In the last instalment of a three part series, renowned Kenyan psychologist, Dr Gladys Mwiti, discusses the importance of Holistic Balanced Living from an African perspective. 

Cont. from Part 2 (click here to read Part 1 –  ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’ and click here to read Part 2 – Relationships and Family)

people_beach_sunsetLife is made up of interlocked systems – all forming one organism called a “human being.” A human being is not all body or just physical, not all mind or intellect, and not all soul or spirit. To keep fit and perform optimally, life needs balance between all its sub-systems. Investing concern and energy to consistently maintain this balance is what we call holistic living.

How do we achieve balance? It comes in keeping the following key elements aligned:


In community, many individuals and families come together to support one another so that sharing and caring become life themes that help the whole as well as enrich parts of that whole. Holistic balanced living calls for close engagement that builds and nurtures community ties. Keeping fit in our community links involves calls for increasing activities that one does with other people. This is not necessarily selfishly seeking individual gains but giving oneself for the sake of others or the greater gain of the whole. The African proverb: A person is a person through other people exemplifies the spirit of ubuntu which basically means the quality of being human.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu observes: You might have much of the world’s riches, and you might hold a portion of authority, but if you have no ubuntu, you do not amount to much, revealing the African worldview that each one owes their selfhood to others and that there are many gains in community. The wisdom: One finger cannot pick up a grain (African proverb) is lived out in Africa through willing participation and unquestioning support to others when needed. Of course, responsible Ubuntu should not encourage dependency and laziness. That is why the Meru people of Kenya believe that: A visitor should last only two or three days. On the third day, you give them a hoe to join you in weeding the garden.”

Balanced holistic living calls for building and nurturing community and everyone gains when collective gifts of community come together to complete a project, be it child naming, wedding or building bridges.


Africa is “really beautiful. It feels like God visits everywhere else but lives in Africa,” – Will Smith.

And, from time immemorial, Africans have known that they live in an amazing continent and owe it to the Creator to take care of it. Creation includes animals and plants, dry land and the sea, the heavens above and the earth below, and that the human being is to exercise stewardship over his world. We cannot remain holistically fit in a broken toxic environment. Africans traditionally believed the reality that the living had the responsibility to conserve the environment for future generations and were accountable for this stewardship to their ancestors. This belief and practice was inbuilt into traditional religion and taboos attached to any attempts at environmental ing of wild life and forests; protecting water catchment areas; giving thanks for harvest; rejecting overuse of pesticides and fertiliser to conserve the soil; growing and eating organic foods as much as we can.

Why was there such commitment to environmental conservation across the continent in times past? A Nigerian Elder Okyenhene, Nana Ofori Atta said: I conceive of land (and the whole environment) as belonging to a large family of which many are dead, a few are living and countless are yet to be born. This awareness was contained in traditional education and passing on of knowledge from one generation to another. However, Western education and main religions coming to Africa disconnected the environment from education as well as from worship.

In many parts of modern Africa, people have been left living such that environmental stewardship is sometimes perceived as something that only the UNEP cares for. Stewardship of life systems ensures that life flows back to us because nature is cyclic. Let me include here that the desire for more and more has led to environmental degradation, toxicity and pollution of both water and air, and using up land set aside for Recreation Parks and family relaxation for development especially in the city.

In some cities in Africa, the last Recreation Park was created before independence! Every estate should have its park and man-made lakes. Planning and creating of these Parks is the work of the living, especially those committed to holistic balanced existence. Thank God that several African nations have at least conserved wild life, and Africa remains one of the last frontiers for animals to run wild and free in National Parks.

Every African should be a conservationist by nature – faithfully making a difference right where they are.


Whether marred and broken or healthy and vibrant, each human being possesses the innate ability to live out a balanced life so as to maintain a balanced system. The centre of balance is spirituality and meaning that link us to the compass of life, reminding us that: “The best things in life are not things.” There is more to life than driving the model car, living in the best suburb or fronting the most desired image. When spirituality is missing, the centre cannot hold and things begin to fall apart. Ability to acknowledge the systems that make us human and live such that there is ongoing awareness and input to balance them is what we call holistic living. How balanced is your system?

Any over-emphasis on one part of the system creates imbalance and once one part of the whole system is ailing, the whole feels the pain and there is imbalance. Africans believe that the human being is like a spider’s web – when one thread is caused to vibrate, the whole network trembles. Balance means gauging what is just enough to engage in without losing hold of the centre. When the centre cannot hold, things and life in general, begin to fall apart.

The ability to acknowledge the systems that make us human and live such that there is ongoing awareness and input to balance them is what we call holistic living.



For more insights from Dr Mwiti on holistic wellbeing, please read the entire series:

Part 1 – Holistic Living Series: Body, Mind, Spirit

Part 2 – Holistic Living Series: Relationships and Family


drgmwitiAbout Dr Mwiti

Gladys K. Mwiti, PhD. is a consulting Clinical Psychologist and Trauma Specialist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is the founder of and CEO of Oasis Africa – a Centre for Transformational Psychology and Trauma. She is the Chair of the Kenya Psychological Association (KPsyA) and a member of the Board of Directors, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS). She has worked in trauma assessment and management throughout Africa and is often called upon to offer psychological assessment and therapy in major crisis such as the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1998 Nairobi US embassy bombings and recently, the 2013, the Westgate  Shopping  Centre  shootings in Kenya.


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