Embracing Our Collective Purpose to Unite Humanity

Excerpt from The Holomovement

Published in March of 2023, The Holomovement: Embracing Our Collective Purpose to Unite Humanity, co-edited by Emanuel Kuntzelman (ITPI board member) and Jill Robinson (10+ year ITP member) is an anthology inspiring each of us to integrate our unique gifts with the Holomovement’s unifying values into a collective vision that serves the greatest good. The Holomovement offers a name to rally around, a call to unity not uniformity, where we each play a vital role.


Chapter 11

The Art of Altruism: Redefining Our True Nature

By Rhiannon Catalyst and Jill Robinson


Not "Mere" Semantics

…Here’s the rub: the core definition of the word "altruism" stems from the Latin root “Alteri huic,” meaning "to this other," and tells a tale reinforcing the story of separation. Altruism is defined by Merriam-Webster as an “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others” and a “behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species.” In both of these explanations, the word “other” plays a key role, as does the inclusion of self-harm and a lack of personal benefit as necessary expressions of altruistic behavior.

What we have learned so far about our cosmic beginnings, unitive narrative, ecological blueprint and potential for supercoherence seems to contradict the very word so many of us use to bridge the material/spiritual divide. It is time to evolve our language to encompass our full potential for collaboration, connection and compassion.

Common descriptions of altruistic behavior give synonyms of self-sacrifice and self-denial. We suggest shifting this perspective to align with our understanding of our unitive nature. Positive and progressive models of altruism understand the healing power of reciprocal, symbiotic and regenerative behavior. As Ram Dass said, "True compassionate action comes out of the awareness that we are all inseparable…We are all part of the same thing, and therefore your suffering is my suffering.”

By upholding these values in our collective narrative, how might we visualize our personal and planetary potential, lifted up by a shared story of collaboration and reciprocity? Learning the art of altruism within the context of “Me AND We” is critically important to create a regenerative cycle of giving. What would we experience if our service to ourselves, others and the whole also was allowed to include personal nourishment? While holding space and deep reverence for bold, inspiring acts of altruistic self-sacrifice, we humbly suggest a shift in the way we view everyday practices of altruism as imperative to the sustainability of our species.

In shifting this perspective of altruism, we can reconnect and re-unite with ourselves, one another, and the natural and cosmic world in everyday life while celebrating our birthright as unique and purposeful beings with diverse gifts. Professor of Environmental Biology and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Robin Wall Kimmerer, writes in her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants: “Many indigenous peoples share the understanding that we are each endowed with a particular gift, a unique ability. Birds to sing and stars to glitter, for instance. It is understood that these gifts have a dual nature, though: a gift is also a responsibility.” (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 347)

George Leonard, president emeritus of Esalen Institute and one of the leaders of the Human Potential Movement put it another way in his teachings of Integral Transformative Practice: “Don’t hoard yourself.” Ultimately, our individual gifts and purpose are necessary for the well-being and flourishing of self and society. Our being is interwoven within the cosmic life process, AND collective flourishing requires a soul-based nurturing of self if we are to evolve collectively as people and planet.

This is not just wishful thinking. Extensive research links our well-being and health with collaborative participation in supporting the health of our communities. The findings are vast and resounding. Increases in self-esteem, social relationships and lower mortality rates, as well as reduced blood pressure and longer life span are just some of the positive indicators associated with volunteering and civic engagement. A 2013 study at Carnegie Mellon University found that older adults who volunteered for 200 or more hours per year had a 40 percent decreased risk of high blood pressure. Overall improvements to mental health connected to generously giving one's time to a cause is naturally connected with finding an increased sense of purpose.

By cultivating the art of altruism, we embody what it means to give compassionately and generously. In Stephen Cope’s The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling, he writes:

“It is precisely Arjuna’s offering of himself to the urgent call of the moment that will turn his gifts into world-transforming dharma. If you bring forth what is within you it will save you. Yes. But this saving is not just for you. It is for the common good. If you bring forth what is within you, it will save the world. It will rescue the times. It will save the whole people.” (Cope, 2015, p. 53) 

Cope goes on to write the consequence of ignoring what is our personal calling and transformation—the result being destruction of the self and the whole people. 

Howard Gruber, a psychologist, activist and historian of science wrote in “Creative Altruism, Cooperation, and World Peace” that “creative altruism…expresses the highest development of the individual and at the same time depends on cooperation and understanding…[It] probably depends above all on a sense of the self expanding—expanding in our era toward world-consciousness.” In his reflections of guiding principles for creative altruism, he suggests: “fulfilling our highest moral obligations requires creative work” and cooperation. In this artful approach to altruism, we reconnect with our birthright (and responsibility) as profoundly unique and vital cells within a divinely interwoven body of living systems.

… In summary: altruism does not mean martyrdom. Sustainable and artful altruism of today can, and must, become consciously symbiotic. In all cases, our ongoing understanding of altruistic behavior within the Holomovement reflects a deeply-seeded impulse toward unitive experiences that are life-affirming, inspired by love.