ideas into any sort of coherent sense.

With the beginning of the new year, however, the energy around us has begun to loosen and relax. In macrobiotics, the year in which we are living as well as the season in which we are living all play a role in what we can expect to happen in and around us on a regular basis. In 9 Star Ki (a form of astrology commonly used by those who study macrobiotics), the year 2012 was a 6 Metal year.  Metal is the most condensed, hard, contracted (Yang) form of energy.  Now here in 2013, we have entered a 5 Soil year.  Soil is the energy of gentle gathering and condensing, and brings energy to a more general state of balance and a centered quality.  So as we move into 2013, the energy around us is now relaxing and expanding outward, from metal to soil, allowing us all to relax and regain our balance. Metal energy allows us to become introspective and look deep within, whereas soil allows us to move outside of ourselves and see more of the world and people around us. After 2 back to back metal  years (both 2011 and 2012 were metal years) we are now as a planet ready to move outside of ourselves and enter a more maternal and compassionate state of existence.

We also now found ourselves in the season of winter. In the Five Elements Transformation model, Winter is the season of Water energy.  The quality of water energy is one of the utmost fluidity and flexibility; able to move into any situation or environment and literally fit perfectly. The quality of water is to also take all of its energy and settle down into the earth, allowing for the soil and ground to become hydrated and nourished to allow for the growth of new plants. Water brings motion, but controlled and even motion (unlike the Fire of Summer, which can be a bit more chaotic). 

So, we start to get an idea of just how powerful this new year is going to be!  We have two year's worth of dense, concentrated, powerful energy beginning to transform itself into the soil from which all life grows.  Plus, we are currently in the time of year when our soil is being nourished by the energy of water.  All of this is literally priming and readying the soil of our lives from which all new possibilities will grow!

Its fun to look at all of this ancient astrology and energetic symbolism, but......what does any of this actually mean?  It means that we are all of us, right now, at one of the most ready times to create the abundance in our lives that we wish, at least for this new year (but in reality, much beyond just this year).  All year long we will be governed by the gentle and balancing energies of soil.  Moments and events in our lives will be "falling into place", and we are going to be creating the foundation from which our futures will spring forth.  Next year (2014) is going to be a 4 Tree year, and as you might gather, Tree is that energy of upward motion and growth and development and sprouting and creation.  So we have exactly 12 months to get our soil ready, people!  For once 2014 comes, everything we have put into our soil of our lives will be the soil from which next year arises.  And now, for the next few months, we are particularly blessed with the quality of water, so we can really saturate our soil with good quality energy and intention.

So what does this mean for our daily lives? Ask yourself this question: what kind of nourishment do I want to be placing not only into my body, but into my life.  I may be eating great quality food, but do I have a pessimistic outlook on life? Do I find myself always complaining, or do I find the beauty in everything? Do I try and make TODAY the only day that matters, or am I always thinking about yesterday or tomorrow?  In other words, what kind of "nutrients" am I putting in the soil of my life? For what I do today (and for this entire year) will govern my tomorrow. 

2013 is going to be a year of great potential energy, and that potential energy will spring forward next year as we move into the qualities of tree. That doesn't mean we can't expect great new opportunities and adventures this year, but it is all just a preamble to what next year will bring.  So as we all go forward into this brand new year, it is important to realize just how special this time is.  We won't have another soil year until 2016, as 2014 and 2015 will both be tree years.  That means that this year will affect the quality of the "Gardens" of our lives for the next two years, so lets all do our best to put down the best foundation we can.

And while many of us can get sad or depressed in the winter, try and see just how important the winter is!  We are are getting the next two and a half months to water our garden and make it as healthy and strong as it can before those first beautiful sprouts peak there little heads out. The time is NOW, we only have the NOW, so what if we all made the resolution to live in the NOW PRESENT MOMENT and create the best quality lives we can just for TODAY.  For what we do today affects us now just tomorrow, but for a very long time. 

So take advantage of these winter months, and allow the energy of your lives to nourish and prime yourself for the next year.  And furthermore, realize that everything that happens this year will affect the quality of the "growth" and evolution of our lives for the next 2 years. Again, I don't want to put too  much emphasis on thinking about the future, as that can get us into all sorts of trouble.  Rather, just think of this year as a terribly exciting and wonderful time that is going to have long reaching affects on us all!  So here's to a great 5 Soil 2013 year, and lets all of us get our gardens ready!