Victory Gardens

Written by Karen Kisslinger in July 2006 for the Poughkeepsie Journal

As a child, the garden path I was first led down was the driveway into my mother’s parents home on Lake Bemidji in Northern Minnesota.  There, it seemed to me, as a child, we grew everything.  Our job as children was to pick as many berries … first strawberries, then raspberries, then blueberries, in the mornings … and fish as many perch as we could out of the lake in the afternoon.  We were in Eden. Food was abundant and the earth provided.

The pit of compost in my grandfather’s shed had a warm and profoundly comforting smell that promised me that  abundance would continue.   Our table scraps  decomposed to a rich, warm, fertile pile that smelled wonderful and dark and moist. It would feed and  grow more of the fresh and vital foods we gathered every day …  and also provide handfuls of  writhing worms for fishing bait.  It was all right there, a complete system.  In poor times this was Home, Land and Security.

Those words are used a lot these days and conjure up threats of various kinds.  One of our biggest threats is the fact that  most “modern” people have only a recreational relationship with the land and ultimately a high level of food insecurity.

In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks I remember being struck by a new awareness of  the heavy reliance of Americans on imported food, particularly vegetables and fruits. Community food security strengthened by sustainable small scale food production is not emphasized enough as an aspect of Homeland Security. The “commons” could fill with fruit trees and fields with community gardens. If we are lucky enough to have some land  where we can plant some seeds, we have a deep kind of independence and victory over food insecurity.

Readers interested in the breadth and depth of this subject can refer to the web site of the American Community Gardening Association  and the many other web sites devoted to “Food Security”  In complex ways many people, particularly in our cities, experience food insecurity  when it comes to obtaining the health promoting fruits and vegetables and naturally grown animal products.  In a media environment  decrying degenerative diseases related to poor diet, the irony of being surrounded by food but not by nutrients is growing in importance, particularly in low socio-economic neighborhoods.

I was lucky to have many lessons in food security as a child. Besides  the Minnesota gardens, my father was a gardener.  His father became a gardener by necessity,  feeding five children through the Great Depression and World War II with a victory garden.  It was ultimately a remarkable form of independence.

During World War II, after the Great Depression, it became a patriotic duty to plant a Victory Garden.   In fact tens of millions of Americans did just that, and, toward the end of the war, they grew a harvest of fruits and vegetables equal in size to the national commercial crop.  They also bought hundreds of thousands of pressure cookers,  the dangerous old fashioned kind to “put up” the huge amounts of food they’d grown. Our modernizing population  rose to the cry of  necessity and proudly produced enormous amounts of food.  The time has come to re-invent the Victory Garden on a global scale….but this time the Victory will not be of one nation over another, but of the forces of sustainability and nurturance over the forces of greed, profit, and depletion which have come to rule in large scale industrial agricultural production.

The urge to plant and grow is universal and in the end will provide a victory over the dead toxicity of an electronically based life style and oil dependent agricultural practices.  There can be  victory over greed.  Victory over hybridized seeds made to terminate their own reproduction. Victory over poison.  Victory over hormone disrupting chemicals seeping into our water and our bodies.  Victory over the enormous and the impersonal.  Victory over borders that create enemies and aliens instead of neighbors and friends. Victory over depletion and disease.  Victory over malnourishment.  Victory over drifting genetics that introduce artificially created life forms into the global pollen pool with unknown results.   Victory of the rights and needs of everyday people over rich and powerful economic interests. Ultimately this victory is about independence.

Every year on the fourth of July, I proclaim my own independence day.  Independence from having to buy vegetables until the following December.  This year, I used my last butternut squash from the 2005 garden on May 15.  Butternuts grow wonderfully around here, store well and are the only winter squash variety I know of that is not subject to vine borer damage…the sudden death of long beautiful squash plants when those grubby white worms destroy the vine at just one spot close to the roots. A package of seeds costs about $1 and can supply winter squash for the whole winter.  So, it’s independence from the high cost of organic vegetables, and independence from driving to pick up veggies when I can pick them instead.

My own  moments of primal excitement about growing food are unforgettable. In the fall of 1975 we moved from urban New York to an old dairy farm in Ancramdale and set up house, and one of the first things we did when our first winter there was over was  to start planting things.   Cramming crumpled seed packets into all of my pockets, I had an irrepressible excitement that all I had to do was stick the seeds in the ground at the right time and harvests of wonderful herbs and vegetables would follow.  I couldn’t believe the feeling of opportunity and possibility that filled me as I planted.   I worked to remove rocks from the soil in the gardening space we had chosen behind our new pottery studio. Looking back, we were part of the back-to-the-land movement, and now 30 years later, the absolute necessity of going back to back-to-the-land in a sustainable way is being widely recognized.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a current project and goal to create at least 1 million “Millenium Gardens” nationally, including community, school and home gardens. The project is reminiscent of the Victory Garden effort during World War II.  Alice Waters, the well-known chef from California has started a movement of edible classroom projects, calling gardening and food education the “road to peace.”

The USDA is placing special emphasis on community gardens because of their multiple social benefits. Community gardens add to the beauty of a community and also bring people together to improve their neighborhoods, create positive social interactions that could reduce crime and help increase community food security.

Community Supported Agriculture  projects often involve an element of cooperative work among members.  If you are a home gardener, the USDA is encouraging you too to “plant a row for the hungry.”

It is July 2006, and Victory and Independence are rooted in the Earth, where we find it, in our own back yards, right under our feet or the farms in our own region.    In my own backyard,  for many years, I have had the opportunity to grow all the vegetables my family can eat for   3 ½ seasons of the year. Whether you have a big back yard, a roof top raised bed, or paint buckets filled with soil on the stairs of your apartment, you can begin.   Victory over boredom (really!) . Victory over restlessness and even impatience.  Victory over egotism..for we only collaborate with nature..the greatest creator of exquisite form and real food.

Victory and independence in the garden are gentle satisfactions, the satisfactions of understanding  “home”, “land” and ” security” in new ways   Even with a tiny yard,  much food and flowers can be grown. Any one of us could take initiative for a Millenium Garden or just grow a row extra and donate it to a local food bank, buy a share from a Community Supported Agriculture  project or find some other way to deepen our commitment to sustainable gardening,  to food security, to seed sharing and seed saving and non toxic gardening and to  sharing our wisdom locally and globally.  We can all “pay it forward” together.

Happy Independence Day…and here’s  hoping  that all enjoy the many sweet and sustaining independence of going back to back-to-the-land…even  if it’s just that little bit of Earth  right outside your back door.

Do You Have Time to Heal?

Do You Have Time to Heal??

Written by Karen in Spring 2009

Basic to all my teaching and writing is the idea of balancing tendencies toward “degenerative disease”  with the renewing effects of “regenerative ease.”  When my children were young we used to go to stay in cottages on Cape Cod that were owned in the 19th century by a large corporation which kept the cottages for the rest and renewal of its employees.  Has your employer sent you on a rest and renewal retreat lately?

I’m guessing that the answer is no.  Especially with the economy so tight and people often working more than one job….if they’re lucky enough to be working at order to pay their bills,  the trend is that we have to wear out and fall apart before we are stopped in our tracks and have to take some kind of better care for ourselves.  Then the problem is…do we have time to be sick?  Do we have time to take the time that it would really take to renew our health…or do we take a treatment that may improve our immediate symptoms…but not replenish the underlying problem or need that led to the serious condition. The second option would comprise what I call “healing”.  It involves getting at underlying causes such as stress, dietary deficiencies or excesses, lack of exercise, toxic indoor or outdoor environment, and many other factors that tend to make us sick. In work place and home we are almost always under pressure to be “on” all the time.  Imagine if we were able to regularly hang out a “do not disturb” sign, literally and figuratively… and be silent, calm and even meditative for periods of time.  This is not a irrelevant fantasy…it is basic to the maintenance of well being.  Now that times are particularly stressful, it is even more important that we make some time to take better care of ourselves.

It’s interesting that the sanatoriums of earlier centuries offered “the cure” for serious diseases like offering rest, good food, hydrotherapy and other elemental non technological support for peoples’ bodies which gave them a chance to heal themselves. Today’s spas tend to be more trendy and product driven with lots of services offered, but not always operating or affordable at the level of simply offering a place to BE while healing happens.

We all need healing time.  As part of a movement to redefine our health culture we can adopt practices which honor our bodies’ needs for regenerative ease.  We can allow ourselves to be bored and to do NOTHING while we rest and renew. We can free ourselves from the excesses of food practices which fill us with empty calories, refined sugars, heavy animal fats, and allow our bodies to clear out toxins and tiredness.

A really fundamental question to ask yourself is: Do you believe in healing?? Do you believe that most people..given the right circumstances and resources, can have health and well being and live free from sickness, pain and fatigue. This includes serious disease.   I’ve found that many people actually don’t believe that this is possible.  They have been tricked into thinking they have to “live with” relative states of  dis-ease.  Watch TV ads for a few hours and assess the assumptions made there about common health problems.

I know how busy everyone is these days, but I also know how many hours of television the average family watches and how much time is spent on computers, games and other screen entertainment.

As we talk of renewing the economy, we can think of renewing our personal health and time  economy by making time for quiet, relaxation, stretching, silence, meditation, regular time.for real renewal and re-generation of our nervous systems..our immune systems..of all aspects of body and mind.

Please notice the trends in your life that are really about heading toward sickness before you make time for yourself…and then take that time now for healing. This is a matter of faith in a fundamental human capacity for health.

In Memoriam with Love

It is with great sorrow that we share the news of the passing of Karen Kisslinger.

Karen believed that compassion is the only true source of power and was deeply committed to promoting the skills and traits of mindfulness that become part of living ethically, compassionately and healthfullyA fund in her name has been established at Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation to support students who show creativity in community health, well-being and/or contemplative practices such as yoga, meditation or organic agriculture. Donations to the fund can be sent to

The Karen Kisslinger Fund
c/o Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
800 North Main Street
PO Box 400
Sheffield, MA 01257-0400

or online at

If you would like to share your thoughts or memories of Karen, please do so below.

Out Past the Breakers: Surviving and Thriving Beyond the Western Medical Approach to Cancer

Karen L. Kisslinger.

The first time I went to the beach was in Hawaii in 1967. I walked up to the edge of the water and almost immediately got washed away by a gigantic wave. My teeth were full of sand, and my body strained to hold it’s own inside the overwhelming force. As the wave pulled away, I was left lying limp and astonished on the beach. Soon I learned to dive under waves so that they wouldn’t knock me down. That lesson…about working with nature instead of being swept away by it’s brutal forces was surely the beginning of my healing story. It taught me to get out past the breakers, where the rhythm of the waves was slow and rolling and easy, and well-being and safety could reside.

When we think of a story, we think of a beginning and an end, but when I was asked to write my “healing story”, I knew that I was unsure when and where it had actually started and completely uncertain how it will end..for healing goes on day to day as a dance in our lives.

It is natural, when you’ve had a cancer diagnosis, mine was breast cancer, to try to think of clear reasons and discreet causes. My mind filed over and over again through a childhood in Midwestern America replete with nuclear fallout and DDT. During the summers of 1956-8 we spent hours dragging dead fish off the beach, and burying them the day after DTT had been sprayed for mosquitoes.. It was only after my cancer diagnosis that I realized that we had spent the rest of the summer eating the surviving fish. As children we were excited and proud when scientists wanted to study our baby teeth to see how much “strontium 90” we had absorbed from nuclear test fall out. It was only after my cancer diagnosis that I really understood the meaning of that study.

Later came the high dosage birth control pills of the 60’s, so convenient in those pre-AIDS days, but I stopped taking them after 11/2 years because of medical concerns that they could increase cancer incidence 20 or so years down the road. And the abortion, so “routine” when the diaphragm failed; but certainly a shock to those perfect hormones and to the breast tissue they effected.

And the list can always go on. There is no one answer, no one factor. A few weeks after my cancer diagnosis I was standing in my kitchen cooking and was overwhelmed with the feeling that I (having cancer) was ruining everyone’s life. This seemed such a sad and inappropriate feeling, and I suddenly realized a connection: that as an unplanned and unexpected baby ( I was a second “undiagnosed” twin in an unplanned pregnancy, a surprise), that ever since I was a baby I may have had a vague feeling that I was ruining everyone’s (i.e. my mothers!) life. No matter how accomplished or achieving or “perfect” I was as a child, student, woman and mother, I could never fix that big slip up in my mother’s life. I know that I felt an unspoken sense of disappointment from my mother as a child, despite loving and being loved by her, long before I consciously knew what had happened.

And then when I was four, my Mommy had a stroke when she was pregnant, was paralyzed for a time, during which I didn’t know what was going on or where she was. Though she survived the stroke, she was never the same again, and as an adult I have known deeply that I experienced her stroke as losing my Mommy. After “losing her, I changed too. I had to become the Mommy, of myself, of my baby brother, of everybody. I took it all on, and worked my way with enthusiasm into a very successful professional and personal life with too much to do, too much chaos and too much responsibility. I think this is a pretty common kind of story.

After accepting fully that there was no discreet cause of my cancer, I still felt compelled to consider causes carefully, because I felt that only by taking responsibility within the pattern of my being for the development of cancer could I possibly accept that I could take responsibility and power in healing from cancer. Twenty three years ago my acupuncture teacher taught me the depth and the power of healing that is possible, and my studies of macrobiotics with Michio Kushi in Boston structured my faith and understanding of food and way of life practice as the basis for healing and health maintenance. After my cancer diagnosis when I saw my acupuncture teacher, JR Worsley, for treatment, he asked my why I hadn’t had chemo-therapy. I said: “JR, if I don’t believe in healing, then what has my life been about?”.

The question then became one of what my program would be for nurturing a “closed for reconstruction” renovation of everything from my colon flora to my spiritual orientation toward life and the universe; and everything in between.

Essentially, though I had many carcinogenic exposures, I was just another supra-individuated, busy, stressed out, chaotic and neurotic person with fairly unrealistic expectations, pre-disposed, like almost everyone to developing cancer.

Healing from cancer meant healing my relationship with everything…… with food, with time, with work, with myself. I thought often of the maxim I had heard in the 70’s: Civilization is the disease: cancer is the cure.

Years ago I took a workshop with Joseph Chilton Pearce who defined “love” in the broadest sense as “right relationship”. Whatever healing is, for me it has involved coming toward “right relationship” with life. It has been macrobiotic teaching which has been at the core of my developing understanding of what this might mean and how to live in right relationship………in love.

Though I studied macrobiotic theory with Michio back in the 70’s, I never studied the cooking properly, and it wasn’t until my cancer diagnosis that I really studied macrobiotic cooking and the practice of healing diet and macrobiotic healing program.

Studying and practicing macrobiotic cooking, for myself and my family has given me the nourishment and the rhythm necessary for healing. As much as the actual physical nourishment, the way of cooking and the rhythm of cooking is the HEARTBEAT OF HEALING.


The plan I eventually put together was a program of cellular and spiritual rejuvenation which I have come to call “macro-plus” and involved the factors described below.

The first wonderful step in adopting my healing program was accepting the hopeful way that macrobiotics offered. I’ll never forget the cold and frightened feeling I had sitting in the office of a prestigious oncologist in New York City, squirming and trying to look interested as he described heart damaging chemo therapy to me and told me that my statistical chances for recurrence went up 5% for each of my positive lymph nodes.

This numbers game was insulting and harassing; it also didn’t feel like it had anything to do with me! I was so frightened and disoriented, but this man really only seemed to be offering me a good chance of dying sooner than later.

How much better and safer I felt going to see Michio, sitting in his comfortable living room in Brookline, hearing positive, hopeful and life affirming encouragement for healing. Sitting in on my consultation was a woman who had survived a 4 month prognosis for inflammatory breast cancer 12 years before and who was now assisting Michio and helping compile documentation on cancer healing. She was of course, a true and living inspiration to me. My gratitude at being given this sense of hope is immeasurable. I’m also grateful for the warning given to me by both Michio and Shizuko Yamamoto, after the first year, that though I no longer had cancer, I had to do the practice and do the work, or I could get sick again at any time…..which puts me in the same boat with everyone else.

At the core of my healing practice was the macrobiotic healing program as prescribed to me in detail by Michio Kushi, including food based remedies and of course, the healing diet.

What fascinates me most about this diet is not simply the quality of fine, organic ingredients, but the proportion in which they are cooked and eaten.

PROPORTION. It’s fine to eat some brown rice and some aduki beans and some hijiki and bok choy, but how much of each do you eat, complemented by what condiments? How are acid and base balanced, expansive and contractive, sweet and salty, warming and cooling, protein, fat, sugar, starch?. The proper proportion of each nutrient, dietary elements and even state of mind leads directly to the formation of healthy, harmonious tissues, organs and glands. With different proportions, different things happen. I found and continue to find my evolving sense of proper proportion, which changes subtly with the seasons, with the kind of work I’m doing, or with travel. This is an essential and fascinating treasure of macrobiotic practice.

As a follow up to my consultation with Michio in Boston, I took a series of cooking classes with Sarah La Penta in nearby Litchfield, Connecticut. This not only rounded out my knowledge of macro cooking, but added the La Pentas and their beautiful children as friends in my life.

Then came the parasite cleanse and colon rejuvenation. I decided that my colon needed attention and treatment immediately to allow me to benefit more from the macro diet and to stop any damage or stress that was occurring to my immune system from parasites, candida overgrowth and food sensitivities.

The macro diet itself eliminated sensitive foods, except for corn which I seem to be sensitive to in any form. I still occasionally indulge in fresh sweet corn in late summer and have to endure itchy elbows as a result. I also find wheat, even in good sour dough bread, to be mucus producing for me, and I eat only a minimum of wheat. This has actually been a convenient way to continue to minimize all flour products. After almost 10 years, eliminating most flour products is still an element of the healing diet which I stick with and believe to be highly beneficial. The macro diet also added kudzu and other elements which seemed to soothe the bowel and also added enzyme rich condiments such as fermented vegetable “pickles” and sauerkraut, which remarkably enhance bowel flora and function.

I used an herbal formula called Para Cleanse, which is a mixture of encapsulated Chinese Herbs used morning and evening (6 capsules) for ten days and repeated again ten days later. I had a dramatic reaction to the Para-Cleanse, eliminating parasites within two or three days and immediately started to have more normal bowel movements and stronger bowel tone. I also used pro-biotic micro-organisms, such as bifidus and acidophilus, and feel that this also helps normalized flora. Currently I rely more on enzyme and micro organism rich condiments and do not use supplements as I did in the past.

As for the issue of Candida imbalance or overgrowth, it seems that the macro diet along with bowel work (above) helped bring the ever present yeast into balance with other intestinal flora. . Yeast overgrowth has not been a problem except for occasionally when I overdo the “yin” dietary factors, such as raw fruit. It doesn’t take much fruit sugar for a little reminder itch to develop, and in the end I’ve become thankful to the yeast for being my “Yin” barometer.

Though it’s been said in many places, I re-emphasize for those who may not have heard it enough: Don’t think of your colon as just an eliminator, unrelated to overall organ and body health. The health and integrity of your intestinal wall (both large and small), your colon flora and the expulsive tone of your elimination are vital to maintaining immune function and a non-toxic body, and therefore have to be central factors in a healing program for cancer.

Also central for me has been the use of herbs and therapeutic grade essential oils, which I see as the gems and crystals of the nourishing plant world. I’ve used herbs in two different ways. First as a constitutional support for weakened organs and weakened chi, and for this I have used primarily Chinese herbs which support the liver, kidneys, heart and “spleen”. The herbs effect the spiritual as well as the physical aspects of chi and have been another factor in my growing awe of the healing available from the plants of the earth, from the MACRO-BIOS…the great life.. Over the past several years I have expanded my gardens to include many medicinal herbs, and of course this means that the herbs “heal” me twice: first in the gardening work and secondly when I use them in teas and food.

The second way I have used herbs would have to be described as “anti-cancer”, to discourage any cancer cells or tendency to redevelop cancer. Although Michio did not recommend any particular such herbs, he did not object to my using herbs like Cat’s Claw, both because it is a powerful anti-oxidant, has many beneficial properties, and because, it gave me a psychological edge that I still find valuable, living as I thankfully continue to do, in the toxic and stressful world. I also use WTTC, a Wisteria based herbal formula specifically designed to help prevent cancer recurrence. The energy of this formula feels very neutral, not extreme, but nourishing. I still use it, though I go off it for a month once in a while.

In the early period of my cancer healing I worked with an anthroposophic doctor who had a great respect for macro biotics. He suggested two additional components for a healing program. The first was PRO-GEST, a transdermal cream containing natural progesterone. Dr. Incao had been in touch with Dr. John Lee who had been using Pro-gest for years with breast cancer patients and who claimed that in 14 years with hundreds of patients he had never had a case of cancer recurrence. I was skeptical; 100% success was a little unbelievable to me. Doctor Incao informed me that in the 5 years he’d been using it, he also hadn’t seen any recurrences. I looked him straight in the eye and asked if he completely believed that it was a beneficial thing for me to do and that it could not hurt me. He said yes. I checked in with Michio who said I didn’t need it, but didn’t object to my using it. It seemed to be very beneficial and also gave me another “psychological edge”, which not being fully enlightened I’m not at all adverse to admitting that I needed. I have been using it ever since, though lately in smaller doses. Between the macrobiotic diet and the Pro-gest I have experienced an almost unnoticeable “mense-cease” (usually called meno-pause, but I don’t foresee it starting up again!) and have come to feel strongly that the macrobiotic diet heals imbalances which can otherwise make menopause an ordeal.

The second suggestion Dr. Incao made was ISCADOR, a mistletoe based remedy which has been used in Anthroposophical medicine for many years to treat cancer. I have come to call it my homeopathic “chemo”, and I used it for three years. It is given by subcutaneous injection and the dosages increase within each series of injections. It is given with homeopathic additives specific to each patients particular needs and cancer. I really liked the Iscador, though I hated the injections at first. It made me feel calmer, and I also had the distinct experience of feeling that I had been surrounded by supportive and healing forces. It was only after I had this experience that I read about Iscador as supporting the “formative forces” within the patient.

The healing work involved being more orderly, more formed, in every way. I spoke to a wonderful Dr. in New York while I was still in the “research” phase: after my diagnosis, after going on the healing diet, but still putting the overall program together. He pointed out that the average modern intellectual neurotic person has a HARD TIME DIFFERENTIATING: wants to do everything well, be everything well, wants to keep up the “five-heavy-reading-courses life style well past the college years. He believed that such superstar individuals are much like a cancer cell, not differentiating properly, not necessarily working well to serve the whole social and biological organism, possibly selfish and uncooperative with their own body, family and natural environment. This isn’t as much a judgment as an observation.

I took this idea to heart. I am not a very differentiated person, I “do” many different kinds of things, and I do them very well, but I believe it has been at the expense of building up a tremendous amount of inner tension. Whether my style of being was the result or the cause of what, in Chinese medicine, we call “constrained liver chi”, I have no doubt that my high level of drive, inner friction and tension was part of my predisposition to developing cancer. My current reputation as an expert in relaxation came directly, and of necessity, out of my life as an “expert” in tension.

Meditation, chi-kung yoga, walking, and gardening have all been an essential in my healing work, teaching me how tense I have been and still tend to be if I don’t do the daily work of quiet, slow focused awareness and natural chi movement. Recently I was thinking about the much debated fact that macrobiotic teachers have not typically put a lot of, (some people think not enough), emphasis on emotional factors in dealing with cancer patients It occurred to me that even though great oriental medicine teachers such as Michio Kushi, T.K. Shih and John Shen see thousands of American patients and witness their dis-ease, imbalance and degeneration, that they can not possibly know how it FEELS to be as tense and heart-hungry as most Americans tend to be.

Ironically, it may be that I (and others) have something valuable to share because I really know how it feels to be wound up extremely tight with grasping heart , the typical psychic structuring of the clever American intellectual. I have also had the honor and the good luck to live and to work with teachers and healers in a way which has allowed, and continues to allow, some of that tension and pain to be released. Inherently, this has not only involved my personal healing but has connected directly to my work in the treatment room. My work with macrobiotics and healing is something that I can share daily with my acupuncture patients, not just theoretically but in the power of the treatments, in the openness, love and connectedness I can share. It’s so much fun!

Another major way that I have been involved with service and slowness is in my garden, tending the soil and the plants which feed us. Gardening is surely one of the greatest of the healing arts and puts us right in the middle of life where we should be, working it out with slugs, flea beetles, cucumber beetles and cabbage moths. From early July through December, our garden supplies our vegetables; a great luxurious variety, freshly harvested.

In addition to all the home based aspects of my healing program, asking for and accepting treatment from chi masters, such as T.K. Shih who did external chi healing on me after my surgery, and Dr. John Shen, who prescribed powerful Chinese herbs for me, was a privilege and a humbling experience. I can’t possibly express the extent of my gratitude to them. Working with master healers from a completely different culture, including Michio, gave me the helpful experience of seeing how ego centered and sentimental our cultural reaction to illness is. Working with Oriental masters gave me the refreshing perspective of unsentimental acceptance of destiny, disease and imbalance. Both the Anthroposophical and Oriental perspectives aren’t particularly concerned with whether the healing takes place in a particular life time or body, and so I was left with the sobering realization that my personal little story was relatively unimportant and typical, just one more blip on the great yin and yang. The basic message was: go home and heal, or not, no one can do it for you.

Vipassana meditation, in which I have been heart inspired by Sharon Salzburg and Joseph Goldstein, from Insight Meditation Society, and by the leader of my sitting group, Jose Reissig, has also allowed me the perspective of quiet necessary to notice the patterns of chaos and delusion which I, like most people, tend to fall into.

The healing of this tendency involves humility. A diagnosis of cancer is of course a very humbling experience. I remember sitting talking to my very overweight toxic looking would-be surgeon as he munched on handfuls of small “red-hot” candies. As I sat judging him for his dietary indiscretions, I reminded myself not to judge him or anyone: “Karen, you’re the one with the cancer here!”

In experiencing humility and mortality, it is easier to accept serving ourselves and others through the time consuming and undervalued art of cooking. Home cooking is surely undervalued in our culture. Yet it is through full acceptance of the rhythm of macrobiotic food preparation that the steady beat of healing can overcome chaos. We simply can’t just do anything anytime we want to and still live balanced harmonious lives. This is particularly true if there are children to feed.

In many households today, an absolute minimum of time is given to food preparation, just enough to get something on the table so that everyone won’t go hungry. The planning necessary for procuring and preparing fully balanced, non toxic and artfully prepared meals seems a fantasy luxury and an overwhelming demand to most people.

Recently, I served a lunch to four people, three of whom I had never met before. As we sat down to the table my new acquaintances were overwhelmed by the beauty, balance and plentifulness of the food I had prepared and remarked all through the meal that they couldn’t remember when they’d had such a wonderful meal. Sometimes as we sit down to a beautiful medicine meal together I say to Rob, Nobody gets to eat like this”, and though not entirely true, it is said with complete gratitude that we have had the resources, time and the opportunity to learn to grow and cook food which daily gives us beauty, healing and true sustenance.

As part of my practice of preventive medicine, I run a home-enrichment program for parents of pre-schoolers in the town where I live. The subject which spurs the most interest and the most questions is FOOD and how to prepare and present healthier food for children. The parents I work with say they have no idea where to begin. I know this is true. To really begin doing what I knew I needed to do took my cancer diagnosis.

Sometimes I ask my acupuncture patients if they’re waiting to get some terrible disease before they start taking good care of themselves. No one has ever really been offended by this question. Daily, I watch the crumbly, cranky, toxic, achy bodies, the stagnant chi and diminished essence, as these wonderful people wend their way inexorably toward degeneration. The downward spiral is often masked by prescription drugs which support completely unreasonable expectations.

The biggest of our cultural unreasonable expectations or desires is for a cure for cancer: a substance, a cartilage, a shot a pill, something simple, something a person can just take and keep on with their busy life. But of course, it’s not a matter of a simple cure in a bottle. In the years since my cancer diagnosis I have seen a great increase in the public acceptance of coordinating conventional cancer treatment with complementary healing practices. Though is a hopeful sign, cancer establishment politics is too skewed toward profitable conventional treatment without enough acknowledgment of the possibility of prevention and healing without toxic therapies. Many who have worked to heal from cancer have said it, and I join them: To have had the inner and outer resources to carry on and carry out an overall healing program has been a life giving privilege

My husband Rob, who has faithfully loved and accepted me throughout everything, and who has honored and loved and eaten the food I’ve made for us daily, has really been the heart of my healing. When I first become ill, he also was in a crisis time, suffering burn-out and chronic fatigue after years as a busy family physician. We have been healing together and today he too is healthier and more resilient despite his own overwhelming work load at a busy family medicine clinic. Our work together has also involved cleaning up our physical environment to make it less toxic and less electro-magnetically challenging ( though we weren’t able to stop the radio tower on the other side of our mountain). It has also involved humor and keeping our senses of humor as much as possible.

Though I always felt a lot of love and respect in my life, it has been profoundly healing to experience that love and respect would still be there even if I didn’t do and accomplish all of my usual headliner list of projects, activities and creations. What a relief! I’ve always tended to work too hard and do too much, and I still tend to do this. One of my daily healing mantras is “do less, be at ease, do less, be at ease!”

Rob and I continue to work together. Are we done healing? Is healing ever “done”? Aren’t we always healing, learning to be more sensitive to the vibrations and effects of everything in our mental and physical diet so that we can eat peacefully, live peacefully, work peacefully, and, as Shizuko Yamamoto said to me when I first went to see her for Shiatsu….”so that some day we may die peacefully.”

My deepest experience of healing has been what I’ve come to call “coming home from my ego trip” This is a daily challenge. As much as a healing diet, I feel that macro-biotics has helped me start living my belief in a life of gratitude, service and wonder. Having a well established and successful acupuncture and healing practice offers the daily challenge of egotism, but offers even greater opportunities for humbling before the energy (chi) which preceded us, forms us, and will heal us, if allowed to move freely.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning with a feeling of slight anxiety and tightness in my body. I’ve come to know that this is the physical equivalent of an inner feeling that I have so much to do, to accomplish. I’ve been able to release that feeling through the simple practice of metta meditation, starting with myself: “May I be at ease, may I be happy, may I feel loved, may all beings be at ease, may all beings be loved.” The experience of finally knowing that I don’t have to DO so much to be loved and lovable has been the greatest healing liberation. Sometimes it’s still a struggle for me to believe it, but I’ve had the luck of feeling that the best reason to get up in the morning is to be aware of opportunities for loving kindness in each moment of life.