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Michio Kushi Memorial Service Speeches – Eric Utne

May 17, 2015

This post is part of a series presenting full transcripts of speeches given at the Michio Kushi Memorial Service in Boston on January 31, 2015.

Eric Utne reminisces about studying with Michio

Eric Utne reminisces about studying with Michio

ERIC UTNE

My name is Eric Utne and 47 years ago I stood where you couldn’t hear me and I had been sent here from Minneapolis by a friend named, ”Toad”, who told when I was sick, he said, “Hey Man! There’s this Dude in Boston who can teach you to be your own Doctor with FOOD!” and I went, “FAR OUT!” – quit Architecture School and found my way to Boston and Michio’s lectures in the Arlington Street Church.

The first night I came it was a hot summer night and I sat in the front row and I realized that Michio would invite the students sitting in the front row to read letters from students like Evan Root in Japan or Brazil or France telling about their studies and activities. So I hid in the back row – or it didn’t or I hadn’t – there was only about 50 people here so it was clearly the second stage of the macrobiotic community. I realized I was being a coward so I forced myself to sit in the front row and, sure enough, the next hot night, Michio called on me and he handed me a letter and it was from someone in Brazil writing about the Japanese community – the Japanese macrobiotic community in Brazil and their recipes for miso.

And I stood there shaking and within two sentences I was dripping sweat on the floor and within two paragraphs there was a puddle on the floor. And Michio was standing just like that [makes motion] and then he came and patted me on the back and he took the letter – it was single-spaced, onion-skin, 7-pages long – and he said, “Thank you, Eric!” and he never asked me to read a letter in front of the group again.

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Michio attracted a very interesting group of people.  Some people came because they were sick, others came because they wanted to learn about the order of the universe and yin and yang, others because they wanted to find a “natural high”.  All of us were looking for alternatives to the conventional wisdom and Michio was nothing, if not, unconventional.  He made us question reality and to reconsider it right from the most basic level.

A place opened in Michio’s house on Gardner Road and I asked if I could live there and he said, “OK!” and I remember a few things about living in Gardner Road:

Number one, I remember Lily’s laugh. Lily was always laughing and that house was full of laughter. Number two, I remember Aveline cooking shrimp, eggs and mochi for her children and then we got to eat brown rice, miso soup and veggies and I thought we were getting the better deal.

I also remember Michio being a father to Norio. I remember Michio sitting at the kitchen table and Norio in the kitchen and Michio saying, ”Norio, please, go to school! Please, Norio, go to school! Norio, please!”   I’m not sure if Norio went to school.

Another time during a hot summer of 1970, I was managing Erewhon. I had gotten the job because Michio had told the manager, Roger Hillyard, to hire me. Roger said, “I don’t want to hire you but Michio made me!” I said, “Why?” He said,”Michio said you’re going to be a world leader someday!” We both laughed.

And…But Michio saw something in me that I think a mentor does for his student. I felt seen by Michio.  Even though he never told me that, but through Roger and through his welcoming me into his home I felt seen and it was a kind of nurturing that made me blossom, such as I have.

One time, coming back from Erewhon, actually probably a number of times, I was so exhausted. I was eating very strictly, trying to be a good macrobiotic and for me that meant eating as simply as I could. In Gardner Road we would take our shoes off downstairs and then go up to the second floor where the household activities were, in the kitchen.  And I was so tired from working at Erewhon that I would fall asleep on the bottom steps – probably pass out. And then everyone who came home after me would just step over me and leave me there sleeping on the steps.

One time I was so unbalanced that my ankles had swollen to the size of elephant ankles.  I wanted to heal myself but I couldn’t figure out whether I was too yin or too yang and finally, after weeks of trying to heal myself, I would ask Michio.  I didn’t want to bother him.  He was a very busy man. But he was sitting at the kitchen table preparing a lecture and I said, “Michio-san? May I ask you a question?”  And he looked up at me and pulled out a cigarette.  I think it was Kent, I’m not sure. He lit the cigarette and let the blue smoke hang over his face and he said, “Yes! What is it?” And I said – I lifted my leg up on the chair next to him and I showed him my ankles and I said, “I can’t figure out what to do!”  And he squeezed them and he said, ”Very interesting, isn’t it?”  Then he said, “Take five umeboshi plums every day for five days and see if that helps.” Five umeboshi plums every day!!??  Is he trying to kill me? What I realized what he was really saying was, “I don’t know.  Figure it out yourself, you idiot!” What a great teacher he was!

I think Michio would have been a worthy winner of the Nobel Prize.

So after leaving Boston I put my name on a magazine and as a result of that I got involved in the Nobel Peace Prize. I was on the Board of the Nobel Peace Prize forum for years, for seven years, and I met many of the winners of the Nobel Prize.  I think Michio would have been a worthy winner of the Nobel Prize.

Michio started the organic and natural foods revolution.  As he understood that was the way to lay the foundation for peace, to create peaceful people. But he did something I think even more important than that.  Arnold Toynbee, the historian, said that the most important event of the twentieth century was not the invention of the automobile or the television or the computer or space travel.  It was none of those. It was the coming of Buddhism to the West; the meeting of East and West. And I don’t think there was any person in the last century who’s done more than to bring East and West together than Michio Kushi.

Now we all know about the Nobel Peace Prize but there’s another prize that is the highest honor that can be given in Japan and it’s the Order Of The Chrysanthemum.  I hope that Michio is honored with the Order Of The Chrysanthemum. I leave you with that.

We are all blessed to have met and to have known and to have been seen by Michio.  His legacy lives on!  Thank you!

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