Progressive Development of Disease
In contrast to modern medicine that classifies disease into hundreds of categories, macrobiotic healthcare looks at sickness as a progressive pattern of seven stages:
1. General Fatigue Physical tiredness, often accompanied by muscular tension and a hardening of the muscles, frequent urination and sweating, temporary constipation or diarrhea, and short periods of feeling cold or hot. Mentally we start to lose our clarity of thought, active perception and accurate responses. To recover from this stage, it usually takes a short period—from a few hours to a few days—of adequate rest, a good night’s sleep, proper food and drink, and exercise.
2. Aches and Pains When a feeling of general fatigue prevails, occasional pains and aches may develop. Muscular pain, headache, cramps, and various other sorts of pains and aches appear now and then. Temporary shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, fever and chills, and difficulty of motion also appear in this stage. Mentally, we may experience occasional depression, worry, and a general feeling of insecurity. To restore health usually takes from a few days to a few weeks, with proper dietary practice, active exercise, or necessary rest.
3. Blood Disease If our dietary practice continues to be out of balance with our environment, our blood quality, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood plasma, becomes unsuited for maintaining harmony with our natural surroundings. The quality of our blood determines the quality of our body’s cells and tissues, organs, and systems. Blood disorders create various abnormal conditions in our body from which symptoms of sickness then arise. Acidosis (a condition in which there is too much acid in the body fluids), high and low blood pressure, anemia, purpura (purple-colored spots and patches that occur on the skin caused by bleeding from small blood vessels under the skin), leukemia, scurvy, and other diseases belong to this stage, including asthma, epilepsy, and skin diseases. Mentally, this stage appears as nervousness, hypersensitivity, complaining, pessimism, timidity, and loss of general direction in life. To recover from blood disorders may take between 10 days and three to four months, depending upon the individual condition. Once again, proper dietary practices, as well as suitable exercise and rest, need to be implemented. Simple home cares to promote active circulation of the blood may also be required in some cases.
4. Emotional Disorder If an improper quality of blood circulates for a prolonged period, various emotional disorders start to appear. Short temper, excitement, anger, frustration, melancholy, and a general feeling of despair are experienced frequently in daily life. A gentle approach to a problem with clear, balanced understanding is no longer possible. A general feeling of fear prevails toward new situations and surroundings, and our daily behavior and way of thinking become extremely defensive or offensive. Our physical movements become more rigid, and we gradually lose flexibility in both body and mind. It requires between one month and several months to overcome these emotional and physical disorders. Dietary change toward more balanced food is essential, along with physical and mental relaxation.
5. Organ Disease An imbalanced quality of blood circulating for a prolonged period further produces gradual changes in the quality and function of our organs and glands. Structural change, malfunction, and degeneration start to arise. Atherosclerosis (a hardening of the arteries), diabetes, stone formation in the kidneys or gallbladder, arthritis, various types of cancer, diabetes, various types of cancer, and many other chronic diseases fall in this category. Mentally, chronic stubbornness, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and general rigidity with a
distorted view of life become more apparent. To recover from this level of disease usually takes several months to one year or more, through continuous practice of proper diet and reorientation of the way of life, including deep self-reflection.
6. Nervous Disorder From the stage of organ and gland disease, the degenerative tendency progresses toward various nervous disorders including physical par-alysis, Alzheimer’s disease, and mental illness including bipolar disease, schizophrenia, and paranoia. Physical and mental coordination of various functions gradually diminishes. A negative view begins to dominate daily life, and suicidal or destructive tendencies frequently manifest. It takes six months to a few years to recover completely from this stage and to regain self-assurance and trust as well as a positive view of life. The way of life has to be changed completely, including dietary practice, more harmonious relationship with the environment, and active physical exercise, together with loving care by family and friends.
7. Self-Centeredness An improper way of life that has been practiced for many years, finally reaches the highest level of sickness—self-centeredness or arro-
gance—though some of the previous stages may not have been clearly experienced. Self-centeredness is the most developed sickness and also the one that most universally affects people’s lives today. Selfishness, egocentricity, vanity, self-pride, exclusivity, and self-justification are some of the common symptoms. It is the last stage of sickness and, at the same time, it is the cause of all previous stages. To overcome this attitude takes from a few years to an indefinite length of time of proper practice in a more appreciative and natural way of life. However, it can also be cured instantaneously through strong emotional or spiritual experiences, especially in the face of great difficulties and failure. The cure of self-centeredness immediately produces a spirit of humility and modesty. It restores also the spirit of appreciation through the recognition of our ignorance. When arrogance is dissolved, a new way of life in harmony with the environment automatically begins.
As Michio Kushi observed, “Every physical, mental, and spiritual sickness belongs to one of the seven levels outlined above, though symptoms at some of the steps may remain dormant and unrecognized. All sicknesses are interdependent and interconnected with one another; they are symptoms branching out from the same root—improper way of life. As long as we follow and live according to the laws of nature and the Order of the Universe, as our ancestors have done from the beginning, we shall enjoy health, happiness, and longevity, rarely suffering from any form of sickness.”[i]
From the “macro” or largest view, macrobiotics embraces all the diverse traditions and products of human culture and tradition, including modern medicine and new nutritional and energetic techniques. The Mandala of Healing, created by Michio Kushi, illustrates the seven levels of healing (mandala = Sanskrit for wheel or spiral)
1. Daily Way of Eating At the center of the mandala of healing is dietary practice, namely, the macrobiotic way of eating. This approach itself is constantly evolving to take into account changing environmental and climactic conditions, social and economic factors, and personal needs. It comprises the foundation of healing.
2. Home Remedies In principle, a balanced daily way of eating will help prevent sickness and harm. But if imbalance arises, special dishes, special drinks, and home remedies (most of which are based on traditional foods such as the ginger compress, ume-sho-kuzu drink, and cabbage leaf plaster) represent the next, or second circle of healing.
3. Natural Lifestyle The third circle represents natural lifestyle approaches and
includes simple activities and exercises that can be used to strengthen mind and body, stimulate energy flow, and promote better metabolism at various levels.
Examples: do-in, or self-massage, yoga, tai chi and qi gong, walking, painting and
drawing, dance, singing, playing or listening to music, prayer, meditation, mind
control, and other simple, basic practices that can be performed by oneself easily, safely, and without any special cost.
4. Natural Energy Adjustments The fourth level of healing involves natural energy adjustments. Examples include acupuncture (the use of needles to stimulate energy flow), moxibustion (the use of a dried herb for similar purposes), shiatsu or massage that makes use of clay or oils, aromatherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, neurolinguistic programming, and others. Again, these external applications may be helpful depending on the case, but they generally require a second person to administer, usually an expert, and involve specialized diagnosis and evaluation, and entail an expense. Compared to the first three circles, level four represents moving beyond self-reliance to dependence on authorities, companies, and health claims that may or may not be true and beneficial.
5. Supplements and Special Products The fifth circle of healing includes supplements, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and other largely nutritional products. They include both traditional substances such as Chinese herbs and modern extracts such as genistein (soy-based) tablets and homeopathic tinctures. For the most part, they originate from natural plants or animals, but the way they are processed may be calm and peaceful (like macrobiotic cooking) or highly processed (like fast foods). They may also contain other ingredients of low quality (such as gelatin, or animal-based, capsules), and they can be rather expensive and in some cases require an expert to prescribe or administer.
6. Electromagnetic Treatments The sixth circle includes electric, radionic, digital, and other electromagnetic gadgets, devices, and machines. Again, these external applications may be helpful for any given person, but they may not be suitable for others and are often invasive, require experts, and incur significant cost.
7. Conventional Medicine The seventh circle includes conventional medical procedures. The most innocuous are blood tests, EKGs, and other simple lab tests. A variety of pills, drugs, and medications carry moderate to high risks, especially SSRI’s and other psychiatric drugs. Other risky procedures include surgery (which may range from mild to life-threatening but which can damage meridian flow), radiation of different kinds (MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, mammograms), chemotherapy, and many experimental medications. Except for accidents, emergencies, and life-and-death situations, many medical procedures are unnecessary, aimed at destroying disease rather than identifying the underlying cause of imbalance. However, in any given case, they may be beneficial (especially temporarily and in small, controlled amounts or frequencies), necessary, or lifesaving.
The mandala encourages us to develop our intuition, starting at the center and taking as much responsibility as we can for our own health and well-being. However, it prompts us to use wider, more complex methods and procedures as necessary. It is common sense to keep an open mind to all manner of healing but also to use the invasive, risky, and costly ones as a last, rather than a first, resort.
[i] Kushi and Jack, Book of Macrobiotics, pp. 171-172.