What is Holistic Health?
What is Holistic Health?
The words “holistic” and “health” are bandied about quite readily in the modern era. But do we know what we mean when using them, particularly when they are combined as “holistic health”?
The first step for us will be to try and get a clearer understanding of the words and terms, what they mean, and how we combine them. Because one of the tragedies of modern times is that we use words and terms in a loose and often inaccurate way, resulting in much confusion. In the health domain this can and does lead to a lot of problems that have a direct and often emotional impact on us. It can result in anxiety and, ironically, have a negative impact on our health.
Please be aware; as you read this article that you are embarking on a process that will expand and maybe change your awareness of areas like health, illness, and wellbeing. It requires a suspension of beliefs that may be outmoded. This may cause some anxiety, manifesting as criticism and judgement. But bear with the process, as it may generate some novel outcomes.
For this reason the material may seem complex and confusing. But be aware the health field IS complex and confusing, and you are reading this because you want to make some sense of this. Also, this material is only an outline; we go into it in considerably more detail and from different angles in our online courses within the Holistic Life Institute.
You may be here because you have health issues, or they are present in your family. You may also be here because holistic health is of interest to you, either personally or professionally. For whatever reason you are here, we have tried to cater to all tastes; probably an impossible task, but try we have!
Modern Western Medicine, or MWM, predominantly governs our modern view of health. There is no doubting that MWM has made enormous advances to the field of health and the alleviation of suffering. These have been mainly in the areas of pharmaceutical medicine, surgery, investigations such as pathology and radiology, and the use of technology in general.
However, there are also limitations here. To many the use of pharmaceutical medicine has over-reached itself, and the ethics of the industry that governs it have come under close scrutiny and question. Surgery is often used prematurely and for conditions for which it may not be the best method of treatment. There is currently a reliance on investigations for diagnostic purposes, and a loss of the doctor’s art of coming to a diagnosis directly with a patient. Also investigations are used to establish health norms and monitor diseases in a way that may be questionable. And technology has not kept pace with ethical considerations.
The reasons for this are complex and extend into areas like politics, institutionalisation, the legal system and capitalism. We explore these reasons in some detail in our online courses, but here it is significant to point out that a holistic approach includes them all in its health orientation.
In acute and emergency situations MWM remains a considerable force and is most probably its best and major contribution to healthcare. But in the management of chronic illness it is questionable as the sole management and often oversteps the mark. And in the prevention of illness and disease, such as with immunisation, there are even more unanswered questions.
But it is probably the relationship between doctor and patient that has suffered most. The above outline shows how this relationship may have become distant, because of the advances outlined, even to being absent altogether. The value of the relationship has become diminished in a society that relies on and overvalues a scientific and exclusively rational outlook.
Also the patriarchal dynamics of the relationship have become outmoded, with patients now demanding more involvement in their health management. Failure to meet this demand leaves patients disempowered and contributes to anxiety, or the so-called “worried well”. But spare a thought for doctors themselves: Ironically, but maybe predictably, their health parameters are also suffering.
All these reasons have contributed to the rise of the so-called alternative and complementary health approaches and their practitioners. These approaches have come to fill many of the gaps described and the public is increasingly voting with their feet by embracing them. Added to this is the input of health systems from other cultures, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurvedic Medicine from the Indian subcontinent.
So how can we take these criticisms into account in a creative manner?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” in 1948. This definition has endured well over time, so it will be of value to explore what health means in the 21st century with it as a point of reference and departure.
Unfortunately the social factor has become left out of the equation since this definition. Instead we have contracted to the physical and mental, and even the mental is now being treated in a more physical manner. The physical brain and the non-physical mind are seen in a more synonymous manner, particularly within the medical speciality of psychiatry.
There are some changes afoot to reinstate the social dimension, as with the branch of medicine called “biopsychosocial”. And the rather restrictive psychosomatic or mind-body medicine is being brought into question, although we contend that this is a long way from any resolution. The therapeutic approaches of mainstream MWM, such as psychology, are still seen in a secondary manner.
Defining health as “not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” is a valuable statement from the holistic perspective. Unfortunately, this has been lost sight of, particularly with the modern obsession of defining health by negative investigations.
There are values to illness and disease, strange though this may seem, that are lost in MWM. At first reading this may appear odd or even perverted. But if you consider that an illness like influenza gives an experience of the value of health and wellbeing, this statement may then not seem so peculiar.
This brings into question wellbeing. Do we actually know what this is? Often this is not the case, but considering it as something like holistic health may be a good place to start. We will return to this point a little later.
Overall, we can see that any definition of health, in isolation, is incomplete. The WHO definition is broader than current MWM practice, and is probably why it has endured. But it requires updating in a way that such trends in medicine as psychosomatic, psychoneuroimmunological and integrative tend towards… but do not reach.
So let’s take a step into holism and see if that helps.
Holism is characterised by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. A wider view is that the whole is more than the sum of these parts, and in nature that forming wholes is by a process of creative evolution. Anyway, these are the kind of viewpoints you will come across in various dictionaries.
Holism seems to contrast with other perspectives. For example, we tend to take a reductive view in science; that reducing something to its component parts will allow us a greater understanding of how this “something” works. But from the above definition of holism, it can be seen that such reduction may “lose” something essential – it’s “essence” – in the process.
Also we are drawn to statistics in medicine; drug companies particularly so in looking for “evidence”, often touted as evidence-based medicine. This is known as a quantitative orientation. It may provide evidence of sorts, but it excludes the individual and their unique reaction to any management, including to medication itself.
We make abstractions too often, as in diseases that have no obvious cause. This may be to reduce our anxiety. And we value causes as a kind of Holy Grail when, in specific diseases such as cancer, there is not a simple cause that is going to help management. In fact, there are probably no simple causes in such diseases.
A final alternative perspective is dualism, seeing things in terms of opposites. The classic area we do this in health is considering the body and mind in an oppositional way. So that if a cause for a physical symptom cannot be found in the body, there is an assumption that it stems from, or is caused by the mind.
All these perspectives have value. But if we take them in isolation, or consider only two, or even three, we have a limited understanding of health. So, we need to consider them all, and this is what holism does. It considers all approaches, and sees the value in this endeavour as not just a better overall picture, but as adding an essential quality to it that is otherwise absent.
For example, let us explore the word wellbeing a little further and see where a holistic perspective takes us. The WHO definition chooses to contain it as a way of saying that illness and disease are not simply the opposite of health. In other words, you are not simply healthy because you don’t have an illness or disease. You could, for example, have a disease and yet feel healthy.
Wellbeing is somehow a wider – more holistic – perspective. It is inclusive of the concepts of illness and health or wellness. The term “being” also implies a process in time rather than an absolute state. A state of absolute health is impossible to achieve, and is behind so much of the frustration of the public and their health obsessions and addictions.
Thinking holistically is emerging in mainstream outside of medicine and health. It is considered in the social dimension to tackle problems such as addiction. Even politicians entertain it in considering the war against drugs or terrorism. And this is an important point in holism; that health may need to include disciplines like politics and sociology, and more, in its definition.
We will come to this wider perspective in the next section.
The term holistic health could be considered a tautology, because it says the same thing twice. This is an important point; that we often use words inaccurately, and this applies to health.
In our culture we often see health as the absence of disease. But, as described in the previous section, this is a flawed or restricted view. Any wider view of health, such as the WHO’s wellbeing, must somehow include illness and disease. But how can this be?
Interestingly the word health is derived from the Old English word “hal”, which means wholeness. So health and wholeness are somewhat synonymous and explains our view that the term holistic health is a tautology: health IS holistic! But it is a comment on modern times that we need to provide an additional word to emphasise the fact.
But hal is more than this. Hal is also the basis of the word healing. And healing is not the same as curing, fixing, or simple problem solving. Healing demands a holistic shift in perspective that a disease can bring to our awareness, and is therefore sometimes life-changing. Hal is also the base of the word holy, and hence demands inclusion of the spiritual dimension… to which we will come.
Your head may be spinning by now, but new concepts can sometimes be difficult to grasp… stay with us.
The importance of this new concept is that, in our opinion, it represents where health is headed when it gets beyond it’s present troubled times. Holistic health represents what can be termed a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking about and approaching a problematic area.
It is important to consider that health may require such a shift of perspective. Because in is apparent to those without rose-coloured glasses that simply shuffling the pack of the present health cards is not creating a new outcome. In some ways it seems to be generating more and more problems.
So let us now turn some of what this new paradigm looks like by examining some key essential components.
If we apply the above considerations to the body, our physical being, then we can see that MWM is incomplete and sometimes simply wrong in its approach. And the above considerations can then lead to a more complete, or wholesome evaluation of health problems.
Physical problems emerge most commonly through symptoms. These symptoms do not emerge out of the blue: they have a history; there is a story that precedes their manifestation. Then the symptom is not seen in isolation, but as an emergent property giving information first and foremost to the recipient – you.
If you can’t interpret the symptom, you go to a doctor or other health professional to do this for you. This should then involve an examination to confirm the tentative diagnosis derived from your story. It should also involve the professional educating you, so that you can see how the symptom relates to your health and may help you in the future, particularly if reassurance is all that is called for.
Sometimes this may extend to investigations and referral elsewhere, but you shouldn’t get lost in the process. It is essential in the healing process you remain connected and empowered; involved in the decision-making, and your beliefs and values respected.
Because by now, and if you weren’t already, you will realise how important “you” are in the process. You will also appreciate that the professional you use is too, and so must be one or ones whom you trust and respect, on your terms. As well as problem solving, is the approach taken also a healing one? Does the professional value the relationship and impart confidence and trust, so vital to healing?
And “you” in this process involves your attitudes, as well as your beliefs and values. This makes you realise that your emotions, intellect, and even your soul or spirit is somehow connected with how you approach and deal with your body being “out of sorts”.
And it may simply be “out of sorts”, and the symptoms require some sort of adjustment or rebalancing. Because they commonly do not indicate a serious illness or disease, try as hard as some professionals do to find one! Instead your fears and concerns need addressing directly, and not fed into some power and control dynamic away from your own.
Because we overly fear disease, infirmity, and death: so do the professionals. But getting into some sort of psychodrama to allay the fear of death can simply just postpone, yet also highlight it. We have become so identified with our bodies that death seems like the ultimate failure, instead of being seen as a challenge to our minds and spirits. If we can see death like that, then disease and infirmity become relative, and not absolute.
Our mechanistic, overly scientific, fear-driven approach to the body contaminates our souls and our lives. It restricts our living and our options, and it can keep us chained to professions that “get off” on what this gives them instead of us. Little do we suspect that they are driven by the same fears, closing the circle and making the drama complete!
We are starting to become aware of the importance and significance of our emotional life in a way our immediate forefathers were not. And you will have seen that it is an essential component to the way we deal with the body. Emotional intelligence is of a different order to cognitive, mental, or intellectual intelligence. It demands to be dealt with on its own terms.
For generations we have assumed emotions to be simply close to the instincts, and therefore more animal-like. But we are animals, and we should not forget that Freud highlighted the association between sexuality and mental illness, as well as physical disease. Our instincts of nurturing, aggression, receptivity, sexuality, and even the more human creativity, need to be respected and appreciated.
This then distinguishes the instincts from emotion itself. Although when sexually aroused we can see how close they are! Then we can see how our emotions and instincts can get tangled up with our wellbeing, even to the point of manifesting as symptoms that we are in danger of only seeing in a purely physical and mechanical context.
Anxiety is our friend. It tells us that there are emotions bubbling below the surface. Anxiety demands we attend to it, as it has a need to be listened to; it is telling us something. And all our mental tricks and techniques have no power over anxiety until we embrace the emotions, and then understand them as feelings in an aware manner.
We can see how fear can drive and dominate our thoughts and actions. But also how allowing the fear to dictate our thoughts and actions is circular and redundant. Fear must be acknowledged on its own terms. And the fear of disease and death are significant ones that are better dealt with my compassion, understanding, and sharing with others. We tend to isolate our selves with our fears, and this leads to addictions if nothing else!
Our emotional life connects us to the soul. The great physician, Paracelsus, considered emotion to be the vehicle of the soul. Not the soul itself, but what leads us to it. Emotion literally means “e-motion”, or “motion out”. Emotion demands expression and is the seed of qualities such as compassion, empathy, and even love. Emotion in this manner connects us deeply with our morality.
Denial of our emotional life drives us deep into ourselves, into what is called our affectual life, or moods; but moods are not simply this, they may be a stage in the reverse process, that of emotions surfacing. Often we have to go deep into moods and use tools like creativity to give them expression, or a voice.
The judging of moods, such as depression, and emotions as anxiety, is a modern habit reinforced by a psychiatric perspective. These are not caused by disorders of brain chemistry, but represent states of our being – our wellbeing – in our journey through life.
As any psychotherapist knows only too well and extending from Freud, it is the failure of dealing with our emotional life appropriately that leads to much in the way of distress, illness, and disease. In our opinion this is not just mental, but also physical illness and disease.
Following up on the last sentence, above, we enter into the realm of so-called mental illness or disease. We say “so-called” because in the view of many, as suggested the famous psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, strictly speaking there is no such thing as mental illness.
Mental illness or disease is a convenient term to use and to parallel what would seem to be it’s physical equivalent, but maybe this is not the case. There may be mental distress, disturbance, and suffering; but is this actually illness? And doesn’t using the word illness simply make us believe that mental illness is of a similar nature to physical illness, when it patently is not?
For convenience we will continue to use the term “mental illness”, but please remember the above caveat, so we will intermingle it with other terms. For example, distress and suffering draws us more towards emotion, and this in itself is significant. Most of what we call mental illness is, more strictly speaking, emotional distress.
The mind is technically our so-called higher or cognitive functioning. This can be disturbed by emotional distress, but this is more to direct attention to the emotions and away from cognitive functioning. It is a healthy mechanism and not the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease!
This cognitive functioning is more significantly disordered in the psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia. But this is a long way from meaning that the primary problem is in cognition itself, or the parts of the brain that are most associated with cognitive functioning.
Also other factors that a holistic health perspective embraces can directly affect cognition. Physical disease can do this in a myriad of ways, as can all the other areas we have yet to come to, such as the social and occupational. Also the relationship between spirituality, creativity, and mental illness has long been recognised and acknowledged, as well as being involved in it’s healing. Yet, to date, these areas remain relatively unexplored in mainstream.
All this creates a vast picture of mental disorders that go well beyond the restricted and subjective view of psychiatry, which has yet to find a scientific basis to any of its plethora of mental diseases. This is in spite of enormous resources being invested.
The premise in medicine and psychiatry is that mental illness with ultimately be found to have a physical basis; that is, in its apparent organ of origin in the body, the brain. This presupposes at least two factors that are open to serious question: That the brain and the mind somehow coexist, and that the brain is the organ that is the sole expression of the mind. Both these suppositions are seriously flawed from a holistic worldview.
We may, for example, find physical changes in the body with a mental disorder. But this is a long, long way from saying these changes are the cause and not simply the consequence. Pharmaceutical drugs and other physical treatments for mental disease have and continue to have a very poor record; they may allay symptoms, but that may be all they do and often for the convenience of others and not the sufferer.
Also we need to separate our intellectual and spiritual lives from the routine cognitive functioning that we so often associate with the mind. Such functioning is simply an elaborated tool in the human being, something like the functions of the senses, and should not be confused with the more genuinely higher functioning of the intellect, soul or spirit.
After some generations in the wilderness, not only is spirituality starting to gain recognition separate from formal and exoteric religions, but it is also being recognised as significant in health.
To us in the Holistic Life Institute this is hardly a surprise, it is an inevitability. And it has been picked up significantly by those in the alternative and complementary health fields, as well as by any health practitioner of experience, maturity, and insight. Such a quality can be recognised in a practitioner by their capacity to acknowledge your values and beliefs, and to involve you directly in any management process.
An appreciation of soul is a stage of development in holism really; it is when we appreciate the integrated nature of our physical, emotional, and mental selves. It is also recognition that it’s psychologically named equivalent, the Self, is not a unified perfected being, but a plethora of facets in a multidimensional and fluid existence.
Understanding ourselves from the soul perspective gives many more options in health management; by recognising which level of being is disturbed, and then attending to it directly. There is also nothing like the experience of soul to deal with the fear of death.
Yet spirit is something else again. It is a step beyond our individual existence, yet connected with it. It is recognition that we extend beyond our individualised existence to other people and beings, nature, the planet, and whatever god or gods we believe in and in whatever form they express themselves in and through us.
Spirituality opens us up to the strangeness of our routine lives. We can appreciate or even develop other features of ourselves; call it intuition, or becoming psychic. It means we listen to our dreams, not as the detritus of the day, but as the communication of the gods.
This is the world of traditional healers, called shamans, who exist still; or their more modern derivatives, known as alchemists. Today some even wear white coats.
Spirituality is the icing on the cake. It is the supervening position that includes body, mind, and emotion in some sort of sense of unity, yet also extends beyond us individually. It is the source of much in the way of healing. It is also the natural conclusion of much in the world of health and medicine that manifests as suffering.
The Great Chain of Being
Collectively, the above four domains are profoundly interconnected and influence each other deeply. Rather than separating them from one another, philosophers have seen them as a spectrum, a continuity of states, and referred to this as the “perennial philosophy”.
However, we prefer the alternative name of the Great Chain of Being – GCB – as this is more descriptive for our purposes. And if we are to outline the components as body – emotion – mind – spirit, this may better illustrate the principle.
There are many uses to this view of the GCB. For example, one is to see them as representing stages of development as we grow up to adulthood. If each stage is negotiated satisfactorily then these prepares for the next stage. Any incompleteness or trauma can be passed on and influence the development of the succeeding stage and manifesting there, when its origins are elsewhere.
Many modern disciplines have wrestled with this process, often incompletely. Obviously, our view is that a holistic perspective is indispensible, although within this other disciplines are utilised as and where appropriate. It is usually when these disciplines go beyond their boundaries – as we believe MWM too often does – that we have difficulties.
In some ways the divisions outlined above are arbitrary and are given to further subdivisions. This is particularly so at the spiritual level, where mystics throughout the ages have sought to differentiate and classify various spiritual states.
Of more significance to us here is the body. The various components of the body that are someone artificially separated in MWM’s worldview have been reunified in many alternative health systems and given the name “holistic”. But this is a very limited conception of holism, as you will appreciate from the discussion to date.
Together, the domains of body, emotion, mind and spirit comprise our inner, or “intrapsychic” states that influence health and healing. We now turn to those domains in the world that also exert an effect.
The Social Sphere
In the modern era the most popular and successful General Practitioners seem to have what we term, a “social conscience”. Enshrined in the WHO definition and ingrained in the medical training of recent history, the social factor was considered an essential component of the profession. And we say “was” deliberately, because it has all but departed the medical training and encounter in a mere generation or so.
Modern doctors do not do house calls. They are usually not conversant with the social circumstances of their patients and are not taught to be. It is those with experience of the emotional dimension whose sense of empathy and compassion often opens them to the plight and distress of their patients or clients. Yet the modern training, based as it is on academic achievement, often tends to exclude those with this innate capacity.
But the social factor stands behind much of the consultation process. Patients are keen to express the family, work, and relationship issues that they inherently consider within the context of their problem, even to expressing them as a cause. But this now often falls on deaf ears. Yet it remains important to express it, because even if not heard; the actual utterance may have a therapeutic value, just don’t always expect a ready reception!
However, before the social factors lead to disorder necessitating practitioner or other therapeutic intervention, it is important to consider them as an essential component of health maintenance and wellbeing. Isolation is a considerable force in much suffering, not least of which is the modern scourge of drug addiction. Relationship, at all levels, is an essential component of what it is to be human.
Relationships are of many orders. There is the primary one we may have with a partner, but this usually emerges out of a broader social and family context that are developed prior to this. And these are important to sustain even after the advent of a partner relationship. This then extends to family; not only the family of origin, but also the one we may beget in our life journey.
Then there are the relationships that extend from this basis. Are we comfortable with our work colleagues? Are we in the right relationship to them, and at the right level of our skills and abilities? Are we able to value and develop these irrespective of work demands, schedules and other expectations?
Like work, which we will return to, what about our relationship with our pets and animals in general? What about the vegetable garden we may or may not have? Do we have flowers and plants breathing in our homes or are they excluded by technology?
These are all the external dimensions of our relationships and social sphere, but what about the relationship we have to ourselves? Maybe a journey through the Great Chain of Being gives a map of the territory we need to cover here; but remember, the map is not the territory. We need to “walk our talk”.
Our relationship to ourselves is reflected in the outer world: how can a man have a true relationship to a woman unless he is aware of his emotional and feeling life? Obviously the converse is also true, and this appreciation of our own “inner opposite” – the femininity in a man and the masculinity in a woman – have a demand in the modern era that is much higher and of more expectation than times past, when roles were more defined and followed.
The environment presents challenges to us at many levels; but, extending from the above, it can be readily seen that a relationship to it is important for our health and wellbeing. If that relationship is sound and caring, we are convinced that many of the current environmental issues that affect us, and therefore our health, would be considered differently to our betterment.
The environment is the source of our food, our nutrition. There can be little doubt that in the modern era that the way we deal with all levels of the food chain present challenges that impact directly and indirectly on our health. Although not generally recognised in the medical profession, mainly because of the paucity of exposure in training, the nutritional impact on most if not all illness and disease is commonly minimised or not considered.
The range of problems is almost daunting, but the nutritional component that stands behind heart disease and adult diabetes is now established although not often dealt with well, as a prescriptive approach is usually undertaken. Yet scourges like cancer and the rise of autoimmune diseases are also increasingly recognised to have a dietary component.
But this is neither the place to list all such disorders, nor time to point to recommended solutions; there is adequate space to do this within our courses, particularly the Holistic Life Coaching Course. Instead it is appropriate here to highlight an area that is often associated with food production, yet extends well beyond it, and that is our “poisoned world”.
We indirectly suffer the way we treat our food produce, such as the widespread use of antibiotics, hormones, and other growth factors that will find their way into our bodies. Yet it is not enough to become vegetarian, as our land is treated with chemicals, fertilizers, antifungal agents and much, much more that then finds its way into us in all foods.
Beyond our foods lie the chemicals in the environment for other reasons. They are in our bathroom, toilet products, kitchen, and even in the floors and ceilings of our houses. Beyond this are the wider environment, the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Again, we address these in detail in our courses, but here it is important to outline their very existence. Because, not only may you not know about all this, it is highly likely your medical practitioner does not. They also dispense one of the worst culprits: pharmaceutical medicines.
It is important to recognise that any chemical foreign to the body is technically a poison. This means that it will affect our bodies – and minds – to a greater or lesser extent depend on how toxic it is, how much and how often we are exposed. The body must strain its existing detoxifying mechanisms to deal with them, find others like the skin for elimination, or alternatively do the best they can to detoxify and “park” them in tissues. This is usually the fat cells and one significant yet largely unrecognised cause of obesity.
Pharmaceuticals are also poisons. They may have been originally derived from natural sources, like herbs, but become progressively unrecognisable to the body in an attempt to “make them more effective and specific”; or, of more concern, to protect a patent. The ethical and political background of the pharmaceutical industry is being progressively called to question: not before time.
Unfortunately we have got into a trap. Because of the success in dealing with acute and severe problems, we have become inclined to think we can take an earlier step and use medications in a preventative manner. Unfortunately the logic for this is open to question and we may be simply adding to the list of chronic and degenerative illnesses we are seeking to prevent.
The environment is also more than this: what about the visual pollution of pylons and freeways? What is the effect of electrical apparatuses close to homes? And more subtly: what about the “pollution” of advertising, not only on billboards, but also on our television and computer screens.
And the extension of this: how can we hope to deal with sexual dysfunction when it is “pornographically” flaunted before us in advertising, literal pornography notwithstanding. And how do we expect to deal with adult drug and alcohol addictions when we teach our children that a chemical is available for every ailment and discomfort?
More questions than answers, maybe. But they need to be raised. And they also need to and can be addressed, more than we might initially think, not only for ourselves, but also for our future generations. We trust we go some significant way to dealing with these issues in our courses.
There is a tendency in modern society to see work as what we do to make money to live, and then to do the things we “really” enjoy. We have lost the essence of “work” that has meaning and purpose, and thus integrating it with other aspects of our lives.
This gives work a negative mental connotation that is inherently stressful. Such stress in and of itself has a direct impact on our health that is becoming increasingly well known. Stress also indirectly influences the way we conduct ourselves in the working environment at all levels.
Yet work is important to us as humans. It is an integral component of our existence. Not only is this in terms of our instinctual life in the form of survival and nurturing, but also our spiritual lives in the form of accomplishment, creativity, and satisfaction. Although we may inherently strive to look for such work in our careers, we often fall short and accept something that provides less meaning and direction in satisfying other demands.
Work is still influenced by an ethic that may be out of date and politically driven originally by religious agendas, such as in the “protestant work ethic”. Cultural forces like communism and capitalism have a complex social and political agenda that can often confuse and contribute to essential work dissatisfaction.
All these forces and influences are not to be denied. But they need to be differentiated from the core issue of whether we are undertaking the kind of work that we find inherently suitable. In other words, that it meets our inclinations at a psychological level, prior to the other political and social influences that may impact on our career choices.
Although work is somewhat inevitably connected to money and our finances, it needs to be differentiated. Too often in matters of health concern, a necessary change of lifestyle or direction is eschewed because of demands like the mortgage or children’s school fees. It is not that we are suggesting these are not also important, but when they have a direct impact on our health choices they are a source for concern.
The political, legal and institutional influences in our work and finances are considerable. Although we are putting these features here under a section about work, they could readily have one of their own. In a psychological sense these institutions still overly influence us, such that they act as a surrogate parent not allowing us to fully “grow up” and affect adult choices.
Of course, there are motivations for institutions and their members to be this way, but that does not stop us recognising them for what they are beyond any fear that they may exert upon us.
Not only does such fear have a negative impact on our health, it renders us powerless. In the modern era the term “power” has attracted a lot of negative attention, yet it is the source of our ability to attend, focus, and command attention. Power is not in itself negative; it depends on how we use it. There are many, many illnesses and diseases – both physical and psychological – that the professions recognise, even if they don’t voice it, that are directly due to the reduction or even loss of personal power.
The Moral Compass
As indicated when discussing politics, it would be tempting to add other sections that discuss other influences in our lives and health. But, beyond a certain point this would draw us too much into the outer world and take us away from the essence of holistic health, the backbone of which is summarised earlier in the Great Chain of Being.
The GCB provides us with a framework to inwardly assess our health – at all the described levels of operation – and personal direction. In a spiritual sense, if we undertake such attention we are going a long way to becoming “ensouled”, and developing a soulful orientation to our life and existence.
This position allows us to assess all the information and resulting knowledge we can obtain about our health and ourselves. This knowledge can then be used to our best intention, particularly with respect to our health, to develop our personal attitudes.
In the broader picture we have provided above, this knowledge can extend to a re-evaluation of these attitudes in an ongoing way. Some may be old and no longer relevant; others may be those of our parents or other institutional influences. Attitudes are subject to change and development. They form the basis of our values and beliefs, which should also undergo constant reflection.
Our knowledge change, so do our attitudes, values and beliefs. Because there is a strong emotional component to them, they should be considered as fluid rather than fixed.
Yet where does health fit in this picture? The problem with our prevailing modern view of health is that we have come to view it and with fear negativity; often as something “other” than us when ill or diseased, and not seen it as integral to all facets and dimensions of our lives; a view we hope this outline has helped to change.
Health is a valid pathway to finding meaning in our lives; it is a spiritual cattle prod. Most cultures have seen illness and disease as challenges to us and our spiritual development. In the West we currently approach it with fear and dread, reinforced by the professions that care for us.
Our perspective on this must and will change. Because it is inevitable that when we lose our way with something so essential that it will find an avenue back in to us psychologically, which we believe it is doing with the attraction to spiritual, alternative, and complementary approaches to health.
This is happening in the health field globally in Western cultures; it is called a paradigm shift. And it is our belief that a holistic worldview provides the best map for this territory we are traversing.
But remember: You have to walk your talk!