first published in hardback by Penguin as ‘The Holistic Revolution’
As we enter the 21st century and millions of us turn to new and practical ways of coping with the modern world, the New Age and Holistic movements have become hugely popular and influential.
Now, in the information age, we have access to a wide range of alternative therapies, complementary medicine, new scientific perspectives, Eastern philosophies and distant cultures to help us achieve physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
But what are the ideas behind Holism?
This inspirational and authoritative guide introduces the major concepts and great thinkers of the New Age and Holistic movements, showing how they have influenced the way we now think of health, religion, philosophy, sexuality and feminism.
It offers wisdom and advice from some of the best-known and most respected writers of the New Age, including Louise Hay on emotional healing, Deepak Chopra on the prevention of aging, Ram Dass on psychedelia, M. Scott Peck on the nature of love, Jonathon Porritt on overcoming greed and self-interest, Carl Jung on dreams and Carlos Castaneda on shamanism.
With eight sections covering all aspects of Holism, each with an enlightening introduction by William Bloom, this is the essential New Age handbook.
>> There are a few copies available on Amazon
from the Introduction
THOUSANDS OF ROSE GARDENS
The intellect says: “The six directions are limits: there is no way out.”
Love says: “There is a way: I have travelled it thousands of times.”
The intellect saw a market and started to haggle:
Love saw thousands of markets beyond that market.
Lovers who drink the dregs of the wine reel from bliss to bliss:
The dark-hearted men of reason burn inwardly with denial.
The intellect says: “Do not go forward, annihilation contains only thorns.”
Love laughs back: “The thorns are in you.”
Enough words! Silence!
Pull the thorn of existence out of the heart! Fast!
For when you do you will see thousands of rose gardens in yourself.
In a shrinking planet of free-flowing information, the whole nature of what we call religion is bound to change. The monolithic certainty which has defined most faiths has no choice today but to encounter all the other competing spiritual certainties. For some people this encounter stimulates defensiveness and fundamentalism. But for many others, in the spirit of open-mindedness, rigid boundaries melt or are overthrown.
Today, if people want to investigate the meaning and the wonder of life, if people want to understand who they are and how best to live their lives enquiries that were once the strict preserve of the few established religions there are now a thousand paths to pursue.
The change over the last hundred years has been dramatic. At any point in history up until this century, people were genuinely restricted in seeking answers to their significant enquiries about meaning, wonder and identity. There were severely limited sources of information. Where could they go for discussion, insight and wise choices? There were no local bookshops, no newspapers, no specialist journals, no mass media, no local libraries. For immediate attention there was little choice but the local priest or wise woman. And what could be expected from these two? Anything, depending on their education and attitude.
The seeker could perhaps travel, either to some library or centre of learning, or wander as a pilgrim from teacher to teacher. But that kind of searching path required a determined motivation. It also required literacy, not a common currency.
Access to information was geographically and culturally restricted. Actually seeking the information could also be dangerous. Heresy might lead to death.
In the past, therefore, because of these general conditions it was easy for organised religious institutions to dominate access to information and the actual content of this information.
Today, on the other hand, someone who inquires into the purpose of life and the nature of identity, can simply wander down to the local bookshop. In a sense, of course, ever since there were bookshops and public libraries, people have been able to pursue their investigations independently. But since the 1960s there has been a huge expansion in the number of books which accessibly explore these issues. The enquiry is no longer restricted to academics and intellectuals, but has become truly public. Bookshop managers vary as to what to call this section of their shelves, but the most frequent labellings are Holistic or New Age or Mind-Body-Spirit, and they may cover for example popular philosophy, religion, new science, feminism, self-help, psychology, ecology and healing. In this section there may be between two hundred and several thousand books. In some of the specialist stories, there may be up to 20,000 titles covering the field and in the paperback non-fiction bestseller lists there are usually one or two New Age titles.
Alongside these books there is available a whole new industry of lectures, courses, trainings, retreats, holidays, workshops, treatments and consultations, all of which give people first-hand experience of the new ideas and approaches. Mainstream universities and colleges are also beginning to present these courses. And many people in the established religions, including priests, are exploring the holistic approach in a way that they find complementary to and supportive of their faith.
In this anthology, for ease of approach, I have divided the whole field into eight sections, starting with what we might be called the most physical and then travelling across a spectrum to the most metaphysical. These sections are New Science, Psychology, Ecology & Right Livelihood, Health & Healing, Feminism & the Goddess, Tribal & Shamanic Traditions, Mystic & Esoteric Religion, ending with Prophecy & Channelling. In each section I present extracts which give a taste of its most influential ideas. Each section and contribution is separately introduced.
And in this introduction and throughout the book, I use the two terms Holistic and New Age interchangeably, as referring to the same general phenomenon. I imagine in the long-term, however, that the phrase New Age will pass out of common usage as the culture inevitable becomes less new and as the significance of the term holistic becomes better appreciated….
Originally perceived by many people as a passing fashion, the holistic and New Age movement can no longer be ignored by anyone….
What was marginal two decades ago is now increasingly mainstream.
There has been a huge change, and commentators are only just beginning to grasp how deep and significant it is. Still thinking that it might be ephemeral, they are missing the wider context. The cultural environment has genuinely changed and, with it, the form and culture of religion are also transforming.
The very nature of the post-modern global village the contemporary way of researching, perceiving and interpreting is that people do and will seek information as widely as possible. It is absolutely logical, then, that religion and religious enquiry will also begin to reflect these new circumstances. It will tend to be international, universalist, process-oriented, pluralistic, diverse, democratic, networked and decentralised. Reflecting the free-flowing accessibility of information, the new religious approach will also tend be an open information system and not one of closed beliefs. All of this is exactly the nature of the holistic approach.
But this openness to diversity has also led to hostility and criticism. Many commentators have condemned the holistic movement as being a commercialisation of spirituality, a supermarket approach to the meaning of life, a buffet of shallow choices. But this criticism wrongly assumes that the multifaceted approach is, by its very nature, an avoidance of serious enquiry. It also presupposes that serious investigation should always be within one tradition and school. It is easy to imagine one of those sardonic strip cartoons where, at the end of a haircut, a hairdresser might enquire, “Anything for the weekend? Zen therapy, madam? Some quantum physics, sir? Tantric dancing?”
The holistic approach, however, celebrates the liberation from narrow paths that have too often been over-controlling if not completely corrupt. It sees no problem in people exploring and tasting many different approaches. In fact, the holistic approach encourages the widest possible enquiry precisely to avoid the pitfalls of cults and fundamentalism. The criticism that a widespread enquiry is in some way shallow misses the point that people need to start from a point of informed choice and then make their own decisions. Just because in the past people have been constrained to single religious paths is no sign that it was either good or useful. People should be free to explore meaning and reality in as many ways as are available.
I call the holistic movement religious because it explores the major metaphysical questions of wonder, meaning and identity. But many people within the holistic movement are actively hostile to or suspicious of the word religion precisely because of its association with hierarchical organisations seeking to impose uniformity of thought in the name of divine inspiration. One dictionary for example defines religion as belief in, worship of, obedience to a supernatural power considered to have control over human destiny … Any formal or institutionalised expression of such belief. (Collins Concise Dictionary 1996) Most holists are profoundly antagonistic to such a definition. The very nature of the holistic approach is to be aware of as many levels of analysis and avenues of insight that are relevant.
Fundamentalists from the different faiths are therefore hostile to the holistic approach. This is not surprising. The holistic approach openly challenges any belief system which claims exclusivity or monopoly of truth….
It is not only religious fundamentalists who dislike the New Age approach. Cynics, atheists and fundamentalist materialists are also antagonistic towards it. And this is understandable. Historically religion has been tinged with oppression, superstition, manipulation and over-simplification. The victory in the last centuries of a scientific, democratic and humanistic approach over monarchy and religion is to be cherished and upheld. The holistic movement can look just like another spiritual confidence trick, especially at its more illogical, superstitious and self-obsessed edges.
When, however, sceptical commentators actually engage with holistic ideas rather than just snipe from an attitudinal distance they are frequently disarmed. The only fundamentalist notion of holism is that the universe and consciousness are diverse but intimately interconnected and that it is healthy and meaningful to explore it all. Four centuries ago Francis Bacon recognised this danger of a closed mind among scientists and philosophers when he asserted to them: There is a superstition in avoiding superstition.
The accusation that the movement is shallow is also often accompanied by the assertion that, because of its diverse base, it has no clear morality. Where is its code of ethics? Post-modern relativism is all very well in art and fashion, but it cannot be applied to personal, social and spiritual behaviour. Relativism is too dangerous a morality. Holism provides no guidelines. This criticism also derives from the self-help aspect of the New Age movement which is well-publicised, commercially successful, often narcissistic and usually lacks social awareness.
There is a false supposition here that the holistic movement has, for some reason or another, ditched all the ethical guidelines which humanity has thus far found good and useful.
Whilst the holistic movement has not generally articulated its moral guidelines, they are implicit in and fundamental to the holistic way of thinking. They derive from various sources and, certainly, the movement needs to articulate them more clearly.
One source is the insights of contemporary science and ecology, which demonstrate the delicate and absolute interdependence of our lives on this planet and thus our inescapable need to take full responsibility for our attitudes and actions.
Another source is the clear moral codes of the worlds religions. The holistic movement is actively and warmly interested in all spiritual traditions and their ethical suggestions. It embraces them and is interested in how similar they are and how they complement each other. Here, in fact, is a clear example of how the holistic supermarket and post-modern relativism can work to everyones benefit. The Ten Commandments are not in competition with the Sermon on the Mount or the Buddhas Eightfold Path or any of the injunctions from other faiths. They are all respected and drawn upon. They reinforce each other.
A third source for the holistic moral code is in its healing and therapeutic background. From within the movement it seems only too obvious how vulnerable we and other life forms are. There is a clear recognition that human beings need safety, support and encouragement to fulfil themselves and their communities. There is also a clear sense that every human individual, like every tree or mountain or animal, is sacred and that, simply because we are alive, we deserve the space to grow and develop into our full potential.
In fact, Abram Maslows hierarchy of human needs has almost become a moral document for holists: Unless you are fed, clothed and housed, unless you are psychologically and physically safe, you cannot get on with the real business of fulfilling and actualising your life. We are all called therefore to behave in a manner that supports and encourages each other and the whole community of life. Holistic morality is not simply matter of avoiding bad behaviour. It is a clear call to a positive and proactive morality that has a distinct sense of psychological, ecological and social realities.
There are however crass and dangerous aspects of the movement. The accusations of commercialism and psychologically damaging quick-fixes are sometimes true. I am also concerned about those thoughtless new age ideas which suggest that every individual creates their own reality, with no understanding of historical reality and with no compassion for people caught up in overwhelming circumstances.
My most severe doubts of the holistic movement, however, are put in perspective when I focus on its fundamentally redemptive and benevolent dynamic. This dynamic can be seen clearly in a historical and mythic context.
Anthropological studies show that tribal peoples have an instinctive awareness of their environment and its sacred dimensions. They have a direct and unselfconscious personal experience of the beauty and spirit of nature and the universe. It is reasonable to imagine a time when all hunter-gathering and early pastoral peoples had this natural religious experience.
But the rise of civilisation, small cities and institutional religion, has had a profound impact upon this natural communion with nature and universe. Towns and cities, capitalism and technology, by their very nature the noise, the busyness, the buildings, the pollution, the drives tend to sabotage and obstruct the natural experience. This alienation from the natural and cosmic environment has been deepened by the great institutionalised religions which have tended actively to distrust any natural celebration of the environment. Many people have been tortured and burnt for their love of nature. To be a pagan is still dangerous in some places.
Marx protested about peoples alienation from their own labour. Freud challenged us with ideas about our sexual repression and alienation. But perhaps the most serious alienation of the last millennium has been our lack of connection with the wonder of life. We are creatures of a beautiful nature and universe yet we hardly feel it. We are of it, yet separate from it. This is a profound, unhealthy and dangerous division. Its separates us from our true relationship with our true environment. It leaves us frigid and anxious for short-term gratification, individually and as a global community.
The holistic approach presents a creative and deeply hopeful answer. Without returning to or creating religious dogma or superstition, it affirms that the natural experience of life is to connect with its wonder and pursue our inquiry into identity and meaning. It affirms that there is an inner spirit to everything, including ourselves.
Historically the worlds great faiths and their organisations have tended not to support such a democratic approach to spiritual experience. Their organisational structures reflect this with their hierarchical nature. At the top of the pyramid is some kind of divine revelation. At the bottom of the pyramid are the general recipients of the wisdom. In between is a curious layer of clerics and bureaucrats, patriarchs who usually distrust and repress those who do not respect their authority and status.
The holistic movement on the other hand has been created by people throughout the pyramid. This has not necessarily been a conscious ideological act. It emerges from the nature of contemporary information. The hierarchical model of religious revelation and organisation no longer has any relevance, because information flows in all directions and can emerge from anywhere within the system.
Holism also addresses and explains traditions that are foreign to each other. It is continually interested in new information and understandings. It has no desire to be centralised or organised. This is the very essence of the holistic revolution. From a religious standpoint, it marks the complete overthrow of the established style and structure.
If the religious impulse emerges from the basic and natural human need to explore identity, meaning and the wonder of the universe, then it is obvious that the information age provides an extraordinary array of choices. It accepts the realities of contemporary life, but it also attempts to see through and beyond them. It rejects any path that claims to be the only way. In opposition to both a reductionist scientific worldview and a monopolising imperialist religion, the holistic approach affirms that life does indeed have a wonder and inner dimension worthy of exploration. And beyond that it only says, Look, here are a thousand different ways of exploring it.
>> There are a few copies available on Amazon