Blog Post

But what is wholeness, really?

The idea of wholeness is one of the hardest to grasp metaphysical concepts, and at the same time the most fundamental matter.


June 1, 2022



The idea of wholeness is one of the hardest to grasp metaphysical concepts, and at the same time the most fundamental matter. The word is being excessively used today, often without a deeper understanding of its profound implications. Clearing some of those misunderstandings around this confusing term can open a profound path to dealing with the big questions of the human experience: Who am I? What is the self? What is the ego? What is good? What is death? What is purpose? What is reality? What is love? What is evolution? What is sacred? How can we heal?

The coincidence of opposites

One way of grasping wholeness is by understanding its relationship to separation, which leads us to the truly mind-bending case of the coincidence of opposites, the "coincidentia oppositorum". Everything in the cosmos but the whole has an opposite. You might have noticed that if you go far enough in any one direction, you reach not more of what you desired, but actually the opposite you tried escaping.

It just happens to be the case that our brain is fundamentally divided in a way that allows it to perceive the two fundamental qualities of the cosmos - union and division - separation and wholeness - non-duality and duality - simultaneously. They are two fundamentally contradictory way of looking at the world it seems, or as Iain McGilchrist put it, ways of attending to the world.

And indeed, it is our conscious attention that decides if we perceive the world through either of these ways of attending to the world. On the one side we have narrowly targeted attention, as a world of things that are known, certain, fixed, isolated, explicit, abstracted from context, disembodied in nature, known by their parts as inanimate mere representations of reality. On the other we have broad, sustained and open attention to a world that is never reducible, known or certain, never accounted for by its parts, always understood as wholes, that incorporate and are incorporated into other wholes, unique, always changing and flowing, interconnected, implicit, understood in context, embodied in Nature, a direct experience of an animate, vivid reality that is onefolding right now, around us, through us and with us.

Yet these seemingly contradictory perspectives are not meant to stay divided, they are meant to work hand in hand, because they are fundamentally asymmetrical in the role they play, they are actually not created equal, they are in a relationship of master and emissary, again quoting McGilchrist. The right is supposed to perceive the whole gestalt of the world, hand it to the left to enrich it with seemingly infinite detail, to then hand it back to the right for a more colorful, vivid and enriched, yet direct, presenced experience of the whole of the cosmos.

Unfortunately, or maybe necessarily to learn something, in our cultural development, we got off track. We forgot about the right side, the whole vivid experience, entirely, and got addicted to a left-side-only perspective on the world. Ultimately turning everything into an inanimate, decontextualized, dead, partial, deconstructed, disintegrated, representation of the whole, alive world. This cultural perspective has left us disembodied and disconnected from the whole that we are, and from the alive, vibrant, living ecology of this planet. We feel alienated, meaningless and out of touch with deep purpose. Everything we do is about manipulating a lifeless accumulation of parts, so that they give us some short-lived satisfaction. Nevertheless on the inside, we find an ever growing emptiness that forces our whole culture to engage in collective dissociation by numbing out through social media, TV, news, tobacco, sugar, and superficial entertainment.

Iain McGilchrist: "In the origin of everything, there lies a coincidence of opposites that is profoundly generative, indeed necessary for creation, that gives rise to everything we know, is by no means contrary to reason."

Healing and evolution

Once we understand wholeness as that which contains both the whole and the separate, a completely new take on the concept of healing emerges. In the paradigm of separation and mechanistic reductionism, healing usually is understood as a process of fixing something that is broken, changing and manipulating what is, to match our imagination of what should be.

The word healing though comes from the same latin origin as wholeness. It has the same meaning as integration, coming from "integer": creating what is undivided, untouched, unhurt, unchanged, entire. Further the terms "holy" and "sacred" are coming from the very same latin root. The sacred is the (w)holy. The untouched, that which we recognize as whole.

Looking at healing through the lens of wholeness show us that it doesn't refer to changing something that is, but to relating to it from the vantage point of wholeness, bringing it into an alive undivided context again. It means looking at it through its inderdependency with everything, feeling it as animate, embodied, flowing, something ever changing and never partial. It means piercing through the partially true yet incomplete idea of separation, and realizing fully that nothing is divided, nothing ever is out of context, out of relationship with everything else. And nothing is truly subjective. It means embedding separation within wholeness, instead of fighting it as an experience that frightens us.

What is needed to evolve and grow beyond the self-fixated endeavor of personal-development, is the capacity to be present with the whole which is already here, which is always here, and requires nothing to change. It is a specific way of attending to the world that is hidden in the forgotten right hemisphere of our brains: a magical and sacred capacity for presence and relationship with all life, at any moment.

This is what integration is, what evolution is, this is collective development. Approaching the world through a participatory and undivided lens, attending through presence instead of merely looking at a representation. Healing literaly means bringing what has been looked at as something separate for the reason of inquiry into its whole context again. It is an act of attention, and act of consciousness. It is not an act of doing, changing or manipulating.

Iain McGilchrist: Existence is the conjunction of one with itself as a many.

The Full Cycle of Life

Looking at life through the perspective of wholeness, renders the often constructed dichotomy of "life and death" as an absurd idea. Seen through the cosmoic principle of cycling through integration and disintegration, death becomes an essential part of life, a prerequisite of true vitality. Without death and disintegration, there are no fertile soils for new life to be rebirthed from.

The hindu trimurti between Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver, and Shiva, the destroyer, understands the sacred principle of a healthy (= whole) cycle of life. Life can only flourish through a healthy relationship between creation, vitality and death. Once we fully acknowledge this, we can move beyond the parlalyzing relationship to death, darkness and uncertainty and become a culture that engages in infinite creativity.

For it is not our body, but our attention that is creating the illusion of self, identification, and individuality. Thus death is not the end of consciousness, it is a phenomenon of expansion, growth, and inclusion. It is a developmental stage-gate, marking the transition from the partial to the whole. From contradiction to integration. A new order of complexity, a more inclusive level of identification. A prerequisote for evolution and syntropy.

Where we see darkness and think of a grave, it is really the primordial mother sucking us into the dark cosmic womb for the next evolutionary cycle, the rebirth into a new sense of self, less fragmented and more whole. Death is the soil in which life sprouts, from which it breaks through into the daylight. All life emerges from darkness. Understanding and fully embracing this natural cycle is the big opportunity of our time. Changing our relationship to death will also transform our relationship to fear. Recognizing death as the moment of expansion reminds us of the potency of fear as a guide into the unknown, a call for surrender, not for resistance.

Lennart Hennig

Read more about the theme of death in our blog post here.

Lennart is a growth and leadership facilitator. He explores the edges of individual and collective development through the angles of consciousness, embodiment, and deep ecology using an integral framework of the whole, undivided cosmos.

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