The Dimensions of Being Holistic
There is now public and professional unrest within the UK National Health Service. This provides a potential constituency of supporters for change. For this we need a message of hope for those many who have received poor or unfeeling medical care, and for those many practitioners who are disillusioned with the ways of working imposed upon them in the NHS. Whilst wonderful work is still being done by those who manage to defy the system, there is widespread and deep unhappiness with contemporary healthcare. In recent years, this is seen through public outcries over cruel and degrading care of older people in hospitals and care homes and in mental health facilities; in never seeing the same doctor; in becoming lost in impersonal bureaucratic systems.
Over the last 2-3 years a large and growing medical grass roots movement has come together against overdiagnosis and overtreatment. This amounts to medicalisation of life’s travails under the guise of Evidence Based Medicine. The current junior doctors’ industrial dispute in 2016, though ostensibly about pay and hours of work, is fueled by the mutation of professional practice into a managerial process heavily moulded by political imperative. The resulting role ambiguity and relentless pressure are highly stressful. Finally, the perennial problem of waiting lists – the inability of the NHS to meet demand and the stress that this creates – is to a large degree ‘failure demand’. This means demand for care arising from previous failure to recognise and respond to the underlying problems, especially at a social and economic level. The roots of illness are in society.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Proust urges us to have new eyes, so we can see what is before us in new ways. But how do we go about this? The fact is that we are not always good at seeing what is before us. Before Proust wrote about the recovery of memory from tasting a childhood cake few had noticed this human capacity. Before Wordsworth’s poems, the Lake District in the North West of the UK was a poor and hilly farming district of no particular interest. Now we see the beauty of simplicity.
Before Vincent van Gough’s paintings of poor farmers digging, cafés, chairs, sunflowers, we did not see these things in the way we do now. He showed us the dignity of simplicity.
Perception is heavily influenced by what we expect to find and what we have the language to express. So perhaps, by reminding people of language which is lost or forgotten, our new eyes will lead us to Proust’s ‘real voyage of discovery’.
So we build our strategy for transformation on language and image.
We found that the twelve largest words emerged to provide us with the dimensions
of being holistic. These are all natural human qualities. We all have the potential for each, but none will be equally good at all. This is not about being perfect, there is no perfect in humanity.
“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” Immanuel Kant
So we must forgive ourselves and others for being crooked. We must be compassionate. Every generation has its challenges in this respect. Ours, here, is to cope with the manifold effects of science and technology, of harnessing the power of the natural world in ways that are wise, where in foolish hands, great damage might be caused.
“A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, is achievement enough.” Michel de Montaigne
What is most vulnerable and must be protected is like a seed in the breeze, fragile and transient but full of promise. The essence of this fragility and of human knowing is predominantly about ourselves. Without being self-knowing and self-caring we have little hope of caring for others and the world. Much of this is about feeling part of something much bigger than us. If we can achieve this, then caring for ourselves, for others and for our wonderful planet will come to us naturally. This is being community-minded.
[People] “…are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose.” DH Lawrence
So to be free, we must belong; and to belong is to be empowered.
“There is no more powerful way to initiate significant change than to convene a conversation. When a community of people discovers that they share a concern, change begins. There is no power equal to a community discovering what it cares about.” Margaret Wheatley
Here also is the importance of being resilient. There is no perfect because the energy of the world derives from change, from tension between opposites. All is change, like the leaf in a tumbling stream, fragility riding the waves of power; once beautiful, now buffeted about on an invisible shifting film of surface tension, buoyed up by air, held down by gravity. Change and agility gives us both resilience and sustainability. Just try riding a bicycle without moving the handlebars! Change also gives us stories, perhaps the most potent way of grasping our evolving reality.
Humans have a peculiar need to find meaning in all this. Meaning is the tenuous, evanescent light that draws us onward in the story of our lives; the light that if we look too hard or try to analyse, is liable to go out.
“There is a light in my heart but when I try to look at it with my intellect, it goes out.” Friedrich Jacobi
We are grateful when it flickers on and saves us from darkness. We search for a medicine of meaning.
Our shifting world, unknowable entirely, in unimaginable space, giving glimpses of itself as much to our intuitive sense as to our analytic mind.
“If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
and falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.”
from Entirely by Louis MacNeice
Our meaning must come from being integrated: making sense of these glimpses as best we can, often by a story; living with uncertainty but aiming for coherence and resonance in a life of enquiry: being balanced.
Perhaps being connected is the most essential of our natural human qualities. But too often we are lonely. This may be from being alone, but more often it is our difficulty in making meaningful connection with another sentient being.
“Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.” Carl Jung
So much of the modern doctor’s time is taken up with patients whose problems can be reframed as loneliness of the soul – of the inner being – manifesting in diverse ways, from serious physical illness to unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. Perhaps this is the malady of our times. Of course, with an holistic view, we know that this loneliness of the soul goes deeper. Here is Jung again.
“If things go wrong in the world, this is because something is wrong with the individual, because something is wrong with me. Therefore, if I am sensible, I shall put myself right first.” Carl Jung
This is an echo of John Donne’s famous lines, their fame perhaps residing in their truth, their resonance with the depth of the human soul. That we do not, for the most part, practise this wisdom is another demonstration of our crooked timber, yet it contains the promise of better times for mankind. Before we can start building these better times, we must first have the new eyes recommended by Proust and which are promised to those with holistic vision.
“No man is an island entire of itself; ……any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne