In the second 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 1 (click here to read ‘Body, Mind, Spirit’)

Family-on-Beach-with-Sunset1Life 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:


The secret of taking care of this system is to become to others what we wish they were for us. In encouraging healthy relationships, Africans believe that: A single bracelet does not jingle (Congo proverb). If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together (Kenyan proverb). Relationships create friendships, and friendships enhance efficiency: Two ants do not fail to pull one grasshopper (Tanzanian proverb).

Keeping fit in our relationships includes the inbuilt ability to develop, nurture and maintain relationships. Building relationships is not easy if the focus is me and what I get out of others. Relationships that last are you and not me-centred.

In relating with others, people generally move in three ways: towards, away from or against. People who move towards others are secure and unafraid of relating. They focus more on the needs of others rather than their own. They are natural encouragers, seeing and commending others for who they are and what they do. To do this, one has to pay attention, to listen with care and to refrain from being demanding or the compulsion to behave as is others are there to meet my needs. Sense of security assumes that the individual’s needs are being met from somewhere else, and so the need for holistic living.

People who move away from others are insecure and afraid of relating with others. Most probably, someone wounded them in a past relationship or they suffered rejection. Now, the thought of coming close to others scares them intensely. Past pain causes such people to undermine themselves and even to kill potential relationships before they take root. Past pain should be dealt with if holistic balanced living is to be realised.

People who move against others are usually angry and vengeful most probably coming from a past where their trust has been betrayed or they feel used. They have convinced themselves that the world is a bad place and no one can be trusted. Most of their energy therefore goes to blocking relationships or narcissistically drawing attention to themselves. Such people quickly build resentment around themselves as others shun them and their company. To live holistically will mean careful evaluation of why the individual repels others so that the roots of anger or narcissism can be addressed and balanced living restored.   

Holistic balanced living calls for not only making friends but also nurturing such relationships – Hold a true friend with both your hands (Nigerian proverb) and using friends to evaluate oneself: There is no better mirror than an old friend  (a proverb from Cape Verd). Friends enrich us: To be without a friend is to be poor indeed (Tanzanian proverb). We should never befriend anyone because of what we get from them: If you marry a monkey for his wealth, the money goes and the monkey remains as is (Egyptian Proverb).


The human desire for socialisation involves our ability to build and sustain community. Africans are by nature people of community beginning with the family. There is conviction that: sticks in a bundle are unbreakable (Bondei proverb) and that walking through life with others provides safety: Cross the river in a crowd and the crocodile won’t eat you (African proverb).

In as much as the single human being is a system of interlocked systems, from birth, each individual is linked to others in the family, both the living and those who have died: However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source (Yoruba proverb).

Traditional Africa valued babies because each birth marks a line of continuity. To this end, among the Meru people of Kenya for example, babies would receive a name signifying a character of an adult in the family even the departed because although physically gone, the memory of these people survives in the family. 

Keeping our family relationships fit involves the knowledge that each person is part of the system of the unborn, the living and the dead that instills careful consideration not only in how one lives, relates with others and honors the memory of the departed. In Africa, legacies are passed from the unborn to the living and the departed: If we stand tall it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us (Yoruba proverb).



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

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

Part 3 – Holistic Living Series: Community and Creation


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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