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Session 3 of 4: Summer with Daniel Christian Wahl – Holistic Perspective: Aligning with Emerging Properties
August 16 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Holos Earth Summer Programme 2023
An Evolutionary Pilgrimage Towards A Holistic Future
CONVERSATIONS ON THE WAY
Session 3 – 16 August 2023:
HOLISM & REGENERATION:
ALIGNING WITH EMERGING PROPERTIES
6pm – 7:30pm BST 1800 – 1930 London Time
There is no cost for your attendance.
All the sessions in this series are free of charge.
Our stated mission with the Holos-Earth Project is to support the global shift to the holistic perspective. This we consider to be the critical planetary need at this time. That is why we are so grateful for the opportunity of interviewing holistic practitioner Daniel Christian Wahl on what the holistic perspective is really about and its potential application in practical ways.
In this Session 3:
In this interactive session to be facilitated by a member of the Holos Earth Project core team, insights from the interview will be unpacked in conversation. We’ll also break into chatrooms to share and explore our own insights arising from Daniel’s perspective, and then we’ll bring them back into a general plenary session to be shared for the enrichment of all.
Please, in preparation, watch the video below and make a note of key insights and question that might arise for you. Then come share that with us. Come anyway – even if you have not had the chance to watch the video.
A summary of the video will be provided here asap.
Summary of the Interview
Holism & Regeneration: Aligning with Emerging Properties
by Claudius van Wyk, August 2023
Part three follows our examination of ‘hope and despair’ of our summer series where Daniel explored the notion of ‘salutogenesis’. With this concept we saw that health and wellbeing, of the individual, society, and enabling ecology, is an ‘emergent property’ of the state of coherent dynamical organisation.
This notion of ‘salutogenesis’, thus, establishes the framework for the further exploration of Daniel’s view of holism and regeneration. This relates especially to our capacity to become aware of, and engage with, emerging properties that accompany increasing complexity. It’s about finding new a more appropriate and co-creative way to respond. That is the intention with the Holos-Earth Project, supporting such a shift in practice as an evolution of human consciousness.
Our pilgrimage to a holistic future (2026) is an endeavour, especially with our intended ‘conversations along the way’, to learn to walk a new path of holistic perspective and practice.
Because 2026 marks a century of the publication of Jan Smuts’ seminal book, ‘Holism and Evolution’, this third part of the conversation with Daniel is intended to review Smuts’ original insights, how they developed, and particularly their application in current twenty-first century conditions. Three issues are explored:
- The legacy of holism’s author, Jan Smuts in the 21st century
- The on-going development of the holistic perspective
- The cultivation of holistic perspective and practice
- Jan Smuts’ legacy:
In the recorded interview Daniel acknowledges that, in many respects, Smuts was way ahead of his contemporaries. Whilst recognising his role as an international statesman, he emphasises that Smuts’ era in which he explored applied holism, was still one where the political order was characterised by nation states. Daniel contrasts this political construct with the more recent ecological emphasis on bio-regions.
Whilst suggesting that from a contemporary perspective, Smuts’ attitude could be view as ‘chauvinistic’, (Smuts did believe in the superiority of Western ‘Christian-ethos’ and worldview) he cautions that it would be unhelpful to judge Smuts by today’s standards and values. No doubt he would have thought differently today than he did at the time.
- Evolution of the holistic contribution:
Daniel became aware of Smuts’ authorship of holism whilst studying holistic science at Schumacher College, but it was in studying the work of Patrick Geddes whilst doing his Ph.D, that he became aware of the profound impact of Smuts’ holism on Patrick Geddes’ thinking and practice. Geddes’ influence, in turn, powerfully effected others in considering the holistic perspective. For Daniel it was particularly in working with Henri Bortoft, especially related to his view on Goethean science, where he became immersed in holistic perspective and practice.
- The Cultivation of holistic perspective and practice:
Daniel’s core insight is a subtle one. It is easy to reduce the concept of holism into what would still amount to reductionistic view of parts and wholes with hard boundaries — collected in machine-like arrangements. Dynamic wholes are rather an emergent function as we become expressions of ‘what we are looking at’. He refers to different ways of perception, focusing on Goethe’s way of seeing things. This was compellingly revealed to him by Henri Borthoft at Schumacher College. Subsequently Daniel’s emphasis on the genuine holistic perspective has developed into a focus on the dynamic perception of phenomenon ‘coming into being in our participation’. He says that the experience of the ‘whole’ is in our way of being, and seeing, and participating.
We asked whether this way of perceiving could be quantified — is there such a thing as holistic science?
Daniel suggests that Goethean science might be contrasted with reductionist science in the particular key respect of participation. Thus, we might refer to ‘participationist science’ in which the emphasis is on the participative notion of ‘bringing into being’. Goethe’s ‘metamorphosis’ is about seeing the way things form: “Seeing is beholding — becoming one with the object.”
Daniel describes Borthoft’s facilitation of a perceptual exercise of observing a stone, for example. First you look intently at the detail — then you look at the whole — and finally then you bring the two ways of looking together.
Daniel also describes an exercise of observing a tree where he began to experience a dynamic vortex that he was falling into whilst he imagined he was becoming that tree. It sounds like recognising and experiencing viscerally the energetic developmental process.
In the interview we refer to Daniel’s previous statement on localism — one where we become ‘representative of the wholeness of the neighbourhood that we come from’. We ask: “How do we do that? What is the relationship between holistic perspective and holistic practice — does perception follow practice?”
Daniel refers to the real influence of different cultures, and especially economic frames, but offers the potential of transcending those constraints in a transformed view of bioregionalism, associating not with cultures and political states, but with natural ecologies and their living inhabitants. This has more recently been described with the innovative notion of ‘re-inhabitation’.
A core insight emerging from the interview is the difference between holism as an abstract notion and holism and dynamic experience. In abstraction it can tend to lead to idealism. This abstraction, in its striving to be rational and perfect, could compromise our ability to work with ‘what is’.
Daniel points to an embodied holism that is deeply relational. Rather than looking for ‘right action’ independent of place, it is about looking at the context to understand what right action might be. Holism without context does not in support life. It is our capacity to be in relationship with nature, and place, that sustains our lives.
So, whilst we acknowledge local culture, and work with it, in our awareness and action we become more representative of living with the land. That more intimate natural relationship asks us to reprioritise. Living with the land is part of the passage of coming home and, Daniel stresses, it is a privilege. So, for example, whilst more people are finding meaning in growing their own food, Daniel stresses that it takes slowing down sufficiently to experience that meaning.
Evaluating our current global human paradigm and practice, Daniel laments that despite the availability of information, the accumulation of knowledge about our planetary condition, we have not really changed our ways. As a result earlier predictions, like that of Donella Meadows in ‘Limits to Growth’, of things becoming horrific, are becoming even more real.
Waking up, Daniel stresses, is not about having more conversation about ecological issues, whilst we continue to consume more and more fossil fuels and fail to demonstrate any progress on climate change and biodiversity loss.
A practical approach to changing our ways, he advocates, is the simple practice of ‘coming into wholeness’ by coming into relationships with soil at local level; observing where the water comes from, identifying with whom we need to talk, embracing the living local reality in its fullness, and participating holistically in the ecologies/neighbourhoods/communities where we do have influence.
“At the heart of the notion of regeneration, of finding true wholeness, of ‘finding our wholeness’, is becoming expressions of the larger living being and of life flowing through it. Thereby, we become expression of the larger body, of Gaia, of the Living Universe, and at a spiritual level find ‘eternal life’.”
This notion offers Daniel with deep consolation. The invitation of a very real way of living on the land, seeing the soil come alive, being part of the life of the land enables relaxation into that eternal being.
In response to our Holos-Earth invitation, Daniel engaged in a rich and deep conversation about holism and the holistic perspective with us. It took us into unexpected deep places and insights which we are now excited to share and discuss with the wider Holos-Earth network. The conversation consists of 5 recorded episodes with each episode hosted by two of the Holos-Earth core team members.
As one of the catalysts of the rising reGeneration and the author of Designing Regenerative Cultures, Daniel works as a consultant, educator and activist with NGOs, businesses, governments and global change agents. With degrees in biology and holistic science, and a PhD in Design for Human and Planetary Health, his work has influenced the emerging fields of regenerative and salutogenic design. He was winner of the 2021 RSA Bicentenary Medal for applying design in service to society and was awarded a two-year Volans-Fellowship in 2022.