Book: Deep Survival

6 December, 2009


distant hiker walking in snowy wildernessHave you ever felt as though you were falling down the rabbit hole of life? I certainly will admit to that…a few points on my timeline during which I’ve experienced varying degrees of …. deterioriation. That includes personal and business points.

While I was wandering around in Barnes and Noble last week I picked up this book:

Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzalez. It’s not new. It’s not made the New York Times Bestseller List (even though it should have). Published back in 2003, Deep Survival is about this: “Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why.” Heavy stuff it is.

It simply caught my eye from some non-descript shelf in a section of the store I can’t even recall right now. I turned the softcover over to read the back:

In Deep Survival Laurence Gonzalez combines hard science and powerful storytelling to illuminate the mysteries of survival, whether in the wilderness or in meeting any of life’s great challenges. This gripping narrative, the first book to describe the art and science of survival, will change the way you see your world. Everyone has a mountain to climb. Everyone has a wilderness inside.

Then I opened the book somewhere in the middle and read this:

By his third night lost in the wild, when Killip awoke amid the hailstones at the foot of Terra Tomah Mountain, he had arguably passed through the stages of denial (descending the wrong drainage), panic (climbing up the dangerous scree slope), and strategic planning (attempting to backtrack), and was well into the penultimate stage of deterioration. But he did not succumb to resignation.

That happens in a lot of cases (including big companies, troubled marriages, sick people, lost souls). There are great survivors and helpless victims on the curve of human ability. Most of us are neither. Most of us fall somewhere in between and may perform poorly at first, then find the inner resources to return to correct action and clear thought. If the object of the game is survival, that will do….

Killip pulled himself together….He made a fire and built a makeshift shelter…(both were things he should have done the first day…). For the next two days, he stayed put and attended to the business of adapting to the environment, keeping the organism in balance, the process called survival. Killip had entered the final stage that separates the quick from the dead: not helpless resignation but a pragmatic acceptance of–and even wonder at– the world in which he found himself….He had discovered the first Rule of Life: Be here now.

This particular guy–“Killip”– was rescued, but not until after he’d made himself at home in the wilderness and stopped expecting rescue. Gonazalez’s book is full of stories of disasters and near disasters, people who have fallen off the face of cliffs and even lost their way on what might have been considered a simple afternoon hike. But far deeper than the grit of the stories is the way he carefully dissects each incident’s set-up. His hypothesis: real “accidents” are rare. Our experiences, our emotions, the way we interact with our world, even our beliefs, all play key roles in getting us lost in the wilderness, involved in a mountain climbing accident, buried under 6 feet of snow in a slide, or lost at sea. Somehow we get ourselves there.

Gonzalez finally brings full circle the idea that many of the same emotional and psychological points of deterioration which often take place in an individual lost in the wilderness are some of the same that can afflict us during difficult times in our lives–(he parallels these to Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief). Essentially, we can approach our lives as survival situations.

Given the current state of …. things in the world, Deep Survival’s message is relevant, a primal spark in a dark forest. And it’s a great read. Here’s a “testimonial” from the front cover of the book (cuz it’s all about the testimonial and really this clinched the book buy for me):

‘I tore through Deep Survival like I’d been waiting to read it my whole life….’ – Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm

(It sucks that in this day and age I have to say this: I am not making money from this post, I have nothing to gain should you be compelled to go buy this book.  Buy it, don’t buy it, borrow it from the library, whatever, but it’s a compelling book with very valid arguments that apply to my life…maybe yours too).

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