One of the first papers I read as an anthropology student was a report by Walter Cannon entitled Voodoo Death. In it, Dr. Cannon recounted numerous cases of people who were literally frightened to death. Most of these descriptions were from aboriginal cultures of South America, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia and involved situations in which an individual had violated a tribal taboo. As punishment, the chief medicine man placed a curse on the person, declaring that he or she was no longer among the living. From that moment forth, the individual was treated as a ghost, completely ignored by other tribal members. Cannon wrote that within days to weeks, many of these outcasts expired of circulatory collapse. They died from the stress of being isolated and cut off from family and community.
Even though our culture extols the value of rugged individualism, we each feel a profound need to feel connected and part of a greater whole. When we feel isolated and disconnected, while we’re unlikely to expire in the sudden and dramatic way described in Voodoo Death, we are likely to experience emotional pain that, in the long term, contributes to both mental and physical illness.
Dianne Connelly once wrote that “All sickness is home sickness.” This insight implies that healing is the process of returning home. Home, of course, is not a particular structure of brick and lumber, but the core essence of our being. Healing is an inward journey in which the fear of separation surrenders to the peace of unity.
The vehicle for this inner voyage is meditation, a practice in which our sense of self expands from a skin-encapsulated bag of thinking molecules to the expression of an underlying field of conscious intelligence. When we recognize that we are a manifestation of the universal being, the alienation of individuation finds sanctuary in the wholeness of being. The path from separation to unity is the path of love. As we meditate and experience our true self, separation anxiety gives rise to the pull of unity – the call to love – as the ultimate healing therapy.