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Times have changed. Countless studies attest to the connection between psychological condition and both illness and recovery. What might be called the spirit/ body connection, although still regarded skeptically in most parts of the medical world, has conquered popular culture, the staging ground from which mind/body launched its siege of the academy. The prophets of this healing offensive are photogenic and media-friendly (enlightenment these days almost never implies asceticism), but here their common traits end. They speak in different tongues to reach different audiences. Physicians like Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Larry Dossey remain soberly scientific but eventually make their way to questions of medicine and the soul. Weil writes in his latest book, Spontaneous Healing, "The more you experience yourself as energy, the easier it is not to identify yourself with your physical body." Jon Kabat-Zinn has applied Zen concepts to stress reduction at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, which he directs. Approaching the same point from another direction are California's Marianne Williamson and Louise Hay, whose concern with the spirit sometimes leads to thoughts on health. Williamson has advised some seekers to write letters to their illnesses, coming to terms and peace with sickness by expressing the depths of their suffering. She writes, "The Atonement is so gentle you need but whisper to it and all its power will rush to your assistance and support."
Arrayed next to the M.D.s and what might be called the spiritual innovators are synthesizers like Thomas Moore, who has researched the Christian and classical wisdom of millenniums to create his best-selling "owners' guides" to late-20th century souls. Moore does not prescribe cures but has much to say about illness. "We live in a world of fate and destiny and mystery," he writes. "Of course illness affects our entire being. It is a shame that medicine still treats illness as physical." Then there are those who offer old, if exotic, solutions straight up: the Tai Chi masters, the Tibetan sages and the modern shamans who treat illness with auras and crystals.
To some the combination of faith and healing is not so much a novelty as a welcome recapitulation of the last Western tradition to see them as part of one overarching cosmology. Says Sister Judian Breitenbach, a Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ nun who heads the Healing Arts Center in Mishawaka, Illinois: "We're moving toward the integration of the East and West, and it's happening through health care." A fan of Chopra's, she sees no conflicts between the new and the old age: "People are so uptight about this kind of thing. We used to call it trust in God."
There is no conscious movement here, just a work in progress. Yet combined, these disparate voices reach a mighty throng. Sociologist Paul Ray, who has been studying the makeup of the self-help and healing movements for eight years, calls the eager listeners "Cultural Creatives"--some 44 million strong, 60% women, mostly middle and upper class, with auxiliary interests in ecology and women's issues. Others suggest that they have already been named: they are the baby boomers, who happen to have begun turning 50 this year and are looking for ways to face their mortality.