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What Is Holism? ~ Toni Reita NDSome five thousand years or more before Jan Smuts coined "holism" in 1928, there existed healing traditions in India, China, Australia and the Americas that wove their health concepts around the core of harmonious living within the natural realm; where the body, mind, spirit and all aspects of a person were viewed as an integral part of the whole person. The word Holistic has been tossed about since the 1970's and commonly refers to a natural means of doing something, whether it's referencing education, medicine, building, psychology or eating.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word Holism and the adjective Holistic, are derived from the Greek word Holos which means whole. In 1928 Smuts defined holism as "The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution." Simply stated it means that no complex system can be determined only by the sum of it's components. The essence or energy of the whole is suggested and present in all parts of a system, and are microcosms of the whole.
Socrates, in the 4th century BC, cautioned against treating only one part of the body "or the part can never be well unless the whole is well." These phrases define holism, but do they truly give the whole picture?
To understand what something is we must also know what something isn't.
Reductionism is the opposite of Holism, and is a process that breaks down complex systems and analyzes the smallest parts in isolation, it is the way western medicine sees things. Even simple systems work in whole concepts rather than isolated segments. Think about something as simple as a cake. What is the most important component in a cake? Is there any one ingredient of prime importance, or does a cake requires many ingredients, each one equally important and vital to the essence of a whole cake?
Can a cake be a cake if any of it's individual ingredients are viewed in isolation? Is flour a cake? Are eggs a cake?
Don't the individual ingredients creatively evolve into a cake? Aren't those ingredients something greater than the sum of it's parts when blended together? Doesn't everything affect a cake? Don't we need to consider the whole picture and all of the ingredients in correct proportion, the temperature of the ingredients, the blending method, the room temperature, the length of cooking, method of cooling and even our frame of mind?
System theory can take hundreds of materials such as mortar, blocks, screws, nails, lumber, roofing, and it's obvious from a glance that these materials are going to eventually be some type of structure, but without looking at the whole picture we may miss if it's going to be a barn, an office building, church or a home. With a far more complex system such as a human being or other animal, isn't it easy to understand and appreciate that we are surely more complicated than buildings or cakes?
If it's important to look at the whole in simple systems such as baking a cake or constructing a building, how then could the importance of looking at the whole person and everything that effects that person, including the cake he eats, and the buildings he lives and works in be of less importance? The interconnectedness of the human body, mind and spirit is more than, greater than and different than the sum of each part and can only be viewed in relation to all other aspects of life.
Neither life, nor the earth, nor humans, nor other animals are linear and isolated, all are part of the whole circle and cycle of life, we are eternally bound by a web that weaves us together, we are all related. Everything operates in a circle, day progresses to night and then again to day, seasons flow into one another and back again, tides ebb and flow. That is the rhythm and cycle of earth, life and all it's forces.
The earth is made of systems such as land, water, plant, mineral, air & animals. What happens to one system causes a circular rippling effect along that web. Dropping a small stone into a still lake will cause an ever widening circle, creating circles within more circles until the impact reaches the opposite shore or obstacle and launches rippling circles in other directions. The circles within circles radiate out until they come full circle impacting all of the other systems. For example, it's scientific fact that clear cutting forests hundreds or thousands of miles away drastically affects local weather patterns. Weather becomes inconsistent and unpredictable, altering wind patterns, snow pack and rainfall; we begin to experience hotter hots, colder colds, cold when it should be warm, warm when it should be cool, more rain and less snow, spring popping up in the middle of winter or a summer snow storm. These changes affect temperature, wind, rain, snow, the soil and water availability; water insufficiencies or surplus limit the potential crops or flora that can be grown and food availability impacts all of us and all our relations.
There are symptoms when an animal, human or other system becomes sick. When the earth is sick, the birds, fish, animals, bees, insects and plants begin to mutate or disappear, migration patterns change, unusual diseases appear, our whole system loses balance and weakens, causing other systems to fail which if not corrected will cause decay and death.
When we see ancient forests being clear cut and other forests dying that are filled with beetles, the tendency is to identify and blame the symptom as being the cause. In this case are the beetles the cause or one of the symptoms?
Traveling backwards, retracing steps within the circle will enable us to clearly see the whole picture and identify the root cause that made the earth sick and the trees die. Without knowing the cause how can we make corrections that enable healing?
In this example the beetles are killing forests, but they are opportunistic attacking only compromised hosts and are not found in significant numbers in healthy forests. What made the forest unhealthy? The weather changes were only symptoms of a greater imbalance. When looking at the whole picture could it be more easily understood that the beetles and weather changes are symptoms of the clear cutting?
But the clear cutting is also just a symptom of the giant corporate profit quest. In further scrutiny of the whole picture you might speculate if the corporations are the cause and at fault for ignoring the next seven generations for immediate stockholder profit. Do the popular corporate slogans such as "forests are renewable resources" provide fog factor and pretext to enable the clear cutting? Does our failure to examine & protest popular slogans and the validity of the serious consequences associated with the obliteration of entire eco systems instead point the finger of accountability at something else as the original cause?
If everyone thinks the same thing, it generally shows no one is doing much thinking. Everything is part of the whole, woven into the same web, and whether we like it or not, whether we fully understand it or not, it's one of Nature's Laws and we ignore it at our peril.
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The many interdependent complex elements that comprise a human, such as mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, environmental, professional, energy, beliefs, hereditary, hormonal, constitutional, dietary, cultural, religious, educational, health aspects, including all of the individual parts of that person and his organs, hormones, blood, digestive and other body systems are continually interacting with everything and everyone in his past and present environment. The whole person is bound & related to everything else in the same web.
When one part of a person is not working, that part has not failed in isolation, the problem is systemic and all other aspects of that person are also impacted. For example, a person may develop a stomach or headache because they are stressed over a test or interview. Suppressing those emotions and anger can often wreak havoc with our immune systems and contribute significantly to short term health imbalances and serious long term disorders such as migraines, arthritis, heart problems or even cancer.
Stubbing your toe on a stump can cause a chain reaction within the whole person, the pain causes the person to alter their walking to shift weight from the injured part, this puts pressure on their other leg, muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, bones, their back, hips, neck & shoulders, throwing their back out, giving them a headache, causing them to become irritated, clumsy, more emotional and stressed, not getting their work done, missing out on their normal routine, throwing them out of whack, thus they may smoke more, eat more, drink more coffee, quit exercising, turn to pain killers, anti depressants, eat less nutritious foods because it hurts to stand and cook thus causing further imbalances.
If they visit a doctor of western medicine and he sees a highly rattled, frustrated, stressed person that is depressed, it's likely that they would be given Prozac for starters to suppress those symptoms and then maybe toss in some antibiotics, just in case. But what about the toe, wasn't it the cause of a everything else? Didn't the toe affect the whole person?
Holistic Health systems are simple and based on the same law of nature, that a whole is made up of interdependent parts, and considers symptoms as important indications that something needs attention. The symptom is used to discover the cause of what really needs balancing. That's why it's important NOT to suppress the symptom, we need the symptom.
For example, wouldn't taking an aspirin for a headache be like removing the fuse that controls your car's fuel gage?
While you would no longer be annoyed by the symptom (flickering light ) of an empty gas tank, the original cause (empty tank) still exists and your new problems would just be beginning. Laws of nature are factual, exist and function according to rules whether all people are familiar with these rules, support them or not.
Modern Western medicine is less than 100 years old and treats each symptom as a unique and unconnected phenomenon. The whole person is not considered and the underlying cause is ignored, the sole focus is suppression of the main isolated symptom. How many future symptoms could be associated with that injured toe?
Another common example, a skin rash will generally be treated with cortisone and the symptoms will immediately be suppressed, but not without a future cost. Sadly, some of the potential life changing side effects from Cortisone include:
posterior subcapsular cataracts
excessive hair growth
protein & fat utilization disturbances
reactivation of tuberculosis
retention of salt and water straining heart & kidneys
reduction of resistance to carcinogenesis
bone, nerve & vital organ damage
causes adrenal atrophy
disturbs biochemical stability
causes joint tissue degeneration
long term use makes recover impossible<
Because the original symptom of a skin rash is gone, Western medicine considers it cured. Yet in considering the above staggering "side effect" possibilities, it's easy to see how other symptoms could invariably pop up only to be suppressed by another drug, and when that symptom is "cure" other drugs will be quickly dispensed to suppress the ever changing new symptoms. With so many symptoms is it any wonder why some people are on a dozen or more drugs for the remainder of their life?
Is this logical & healing or does it cause more harm? Albert Einstein noted that "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results equals insanity."
Holistic practitioners have used natural and indigenous ingredients for thousands of years with incredible effects. Most of the world today still relies on natural medicines, simple foods & herbs to help build and maintain strong bodies with healthy & protective immune systems. Native medicines vary somewhat depending on local availability of herbs & foods but utilize similar concepts of keeping the body balanced and in harmony with medicinal herbs that are considered cleansing, toning, warming, cooling, calming, supportive or stimulating to various body systems & organs.
Holistic health is an on going process and an approach to healthful living style that balances interactions of Mind Body Spirit and the person's interaction with his environment to create the most favorable conditions in which the person's body can heal itself. Optimal well being is not just about the absence of disease but about individual accountability and commitment for the whole person and their lifestyle choices.
Each choice is connected to all of your past choices, there are future ramifications and consequences of your choices on the whole person. Do you believe that making the wrong choices associated with alcohol, drugs, toxins, environmental pollution, smoking, promiscuity, negative thoughts, consumption of "false foods" high sugar intake, low self esteem will diminish your quality of life and set the stage for dis-ease?
Life is sweet, meant to be shared and enjoyed to the fullest, all living creatures will eventually die. The circle of life begins at birth, ends at death and continues into the spirit world.
There are no magic health bullets that anyone can take for instant good health or to reverse a lifetime of bodily abuse. Your body and your maker are the only source of "cure" for anything that ails you. If your body gets the right fuel and the right exercise it will be healthier.
Every body is different, your diligence, persistence & knowledge will help you discover what your path to good health is and how you can develop and maintain good health. Foods & herbs are merely the fuel, your body is the vehicle, your mind is the driver and your Creator is the engineer...when all work in harmony the results complete the holistic circle and are as nature intended.
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