What is Wholeness?
“You’re not just a drop in the ocean; you are the mighty ocean in the drop.” – Rumi
Within the context of a Level 4.0 Collective System, Wholeness is the simple but radical conviction that Collective Enterprises (Organisations) are Complex Living Organic Organisms/Ecosystems; formed through networks of fluid, evolving relationships and will best prosper when they are more deeply aligned with Human Beings’ strongest motives, which are a desire to grow, learn, serve a greater shared purpose, and do meaningful work.
Wholeness is leveraged to build community, respond quickly to opportunities, harness resources and talent both inside and outside the organization, and also to inspire, motivate, and enable people at all levels to act with freedom, agency, responsibility and accountability.
According to James Scouller, wholeness is the root of Presence; the opposite of inner division. You see, many of us are unaware of the subtle divisions, conflicts and limiting beliefs in our psyche that lead to anxiety and defensive behaviors when we are around others. However, the man or woman with well-developed presence experiences an inner togetherness, a wholeness. Wholeness stems from – and indeed is – a positive inner alignment of one’s sense of identity, purpose and feelings about life and oneself. It frees us from limiting beliefs, releases us from fear and expresses itself as a rare combination of inner peace and vitality.
In order to evolve organisations where wholeness is expressed; where people are fully present, feel fully engaged and continually rewarded, where both individually and collectively they flourish and exceed expectations.
It means facilitating the emergence of an organizational culture in which support of people’s development is woven into the daily fabric of working life and the organisations regular operations, daily routines, and conversations.
It means enabling people to gain a sense of purpose, engage in authentic conversations, see new possibilities, and sacrifice for the common good by adopting and embedding open principles of co-working—based on transparency, participation, and community.
- It means supporting people in discovering themselves and showing up with their whole, true selves, including their creativity, fears and vulnerabilities. It is about allowing Humanity back into being Human.
“Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Aristotle states in Nicomachean Ethics that “at the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue.” In Aristotle’s sense, virtue then is Excellence at being Human.
Albert Einstein wrote about how living without an expanded consciousness is like living in a prison. “A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space,” he wrote. “We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”
Carl Jung, in his letter to Bill Wilson, states his opinion that “The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality, and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism.” This was written in relation to addiction where he states alcoholism is the equivalent to “the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness”.
Nelson Mandela mentions that “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Here you can see that Freedom needs Wholeness to be True Freedom, and in this process they almost become synonymous.
Four of the greatest minds from differing disciplines and centuries voicing the importance of wholeness in their own unique way, and the dire consequence of the lack of it, on our individual, collective and wider ecosystem.
The goal of life is not to have our lives mean something to ourselves. The goal of life is to have our lives mean something to others” – Simon Sinek
The Courage to Live Undivided
Courage To Live Undivided – Parker J. Palmer from Center for Courage & Renewal
Wholeness, or lack thereof, is often hidden in the language we use, our words often betraying our world view without our conscious awareness. Our language also shapes and reinforces our behaviors, so one of the ways to shift our relationship to wholeness is to consciously change and guard our language, pertaining to it. There is a subtle shift in language which packs a substantially significant alteration in the fabric of our perception. It changes our view from Transcend and Ignore to Transcend and Include (beautifully described in this article). It is as simple as changing any sentence where you would be tempted to use Either/Or with And, the implications of this singularly small change has far reaching consequences and will challenge you and everything that you believe, as the below following paragraphs will hopefully start to highlight.
There is a wholeness of existence that embraces things we don’t normally think of as whole — such as fragmentation, decomposition, disintegration — which undeniably have a place in the Whole Picture, but which we also have a legitimate desire to fix or heal.
Essential (Implicit) wholeness: also known as Fundamental wholeness, is the wholeness that exists no matter what we think about it; it is something we either see or we don’t, but our failure to see it doesn’t change the fact that it IS. Implicit wholeness is something to come to terms with and live within. It provides a transcendent understanding that helps us avoid the booby-traps of absolutism and ideology.
Dynamic (Explicit) wholeness: also know as Practical wholeness, is wholeness that we can heal, we can integrate, we can make more whole. Although things may be fundamentally whole, they may be broken, ill, fragmented, incomplete, etc., such that we can heal or fix them.
Both are needed to hold a healthy sense of harmony and order, and to invoke the fact that wholeness exists everywhere around us, ready to help us fill the cracks we see in the world.
Explicit wholeness has two variants;
- Natural: All things move from fragmentation to wholeness or greater wholeness, leveraging Synchronicity and Serendipity. The underlying principle of natural Regeneration and Equilibrium.
- Intentional: Consciously creating the conditions, environments and even careful introduction of helper agents, through Congruence and Solidarity. The underlying principles of Gardening and Medicine.
We can pro-actively increase our awareness of our fundamental unity, diversity, relationship, uniqueness, context, interiority and wholeness. Our awareness of ‘What Is’ can make all the difference in the world, transforming what we do in the world and how we feel about it, and giving us the power of alignment with the world, so that we feel we are swimming with the current of life rather than against it. In other words, being in flow.
Each of the following six facets of wholeness has implicit and explicit dimensions
Unity: We are One, and we can be more united in our Values, more coherent in our efforts.
Diversity: Diversity exists fundamentally in all living systems, and we can increase the diversity of our groups and communities, to the benefit of all.
Relationship: We are all interconnected, whether we like it (or know it) or not, and we can increase and improve our explicit relationships.
Uniqueness: We are all unique, and we can enhance our special gifts to recognize our uniqueness and to become “more” unique, more our own special selves.
Context: Everything always has a context, and yet things can be in or out of context, or in contexts that enhance (or hinder) other forms of Wholeness like health, relationship, harmony, etc.
Interiority: We and all things have an interior dimension, and we can develop our interiority and connect with each other centre-to-centre.
- Inclusion focuses on the presence of more (or all) parts.
- Creative process focuses on the unfolding patterns of wholeness.
- Participation focuses on the role of the parts in the whole.
- Holescence focuses on how a part embodies the whole or wholeness, itself.
“All relationships are a reflection of our relationship with our own heart.” – Sheva Carr
In Relation to the Organizational Parts
What is wholeness for individuals within their organisational context?
Personal: Committing to the developmental journey; there is no Organizational (vertical) development, without individual (vertical) development. It is the Relational Self recognizing, adjusting and holding the dynamic tensions between Self<>Other, Doing<>Being, and Inspiration<>Reality. Taking 100% responsibility and accountability (personal agency) for our lives and its impact, and for our own experience of meaning, rather than waiting for ‘the organisation’ to make it happen. Where attention goes energy follows to interdependence that is appreciative, generous and balanced. It is living from a sense of deep self-worth. This includes the capacity to honor a unique life path and to set boundaries with others.
The Holistic Development Model (Lips-Wiersma and Morris, 2011)
What is wholeness for the collective within the organisational context?
Private: Taming the fear of Ego; Inner rightness as a compass; Life as a journey of unfolding authenticity; Building on strength; Dealing gracefully with adversity; Wisdom beyond rationality; Integration of all parts; Suspending judgement in relation to others; Interpersonal ability. Relationship building and maintaining that is Holistic and eco-centric. Trusting others and the universe. This includes the power to live neither above or below the world, but with faith, openness, engagement, equality, mutuality and above all else forgiveness.
The 3 Divides (Scharmer, 2015)
What is wholeness for the organisation as a living system, an organism in its own right?
Public: The alignment of its own Nucleus, DNA, and Anatomy; giving rise to its unity of consciousness, meaning, purpose, self-awareness, ecosystem and unique autonomous identity. The intrinsic unification of the Individual to the Collective persona known as collective unity, which creates a whole that is greater than the sum of all its parts through a phenomenon called ‘Morphic Field’. Generating successful collective action and results that are holistic and eco-centric. Operating with personal, collective and Organizational congruence, based on an ethical core and value-based principles.
HCO3: Human-Centric Organization 3.0 (Byerley, 2016)
What does wholeness mean for an Organisation in its external being – Its connection with the wider eco-system?
Intrinsic: The triune integration and expansion of the 3 previously mentioned into Wholism. Incorporating the various dimensions of Context, Inclusion, Relationship, Contribution, Interaction, Integration, Oneness, Interiority, Whole/Part, and Emergence. It recognizes itself as Part of the interconnected ecosystem and contributes to the improvement of the conditions that we live in which are complex and systemic. Loving others and valuing their deep worth as well. This includes the capacity to sacrifice personal, collective and organizational desires and ambitions in favor of what benefits others; to be generous and to be compassionate.
The Dimensions of Wholeness Model (Atlee, 2013)
“Fulfill the promise of the future through the lessons of the past and blessings of the present.”
Meaning – Relational Self
state occupying a relational position or a suspended place between Self and Other; Being and Doing; and Inspiration and Reality in the context of Past, Present and Future Self;
to have as its essence or signification; to have the value of; assume the importance of;
the process of how persons construe, understand, or make sense of life events, relationships, and the Self through Semiotics;
the retaining, reaffirming, revising, or replacing elements of their orienting system to develop more nuanced, complex and useful systems.
Meaning is essential to Human existence it defines us and prescribes our identity, if we do not know who we are then how are we to know our purpose, or recognize and develop virtues or values, etc. It is the process of self-actualization to become one-self and the most potent driving force in every human being. What feels meaningful makes people engaged and motivated, and what motivates them draws forth their energy, talents, and best human qualities. Without answering ‘Who?’ a Human Being cannot answer the ensuing questions of Why? How? What? And if they cannot answer these for themselves then how does an individual align and relate to a collective? A person living according to their meaning is said to possess “Presence”.
- entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience;
- the state of being reliable, trustworthy, accountable, genuine, real;
- the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures
It is learning to suspend the Voice of Judgement, especially of Self by opening the Mind with Curiosity and Seeing ourselves with fresh eyes as we truly are, our true dignity and value as a Human Being and not according to Socially accepted standards. It is the process of self-maintenance to keep on being oneself. When we consider a person to be genuine we generally consider them a person who has, transcended their self-centeredness, become aware of their true Self (sense of Meaning) and acts accordingly, and developed the capacity to act from the interest of the ecosystem. They are said to possess the virtue of “Authenticity”.
- The adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character, honesty.
- to have in mind as one’s intention and means doing the right thing in a reliable way
- The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.
- the inner sense of “wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character.
It is learning to redirect the Voice of Cynicism, opening the Heart with Compassion in solidarity so as to truly and honestly Sense from the field, our character. It is the process of self-enhancement to transcend the status quo. When we consider a person to be of moral excellence, we generally consider them an Authentic person of great character made up of virtues we admire and strive to acquire. In Aristotle’s sense, virtue is excellence at being human. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold. They are said to possess one of the most important virtues of all, “Integrity”.
- the quality of being open and truthful; not deceitful or hypocritical
- The state of being manifest, obvious, open, frank, candid.
- one who speaks and acts truly about his or her own feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and desires
- probity in intention or in communicating
It is learning to let go of the Voice of Fear, opening the Will with Courage in vulnerability to express direct Connection to the source of our Identity. Sincerity means to proactively practice authenticity and integrity, and having the courage and will to live and express according to whom we truly are. It honors humanity through acknowledging both our own and an other’s Dignity, respecting and appreciating our need for truth. It requires that we have to BE ethical in our actions, not just look ethical and talk ethics. The act of an authentic person perceived mindful, kind, and truthful, is said to possess the virtue of “Sincerity”
“Worldview greatly influences collaboration, because shared meaning is one of the essential ingredients in effective collaboration. – R. Colwell
Ground Rules for Safe Space
Safe Space is a place or environment in which people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other psychological, emotional or physical harm. Here the ego (which is the psyche’s guardian) can relax its defenses, allowing people to show up fully; their masculine & feminine selves, their rational, emotional, intuitive and spiritual selves and their strengths and vulnerability, their deeper hopes and longings. It is important to establish ground rules to ensure the shared understanding and integrity of Safe Space as described in more detail here.
Some known practices to assist in creating Safe Spaces:
- Generative/Deep Listening
- Circles of Trust
- Conflict Resolution
- Holding Space
Work environments seem to resonate more emotionally; creating a sense of value deeply felt. Something precious, vital, something closely related to our very humanity. A sense of sanctuary when under siege. It is about innate connection, about celebration of life, about Hope. It’s about a choice for intimacy with the life that sustains us. A choice against isolation, fragmentation, separation and despair. They transform ‘Eros’ into ‘Agape’, through reverence for life, a sense of urgent appreciation, through dignity granted to ourselves, all Humanity and life in general. Some further reading here.
Some known practices to assist in creating Work Environments:
On-boarding is given significant investment of time and attention to ensure new members are welcomed and supported. To help integrate successfully into the organization and its culture, much attention is given to training and discernment. This often includes learning new relational skills, understanding what new philosophy means in practice and may include going through a rotation program. These programs teach common skills and provide an opportunity for new members to meet a wide range of people. New members are also encouraged to express their personal calling to see how it resonates with the organization’s purpose and to learn how they might support and nurture each other. Through these practices, a safe space is created, with each person is responsible to follow their own process of self–awareness and personal development. The daily practices offered, are the tools each person has available to define and follow their way. And only in this process of matching such an organizational approach with the individual’s responsibility for self-growth, can wholeness, self-management and listening to purpose flourish as further described here.
Some known practices to assist in creating On-boarding Processes:
Meetings are intentional acts of convergence for a specific purpose. No longer the only avenue for decision making, they are formatted and convened suitably in accordance with need and in-Tention, in a spirit of open enquiry. They stimulate a significant level of presence, with an experience of deep encounter through respectful receiving and obtaining. They are designed to leverage co-intelligence to effectively cope with areas of change, information and doubt. Open to discussion and healthy debate, in an apparent manner as further described here.
Some known practices to assist in creating Meeting Practices:
- Collaborative Agenda Building
- Form follows Function
- Integrative Decision Making
- Check-ins and Check-outs
- Open Participation
“The issues Outside are a MIRROR of the issues Inside” – U.Lab
Helps us recognize that energy follows attention. Wherever you place your attention, that is where the energy of the system will go. “Energy follows attention” means that we need to shift our attention from what we are trying to avoid to what we want to bring into reality. We Co-attend when we “Attend to the crack”; Where do we meet the future first? This means, attend to the openings, the challenges, and the disruptions where you feel the past ending, and the future wanting to begin. (Scharmer, 2015)
4.0 Holistic: thinking in wholes rather than just about parts. All elements seem to be both parts and wholes at the same time, fostering unity of Interiority and Oneness (Atlee, 2013).
In order to achieve this, we must learn to embody Solidarity through developing deep Communication. The holistic approach starts by looking at the nature and behaviour of the whole you are concerned with, and if this doesn’t yield results, the next step will be to look at the bigger whole of which it forms a part. In other words, the Holistic approach goes in the reverse direction of Reductionism. Just like any level of thinking, Holistic thinking is bound to simplify (human nature) wholes; what is interesting is how it does it. It takes multiple partial views of any given circumstance; the most effective method of this is through considering perspectives or points of view of the people involved. There are three crucial methods that broaden our awareness by adopting different perspectives.
- The first is to be clear and explicit about your own point of view. This may seem obvious, but it is something we rarely do.
- The second way of getting a different perspective is to make a serious effort to see the system through the eyes of others.
- The third way in which we can gain new and different perspectives of a system is to look for the unintended consequences of its operation.
An important difference: differences of perspective and worldview can both give rise to differences of opinion. Both concepts can be useful in understanding and working with differences of opinion, so it is valuable to understand the distinction between them. The following is a useful guide to their difference in meaning. (The Open University, 2013)
- Perspective refers to how things look from your current position.
- Worldview refers to how you see the world, regardless of your current position.
See also Living Systems Thinking
Helps us connect to our deepest sources of inspiration and stillness – and to the place from which future possibility begins to arise. This movement merges three different types of presence: Of the future, the past; and the authentic self. It shifts the place from which the self emerges to the highest future possible – to our Self. (Scharmer, 2015)
4.0 Eco-system: awareness operating from the source of the future that is seeking to emerge; the boundary between observer and observed is fully inverted or transcended, inviting full contribution (Atlee, 2013), introducing and enabling Agency; We see the world from a surrounding sphere, that is, from a holding place that allows the emerging future to come into being. It is the capacity of the seer to redirect the beam of attention and intention across all levels and fields; the capacity of a system to shift the place from which its attention, intention, and action originate.
In order to achieve this, we must learn to exercise our capacity to let go of our fear through developing Courage, pass through the Eye of the Needle, and letting the unknown come by engaging an open will. To let go of our old self (identities and intentions) and tune into the future that is seeking to emerge through our authentic Self; It requires us to develop and access our sources of SQ (spiritual intelligence). (Scharmer, 2015)
See also Spiritual Intelligence (SQ)
- What is bringing my Live meaning right now?
- Who am I? Who am I becoming? Who is my highest possible Self?
- How do I belong? To whom do I belong? To what do I belong?
- How can I open myself more fully to the magnificence of my True Nature?
- What does my doubt teach me about my faith?
- How has being Vulnerable shifted a difficult situation?
- What personal experience or journey brought me into my current reality?
- What issues or challenges am I confronted with?
- Why do these challenges exist?
- What challenges exist in the larger system? What are the blockages?
- What are my most important sources of success and change?
- What would a better system look like?
- What initiative, if implemented, would have the greatest impact? For the system as a whole?
- If we could change just a few elements of the system, what would we change?
- Patagonias CEO explains how to make onsite child care pay for itself
- Why Taking Your Dog To Work Can Heighten Your Wellness Practice
- Disability inclusion in the workplace it starts with trust
- Ooooby exists to rebuild local food economies
- Fostering a fair and inclusive Google
- Why we chose Holacracy for an indie VR game studio?
- Filmmaker Joe York answers the question “What is Zingerman’s?’ in this lively and thoughtful short film.
- Reinventing Organizations Wiki: Wholeness
- Meaning Conference
- A Psychiatrist Who Survived The Holocaust Explains Why Meaningfulness Matters More Than Happiness
- What it Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
- The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice
- The System Thinker
- Frederic Laloux on Soulful Organisations
- The Pattern of Living Systems: Michelle Holliday at TEDxConcordia
- Building a psychologically safe workplace: Amy Edmondson at TEDxHGSE
- Wholeness and the Implicate Order by David Bohm
- The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision by Fritjof Capra, Pier Luigi Luisi
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I would like to recognize that this work would never have materialized if it was not for the amazing contributions of the following communities doing amazing work in their own right. So it is with a very humble heart and a great sense of appreciation that I introduce them here below: Teal for Startups Community: https://medium.com/teal-for-startups Frederic Laloux, and the Reinventing Organizations Community: http://www.reinventingorganizations.com/ Otto Scharmer, and the U.Lab Community: https://www.presencing.com/ Marjolein and Lani, and the Map of Meaning CoP: http://www.holisticdevelopment.org.nz/ Tom Atlee and the Co-Intelligence Institute: http://www.co-intelligence.org/index.html Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal: http://www.couragerenewal.org/