Biocentric Values Grounded in Life

How Life’s organizing patterns can serve as an inner compass toward right action when navigating complex issues we deeply care about


  • Barbara Widhalm California Institute of Integral Studies


pattern literacy, living systems principles, living systems awareness, values inquiry, systems literacy


How can the principles of living systems (Capra, 2014; Center for Ecoliteracy, 2021) help us make sense of the current complex issues through a systems literacy lens and serve an inner compass toward right action in our own lives?

As a systems literacy educator who has developed a framework for designing learning experiences that mimic living systems in learning content, process, and structures (Widhalm, 2011, 2016), and as a systems-based integrative movement instructor (IBF, 2021), I have come to appreciate how strongly the principles of living systems, as well as the Habits of the Systems Thinker (Waters Center for Systems Thinking, 2021) have helped guide me in my own values discernment process (Widhalm, 2021).

These tools have supported my own inquiry on how to be in integrity with myself in the next steps I take. I have come to realize how much these life-based principles have become a cornerstone for the values I hold most dear. I have noticed that I engage in this systemic values inquiry process on a viscerally felt level, a heart-knowing level (Beck, 2020), as well as a cognitive-rational level. This is very much a work in progress. I am looking forward to exploring these tools in shared inquiry together!

In this workshop, I will introduce Capra’s principles of living systems and the Habits of a Systems Thinker (Waters Center for Systems Thinking, 2021) as discernment tools for complex issues we care about. I will then invite participants in a process of self-reflection, small and large group dialog, and creative-intuitive inquiry, using the principles of living systems and the Habits of the Systems Thinker via multiple ways of knowing. This is an invitation to play with these tools together to help us make meaning of issues that are close to our heart right now. For our small and large group inquiry, you are welcome to choose any issue that matters to you.

Beck, M. (2021). The way of integrity: Finding the path to your true self. The Open Field

Capra, F. & Luisi, P.L. (2014). The systems view of life: A unifying vision. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.


Center for Ecoliteracy (2022) Applying Ecological Principles. Retrieved from:

International Biocentric Foundation (IBF). (2022). Retrieved from

Waters Center for Systems Thinking. (2022). Habits of the Systems Thinker. Retrieved from

Widhalm, B. (2011). Educators as architects of living systems: Designing vibrant learning communities beyond sustainability and systems thinking. Journal of Sustainability Education. 2, 1-17. Retrieved from


Widhalm, B. (2016). Nurturing living systems awareness: Engaging the diverse intersections of community college online learning environments. In Nicolaides, A & Holt, D. (Eds.), Engaging at the Intersections. Proceedings of the XII International Transformative Learning Conference (pp.184-192). Tacoma, Washington: Pacific Lutheran University. Available at:



Author Biography

Barbara Widhalm, California Institute of Integral Studies

Adjunct faculty and program specialist, University of New Mexico Doctoral student in Transformative Learning and Change, California Institute of Integral Studies Sustainability Education Consultant