There’s a tiny spark, a potent intelligence that lies dormant, indestructible, despite all logic. It lies patiently coiled until the awakened moment when the serpent springs forth. I witnessed this phenomenon this spring – a lesson taught firsthand by an umeboshi.
Late winter-early spring 2017 erupted in chaos as the teeter-totter of extremes rebalanced. The past 5 years here in Northern California have been a period of extreme drought. Lake Oroville, that normally holds 3 ½ million cubic acres of water, had wasted to practically nothing. Then the drought ended with record rainfall. The 800-foot deep lake swelled to overfull, and the world’s 2nd largest earthen dam (2nd only to the Aswan Dam in Egypt) became compromised. The force of water released at 100,00 cubic feet per second tore loose the lower half of the aged main spillway. The lake filled beyond capacity and water gushed over a second, auxiliary, spillway (a non-reinforced hillside), washing away soil and threatening to unleash a 60-foot wall of water over the town below where we live.
Mandatory evacuation was ordered. Folks had a frantic one-hour notice to locate family members, load up pets, valuables and emergency supplies. Evacuation routes were clogged with crawling traffic. Some poor souls were walking, carrying a few belongings in plastic grocery bags. No government plan was in place to assist elderly or disabled persons to leave. Emergency information was disorganized, unreliable and incomplete. The town once full of activity emptied. There was a palpable, eerie atmosphere of apocalyptic abandonment. A few bewildered cats left behind meowed in alleyways. Even the sound of birds was silenced. Folks clung to any local news conferences for information as to whether their homes would be safe or not. You could leave town, but not return, as incoming roads were blocked. It was an atmosphere of fear and shock.
Unbeknownst to me, at the same time we were all caught up in the evacuation, a contrasting story of nature’s order and quiet strength was at play. Amid all the chaos, umeboshi pits were calmly swelling and sprouting, breaking free from their hard shells, in our backyard garden. These were no ordinary seeds. They had been pickled in 18% salt by weight and preserved since 1999!
…to be continued in part 2
The Seed of a Seed, Part 2
Life lessons taught by an umeboshi pit
by Cynthia Briscoe
For those readers who have never heard of an umeboshi, let me briefly explain. Umeboshi is the very salty, very sour pickled fruit from an ume tree. Ume trees are highly respected and cherished in Eastern cultures. The trees flowering in spring are celebrated with the same admiration as we view the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC.
The small apricot-looking fruit never becomes juicy or sweet. Even at its ripest, ume fruit remains very sour. Ume is harvested while still green, before it turns a blushing yellow. To make umeboshi, the fruit is layered with a whopping proportion of 18% sea salt to ume by weight for a minimum of 2 years.
The resulting pickle, called umeboshi, holds great healing power. I sometimes refer to it as a “macrobiotic medicine cabinet”, as umeboshi remedies such a broad spectrum of ailments such as indigestion, diarrhea, hangovers, arthritis, headaches, shortens cold and flu cycles, sore throats, bladder infection, insomnia – the list goes on and on. George Ohsawa called the umeboshi “the King of Alkaline” and that perhaps is one of the main chemistry factors of an umeboshi’s outstanding healing capability.
At the Vega Study Center, we had an u
me orchard. Every year Cornellia Aihara and the staff would pickle a hundred pounds or so of umeboshi. At two stages in the two-year process of making umeboshi, the umeboshi are removed from the crock and spread single layer across flat baskets or bamboo mats for three days. Each individual umeboshi is hand-turned daily to further dry and concentrate the salt before returning to the crock. If some of the fruit used was a little overripe, the umeboshi meat slides off the pit. Those pits were discarded into the garden. Even though these pits were heavily salted for anywhere from 3 months to a year, we had umeboshi seedlings coming up around the perimeter of the property that escaped the lawnmower.
Cornellia told me that these seedlings had grown from the discarded umeboshi pits. I was skeptical and cautiously withheld amazement. Was this really possible for the salty pits to sti
ll be viable? Experience has proved this to be true on two additional occasions.
I dug one of the Vega saplings and planted it at our home to honor the birth of our youngest daughter, Ana, in 1991. Cornellia told me that an ume tree grown from seed would take 15 years to bear fruit, while a grafted tree would take 8 years. I waited patiently as the years passed. The tree produced beautiful dark pink blossoms each year in early January, but has only produced a single ume fruit in 26 years.
In 2008, I began making my own umeboshi. I too, discarded the salty pits from damaged umeboshi into the compost bin. The next year after distributing the compost in various flower beds and flowerpots, many ume seedlings began to grow. Even though I had my doubts whether any of these saplings would ever produce fruit, however I gave them free reign to grow wherever they chose. This was the second time I had witnessed pickled umeboshi pits sprouting.
This year, to my great excitement, one of these 9 year-old trees flowered for the first time: a dancing petticoat of abundant white blossoms. I marveled and then forgot about it as the urgency of a flood evacuation took my attention away from ume blossoms.
Sometime after returning home, I passed by the ume tree. It was now bare of blossoms. Wait! What? Can it be true? Yes! Tiny ume fruit had formed! I was beside myself after waiting 26 years for “Ana’s ume tree” to set fruit. Yet here it was. Finally I had my own fruit-bearing ume tree. Somehow, even with all the constant rain, the bees had managed to pollinate the flowers and at last there were fruit!
I bubbled, danced and immediately called David, who was working in Texas. I sent pictures as proof. I texted group announcements to our kids like a proud parent who had just given birth, as if I had anything to do with it.
Then I noticed something else. What was that? Is it possible?
There were about a dozen baby ume sprouts. To me, they looked strong and very proud of themselves. In my imagination they were ‘flexing their muscles’ after laboring to crack open the thick, hard shell in order to be born. Half shell casings littered the ground around the small trees. The smooth interiors of their half cradles now lay like empty sockets looking up to the sky. Each tiny tree stood with half an almond-like ‘placenta’ still attached on either side like saddlebags on a Harley.
Then it dawned on me. These seedlings hatched from umeboshi made by Cornellia in 1999! Those were the only umeboshi we had eaten for the past 6 years. Someone had tossed the contents of the kitchen compost bucket over the garden fence rather than walking a few extra steps to empty the bucket into the main compost bin. This area of the garden had not been turned or worked for a few years. These particular umeboshi pits had sunbathed and baked in the hot sun during the drought.
How could it be that 18-year old umeboshi pits hold their vitality and still sprout? What is the potency of a “seed within a seed” that brings forth new life?
To be continued in Part 3.
The Seed of a Seed, Part 3
Life lessons taught by an umeboshi pit
by Cynthia Briscoe
If you have ever cracked open the hard pit from an umeboshi and eaten the small almond-like kernel inside, you know the kernel tastes salty. The salt does penetrate the hard shell casing. Evidently salt does not inhibit the fertility of the seed as these pickled pits still birthed baby ume trees.
Once Cornellia and I were in the Vega Study Center basement, arm-deep in a 20-gallon crock, coaxing out umeboshi to transport to the kitchen. This task took some care and patience as the umeboshi were pressed tightly together. One had to “tickle” them out of the crock such that the individual umeboshi remained unbroken.
Cornellia held one umeboshi up to admire it. She stated in a half whisper, “The Education God lives inside the ume pit.” For that reason, or perhaps out of respect, she advised, “That’s why we don’t eat the kernel inside the pit”.
“Oops!” I thought to myself, “Uh oh. I have cannibalized the Education God many times!”
Often I had cracked through the pit, purposefully to unlock the treasure chest secreting the tasty little jewel inside. (Which by the way, I don’t advise just for the practical reason that the shell may be harder than your tooth and you might crack a tooth!) “Besides,” I had reasoned, “Eating the pit followed Cornellia’s Golden Rule of ‘no wasting’.” So even though I had not become a close acquaintance of the Education God, I now had been introduced. Just to be on the safe side, I stopped eating the inside of the umeboshi pit.
Cornellia offered no further explanation regarding the Education God. She was never one to waste anything, including words. However, most likely at this moment, speech was impossible because the fat umeboshi she’d popped into her mouth blocked all word flow. Her puckered lips fought determinably to dam the swelling pool of saliva that a sour umeboshi draws forth. She promptly returned to fishing out more umeboshi.
What? Huh? Education God? It made absolutely no sense to me, but it did pique my curiosity. Who was this guy living inside an umeboshi pit? Why would he want to live there? And how did he get in there?
An Education God living inside an umeboshi pit was a foreign concept washed up on foreign soil. There was no match in my native cultural files. So I asked my Japanese friend, Keiko, if she knew anything about this Education God. She did a little research and said, “Yes, there is something, but I’m not sure.”
I assessed that Cornellia was certainly sincere in her statement. The intensity on her face and the focused reverent way she handled the umeboshi housing the Education God, left me with a question mark that I filed in my memory bank for pondering later.
Then this spring when I discovered the tiny ume tree sprouted in the back yard from 18-year old umeboshi pits, I met the Education God face-to-face. I shook his hand when I touched the newborn leaves. It was an experience similar to staring at a newborn baby, being captivated by the simple rhythm of its breath, and marveling at the miracle of its pure existence.
“Ah!” I said, “Finally. It’s so nice to meet you!”
And then the question mark that had been stored in my brain, not unlike the living force encapsulated within an ume pit, began to shake and rumble and split.
One big thought wave crested and then broke upon the shore. As the water pulled back to sea, there was an inundation of memory debris cast upon the beach: Cornellia’s face and her voice, baskets of umeboshi drying, salt and pickle crocks, white blossoms and fallen-petal-snowy-ground, cracked umeboshi pit casings, tiny green fruit and the sound of children running through the ume orchard during picking time. There was an inundation of memory debris cast widely upon the beach.
The Education God participated in my thoughts. With even less words than Cornellia, in fact with no words at all, he taught. He paused my student mind to simply breathe – to arrest thought in a single inhalation of awe followed by a single exhalation of gratitude.
The Education God was my only witness as I stood rooted to the ground. The earth’s generosity swelled upward, reaching upward toward cloud barges floating above, laden with sunlight and rain. The two forces danced together.
The Education God was chuckling inside and outside at the cognizance of Intelligent Movement. I smiled back into the face of this Intelligent Being, the same who directed the encoded life spark within an 18-year-old umeboshi pit to awaken in perfect communication with the elements.
Education God, you have well-studied that invisible spark, the seed within a seed; that life force that weathers difficulty and quietly perseveres, resting within life’s cycles. Such Wisdom remains steady and fearless amid human chaos. Its patience weathers drought years, flooding and evacuation only to ignite and burst forth according to a timely intelligent plan.
Education God, you rested collecting strength from many cycles of seasons and elemental forces: the wind, the rain, the sun, soil and water all having nourished your will to express life as you travel from the infinite to my back yard. You have gained wisdom during your travels and from the generations of your ‘ume people’.
Thank you for your lesson.
Since writing this article, an updated internet search revealed the historic origin of the ‘Education God’. Sugawara no Michizane lived from 845-903AD . He died in exile. He is revered as a renowned scholar, poet, teacher and politician who was politically maligned and thus fell out of favor with the emperor and was stripped of his titles.
He is associated with the ume tree through poetry and legend. It is said that his favorite ume tree uprooted itself and flew to him in exile. Upon his death, his body was being transported by oxcart to Kyoto and the ox stopped at Tsukushi (now Hakata), refusing to travel further. This was taken as a sign that he desired to be buried there. A shrine was erected at this location to honor him as a Shinto kami, or deity, also known as Tenjin. Many students petition him for success in their studies and to pass exams.
What About Places Without Whole Grains?
by David Briscoe
In certain areas of the world there is no longer whole grain agriculture, and no modern tradition for using whole grains. And in some areas of the world people have never used whole grains. If macrobiotics encourages the use of whole grains as the principle food, what can people in these areas do? Yes, they can try to import whole grains, and yes, they could attempt to start whole grain farming in their area. But what has the actual tradition been? What helped traditional people stay healthy in these areas of the world, for generations, without whole grains? In two words: complex carbohydrate. To be more specific: complex carbohydrate with intact fiber.
“Intact fiber” is the key to healthy carbohydrate use. For example, white rice is primarily starch, and it is often surprising for many to learn that this is in fact a complex carbohydrate, but white rice has had its fiber removed in the refining process. Fiber allows for carbohydrate to be properly digested and more gradually converted to glucose before being absorbed and used as blood sugar. Complex carbohydrate foods taken with fiber intact have be proven to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, and numerous digestive and colon problems. The healthiest carbohydrate is complex carbohydrate that comes in food with its fiber intact. Whole grains are one such food, but there are others.
At the bottom of my macrobiotic food pyramid, I used to write “Whole Grain,” but I began to realize that was too limited. Now I write, “Foods containing complex carbohydrate and intact fiber.” This makes it possible for people in every part of the world to apply macrobiotic principles based on their locally available and traditional foods. Placing complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber at the foundation of daily eating is the healthiest choice and individual and society at large can make, in my opinion.
I was surprised to discover that Africa has had a tradition of whole grain as a principle food for thousands of years. This still exists in some isolated areas, and there are whole grains used that we have never heard of in the West. Some of these are pearl millet, fero. kam-kam, and African rice. Very unfortunately, colonization over the centuries has drastically diminished the growing of these whole grains, but there is a now a movement afoot to help restore the growing and consumption of traditional African whole grains.
Traditional people in many tropical areas have relied on tubers for their complex fiber-rich carbohydrate. Some of these we know about, but there are many we in temperate climates have never heard of. These include taro, manioc, cassava, and yam.
Today there are various movements around the world actively teaching local people about the importance of restoring the dietary traditions of their ancestors by returning to using complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber as the foundation food for daily eating. Without realizing it, they are teaching one of the basic macrobiotic principles of healthy eating for human beings. This is very good news!
Some popular writers today advise the avoidance of complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, and they advocate the use of vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts in their place. This won’t be possible for the entire world, or even all that healthy. The world’s population cannot be sustained on vegetables and fruits, or seeds and nuts. These are already very expensive, difficult to produce, require toxic agricultural chemicals to grow on a massive scale, and are wasteful of natural resources in their requirements for storage and transportation. Besides, the land simply isn’t there for this to be a possibility.
Some write that there is no proven need for the human body to have complex carbohydrates such as whole grains as a source of nourishment. This is a misleading and myopic view, in my opinion. And it flies in the face of 50 years of scientific research supporting the multi-faceted benefits of complex carbohydrates and whole grains for our health. More than that, though, it dismisses our human dietary tradition of thousands of years.
For the future, whole grain production and consumption will be the dietary savior of humanity and the earth. In those areas of the world where whole grain production may not be possible, as discussed previously, a return to the use of local and traditional foods that contain complex carbohydrate and intact fiber will be the essential dietary foundation. This has been our human dietary tradition for thousands of years, and so it must continue to be if thousands of years forward are to be possible.
Fearless Use of Salt In Cooking by Cynthia Briscoe
Salt is a critical element in the alchemy of your cooking. Good use of salt in cooking prepares the food you eat to be aligned with human digestion and human blood quality, and thus is an important factor regarding your health. How you use salt in cooking is especially important in a plant-based diet, because when applied properly, it gives vegetable quality food a strengthening vitality or good quality yang energy.
There is a lot of fear surrounding the use of salt. There are opposing viewpoints. In this series, I would like to present some tips and understanding about the use of salt, such that you can decide for yourself what is personally appropriate for your health. As David Briscoe often advises students, “Go from the land of ‘No’ to the land of ‘Know’”. I might add in behalf of all Kitchen Commandos, “Move from ‘Fear’ to ‘Fearless’’. The first point in this series, concerns giving sea salt ample time to cook with the food.
In her cooking classes, Cornellia Aihara taught students the importance of cooking the salt into the food. In most instances of cooking with sea salt, she recommended cooking the salt in the food for 15 to 20 minutes. Following is a teaching story she shared:
George Ohsawa once gave me only 20 minutes notice that he would be coming to visit. It was lunchtime, so I thought to make polenta, as it is quick to cook. In my haste, I forgot to add the salt in the beginning of cooking the polenta. I didn’t realize I had forgotten to add the salt until I tasted it. The polenta tasted very bland, so I stirred in salt after it had finished cooking.
Mr. Ohsawa ate his lunch.
Cornellia loved Ohsawa very much. It was important to her that he enjoyed his lunch. So she asked him in her Cornellia way, “You enjoy?”
When telling the story, Cornellia imitated his voice by speaking in a low, slow voice with deep intonation, “Yes. I enjoy very much. Thank you. But you add salt too late.”
Well, you might scratch your head and ask, “Really? How could Ohsawa tell that she had added the salt after the polenta had cooked?” You can distinguish, too, once you understand the difference of raw salt versus cooked salt.
First of all, raw salt has a different taste and texture on the tongue. If you look at magnified grains of salt, you will see little cube shapes with sharp edges and corners. That’s the natural structure of how the sodium and chlorine molecules adhere to one another. This structure dissolves with water. So if Cornellia had added the salt as the water was coming to a boil, the salt crystals would have dissolved and combined very nicely with the polenta. Raw salt crystals have a strong, sharp salty blast of flavor on the tongue, almost a slight initial burning sensation. If the salt has been cooked into the food, it subtly combines with the flavors and has a different slightly sweet flavor.
Also, perhaps George was very thirsty after eating lunch; another sign of uncooked salt. Raw salt makes you very thirsty. After a meal where the salt is balanced by cooking, a single cup of tea is usually enough to satisfy thirst. That’s why fast-food meal menus such as a burger and salted fries often include a ‘Big Gulp’ of a drink.
I have experienced this kind of extreme thirst after eating refried beans in a Mexican restaurant. If you cook dried beans with salt in the water, the beans stay hard. So the restaurant cooks a large pot of dried beans without salt, drains off the liquid and mashes the beans. Then salt is added to the mashed beans for flavor. The effect is much like the polenta: the mashed beans are thick and lack enough water to dissolve the salt. Thus you are eating a lot of raw salt housed within the refried beans. The next day, you may have lower back pain in the area of the kidneys and experience some puffiness or swelling. You also might experience tight shoulders or irritability.
Just hold this salt tip in mind and test it for yourself, in your own cooking or when you eat out in a restaurant. Experience and awareness are the best teachers.
How much salt is appropriate for me?
Follow your taste buds. The amount of salt you use should bring out a delicious naturally sweet flavor. The salty taste should be soft and not sharp. When planning a meal, vary the salt content in different dishes.
Enough to bring out a sweet flavor.
Outward Impatience & Internal Digestion
by David Briscoe
“If you have no patience, you’ll become a patient.” – Herman Aihara
You’ve probably noticed: it’s become a very impatient world. Individually and collectively, patience seems to be fading. On the road, in traffic, in stores, in relationships, in politics, international relations, finances, waiting in line, fast food, fast medicine, etc., lack of patience is expressed in many ways. There can be many explanations and opinions as to why this is so.
I’d like to present one that is not commonly considered, if at all: we’ve become impatient at the physiological level; and very specifically we’ve become digestively impatient. The human digestive system has a very natural and gradual way for food to be digested, before it is absorbed into the blood and then assimilated by our cells. Let’s look at carbohydrate, for example. The way the body works is that carbohydrate digestion is supposed to begin in the mouth; that is, when the carbohydrate we are eating is the complex kind, polysaccharide. Complex carbohydrate is meant to be chewed, mixed with saliva, and through the action of the enzyme, salivary amylase, begins to be broken down to disaccharide, a simpler form of carbohydrate.
If you’ve ever chewed brown rice really well, you noticed that it starts to taste sweet. You are tasting the complex carbohydrate in the brown rice being slowly converted to simpler carbohydrate, preparing it for the next stage of digestion. The body is smart. It likes to digest slowly and patiently. Next, the complex carbohydrate that has been chewed is swallowed and goes down to the stomach. No further digestion of the carbohydrate takes place in the stomach due to stomach acid that stops the action of the salivary amylase. The chewed carbohydrate moves from the stomach to the duodenum, the passageway between the stomach and small intestine, where is stimulates the secretion of pancreatic amylase from the pancreas, further breaking down the complex carbohydrate that wasn’t broken down through chewing. This disaccharide now enters the small intestine where the enzymes lactase, sucrase and maltase, break it down into monosaccharide, single sugars, that can then be absorbed through the small intestine and released into the blood.
This is a gradual and natural process, relying on digestive patience. It’s how the body wants to digest carbohydrate, if given the chance to do it right. In today’s world the carbohydrate most widely consumed is not complex carbohydrate. It is chemically processed simple-sugar carbohydrate such as white sugar, candy, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose. Even many so-called natural sweeteners like agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, evaporated cane juice, and others, are highly processed into simpler and concentrated sugars. And honey, long-considered by many to be the favored natural sweetener, is 100% simple sugar, pre-digested by the bees. All simple sugar bypasses the body’s need for natural and gradual complex carbohydrate digestion, since it has already been reduced to its simplest form. It travels quickly through to be released into the bloodstream. This impatient, hurry-up digestion has become the norm, and over decades of modern eating, the body has become habituated to it, though it doesn’t respond well to it. It is well-known that many physical and mental health problems today have their roots in the over-consumption of simple sugar.
One argument to this idea of “patient digestion” is that all sugar eventually ends up in the small intestine as simple sugar prior to absorption into the blood, and therefore it doesn’t matter if it started out as complex carbohydrate or manufactured simple sugar. But it’s the rapidity and the quantity of delivery of simple sugar to the blood that is the difference between consuming complex carbohydrate and processed simple sugar. And I would further clarify this by emphasizing “complex carbohydrate with its natural fiber intact,” such as whole grains, fresh vegetables, and beans, as the healthiest carbohydrate to for digestive patience and overall health. Also, when the simple sugar, fruit sugar or fructose, is consumed I suggest eating the whole fruit, with its fiber, rather than in the form of juices, concentrates, flavorings, syrups and powders. Fiber in food has long been proven to support natural digestive function (digestive patience).
There is a saying, “Biology precedes psychology.” I would adapt it and say, “Physiology precedes psychology.” If we hurry up our digestive physiology, demanding that it work faster through the consumption of simple sugar of various kinds, we will see a reflection of that outward in all kinds of expressions of impatience. Outward behavior is influenced by what’s happening inwardly at the physiological level. The two cannot be separated.
Inevitably, all of the body’s internal organs are made to work harder by the modern diet of excess protein, fat and sugar, ultimately causing over-stimualtion of the metabolism and nervous system, giving further rise to personal and social impatience. Re-estalishing inward physiological and digestive patience, eating in a way that supports the body’s natural stability, we see outward patience being restored over time.
© 2016 David Briscoe
In Praise of Green by David Briscoe
Yes, it’s March, but this is not about St. Patrick’s Day, though I was raised in a wonderful American-Irish family. My mother’s maiden name was Mahoney, that says it all, I’d say! No, I’m writing here about the green of life. Have you noticed how life on earth is totally beholden to green? No green, no life. So, I’m here to celebrate green, and to let green know how grateful I am.
Green of the plants allows us to have oxygen. It makes food possible, too. If the plants aren’t green, you and I are sunk. Without the green chloroplast cells in the plants there would be no whole grains, vegetables or beans. No animal meat either for the carnivores among us. No sushi in Los Angeles. No caviar for a queen’s crackers. Animals have to eat plant food before someone can eat the animals. And darn it, junk food requires green, too!
It’s funny, I grew up hating science, but now I thoroughly enjoy reading books about photosynthesis, the process by which the plants convert sunshine into stored energy, converting it into their own carbohydrates, protein and fat to feed themselves. They have no intention to feed us, we just wait around until they grow, and then we grab the plants and eat them. Thank you, plants, I happily accept my dependence on your efforts. What delicious sunshine you are! Actually, the photosynthesis books give me the feeling that I am reading something very spiritual. For what could be more life-giving than green and photosynthesis?
Now that spring is rearing its green, I’m reminded of a little poem I wrote when I was 18:
like a faint green smoke
snakes through bare trees
in the distance
It was originally an attempt at haiku, but I was never disciplined enough to pull off haiku. I’ve always been a lazy writer. But one who loves green.
Macrobiotic Principles: Front & Back by David Briscoe
Modern thinking likes big easy on the front side, but as a result we get big difficulty on the back side. For example, “easy fast food” on the front side brings the slow developing difficulty of physical and mental health deterioration on the back side. It is inescapable this natural play of front and back. Everywhere you look in the modern world, everyone is rushing toward “easy,” not seeing that difficulty is being rushed toward simultaneously. When difficulty finally appears no one wants to accept it, no one understands where it came from, no one sees that they chose it when they chose “easy” earlier. They want the difficulty to go away as quickly as possible.
The macrobiotic view is opposite of the modern view. On the front side of macrobiotics there is what appears to be “difficulty.” This is the difficulty of transforming one’s thinking and habits, the difficulty of changing one’s way of eating, and many other difficulties. But when one takes on these difficulties and move through them, one opens the door to finding ease of health, ease of mind, ease of being in the world. When many modern people first see this front side difficulty, they turn away from macrobiotics and grasp at something that offers “easy” on the front side. But when a person consciously takes on the front side difficulty of macrobiotics, in a patient and enduring way, this brings to life the possibility of ease of health and being in the world that is awaiting on the back side. This conscious acceptance of the difficulty of doing macrobiotics is the key that opens the door to a life of deep ease, completely different from the illusory “easy” of the modern view.
On My Birthday: My Parents by David Briscoe
On this my 61st birthday, I would like to give you the gift of sharing something of my parents with you. I am such a fortunate man to have had Vernon and Charlotte for my parents. Their example of how to live in the world, how to treat others, how to make one’s way through life’s challenges, and how to raise their children, my 2 bothers and 2 sisters, to become solid and decent human beings, remains to this day the firm ground beneath my feet. My father was a success through his own will and determination. Nothing was given to him to make his life easy. When he was 12 his father died, and my father started working hard at little fruit stand in Kansas City, Kansas to make money for himself and his mother. She ran a boarding house to make ends meet. My father remained with the little fruit stand for 60 years, as it decade by decade turned into a major supermarket chain in the Midwest. When he retired, he was a vice president. My father showed me that you could be successful without having to cut others down or betray them. He earned his success by very hard work, honest living, enduring great hardship, and through loyalty to his company and family. He was a fair and just man. In honor of his sense of justice, I named my first son Justin. My father passed away in 2008 at the age of 93. He still had his sharp mind, and his attitude of honor and respect for all people around him, from all walks of life, never faded.
My mother was the intellectual, artistic one. She gave her children a sense of humanity. In her home, racial slurs or putting other religions and cultures down was never heard. She came from a poor Irish- American Catholic family. Her mother died when she was 1 year old, and she was raised by her paternal grandparents until her father remarried. When she was a little girl, other kids from nicer neighborhoods would spit on her as she walked to school because she was poor and Catholic. This experience and other suffering as a child and young woman made her a deep, strong and kind mother. She loved literature and writing. When all of her 5 children were raised, my mother went back to school. She graduated from college when she was 70 years old. She passed away on her birthday, Christmas Eve 1990. She used to tell me when I was a little boy, “I’ll always be with you on Christmas Eve.” She has kept true to her word.
I am so very fortunate, so incredibly blessed that Vernon and Charlotte were my parents. On this, my birthday, September 22, 2010, I am happy to share something of them with you. I love my parents, and I understand now what they tried to show me by their example and guidance, which I often rejected in my youth, and I will do my best to live the rest of my life in honor of them. I miss them every day but their beautiful lesson of being true human beings is with me always. Peace to you, the reader of these words, on this day, my birthday, and every day of your life. – David Briscoe
Macrobiotics Beyond Food by David Briscoe
If we set aside for a moment the food aspect of macrobiotics, what is there to call macrobiotics? Anything? What is macrobiotics beyond its food and physical health benefits? Does it have anything else to offer an individual and society? When I first was introduced to macrobiotics in 1972 by a cookbook a friend had left at my apartment door, I didn’t have any interest in food, and I made no association between food and my health or any of the physical and mental challenges I was facing at the time. But reading that book changed my life. It wasn’t the recipes and the food ingredients printed there. I didn’t even know what those ingredients were, and I rarely cooked for myself. But something else in the book appealed to me. There was mention of “freedom,” self-responsibility,” “creative thinking,” “wholeness,” and other such concepts. I was surprised to find mention of these in a cookbook. Still to this day, these concepts are what fuel my on-going macrobiotic adventure. But I find this spirit of macrobiotics fading from macrobiotic teachings and consciousness today as the predominant view being promoted is that of macrobiotics as glam cooking for movie stars, gourmet recipes, and “vegan cuisine.” I understand that this is partly an attempt to make macrobiotics more appealing and to reach out to the masses who might be scared by the word “macrobiotics,” but it seems to me that promoting macrobiotics as another vegan or natural diet only, stripped of its spirit and creative principles, is missing the deeper opportunity to really help humanity and the planet.
In my opinion, the real beauty and true depth of macrobiotics is not in its food and health aspects, though some of us have experienced dramatic healing from this alone, but in the “spirit of macrobiotic living” from which the dietary aspect of macrobiotics has emerged. What is macrobiotic living between meals? How do macrobiotic principles and view of life express themselves outside of the kitchen? In our daily lives, how do we live and behave as a result of having looked at life through the macrobiotic view?
And what IS the “macrobiotic view?” I am curious to know how macrobiotics
touches your life besides the ways in which you eat. Please share this with me.
Comments or questions are welcome.
The Close-Up View & The Whole View by David Briscoe
If we look at the human body under a microscope, we see trillions of single cells. If we only knew this view we’d have to conclude that we are trillions of single cells. But if we take our eye off the microscope and step back, we see a totally different view. We don’t see individual cells. We see that the human body is one whole organism. Both views are real. The microscopic view shows us the close-up view and the macroscopic view shows us the big view. Both comprise the whole view.
In today’s world the is an ever-increasing tendency to view life only from the close-up microscopic view. From this view it appears that we are all separate individuals, separate nations, separate religions, etc. Of course, by nature’s design different geographical and climatic conditions have produced different cultures, traditions, languages, etc. But when we only live by this close-up view of the separate me and separate we, great problems and conflicts arise, individually and collectively. If the big view is missing, and we see only the close-up view, we miss the whole view.
As I see it, our challenge in today’s world is how to live with the close-up view, and its individual living circumstances of our families, personal lives, collective cultures and traditions, and at the same time have the big view in our consciousness. When the close-up view and the big view are together, our lives and actions are rooted in the whole view.
Know Your Physical Limitations: A Lesson From Herman Aihara by David Briscoe
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It is wonderful to feel unlimited. Even the prisoner in solitary confinement can be free in his imagination. Our culture teaches us to think of ourselves as free and unlimited. But we are actually free only in spirit. Physically, we are not free or unlimited. Probably one of Herman’s most powerful, simple and often repeated statements was “Know your physical limitations.” Many times this was misunderstood by his students. Some saw this statement as negative, and they didn’t pay much attention, but in this statement was contained the essence of many of Herman’s most positive teachings. In order to be in the physical world for a normal, healthy lifetime, it is important to know how the physical world works. It has rules. The body, being part of the physical world, needs to operate by the rules or it will get sick much more than it normally would, and then it will age prematurely.
We all know that we need oxygen. If we go into outer space or under the water, we must take our supply of oxygen with us. This is one of our physical limitations. We just can’t go anywhere we want, we can only go where there is oxygen. We all come to learn soon in life that the body’s temperature maintains itself at 98.6 F. It can go up a little, maybe down a little, but it can’t go up too high for too long or down too low for too long. If it does, our life is in real danger. This having to maintain a certain body temperature is another of our physical limitations. Nobody can buy their way out of this. So, knowing this, we make sure that our temperature never gets too high or goes too low. It’s become common sense.
We all have to maintain a constant blood sugar level, we all have to consume food and water. These things we understand easily. When we study more about the body, we discover that it has even more, not-so-obvious limitations. In our blood we have to maintain a certain concentration of minerals like sodium and potassium.
This concentration of minerals must be maintained constantly or we are in big trouble. Fortunately, there are automatic functions in the body that maintain this internal mineral concentration.
Perhaps one of the most important physiological limitations is pH or acid-alkaline balance. Human blood must be maintained constantly at a pH of 7.4. If it varies from this number by much, we would go into a coma or convulsions. Our lungs, kidneys and blood buffer system help the body remove acid so that the pH of 7.4 can be steadily maintained. It is a natural process going on night and day without stop.
When we select food and drink, it adds acid or alkaline-forming elements to our blood after it is digested. Protein, fat and refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, white rice, alcohol, etc.) all add acid to the body. Of course, we need a certain amount of protein, fat and unrefined carbohydrate, the body can handle
them. It’s when we eat concentrated amounts of these nutrients that we create an acid blood condition. Many, many health problem have their roots in an acid blood condition. When we learn how to wisely choose foods according to macrobiotic principles, we discover that we can easily support our body in maintaining an alkaline blood condition. When we do this we are learning to live with a physical limitation, and we know how to stay healthy longer. By understanding that we do have physical limitations, and that be learning to embrace them and live with them, we become stronger and happier people. Living with our physical limitations allows us to root ourselves strongly in the reality of our biological life. When we accomplish this, our spirit is able to soar freely and without limitation. It is like a majestic tree, firmly rooted in the earth, supporting its branches in their reach to the heavens.
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