What is Wholeness? Embracing the fullness of life in all directions

Whilst wholeness is becoming a popular buzzword, it certainly isn't either new or a passing trend. It is a concept intrinsic to how life works, and one that has been studied through the lens and inquiry of many fields of knowing: from ecology to human psychology, quantum physics, biology, indigenous wisdom and ancient spirituality. In Wish Tree, we work with the notion of wholeness neither as a holy grail utopia or yet another individualistic self-improvement tool. Instead, we believe that wholeness is a process that can support our capacity to lead ourselves well, and guide us to feel more connected, resilient and free. In short, support us to thrive, inside-out.

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Emily Johnsson
Emily Johnsson
Nurturing changemakers for a whole world.

“Wish Tree exists because of our commitment to wholeness: whole humans, whole communities, whole organisations, whole ecosystems. A whole world.”

This is how we define our ‘why’ in Wish Tree. So what’s behind it? How do we define wholeness in the context of our contribution?

Within the fields of psychology, therapy and coaching, wholeness is a well-established concept that sees a human as a whole entity intrinsically linked with their environment, and seeks to support us to integrate different parts of our personality or identity, our inner-child, process a loss of a sense of identity or shifts in identity during and after a life-crisis or transition, or simply integrate different elements or phases of our lives. An important aspect is about supporting us to cultivate the skill to listen deeply to the needs of our whole being: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual.

In Wish Tree, we see ‘wholeness work’ as nurturing people’s -specifically those who identify as agents for change- capacity to lead themselves well, be present with disharmony, and experience greater resilience, connection, purpose and freedom in their lives. Some might call this ‘harmony’, or perhaps ‘aliveness’.

Simply put, we believe that changemakers who live, lead and work with a greater sense of aliveness, are better equipped to create conditions for a thriving world.

The concept of wholeness as a star to guide our way through life isn’t about perfectionism, constantly striving to ‘self-improve’ or being in some constant state of bliss.

Wholeness isn’t, in fact, about an end-goal at all, it’s an ongoing process. A kind of movement between states.

And central to that intentional process is cultivating compassion, as promoted by therapist Gabor Maté, so that we can embrace every aspect of ourselves.

In my own experience, committing to wholeness has felt like a peace-making process between different parts of myself and my life – wounds, scars, fears, gifts, patterns, personality traits, that brings me an ever increasing feeling of expansion and capacity to be with what is.

Hence, wholeness is not about bypassing or toxic positivity either – that is, ‘making wrong’ emotional states that may be judged as less desirable, such as anger, sadness, grief, rage, jealousy, regret, guilt, low self-esteem, procrastination etc.

Rather, it’s helping us understand the root causes of our emotions and sense of disharmony, and to support us to both observe and feel our feelings, becoming aware of the bigger and deeper ecology of our disharmony and how it fits into the bigger system of disharmony on the planet.

As we cannot selectively numb our emotions, accessing the feelings that are perceived as ‘negative’, and understanding where they come from, means we open up for the possibility of experiencing the emotions on the ‘other side’ of the spectrum too: joy, happiness, contentment.

Wholeness nurtures our capacity to feel, hold and be with all of who we are without shame; to experience life in all its breadth, depth and fullness. It’s about our ability to resiliently receive and act on feedback from others about how our behaviour is affecting other people and the world around us without fragility. It’s the ability to think beyond either/or situations and be open to seeing a bigger picture.

Wholeness is also about knowing what we stand for and take a stand for – what our values are and what matters to us and why, and having a sense of purpose in our lives.

At the heart of saying yes to wholeness is a process of liberation and authentic freedom. But not simply for the goal of individual gain. We cannot experience a deeper sense of wholeness in a ‘silo’ – and our sense of freedom is connected to everyone’s and everything’s freedom too. Intrinsic to wholeness is becoming aware of ourselves as a cell in the greater web of life, knowing that how we live and move through life affects everything and everyone else – across timelines.

The concept of wholeness is therefore inextricably linked with systemic change and collective liberation.

So what about the ‘whole ecosystems and whole communities’?

Whole ecosystems are ecosystems that are naturally flowing through the dynamic process of homeostasis within each cell, species and between all species in the system. Homeostasis is the state of steady internal, physical, chemical, and social conditions maintained by living systems. This is the condition of optimal functioning for the organism. Ecosystem homeostasis is equilibrium, or a balance of the organisms in an ecosystem.

Wholeness is intrinsic to how life works.

Whole communities are not communities, neighbourhoods, organisations, families that always experience utopian living conditions, or that never experience turbulence or pain. Instead, they are entities that intentionally and with awareness sense into disharmony and have the courage to look at root systemic causes for it, often dating back in time over many generations, emphasising the nature of relationships between each part and addressing those, rather than simply seek to ‘fix’ in the short term the symptoms themselves. Whole communities self-regulate and keep moving towards steady conditions and optimal functioning – in the same way a non-human ecosystem would.

Whole families, communities, workplaces and other ecosystems depend on more and more people raising their hands to willingly become changemakers in their own lives and saying yes to embracing self-leadership.

When us humans are able to lead ourselves well through life and work whatever the weather, we can become stewards of life’s fullness and evoke ripples of wholeness wherever we go.

In Wish Tree we work with our own self-leadership model. Read more about self-leadership here. Reach out to explore how self-leadership could work for you or your organisation.

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What is Wholeness? Embracing the fullness of life in all directions

Wholeness is a process that can support our capacity to lead ourselves well and move through life feeling more connected, resilient and free.

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Emily Johnsson | November 25, 2023
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About Emily & White Supremacy

Emily is a space holder and self-leadership coach to changemakers. She has over 20 years experience in the field of human development, learning and growth, and leads the coaching and consultancy company Wish Tree since 2011. Her work centres around wholeness – whole humans, whole communities, whole organisations, whole ecosystems. A whole world. Her changemakership is therefore dedicated to clearing distortions and fragmentations that relate to our perceptions of separation.

Emily has been exposed to and ‘sat with’ systemic issues around race, racism, privilege and injustice her whole life. She was born in Camden, London, in the late 1970s to a Swedish immigrant single mum and spent her first formative years in a highly culturally and ethnically diverse setting. As a baby, Emily and her mum lived in a bedsit in a shared house with a Black British family. Her first memory of Father Christmas was of him as a Bangladeshi man. Emily’s mum worked with refugee families and in Children’s Homes in inner city London, and since she had no access to child care opportunities, Emily joined her at work. For a while, Emily had an older Black British foster sister called Debbie. She was very often the only white child in the community of children of which she was a part.

Emily moved to Sweden with her mum as a child and as a teenager became involved with, and led, antiracism youth work in her local town through her school and council-initiated networks in the 1990s.

Her mum, who was active in the peace-and- environmental movement and who had been involved as an ally in the civil rights movement in the US on her travels there, introduced her to Black feminist and activist writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Audre Lord, and actively taught her about white privilege, white supremacy and the truth of colonialism. She was also taught about the importance of learning from Indigenous wisdom keepers in order to heal and evolve as humanity, and to (in those days) stop climate change.

In contrast, on her father’s side, Emily is of British Colonial descent. Emily’s grandmother was born in Zimbabwe to Scottish sheep-farmers. Her grandfather came from a poor English background but won a scholarship to Cambridge University to study law. As many young British men of his time who sought “adventure, a good job and travel”, Emily’s grandfather joined the colonial service in the final days of the British Empire, and served in several African countries as a high-ranking colonial officer. He spoke Zulu and Emily’s father spoke Swazi and Swahili before being sent to Britain as a child to attend boarding school, thousands of miles away from his parents.

Although Emily did not grow up with her father or his family, she eventually came to know them and have a relationship with them, which involved taking responsibility for understanding and healing her own familial and ancestral relationship to colonialism and white supremacy.

In this process, she came to see, feel and understand first hand and close up, the deeper psychological workings of the system of white supremacy, the colonial mind and its intimate links with narcissism, perfectionism, patriarchy and extractive economies and behaviours.

Between 2003-2015, Emily worked as a learning researcher and Access, Diversity and Inclusion enabler in the Arts & Cultural Sector, deeply rooted in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Convention. She worked across the U.K and Scandinavia contributing to a number of large scale change projects, self-evaluation initiatives, conferences and trainings such as “Access for All”, “Inspiring Learning for All”, “Belonging – the Voices of London’s Refugees”, “The West Indian Front Room”, “Kultur och Fritid för Alla”, “Vidgat Deltagande”, “In this curriculum I don’t exist”, “In between two worlds – London teenagers’ ideas about Black History, Belonging and being British” to name a few. She worked with a wide range of marginalised communities as well as with leaders and directors holding white privilege, facilitating necessary and brave conversations challenging the status quo.

Emily has worked across many cultures and languages around the world from Sri Lanka to South Africa, Costa Rica and India to Romania and Denmark, continuously reflecting on and challenging white saviour tendencies. In this process has come to observe how white supremacy and racism works differently in different countries depending on context and history.

In 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Emily became a loud voice in the Wellness industry by calling in leaders bypassing white supremacy through ‘love and light’ rhetoric, exceptionalism, colourblindness and virtue signalling. She closed down several online coaching circles because white participants were unwilling to dive deeper into their own internalised white supremacy, and rendered the spaces not only additionally unsafe, but traumatising for BIPOC clients. Her platform and large facebook community for coaches and wellbeing facilitators centred BIWOC-led anti-racism conversations as a response.

Emily is a skilled and fiercely loving coach and space-holder with many years experience of creating safe spaces for accountability, healing, integration and growth to take place.

She is dedicated to her own ongoing learning, healing and unlearning of covert white supremacy. Examples of this are continuous learning from a wide range of anti-racism educators, authors and activists from around the world.

This bio has not been written with the intention of centring Emily in the context of Me & White Supremacy, but to transparently share about her background, values, skills and experience in order for you to make a conscious decision to choose her as a space-holder, or not.

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