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.

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