With Shakespeare’s insight Juliet says to Romeo:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” 

There is wisdom in this idea when applied to the context of Romeo and Juliet. However, naming and language are very powerful tools for shaping people’s minds and their thinking and understanding.

Consider “holistic” health for example. What atrocious spelling. Instead of using wholistic we find holistic is most widely used.

Whereas wholstic might suggest whole-istic, or wholeness, completeness or something which is all-encompassing, holistic suggests almost the opposite. To me, it looks more like hole-istic, which suggests emptiness, being incomplete or having something missing. Making this label for an understanding of or approach to health look more like a hole than a whole is a tragic irony. Holistic health is about wholeness!

The Western tradition is particularistic and reductionist and this is represented in Western scientific thinking. It is also deeply rooted in Western language. An example occurs almost every time someone attempts to explain holistic concepts when they begin with a list of parts, never quite able to explain the idea of the whole in very satisfying ways. Consider health for example, typically people say that the holistic approach combines the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects (or parts or components or dimensions etc) of a person. Others might add the intrapersonal and interpersonal or individual and social aspects. Notice the lists? See the parts of a person all stipulated? That reflects particularistic language and thinking.

Now here’s the real kicker. Particularism is virtually the opposite of holism. So quite clearly, it is a tough job to try to understand and teach holism when restricted to the language and ideas of particularism.

However, it is very important that we don’t give up. We must at least try our best. Why? Well, because people are actually whole beings, not collections of parts. No list will ever be comprehensive enough to capture the whole. As the definition of holism indicates, the whole is always more than the sum of the parts.

It is precisely because people are whole that holistic therapies, even if they seem strange to those unfamiliar with them, can be so effective. The holistic therapist (that is, any therapist of any type who recognises the wholeness of people and knows how to apply that knowledge effectively) may recognise that what presents as a physical illness is largely the result of an emotional problem, or that what presents as an apparent psychological problem is actually a physical (perhaps nutritional) problem. Equally, suitably skilled holistic practitioners may recognise that the key to solving a health problem means looking beyond simple physical and psychosocial viewpoints.

After all, the very suggestion that there is a strict divide between physical and mental is only an idea, one that simply reflects the strong Cartesian dualism in underlying Western philosophy. Whereas mental activity might be reducible to energy transactions, some may say, clearly the body is made of physical matter. Yet, more recently physicists claim that all the matter is ultimately just a collection of energy patterns and that, ultimately, absolutely everything is made of energy.

Nicola Siddons succinctly explains the physicist David Bohm’s way of seeing everything, including yourself, as different types of energy. This may still talk about body, mind and spirit since this type of language and thought is pervasive, but it does help by beginning to show ways in which even the Western-trained mind can conceive of an underlying oneness of what appears to be separateness and this is an important step in being able to grapple with the concept of wholeness.

As Nicola Siddons says at Holistic Healing Central, “So the idea of emotional release through massage or acupuncture is not particularly strange – and if you see the physical and emotional as just a spectrum of energy, it’s easy to see how physical disease may be linked to emotional and psychological problems.”

Nicola, who practices holistic healing, goes on to say: “Your body appears to create tension maps – almost like a physical hard drive of past events. You store mental and emotional trauma at a cellular level and if you don’t resolve those issues they often result in physical illness. Within holistic medicine you are trying to move to a better state of health by removing energy blocks in your system. These blockages create mental, emotional and physical symptoms.”

Well put. It seems we are in good hands with practitioners such as Nicola Siddons. We may have a long way to go in conveying the real concept of holistic health, hampered by restricted ways of thinking and inadequate language, but this only slows progress, it does not stop quality practitioners from getting on with healing.

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