The new age writer and thinker thrives on the word “Holistic’. Some times we all wondered about the meaning of ‘holistic’. ‘Holistic and holism’ many a times get lost between -fad and fraud , and between -pop and pseudo.
First, the dictionary meaning “the theory that whole entities, as fundamental components of reality, have an existence other than as the mere sum of their parts.” Hippocrates, the father of medicine is known to be the first to apply the principle of ‘Holism’ meaning that mind and body are parts of an integral system. However, the holists lost out to the dualists during the reformation period. Rene Descartes propounded the principle of ‘Dualist’, meaning that the mind and body are separate and though they interact they are independent of each other. Holism later returned with the progress of science as the relationship between the mind and body was firmly established.
The systems theory – ‘all interrelated and interdependent elements of a system form an unified whole’ later expanded holism to include spiritualism, family, society, community and all other interacting elements. In an ordinary sense and in day to day life ‘holistic health’ is the most common use of the word, as in Yoga, Ayurveda and Biopsychosocial medical models of optimum health.
While the concept of Holism is relatively new in Western philosophy, Eastern philosophy has always advocated that dualism is the cause of most confusion and stress in human life. It prescribes adoption of Holism as the way for life for achieving our truest potential in all areas of life.
In the Bhagwad Geeta, Krishna struggled to explain non-duality (Holism) to the about to run away warrior prince Arjuna by focusing on the difference between object and subject. Do we always see what we see, and is what we see the reality? According to Vedantic theory an object is not perceived by the sense organs, but through them. Without the subject there is no object. Therefore we see the same thing as different at different times. This being so, the subject and object are one. They can be either real or un-real. Real being, that which always remains the same, in the past, present and future. Unreal, is what we believe to be existing, but which neither existed in the past, nor will exist in the future. A dream or an imagination is unreal, but the person dreaming or imagining is real.
According to the Buddha, the subject and object work together to manifest consciousness. There cannot be an object without a subject or a subject without an object. When the subject sees a mountain and then moves on, the memory of the mountain does not create a mountain everywhere. The subject has to see the mountain again to be able to perceive it. Similarly the mountain, when not seen by the perceiver is just what it is – a lump of earth, stones, grass, forest – but it i snot a mountain. Only the perceiver gives it the name and shape of a mountain.
In a practical sense, for our day to day living, I consider the following to be holistic:
– Integration of mind (acquire knowledge) body ( exercise, yoga) and soul (spirituality and meditation) as an unified whole – through self-awareness.
– A collaborative, co-operative, interdependent lifestyle as opposed to a conflicting, individualistic lifestyle – an attitude of compassion, trust and win-win for all. Seek to understand before wishing to be understood.
– Integration of the individual with the environment, in a manner that fosters the growth and development of both – respect the natural laws.
– Positive growth of the individual without an end state of existence, in the areas of self-awareness, self-esteem, self-acceptance, self-assertiveness, choice, responsibility, consciousness, personal integrity, intuition, values, virtues. A state of being, along with doing.
– Developing signature strengths and dealing with insecurities – positive psychology for growth.
– Positive contribution of an individual to the growth and development of community and society as an integral and interdependent system – giving as an attitude.
– Body beautiful nourished by balanced diet, nutrition, exercise and upkeep – body as a temple of God.
– Balancing career, money, health, friends and family, love and romance, personal growth, fun and recreation, philanthropy and the physical environment – a part of an interdependent system and not just a cog in the wheel.
– Managing time and stress – affirm joy and happiness.
Living joyously means living a holistic life by integrating everything. Ask thus, is a flower only a flower. Will there be a flower, if there was not a plant. Will there be a plant if there is no soil, worms, insects, water, sun, bees, butterflies and host of other things. So what is the flower? Moving from a fragmented separatist existence of things as they are to a holistic everything is one thing and one thing is everything makes our life full of meaning and reduces the ill effects of stress, anxiety and the negative emotions.