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Dave and Anke
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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales: A Review on Second Read

By Laurence Gonzales

If you're not afraid, you don't appreciate the situation.
-- Ambrose Curry, big surf instructor [Quoted in Deep Survival]


Most of us sleep through the test. We get in and out and never know what might have been demanded. Such an experience can make us even more vulnerable, for we comee away with the illusion of growing hardy, salty, knowledgeable: Been there, done that.

The maddening thing for someone with a Western scientific turn of mind is that it's not what's in your pack that separates the quick from the dead. It's not even what's in your mind. Corny as it sounds, it's what's in your heart.
-- From Deep Survival

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why 
by Laurence  Gonzales
A Review on Second Read

Deep Survival explores what it is that survivors do in the approach to crisis, during and in its aftermath.

Via heart-stopping accounts of life, death and the sometimes hairbreadth boundary between, Gonzales guides us through vistas at once familiar and alien. Where children under six are a demographic with a high incidence of survival. Where 'Rambo types' are the first to go. It is a surprising journey.

We find ourselves, lost in the World. Vast and chaotic. At once predictable and utterly beyond prediction. Absolutely consequential, yet hinged on chance.

We map the world in our minds, plotting our futures as best we may. Yet correspondence between map and mapped is imperfect. Discrepancy alone can lead us astray. Under stress we tend to "bend the map", such as it is, imposing what we wish or fear upon the lay of our surrounds. Our very expertise can blind and mislead us with unwarranted assurance and unlooked for Pavlovian response.

We are introduced to conflict and accord between amygdalian imperatives - our ancient brain center urging freeze, flee or fight - versus neo-cortical overrides - more recently evolved, in hot pursuit of rational pattern. Gonzales writes, "The amygdala would urge instant action without thought. It has the chemical authority to do that, too. So it takes energy, balance and concentration to shift control to the executive functions of the neocortex."

Yet the 'rational' neocortex can be anything but... micro-managing, rationalizing, derailed, overloaded, distracted. Or dead wrong. It's a system whose bugs are still being worked out under the none too gentle hand of natural selection.

As Malcom Gladwell put it, "Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little." [Quoted from Deep Survival]

Somewhere in the mix - its nature and origins as yet mysterious - is the 'heart' to keep going in the face of overwhelming odds.

Heart is the the central theme in Gonzales' fugue on survival. Survivors may react by reflex to save themselves. They may override the blind and sometimes disastrous impulse to beeline for safety. They may let go of expectation to accept their situation. They may organize their resources and small steps toward survival. But it is what's in the heart that gets and keeps them going.

That's good news and bad news, maddening to this writer's Western scientific turn of mind.

The good news: with heart (and luck), anything is possible, to the point that survival may seem super-human. The bad news: heart isn't easily acquired if you don't already have it. Worse, one really doesn't know if one has it or not until crunch time.

Heart is habitual, according to Gonzales, and I have litttle reason to doubt him. It is the habit acquired in meeting the crises and challenges of everyday life. It may be sought and even cultivated. It can be acquired, but only through long practice. That weekend or week or month long survival course, of itself, won't do it. At best, heart is exercized and strengthed in each step of one's every day. At worst, we float half-alive through our days and our atrophied heart is AWOL in our hour of need.

So Deep Survival doesn't turn out to be a toolkit of strategies that can be learned, though it offers some of those. It doesn't impart skills though it values them. Nor resolve the conflicts within the mind, though it makes suggestions. It doesn't promise easy mastery or make guarantees. But it informs. It illuminates. It sets before us a series of koans to unfold. It encourages the accumulation of expertise without loss of  beginner's mind. A Tao of Survival as useful each day as it is in the pinch.

Gonzales leaves us with Rules of Adventure, his distillation of advice and survivor practice/attitudes. I've dumbed them down for my own use, and present them here, along with my strong recommendation that you read the book in it's full glory.

One day and every day, it might save your life.


Be here now.
Prepare yourself as best ye may.
Be open to wonder.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.
Be confident, yet humble.
Be boldly cautious; cautiously bold.
Surrender, but don't give up.

Go get 'em, Grasshopper!

1 comment:

  1. Coincidence: It looks like you were reading this book about when we were.