The Edge Life interview with William Bloom
Imagine, if you will, public schools teaching about feelings, about emotional intelligence, to young children. William Bloom, perhaps the leading proponent of Holism in the United Kingdom, if not the world, says that’s what is happening in Britain. And it’s a very positive sign of good things to come.
Author of the new Soulution: The Holistic Manifesto (Hay House), Bloom shared in the first part of this interview last month that he is encouraged by holistic trends worldwide, but he also has concerns about people jumping aboard the holistic bandwagon to earn a quick buck on on personal fulfillment schemes, and people who don’t walk their talk and generously support those in need.
Speaking with Edge Life by phone from his home in Glastonbury, England, Bloom continued his dialogue on prosperity and connecting with Spirit.
I like this segment in your book, the chapter on money, where you share the story about the greatest hunter who has the hut that’s most plain.
Bloom: It’s a different set of values. I just think those of us who are conscious of this whole arena and a part of it — and I speak of myself, I don’t claim innocence here — I just think we need to walk our talk a little bit more powerfully and be more powerful examples. But at the same time not be a party pooper, you know? Prosperity is great. Partying is great. I love plasma television screens and all the rest of it. But I just think we need to engage more seriously and…
…Have big parties and show Spiritual Cinema on your plasma screen.
Bloom: (Laughter) I’m a member of the Spiritual Cinema Club also.
In schools, there is a core holistic value that can be taught, if we choose to.
Bloom: What’s interesting is, if you go back to the core piece of philosophy or spirituality — the private, personal experience that the universe is beautiful and nature is beautiful and we’re a part of this community — that translates into why you should be a good citizen, not because the Declaration of Independence or whatever says so.
That’s exactly right: instilling values that all humankind shares.
Bloom: That’s right. And even atheists will go “Sure, I had that experience. Just don’t call it God, please. Don’t try and manipulate me.” So, I think there’s huge areas there where Holism can sneak through the door, without bringing in religion.
I liked your discussion of how we go about remaining consciously connected to the whole of being while at the same time we get distracted by the task of being human. What conclusions did you come to about this?
Bloom: I just think it’s crucial for people to spend some calm time every day connecting with Spirit. Spend some calm time every day checking out how they’re doing. Be intelligently self-reflective and check that their lives have integrity. I just can’t see how we can hold it together in a world of so much stimulation unless we have some kind of spiritual practice that helps us hold a clear focus.
I’ve got my meditation practice. Meditation is not good for some people, but people need to find what works to get them calm — or what works to connect them and works to make them self-reflective. This is, isn’t it? This is the personal spirituality in the middle of the holistic worldview, that privately all on your own you have to be practicing compassion and connection and awareness — not just words. It’s always in the heart, in the gut, in the body. Find out what works for you — and do it. We should be encouraging people.
You refer often to emotional intelligence and emotional literacy. How do these related to Holism?
Bloom: They relate directly to Holism in two ways for me. One is that it’s impossible to live in a holistic and harmonious way if you’re being governed by emotions of which you have no awareness — and people are. I’m just being totally realistic.
People’s motivations — how they are in relationship…to the plants in their backyard…with their children…with their children’s schools…with the President of the United States, so often are driven by where they are emotionally. If they’re governed by their emotions, people don’t make clear decisions. People behave stupidly.
Speaking of the core of emotional literacy is for children and adults to be aware of what they’re feeling, and then manage it, rather than being tsunamied by it. I watch people who, with the best will in the world, are absolutely incapable of fulfilling their ideals or serving their communities, because they don’t give attention and awareness to where they’re at emotionally. That is the source of prejudice, conflict, anger, jealousy, greed and all the rest.
It’s vital for people to learn early on how to self-manage their own health, because of the intimate relationship between emotions and the glandular system and the endocrine system of the body. It’s absolutely crucial that people manage their emotions and guide them into a more comfortable and harmonious way of being, simply to avoid the majority of illnesses in middle-age and beyond that in some way or another have to do with tense tissue, which is caused by tense emotions. The statistics in Britain show that more than 85 percent of illnesses past the age of 40 have to do with tense tissue. The holistic approach to health care and a national policy absolutely requires that people learn to self-manage.
I think that’s one area of understanding ourselves that is quite lacking in most of us.
Bloom: Well, we’re not given the skills, are we?
No. Where do people start to get those?
Bloom: In England, I can only speak for here, there’s a huge emotional literacy movement — emotional literacy as opposed to emotional purgence. Emotional literacy is used a huge amount in schools, and at least half the schools in England have what’s called Circle Time in which children are taught how to notice what they’re feeling. Daniel Goleman’s books have had a huge influence on business and organizations, because he says you can’t succeed as a manager unless you’re aware of what you’re feeling.
You also write that we must learn to engage with money, status and belongings in a new way. Why is that?
Bloom: Because they govern, haunt, tempt, seduce and distract us usually, and they need to be friendly companions that we enjoy with freedom. To put it bluntly, the “developed” world’s lack of emotional balance about status and belongings, this lack of emotional balance, the sense of urgency to consume and to have the next appropriate status symbol creates the culture, the thoughts, the commercial ambience in which greedy and ignorant business people can create a world economy, which results finally in the death of 30,000 children a day — and the lack of sustainability in developing countries. There is a direct link there.
You spoke earlier about how we need to get out of our comfort zone. I think that’s part of it. We need to step out and be who we are.
Bloom: But it’s difficult. Privately, this is the kind of thing that I say depending on where I’m at. Privately, there’s this huge memory bank of getting burned or persecuted or whatever for asserting that kind of truth.
You mentioned in your book, which I thought was good, the description of people who have spiritual pride. How does the holistic person prevent having an elitist pride?
Bloom: I notice in myself, for example, one of the great shocks of Bush’s re-election for me was a realization that for several decades I haven’t bothered to even think about how I should be communicating with the right wing. And that was a form of snobbery in me. And that was a form of elitism.
I feel that in my holistic identity, I’m so certain of how right it is, that I have, in the past, gone into a kind of smug zone. When people like us are talking with each other, we can have a self-reflective conversation and check each other out. I live with people who challenge me, thank goodness, and I have friends who challenge me.
But quite honestly, I was shocked as I began to think about after Bush was re-elected about the fact that I needed to be able to develop a dialogue with the right and I hadn’t done this for three decades, because I was a snob. I need to engage as a citizen now, as opposed to a happy, exuberant New Ager, or whatever it is. And as I sit on school boards, I’m realizing increasingly that if I say I’m part of an intimate community, that includes everybody — including the conservatives. I have not been loving them, you know?
Well, I think that’s a challenge that affects a lot of us here in the States. It’s hard to believe that the Inauguration just happened for the next term, that we have four more years, and it’s a challenge. How do we begin to engage?
Bloom: We need to take them seriously, for a start. I mean it’s all conversation, but it’s important to have an assertive spirituality. Liberals must have an assertive spirituality, I think. But, that’s a whole other conversation.
In 1987 the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development encouraged the adoption of the Earth Charter. The Earth Charter Commission adopted the final version in March 2000. What is this document and why did you include it in your book?
Bloom: The Earth Charter is, to my heart and to my mind, the best articulated document asserting an environmental and social manifesto for our next steps forward as a species. Many people have identified it as such. One of the reasons why I wanted to present it and publicize it is partly to say to our community, “Look, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” A huge amount of heartfelt thought has gone into already creating some of these documents, and we need to honor them and work with them. I admire this document very much.
And yet I would wager that, at least in this country, less than 1 percent of the people know about it.
Bloom: Yes, so we need to mobilize so that our people at least know about it and then ask, “What should we do with it?” We’ll print it out, get some posters, put it up in the schools, have it up on the walls in waiting rooms. It’s just there as a document. It helps raise people’s awareness.
In every community there might be 50 or 60 people, but there’s only two or three people who are actually activists. Everybody else kind of watches. But in the holistic New Agey world, it’s like one or two activists for every 10,000 people. Everybody else is busy creating ecological homes and doing self-development, but not doing citizenship, not doing community building.
Why did you write Soulution? What inspired it, and how did you change as an individual during the process of creating it.
Bloom: I was considering what I was going to do with the next two decades of my life, and I had a very clear choice to make, it seemed to me. I make my living by running groups of one kind or another, teaching meditation, and energy work and holistic approaches, and I could very easily create a retreat center and retreat into it and just have people come to courses there. My wife and I were thinking of maybe doing that.
At the same time, in my youth, I was a social activist and that is still deep in my heart. I listen to the news three or four times a day, I read the newspapers, I read books about politics and I used to teach at the London School of Economics. I taught about psychological problems in international relations, so I was very engaged. With my wife and a friend, I started a program at St. James’s Church in London that is still the major holistic platform. So I’ve got a history of doing projects.
And, so, I was sitting there in this contemplation about whether to engage or retreat. I spent 18 months feeling, thinking, meditating, dreaming my way into it and got clear that my energy and my skills were to engage more. Several people were looking at me saying that because in the last 10 to 15 years I’ve been quite often the spokesperson for holistic, New Age stuff in the U.K., they told me that I needed to write a book that tries to pull it together for them.
I remember waking up one morning and saying, “I’m going to give 20 years to being an activist and not a retreatant and this will be the project.” And, it’s not as if it was like creating something from scratch. Writing the book was like doing a Ph.D. project that should have taken six or seven years, but was completed in nine months. It was the most energized, excruciating piece of work I’ve ever done in my life. In order to get it done, I came out of my normal, very harmonious lifestyle and went onto coffee for six months. That’s very ironic, huh?
It’s really well done and you’ve written it very comprehensively, but you’ve written it so people can understand it very well.
Bloom: Thank you. When it was finished, it felt like a kind of orgasm. I just went “poof!” A lot of the time I felt as though it wasn’t me doing the writing. I don’t experience any sense of ownership of this particular book. I feel as though I wrote it on behalf of my friends, and I feel quite proud of that. It’s an interesting sensation, because I’ve written many books and never had that experience before.
So, where do you go from here?
Bloom: Well, I keep doing my own program of teaching to keep food on the table and we’re getting the holism network off the ground. The website Holism.info is gradually being built, and we’re beginning just about to start producing documents that respond to government initiatives. We have a project going with a consortium of schools to help introduce experiential spirituality into the curriculum. And we’re working on the creation of a holistic chaplaincy program. There will be an election in the next three months. Once that’s over, we’re going to do a survey of the 650 members of Parliament to see how many of them have a holistic inclination.
Everything’s going to go up on the website, and we’re gradually creating a small office, on the High Street in Glastonbury. A perfect place, you know. The monks of 1,500 years ago would be proud of us.
It’s cooking. It feels good. It feels quite mellow and appropriate. We shall see what happens.