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Four Dynamics of Wholeness

Mechanistic perception sees parts and their relationships as primary, as adding up to a whole whose reality derives from the existence of its parts. For example, a friend said to me, "a society is basically made up of individuals." That's true and it isn't true. Holistic perception acknowledges the reality of parts and their relationships, but also sees the parts and their relationships in terms of the whole -- in terms of their relationship to the whole and the way they embody the whole.

In holistic perception, a relationship between parts -- for example, the relationship between a mother and daughter -- gets its meaning as an aspect of the total weave of relationships constituting the fabric of the whole. For example, a family systems therapist may discover that a dysfunctional family needs to have someone be a scapegoat. If the current scapegoat leaves the family, the family will give that role to someone else. The whole has needs of its own, quite additional to the needs of the parts. A society turns out to be more than the sum of its individuals. It is an entity -- a living system -- in its own right.

Our separate identity as an individual ("ego") is only a tiny piece of who we are. Our full identity includes our kinship with family... our citizenship in community, nation and culture... our organic role the larger world of life... and so on. We also have cultural, ecological and universal/spiritual Selves, Selves that are both "within us" and co-extensive with the larger world. My place in the fabric of the world -- even when I am totally oblivious to it -- is a far more significant aspect of my uniqueness than the persona I work so hard to assert and defend. In the holistic perspective:

And so I see four dynamics of wholeness/partness I want to focus on -- inclusion, creative process, participation and something I'll call holescence.


The most basic, primitive dynamic of wholeness is the assembling of parts. Are all the pieces present? Is everyone at the table? Who else should be invited? Inclusion is the dynamic that tends towards completeness.

But inclusion is trickier than it at first seems, because full inclusion can't exclude exclusion! So we could usefully postulate a first order wholeness which embraces everything, including exclusion, dissonance, partiality and fragmentation -- and a second-order wholeness which earns its coherence through excluding certain forms of dissonance, fragmentation, illness, etc. (This is closely related to "implicit and explicit wholeness" discussed elsewhere.)

In any case, we can't deal with wholeness without running into inclusion/exclusion issues.


Creative Process

Creative process is wholeness-in-action: it is the ongoing emergence of whatever comes next. Creative process includes, but cannot be reduced to, all the interactions among the parts of the whole. It includes

Charles Johnston has made a compelling case for creative process being the defining characteristic of life, or aliveness. His book The Creative Imperative provides a fully-developed and powerfully practical approach to living wholeness in a very dynamic way.


From the inside of a whole, inclusion and creative process look and feel like participation (PART-icipation). To participate is to play a role in, to share in the being or unfolding of something. We all play a role in everything, however small. But it is a participatory role, a co-creative role, an interactive role. We don't cause or control anything because we aren't the only players: the outcomes are co-created -- not just by us, but by us and the wholes we're part of, and by the interactions and dynamics among all those wholes, etc. Control and causation are useful illusions sustained by excluding consideration of other participant factors. This illusion is perhaps sustained most powerfully by the controlled experiment and the totalitarian state.

We might want to examine how a controlled experiment is co-created by the physical and cultural contexts that shape it (whether the experimenter admits it or not), and its results (knowledge of causes) must be applied in a world bustling with other participant actors and factors. (I find it tragicomic that we think of the unintended consequences of applying our laboratory-derived technologies in the world as "side effects." Actually, they are very real effects, often greater than the ones we intended.) And every totalitarian state has existed in a world that profoundly shaped it and its every action -- and every totalitarian state has contained actors and factors within it that escaped its control. If science and state power can't exert perfect control, none of us can.

Why not face our power-sharing directly, acknowledging it, empowering it, practicing it consciously? Once we do, we enter the world of co-creativity, co-incarnation, fields and webs of influence, evocation, and membership. Not only are we not in charge, but we are not uninvolved; we are not spectators; we are not irrelevant. Who we are matters! What we do matters! Once we inhabit this co-creative world consciously, we can see that things are not so much built or caused, as that conditions are set to encourage their emergence from the fields of probability and influence that are danced into being by an endless ocean of actors and factors, near and far. And that is the real world, the whole world, the participatory world, in which we endeavor to practice our conscious, creative agency. Together. Participation is the only game in town -- and no one is in the bleachers.


This is a coined word meaning, literally "the state or process of wholeness" -- the resonance and kinship between whole and part -- in all its manifestations. Whereas participation is an active dynamic of wholeness, holescence is an existential dynamic of wholeness. The word brings together a wide variety of realities that share a certain "more-ness" that characterizes wholeness. To the extent something is part of a whole, it is "more" than it is separately. This "more-ness" is a freebee: If we are trying to create certain conditions we can use these existential facts of more-ness (listed below) to inform the way we design and interact with the live around us, thereby getting more simply by using our wisdom, rather than by adding more and more objects and energies into our lives and the living systems around us. If we don't have a word to describe this phenomenon, we may miss some sources of this "more-ness." So I created the idea of holescence, to help us see the world differently, and dance with it better.

I've identified ten types of holescence so far. I'm sure there are more. But here's my ten:

And this is nowhere near a comprehensive list. In fact, some of these were only recently described as distinct pheonomena (e,g, holograpy, holergy, synergy, fractals, holons, membergy, innergy). There surely are many more. We just need to look at the ways wholeness inhabits everything and shows up everywhere. Holescence is why wholeness can be contacted anywhere and everywhere, if we choose to connect with it.

(See also Wholeness - Explict and Implicit and Six Facets of Wholeness)