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A Vision of Holarchy

David Spangler

David Spangler

By the time my first child, John-Michael, was born in 1983, I had already been a spiritual teacher for nearly twenty years. A major perennial topic in my lectures and workshops was love, and I felt I reasonably understood what love was about. But the first time I held my son in my arms, I realized how incomplete my knowledge was. I knew immediately that this new person was going to teach me things about love that I had never known before. And he has, along with another son and two daughters who came to join him as my teachers over the years.

When we think of the relationship of parents and children, it’s common and natural to think of what parents do for their offspring. We are responsible for them. There would appear to be a natural hierarchical relationship here with knowledge, love, wisdom, power, and authority flowing down from the parent to the child. But as any parent knows, the relationship is not so clear-cut; love and knowledge flow back from the child and as he or she grows older, wisdom and authority do as well. Parents and children may not be equal, but they can be partners each enriching the other in ways that neither could do for themselves.

Colliding spiral galaxies of Arp 271, 90 million miles distant, toward Virgo
Gemini Observatory/Aural; APOD 07-21-2008

Holarchy and Holism
This relationship in which different and unequal participants nevertheless enhance each other and co-creatively make a larger wholeness possible is what I call holarchy. It honors each participant and looks not to their relative ranking as in a hierarchy, but to what they can contribute by virtue of their differences. Thus in a hierarchy, participants can be compared and evaluated on the basis of position, rank, relative power, seniority and the like. But in a holarchy each person’s value comes from his or her individuality and uniqueness and the capacity to engage and interact with others to make the fruits of that uniqueness available.

The idea of holarchy conceptually grows out of the larger idea of holism. The word itself was coined by the South African statesman, general, and scientist Jan Smuts in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution. After reading it, Albert Einstein said that the concept of holism was one of two paradigms that would govern human thinking in the 21st century (the second, he claimed, was his own theory of relativity). As in many things, Einstein has proven prescient. While no one would claim that politics, commerce, and social development as yet follow holistic models, the need to develop and implement such models is becoming increasingly apparent.

Smuts defined holism as “the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.” This idea found fertile soil in the science of ecology, which studies the patterns of interrelationship and wholeness that make up an environment. Consequently, the word has come to mean a condition of interdependency and interconnectedness such as characterizes the web of life on earth. In human society, it represents an attitude and lifestyle that perceives and fosters that condition in all areas of our personal and collective life.

Inner Worlds or Supersensible Realities
For me, the idea of holarchy comes from my experiences with the non-physical dimensions of life, what Rudolf Steiner called the “supersensible realities,” or simply the “Inner Worlds.” I have had a form of clairvoyant access to these worlds since early childhood. As a young man in my late teens and early twenties, I became familiar with theosophically related cosmologies that described these non-physical worlds in terms of layers, planes, and hierarchies, rather like a wedding cake with the physical realm at or near the bottom. Beings of greater spiritual presence and power occupied the upper realms and passed their wisdom and creative energies down the levels to us, rather like parents passing their knowledge and care down to their children. But when on occasion I would find myself in the presence of such a higher being, I did not feel any sense of hierarchy or ranking any more than I felt my own children to be “below” me. Instead, what I felt was a sense of embrace and love, of honoring and attentiveness from this being to me. I recognized that while it might be more powerful energetically than I and possessed of greater insight, this being and I both shared a universal life. We were different in capacity—in what we could do—but we were equal in value and in a shared sacredness.

David Spangler is an internationally known spiritual teacher and writer, and was instrumental in helping establish the Findhorn Foundation community in northern Scotland in the late 1960’s early 1970’s. Since then David has traveled widely within the United States and Canada giving classes, workshops and lectures. His themes have included the emergence of a holistic culture, the nature of personal sacredness, our participation in a coevolving, co-creative universe, partnering, and working with spiritual realms, our responsibility to the earth and to each other, the spiritual nature and power of our individuality, and our calling to be of service at this crucial time of world history. Many of these themes come together in his primary work, which is the development of a spiritual perspective and practice called Incarnational Spirituality. www.lorian.org

Read more about David Spangler

30 October 2008


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sacred, cosmology, love, holism, inner worlds, holarchy, hierarchy,
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