The seeds for what grew into Macrobiotics Canada were planted by my family at a young age.
Excursions late at night to the beautiful parkland along the Ottawa river was likely the first planting. As a determined three-year old, I recall trying to figure out how I could get my dad to allow me to “just stay up” outside and stare up into the night sky. Alas, my pleas and requests yielded too few late nights alone with my dad, the endless sky and the sheer wonder of what he talked about. For a boy of three, this was heaven on earth. I remember thinking that I could never tire of this time with my father, already realizing the impact that his lessons had; that one could always ask why, and that this critical questioning was a kind of necessity for humans, like breathing or playing outside. The other seemingly less fascinating, less serious focus of Arthur (my Dad) was how he turned virtually every task into fun.
Good, was my mother’s emphasis. This, I sensed, was not the standard be good or do good; it was much more being a part of, joining in and taking responsibility for the good continuing. At three, four, five, this perplexed and spurrned me on to be endlessly vocal. As my three sisters arrived one by one the weight of the good seemed lighter with all that practice.
Whatever the childhood word for absurd is, that is what my response to school was…literally – bells, whistles, rows, doors, single file, stern controls, far too little human warmth, and far too little talking or play time. Writing and art was fun and I could sense the potential of reading but I would look around the class feeling like an alien because I was sure everyone was either faking interest in what they had us read or I was surely in the wrong place. These seemingly forever years of elementary school did bear some fine fruit. I learned to multi-task under difficult circumstances at a young age; only offering what I grew to know would be accepted. Finally reserving what seemed like gems of thought for those who expressed interest. Through a series of twelve year old philosophical eurekas and a new found ally – discipline – I stopped eating all candy, soda drinks etc., even Mrs. Morton’s homemade fudge and my mother’s (Maureen) candy creations could not through struggle or rationalization, be kept on the list. This stand up and be counteddecision has lasted to this day. At about the same time the dots between philosophy, choice and income became apparent because the tips that accompanied going to the store for aunts, uncles, parents and card playing guests ended. No more cash flow or change in my pockets. Why? Because I refused forever more to purchase cigarettes and therefore had fired myself as errand boy.
High school flew by and the taste of independence, freedom of movement and the shear thrill of being active and alive was enhanced everyday by the nourishment of my grandparents and father. My grandfather implied that being free was a bigger issue than having a career. He said that when I grew up, there would be a problem of too much money but not much worth buying. My dad explained the difference between handling money and making money and my other grandfather continued, every time we met, to ask me the same question as he had since I was five years old: “What do you know for sure?” Again, I recognized that I had people in my life who continuously encouraged me to expand my mind.
I arrived at University as the most naive human on planet Earth. I really believed I was going to meet exceptionally brilliant professors, thinkers, doers and contributors. Instead, I met a few good friends, some charming, well meaning professors and a couple of priests, who had read more books than I could imagine and used obscure words when common ones could easily have conveyed the same thought. All this changed completely when I met Ivan Illich, a guest speaker at school. There was no filler or pretense in content or style of his presentation. After arranging to send my assignments and papers back via mail, I was off to Cuernavaca where I was exposed to ideas and people that lit up the meaning of life like the star bright nights with my dad, the back yard seminars with my grandparents and the countless revelations that occurred while listening to the real life interactions of the woman in my family in the kitchen. Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, Paulo Freire, Edgar Friedenberg; were a few of my favourites. The entire experience left me feeling like university life was child’s play. I stayed on as vice president of information for the students union enjoying outrageous involvement for the times with campus radio and newspaper.
The mirage of Timothy Leary, Ram Das and Abby Hoffman took about three months to scurry past and I found myself, healing herbs in hand, trying to be of use to spaced out hippies on a beach near Zihuatanejo, Mexico. I had gone all that way just to have the thought – ‘Go home and build a house’.
Being vegetarian was easy for me. I had already consumed more than a few lifetimes of animal- and milk-products. However the underlying principles of vegetarianism seemed full of foolish philosophy and leaned way to heavy on what not to do, without taking a stand against sugar and the general junk food world.
When I came across George Ohsawa’s writings, I had an affinity for some of his ideas about freedom and happiness. His work caught my interest; but overall he just seemed like an eccentric guy from Japan who seemed to hint that Westerners really had to start over because of their young cultures and overall lack of perspective. At this time, Bhakti (Heart centered) yoga, which promoted the connection of thoughts, words and deeds in daily life, had already taken hold of me as a good fit.
Meeting the Kushis intrigued me. In the seventies and eighties I attended classes, courses, seminars and eventually teachers’ gatherings. My private discipline was to eat as little as possible and sample Aveline’s cooking, keep my clarity and observe the surrounding activities and people. Interesting ideas were presented and I enjoyed learning. At the same time absurd things were going on there. Most of their so-called senior teachers were smoking and actually spouted out with an air of truth that it wouldn’t affect them adversely because they did not eat sugar or dairy products. At the same time there was all this hullabaloo over never eating tomatoes or potatoes or oooo ahhh, flour products. Closer examination revealed an underlying tendency of an answer oriented philosophy and not much tolerance or guidance for asking excellent questions.
Basically, if you were loyal to the Kushi approach, which was hierarchical with sprinkles of emotional atrophy, then you were accepted. The tell tale moment for me was in the late 1980’s when I asked Micho, at an open forum teacher conference, from his perspective how he would view me if I was not interested in being certified by the KI but would be happy to associate as a Macrobiotic teacher and counsellor. To this day I appreciate his clear answer saying that, “you may be one of the best macrobiotic teachers in the world, but nobody will know about you”.
I did not take this as a negative because it revealed the true nature and essence of how the organization functioned. Spending equal time with a Korean Mahayana yoga teacher created a good balance for me.
Alas, I had already built a great house in a beautiful country setting. I had concluded that the centralized hierarchical structure that the Kushi Institute was moving towards would inhibit the large view that is at the heart of macrobiotic practice. MC opened the door to the world in 1979 and have never looked back. I applaud all those people who practice and share their experience with others. I am grateful for everyone who writes about macrobiotics.
Anyone interested in enjoying the long term depth and breadth of what Macrobiotics has to offer should try to resist the narrow notion that this is mainly about the physical food we eat. It is so much more than that, and if teachers limit themselves to presenting scenarios dominated by prescriptive food recommendations they ultimately direct you towards what I began calling in 1990, macro-neurotic or macro-robotic behaviour—negating all the potential enjoyment of a great lifestyle. My commitment has always been to assist those who find our people, our approach, and our environment appealing.
We look forward to meeting you.