When I was studying herbalism, 20 years ago, my teachers Robin Rose Bennett and Susun S. Weed would point out the roots of the word "holistic" as being "whole" and "holy".
"Holistic" recognizes that for every thing we consider, its environment is important. I have a saying "As inside, so outside (and vice versa)" and in religion there is "as above so below". Modern quantum physics also recognizes this in field theory. The idea is that everything is influenced not only by itself alone -- it's parts, chemicals, constituents -- but by the things around it.
So if I am influenced by the air I breathe, and the air I breathe is influenced by the cars that drive by, then to be concerned with my health I should also be concerned with the fuel that feeds the cars that drive by, and so on. This is the concept of "whole" + outside within "holistic".
There's the concept of "whole" + inside in "holistic". I am not only concerned with my physical health, I am concerned with my mental health, my spiritual health, my emotional health. These are my "whole" inside world. Psychobiology proves that the thoughts & emotions I have bear fruit in my health. So to be truly holistic, I watch my thoughts and feelings as much as what I eat.
Then there's the concept of "holy" within "holistic". In my shamanic take on spiritual thought, all life is interconnected. I acknowledge that it is life that gives me life. I honor that connection. I thank the spirit of my food, I acknowledge the sacrifice and I know that when that spirit is not present in my food, the food is no longer life-sustaining. It may keep my body alive, but it will not feed all parts of me. The sacrifice of big industrial food machines is that the food has lost vitality through severing the food from the earth in a way that does not honor its spirit. People hunger, overeat, and wonder why the food does not satiate them. People fully acknowledge that they eat for "emotional comfort" and forget that part of the fuel that sustains us is beyond the material -- the emotional comfort we're seeking from that dead food is not present. We break down how healthy a food is by whether it has chemical nutrients, but we've forgotten to pick our foodstuff with respect, honor the animals whose flesh we eat, give our plants and animals proper life-sustaining sustenance and respect while they live so that the spirit is in the food we harvest, hunt or slaughter.
This same connection to spirit is missing in many sectors of our life. That "holy" connection. Our schools do not regard children as holy beings, so our children do not thrive there. Instead, children are to be feared, watched, corralled, and force-fed pre-planned morsels of thought and held to set standards of achievement with sterile knowledge that does not allow for discovery and left respect of another spirit, albeit young, behind over a century ago. Now schools at best are institutions that babysit while workers are out keeping the consumption-driven capitalist machine running. At worst, they are prisons that keep children from having their own thoughts and dreams.
So those are some of the thoughts that I have about what "holism" is -- more to be explored in collaboration with my peers on "Let's Heal the World Together" on Monday at 5pm EST.