Alchemy In Macrobiotics
by Patrick McCarty
The "Only Constant Is Change," words often repeated
in macrobiotics, have a long history. The movement of life, in
all of its manifestations, continually traveling forward, goes
beyond the beyond, forever changing. Macrobiotics is based on
this concept of perpetual change. One of the best sources of thought
on observing the changes of nature is recorded in Taoism.
The name Taoism refers to certain philosophical and religious traditions, as well as ideas about the human body, nature, and the cosmos. The Chinese word Tao (pronounced dao), is usually translated as "way" or "path." In Taoism, it refers to the Way of all things, an empty void pregnant with infinite possibilities of existence.
Taoism traces its origins to the sage Laozi (Laotzu), who was traditionally thought to have lived in the sixth century BCE. The book of philosophical poetry attributed to him, the Classic of the Way and Its Power (Daode jing or Tao Te Ching) introduces the concept of the Tao and serves as a guide for human behavior and experiences. The text teaches the importance of transcending one's rational mind, cultivating detachment and virtue, and most importantly, living in harmony with the natural world.
According to Taoist belief, in the beginning there was only the Tao, the empty void of infinite potential, out of which arose Qi. Qi is vital energy or breath. It is in a constant state of movement and flux. Eons ago, two complementary forces emerged from the Tao that directed the movement of qi; yin, which was dark, heavy, and feminine, and yang, which was light, airy, and masculine. Both energies harmonized to form humanity. The human body was seen as a microcosm of the world, including within itself the energies of both the earth and the heavens.
Yin and Yang
The primary symbols of yin and yang in ancient China were the white tiger and green dragon. In later times, these symbols were supplemented by the taiji diagram (which means "supreme ultimate"), commonly known as the yin/yang symbol. This diagram illustrates the unity and interdependence of yin and yang within the Tao; it is the constant, cyclic transformation of yin to yang and yang to yin that gives birth to all forms of the universe.
There are two traditions of alchemy within Taoism. Outer alchemy was a chemical search for a pill or elixir of immortality. Sounds vaguely familiar to our current relationship to modern medicine. Mixtures using non-edible substances such as cinnabar (mercuric sulfide), lead, and gold were ingested, often with toxic results. Such techniques declined after the Tang dynasty (618-906 CE) and were replaced by a more symbolic (Inner) alchemy that could be cultivated inside the body.
Inner alchemy (neidan) was conceived as a means for the individual to achieve unification with the Tao through moral integrity and spiritual purity. It involved visualization and the use of symbols drawn from chemical alchemy and the Book of Changes (Yi jing or I Ching). Rather that take an elixir, the individual combined meditation and breath control to visualize the creation of an equivalent of the elixir in the inner landscape of the body. In this way, internal qi was used to create the elixir. When successfully achieved, this visualized elixir transformed the practitioner, who was reborn as an immortal.
In macrobiotic shiatsu practice it is recommended to eat a well-balanced whole foods diet, breathe fully and deeply, physically use the body adequately, spend some time daily in a meditative or contemplative state, and to enjoy all that life has to offer.
Choosing whole foods and preparing them according to season and the conditions of the people who will consume the food is an example of modern alchemy. Alchemy is defined as "a seemingly magical power or process of transmuting." Changing something into something else. When we prepare food and digest it we are changing the subtle energy of the universe into ourselves. Said another way, the universe is transforming us. We are blending with the universe and connecting to a source energy that is life.
Vegetables are condensed sunlight mixed with the elements of earth and water. The creating forces of nature merge all these various elements to become a substance of life. Giving the body cells the physical nutrition and the nonphysical vibration that animates and provides the foundation of life.
This transformative power is not limited to food. The acts of breathing, exercising and even our thinking can be tools to focus the absorption of universal energy to become whatever we desire it to become.
When shiatsu is applied to the surface of the body many changes occur internally. The acupoints along the meridian pathways are the entry and exit locations as well as a modulator for the circulation of energy. The meridian system is the transportation utility that connects and unites the distant parts of the body. It is through the acupoints and meridians that the external world meets the internal one. Feeling the surface location tells a great deal to a skilled practitioner. Hardness, heat, moisture, pain, all indicated a disturbance in the circulation of Qi within the meridian. It indicates the presence of some imbalance within. If a disturbance is present long enough the internal organs and tissues change to accommodate this disturbance thereby creating dysfunction and disease. The focus of the shiatsu treatment is to stimulate these external acupoints to affect an internal transmutation. In other words, the treatment attempts to stimulate the body to change the vibrational resonance from one that does not feel good to one that does. It's all about vibration. Moving from the vibration of ill health to the resonance of perfect health.
When considering how to deal with the condition of the receiver of a treatment, it becomes obvious that even the condition of the practitioner will affect the outcome. There is a lot more to creating balance then merely pressing points. If the practitioner is in good health, breathes well throughout the session, is clear in their intention to direct Qi, the outcome is improved.
A couple of thousand years ago Laozi laid out the guidelines of how the universe works. Even today as we understand the physical laws with science our understanding of energy and the transformative power that it contains only deepens. We may find it useful to take to heart the old Taoist suggestion to live in accordance with the natural world. Along the way we not only help each other, we can enjoy the eternal mystery of change. We may just discover the infinite possibilities normally hidden within each of us.