Little in Dave Cumes's upbringing could have predicted the life
he would follow after he turned 40. Trained as an M.D. and then
a surgeon in South Africa Dave emigrated to California with his
family in 1975 to begin a residency in urological surgery at Stanford
Medical Center. After serving on the faculty at Stanford and spending
a year in Seattle Dave finally settled into private practice in
Santa Barbara. Once the practice began to be successful Dave returned
to South Africa to fulfill a dream he had as a child. He wanted
to spend time with the last of the hunter-gatherers of the continent
- the Kalahari Bushmen.
Dave's quest began after this extended visit to the Bushmen in
1987 where he experienced their intimacy with nature and felt their
untainted spirit. Here he was able to restore his relationship with
wilderness in terms of what he had experienced in the Kalahari and
what he termed "wilderness rapture." He began to formulate
a theory around the use of wilderness for spiritual practice and
healing which he integrated into both his yoga practice and his
medicine. He distilled this into a philosophy of the how-to's of
"wilderness rapture" and wrote books
on healing, the first based on using nature as "medicine,"
and the second (The Spirit of Healing,) the general principles of
what it is that makes us heal. After writing Inner Passages Outer
Journeys he founded Inward Bound and began to take people into remote
wilderness areas for restoration and self-transformation. Inner
Passages Outer Journeys was the theoretical side of how this worked,
and the Inward Bound trips were the experiential part of the philosophy.
He continued his surgical practice with renewed equanimity and balanced
his life with yoga and periodic trips into the outback.
On trips to Peru he was exposed to curanderos or shamans and began
to realize they had deep knowledge of healing that in spite of all
his medical training he was not privy to. When he went back to South
Africa and began to consult sangomas about the logistics of upcoming
Inward Bound journeys they would throw the bones and give good practical
advice. However, in addition they would invariably look at him and
add, "the bones, they say you should be doing this work; the
bones say you should be doing African medicine; your grandmother's
bone is telling you to be initiated; your ancestors want you back
here in Africa!" After the sixth such reading, all of them
given by different sangomas, none of whom knew each other, he was
still not committed. After a couple of years, out of frustration
for his reticence, the ancestors revealed themselves directly to
him through a woman sangoma who went into a trance. They told him
in no uncertain terms that he was ignoring his destiny and needed
to be initiated. After this powerful revelation he relented.
He found an elderly Zulu sangoma in Swaziland who agreed to teach
him. P.H. Mntshali threw the bones and there was no dispute. The
training began on the cusp of the millennium. Since that time his
life has changed profoundly. The journey which he undertook chose
him, he did not choose it.
Dave was told by the bones and various expert sangomas going into
trance that his grandmother on his mother's side was the one who
would help him become a different kind of healer. Moreover, there
was a foreign spirit, a black woman who had been a sangoma and a
friend of his maternal grandmother. She wanted to be the guiding
spirit for the divining bones. He was instructed to build an ndumba
(healing hut) in California where the ancestors could feel at home
and assist him. The bones were going to be his main tool for a new
kind of healing, and Mntshali who was a master, was to teach him.
Once he started the work, his incessant migraines, an indication
of the "ancestor sickness," went away.
After being initiated Dave bought 3000 acres in the Soutpansberg
mountains in the far north of South Africa where he built Tshisimane
(The Source,) an indigenous based healing center. Although Dave
has had to give up the Center, it still remains very much part of