Lessons from Herman
by Cynthia Briscoe
Herman Aihara was a wise man, very much a philosopher. Not the kind of philosopher that tangles the mind by chewing endlessly on purely intellectual argument, but he was instead an “untangler of minds”. He possessed a constellate ability to connect the dots of being human in a relative world with universal natural law expressed within macrobiotic philosophy. He applied macrobiotic principles to many subjects of interest to him: fishing, healing, eating, breathing, chemistry, and more. No matter the subject, life provided a pulsing adventure with plenty of opportunity to ponder the meaning of life and what it means to be human.
How does one align oneself with this natural orderly movement that gives rise to all phenomena, including we humans and how we conduct ourselves? The Unique Principle in macrobiotic philosophy provided Herman a guiding polestar, a point of reference amidst a sea of change. His lectures often followed a spiralic pattern of thoughts traversing the rungs of creation from One Undifferentiated Unity to the bifurcation of Yin and Yang, and onward to ten thousand expressions. Eventually, he would land a haiku-like punchline. With just a few sage words, he often gifted students the kind of knowledge that gives good counsel during the best and worst of times.
Finding your Limitations
Herman was not the type of teacher who placed himself on a lofty pedestal just beyond the reach of ordinary persons. He often humorously shared what he had learned from his own indiscretions. I recall attending my first formal macrobiotic lecture in Kansas City with Herman as the teacher. I was very much a newbie to macrobiotics. The gist of his lecture was: Do not become too healthy. This blew up my high ideals regarding macrobiotic practice, striving to adhere perfectly and rigidly to a macrobiotic approach to diet, admonishing myself if I strayed.
Herman’s wry idea was that if you become too healthy, it coincides that you also develop an over-poweringly healthy appetite for life and all the abundant, exuberant choices it offers, including unhealthy food. Once you reach the zenith of health, you forget how you achieved health, and then this huge appetite takes over and draws you back to consuming everything, including foods that may return you to sickness. So he humorously suggested that one find a balance, not in a perfect practice, but somewhere just below this, such that you maintain a core appetite for macrobiotic foods without becoming too narrow in your diet or inflexible in your thinking. Embedded within the expression of Natural Order is that once something reaches the apex of contraction or expansion, that climactic force naturally cycles toward its opposite. Therefore, conscious moderation is more sustainable, and leads to more balanced health and happiness.
As an example, Herman retold his famous cheesecake story. He was invited to give lectures at a large gathering of 500 people. There were some Japanese people there who invited him out every evening after the lecture. The first night, he had cheesecake. It tasted so delicious, and the next day he suffered no negative repercussions. Lecturing was fine. The second night, also cheesecake. It was so delicious the first time, why not have it again! And fortunately for the second time, there was no problem. The third night came along, and his generous hosts knowing how he had so enjoyed the previous two nights’ cheesecake, insisted Herman enjoy it again. Having cheated fate two days in a row, Herman thought, “Why not?!” However, after the third night of cheesecake, he lost his voice the next day and could not lecture! So Herman shared the humbling lesson he learned from this experience: two pieces of cheesecake were OK, but not three! He thus humorously shared his foible as a lesson regarding finding your limitations. To me, Herman’s cheesecake story tickles that childlike place within us that needs to test boundaries in order to define ourselves. Even as adults, despite our best intentions, we often push boundaries beyond what is best for our own well-being.
Regarding limitations, Herman lectured about homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the range of balance our physiology must maintain in order to sustain life and normal bodily functions. For example, we have a normal range of temperature, centered around 98.6F. If we go too far on either side of this temperature, problems arise, even death. The same thing is true regarding the pH factor of our blood and inter-cellular fluid. We must maintain an acid-alkaline balance centered around 7.4. Herman famously taught much about this and how to maintain a healthy, slightly alkaline balance. In his view, slight variance into increased acidity of body fluids underpins almost all illness. The body has many mechanisms used to maintain a healthy equilibrium of homeostatic barometers. We must find our balance.
Being human in the physical world means living in the condition of vacillation between the poles of yin and yang. We originate in a unified field of Oneness and are born into this most interesting world of complementary opposing forces. Yes, we have physical and biological boundaries that maintain life, but in many areas of life we are afforded great freedom to choose. In aspects of choice, we are the captain of our ship and must learn to navigate an undulating ocean of yin and yang. We can improve our judgment and navigational skills through study with great teachers like Herman, but even more so through personal life lessons acquired by trial and error. Herman often said, “Physically we are unfree, spiritually we are free.” (Please see his Definition of Macrobiotics in this newsletter.)
On Travels to Infinity
During the final meal of each study program at Vega, Herman and Cornellia would join students and staff for dinner. It was a time to share food and friendship as well as to cast about thoughts and ideas. One evening, Herman, who was always the fisherman, cast his line upstream musing, “At night I go (to) Infinity. Morning time, I come back.” Then he patiently let that thought float along with the current, keeping a little tension on the line as he paused at each set of eyes searching for nibbles of recognition.
Then another cast arcs through the air, “Why do I come back? I think (it) must be boring living always in Perfect Oneness.” How could one not be hooked by his mischievous smile and eyes twinkling like a child who had just delivered the punchline to a hilarious joke?
During lectures, when Herman pondered a thought seeking how to coalesce some complexity, he often braced his hands on his lower back and tipped sharply backward from the waist, casting his gaze skyward, searching. Then he would snap back upright and reel in, landing an inspiration from some realm above and beyond.
In 1997 Herman was fishing in the Feather River. Without warning, a great deal of water was released from the dam. The river rose quickly and Herman was swept downstream, almost drowning. He was wearing tall fisherman’s wader boots that were steadily filling with water, and like any true fisherman, he managed to hang onto his fishing rod despite the deluge. He was naturally panicked, but the more he struggled, the more his waders filled with sinking water. He related that he then heard the steady voice of his beloved teacher, George Ohsawa, advising him, “Relax.” He did so and immediately began floating on his back. He said he felt so peaceful looking up at the clear blue sky. Another fisherman saw him, extended a branch and towed him safely to shore away from the swift current.
When David and I first began teaching macrobiotics in Kansas City, a conflict arose with a couple who had previously been teaching there. In an article David had written, he referred to Herman as one of his teachers. This person responded rather defiantly suggesting that David could not claim Herman as his teacher. David contacted Herman regarding this conflict. Herman’s simple response was, “Let Heaven be the judge.” In other words, in the highest realm of judgment, truth is singular in the unification of opposition. If what you are doing is sound, then all will be well and you will succeed. These words have been invaluable during times of conflict to unify opposing forces into peaceful resolution. Trust in the natural order because therein lies truth.
The Naming of Vega
Perhaps there are some of you who heard the full story directly from Herman as to why he chose the name “Vega” for his and Cornellia’s macrobiotic study center in California. All I recall, is him saying something like “polestar.” So I did a little research.
In 12,000 B.C., the star Vega was directly aligned with the north axis of the earth. As the earth’s axis shifted, Polaris became our current polestar. In the larger celestial movement, Vega will once again become the polestar in another 12,000-13,000 years. It’s the second brightest star in the night sky (read David’s article on Herman’s view about being second in the upcoming memorial edition of Macrobiotics Today) and the closest star to the sun.
To ancient mariners, the North Star provided a steady guidepost in the ever-changing celestial night sky. The steadiness, the stillness of that point allowed navigators to return back home to their loved ones. I believe Herman considered that singular point of reference to represent the highest level of judgment also known as the Unifying Principle in macrobiotics. This principle can guide us with navigational surety to bring us home when we have lost our way and traveled too far off course.
When Herman leaned back, searching to unify his thoughts, or gazed at the sky while floating down the river, he found peace and unification, just like an ancient mariner utilizing the polestar. Humans have always drawn lines connecting the dots of stars to form images and constellations that relate to the human condition. Herman as a teacher guided us to connect the illuminating points of life experiences to discover pattern and alignment within the backdrop of heavenly forces. The universe lies within ourselves and amongst each other, giving context to the world around us and what it means to being human.
Knowing how to locate a polestar or even that one exists, affords us the comfort to relax, to accept ourselves for who we are as individuals and collectively as humans. We can play and explore how best to resonate with the vibrational patterns that gather up matter and form it into human beings. Each of us represents a unique individual expression of this Unique Principle, contributing to the collective evolution of human existence. If we travel too far from home, we know how to return, guided by a star directly overhead.
I wonder now if Herman is bored having returned to the infinite World. Or maybe he travels here from there just for grins and twinkles, or maybe to catch a 49’ers game or maybe to simply go fishing.
As Herman would often say upon return from leaning backward, “Life is veerry in-ter-rest-ing…”
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.
Goma Wakame Saved Me From a Dumb Mistake!
By Cynthia Briscoe
When Cornellia Aihara taught students how to make miso soup, she always explained the significant protection of wakame in miso soup. Wakame has the ability to chelate or bind with heavy metals and remove them safely from the body. Remembering her lesson helped me recover from an unwitting mistake.
This occurred perhaps 12 years ago. I enjoy repairing things around our home, a lovely solid Craftsman Style house constructed in 1924. The window screens and their original wooden frames sorely needed refurbishing. I bought this great little orbital sander to buzz off the peeling paint from the wood frames rather than messy stripping. I marveled at the many layers of paint. In my imagination I made up a history of the aproned women who chose yellow, apple green, peach or standard white. I pictured how they must have dressed or what color hair they had as I happily buzzed off layers of history back down to the bare wood with many changes of sandpaper.
I completed the project, but then started feeling very weak, so very tired to the point I could barely get out of bed as well as flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea and abdominal pain. A more seasoned repairman friend brought up the fact that I most likely had inhaled and ingested a great deal of lead paint dust due to the age of the house and the fact that lead based paint was used until 1978.
Who knew? I hadn’t known or I certainly would have worn a mask!
I thought, “How am I going to get myself out of this one?” Then Cornellia’s voice came into my head, “Wakame protects against lead poisoning, radiation exposure and other toxic pollutants we are exposed to every day.”
Thank you Cornellia!
I got busy and poured on the wakame – wakame in miso soup, baked wakame onion casserole, and goma wakame. Goma wakame afforded a concentrated amount of wakame that I could sprinkle on just about anything edible. I used it heavily on my breakfast porridge. It tasted great, so I knew my body needed it. After 5 days, I felt stronger. After 2 weeks I was fully recovered.
That’s the beauty of macrobiotics: the cure often lies in your kitchen. I would like to share with you a recipe for Goma Wakame (see below). It is delicious and rich in minerals. It is suitable for children or people who wish to reduce sodium, as contains less sodium than Gomashio or sesame salt. It builds strong bones and teeth and is highly alkalizing. Best of all, it can save you if you are dumb enough to sand lead paint without proper protection!
Powdered Wakame and Toasted Sesame Seed Condiment
1/2 cup sesame seeds
12 inches of dried wakame
5. Drain the seeds in the strainer.
6. Dry the sesame seeds before roasting. Place in a skillet over a medium flame. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon, drying until the seeds no longer stick to the wooden spoon.
7. Heat a stainless steel frying pan over a medium flame.
8. Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of seeds.
9. Place a lid on the pan. Shake the seeds in the pan in a back and forward motion similar to popping corn
. The seeds are done when you can crush a few seeds easily between the thumb and fourth finger.
11. Pour the finished seeds into the suribachi with the powdered wakame. Continue roasting the seeds as described above until all the seeds are roasted.
11. Grind the seeds in the suribachi with the powdered wakame until about 2/3 of the sesame seed are crushed.
12. Serve a sprinkling on grains as a condiment. Goma wakame may be stored in an airtight jar for about two weeks for maximum flavor and freshness or store in the refrigerator to keep the oil in the seeds fresh.
I was so very fortunate to have worked closely with Cornellia Aihara for eight years, managing the Vega Study Center kitchen, training staff, resident students and teaching cooking classes. Cornellia was a firm believer in making her own macrobiotic staples. We made Vega’s own miso, shoyu (natural soysauce), umeboshi, umeboshi vinegar, mochi, rice bran pickles, takuan, seitan and many other items. Sometimes students would question her, “Cornellia, why don’t you just buy these foods?” In her unique Japanese/American manner of speaking, she would say, “What if boat doesn’t come?” I reflected on those simple words when the tsunami disaster hit Japan. Only Cornellia and Mr
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. Muramoto taught students in America how to make their own shoyu. Especially, when students stayed for a while at Vega and ate these products, then they understood the value in terms of health and flavor.
Cornellia was always very proud of her accomplished shoyu, miso and pickles – wanting to share them with everyone. I savoured the flavors, but more importantly, the unique opportunity of learning the art of making these traditional foods. I knew of no American macrobiotic teachers who taught making these foods, so I happily engaged myself as a link between Cornellia, a first generation macrobiotic teacher, and future generations of students. Now, I’d like to share this knowlege with you.
For myself, I enjoy making these products. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment and even security. I know exactly the quality of the ingredients and how it is made. I can save money and still enjoy these wonderful and delicious products without breaking the bank. Some of these items, like miso, or mochi can be made in larger amounts with friends, extended family, groups or neighbors and shared. Producing our own food, as a community, for well-being and sustainability is a special human experience most of us no longer know within today’s social structure. The modern hurry-up lifestyle removes us from a deep connection to our food, leaving it to the chain of manufacturers-shippers-middlemen-marketers.
In my upcoming June 6-10 “Make Your Own Home Crafted Foods”course in Oroville, CA, you can learn to make many of your own special home-crafted foods, and then return home to establish a deeper sense of community with family, friends, and local support groups. You simply can’t compare the quality and flavor of these homemade foods to anything that can be store-bought. They’re sustainable, economical, ecological, practical, fun and incomparably delicious!
Please come join me for this 5-day, hands-on cooking intensive and let me share with you what I learned from Cornellia. REGISTRATION & MORE INFORMATION
Herman Aihara was born on September 28, 1920. Along with many others I had the great good fortune to have him as one of my macrobiotic mentors. I only wish that more of today’s macrobiotic teachers, counselors and individuals would have studied with him in-depth during his lifetime. I believe this would have very much deepened and broadened the view of macrobiotics for so many. Herman was unique
Like he did with all of his students, he showed me the necessity of finding real freedom through personal happiness and creativity. Many have commented over the years that the following definition of macrobiotics by Herman is their very favorite. So, I want to share it with you on this day, his birthday.
A Definition of Macrobiotics by Herman Aihara
“Macrobiotics amounts to finding our physiological limitations and trying to live within them. This is the cultivation of humbleness. When we think that we can do anything we want, we become arrogant. This arrogance causes sickness.
When we are living within our physical limitations, then our spirituality is free. Macrobiotics seeks freedom in spirit. Freedom exists in our spirit – so we can think anything. But biologically, physiologically we are unfree. We can wish to eat anything we want, but we cannot do it and still live within our natural physiological limitations.
Disciplining physical unfreedom is the foundation of spiritual freedom. God didn’t give us unlimited biological freedom, but appreciating and taking into consideration our unfree physical condition leads us to greater freedom, both physically and spiritually.”
– Herman Aihara
author of Acid & Alkaline
Learning from Salmon
and other books
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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