THE INDEPENDENT (Santa Barbara) SEPTEMBER 10,1998
Book Review: Inner Passages, Outer Journeys by David Curries MD, Llewellyn Publications, $12.95
Dr. David Cumes is a Santa Barbara urologist and a responsible father of three, but something wild lurks beneath his skin. Since his boyhood in South Africa, he's had a hankering for wilderness, a hankering that over the years led him deeper and deeper into the jungle, eventually to take up with an ancient tribe of Bushmen known as the San. From these hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert, Cumes learned lots of things--but, mainly how nature can be a powerful tool for personal growth and healing.
In Inner Passages, Outer Journeys, Cumes describes his journey from childhood in Africa to Stanford medical school, a private practice, and fatherhood, and how the pressures often elicited feelings of discontent, malaise, and outright unhappiness. Time and again, it was his extended wilderness treks that restored him, gave him the juice to tackle modern life again. But-and here's the key-to access the mysterious and rejuvenating power, we can't just enter the wilderness as we would start out any old Labor Day camping trip, with CD player, video camera, and portable shower. There must be as little as possible between us and the wild, Cumes writes. Material possessions and amenities only separate us further from nature and keep us from connecting with our inner being, or higher self.
In the wilderness, Cumes says, we must approximate as much as possible the hunter-gatherer ways of the San-a people whose pure relationship with nature allows them to live together amid unimaginably harsh conditions with an egalitarianism, harmony, and joy that we pampered Westerners can barely envision.
Cumes calls it "wilderness rapture," or sometimes "the wilderness effect." He says the same phenomenon can be achieved through other traditions, like Buddhism, meditation, or yoga-specifically, the achieving of an inner peace, tranquility, and oneness with the cosmos. But for inexperienced meditators, wilderness is an easier way. Wilderness meditates you, Carnes says. For those who are receptive, inner journeys like these can have the added benefit of opening your awareness to a deeper wisdom about your life's path.
The book is a useful tool for anyone who likes hiking or backpacking but feels they could be getting more from their excursions. It offers practical information and guidance on how to get up close and personal with nature, to use it as a sacred space, much as a religious person would a church. Cumes is persuasive in arguing that Westerners are at root still hunter-gatherers, and the farther away we get from that life, the more separated we become from nature and the more out of balance we're going to feel. Like it or not, he says, we're part of nature, inexorably dependent on it, and inching closer daily to our return to it. So it follows perfectly that nature, in its purest form, would be an optimal source for healing and wisdom.
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