Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Review Of and Lessons From Deep Survival

It's not often a book comes across my desk that I rave about. I'm frequently recommending good books because there actually is a lot of good stuff (old and new) out there that supports constructive personal and professional growth, leadership, team effectiveness and awareness: e.g. The Silent Pulse (George Leonard), Coming To Our Senses (Jon Kabat-zinn), The Leadership Challenge (Kouzes & Posner); and past stalwarts like In Search of the Warrior Spirit (Richard Strozzi-Heckler) and Mastery (again ... George Leonard), plus some that get you thinking with an aesthetic touch - Zen Guitar (Philip Sudo) and Illusions (Richard Bach ... remember him?). To recommend is common. To rave is rare.

Not to take anything from the above-mentioned authors and their listed works, here’s a rave about Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why (Laurence Gonzales). You must, should, ought to get this book. In a recent email to selected clients I advised them "if you don't own it, buy it; if you own it, read it; if you've read it, read it again ... and then recommend it to others."

Background. Last month Chuck Root, Managing Director of Double-Eagle Financial, attended the Allied Ronin Summer Retreat and gave all attendees a copy as a gift. A few days later on a flight to Phoenix I cracked open my copy. Last week I finished it. No, it's not a difficult read; that's not what took the time. In fact, it hits straight and hard and is well researched and documented, combining philosophy with current understanding of brain functioning, and it’s a fun and quick read. I just really wanted to absorb and take it in what was there, make margin notes, highlight and cross reference to other readings and life experiences ... and jam as many personal scribbles inside the front cover as possible.

While reading I recalled that a friend and classmate from the Academy recently told me he was reading it too. He's not a "touchy-feely" kind of guy. Rather, he's an avowed get-to-the-point-make-a-profit-run-it-hard-turn-and-burn businessman. But he has depth of spirit, a sense of feeling and a great heart and he firmly believes in people - particularly his family, friends, clients and those who work for him. He knows compassion and empathy to his bones – I know this because I know some of his history. So his endorsement made my reading even more poignant.

Here's my endorsement. I've just finished reading Deep Survival and today I am starting to read it again. That’s right, front cover to back cover – every word. This time even more slowly. It's that good. The messages and research are that important. Here are three reasons (though there are more) why I’m recommending you do the same.

Number 1. The lessons from my own could-have-been-a-near-death event of January 1997. While taking a leisurely walk on Capitola Beach (Santa Cruz, CA) with my friend John Gallagher I had a serious accident. This was walk for which I was ill-prepared and throughout which (until the moment of the accident) I disregarded my internal voice which was saying quite loudly, "What are you doing hiking over these slime covered boulders wearing smooth soled shoes and dress jacket? Sure it's beautiful out here ... but right now you are in the wrong place with the wrong equipment!" About 30 minutes into the walk in a very remote section I fell off a large rock and severely severed my left femur - a complete split 10" in length starting at the ball joint and spiraling down the shaft.

My first reaction were words of denial, "Uh, John, I think I've dislocated my hip." In fact, I had heard the bone snap ... and so had John. That denial plus the events that happened between that moment and the next morning’s surgery is another story for a different, though related chapter. But for this newsletter and this book review/endorsement let's just say that the accident gave rise to two months of rehab during which I questioned a lot of what my life was about and what I felt was important. My days of reflection informed me that if I could just communicate a singularly important message regarding the need to BE HERE NOW then this could be one of the greatest services I might provide others - individuals, businesses, students, teachers – in my life.

Archimedes said, "Give me a place to stand with a lever and I will move the whole world." Question: What determines the effectiveness of a lever? Answer: The focal point. To Be Here Now is, in my opinion, the focal point for many of life’s levers. Laurence Gonzales hits the need to BE HERE NOW over and over again in Deep Survival. Yes, he uses those exact words. From jet jockeys to mountain climber to corporate executives to snow mobile experts to river rafters to moms and dads, to artists ... it doesn't matter the profession, occupation or avocation … BE HERE NOW is THE KEY.

I have a sign taped to the wall at home ... a saying I came up with recently: "The NOW has NO COMPARISON." The message: each time you try to compare what is happening in the now to something else you in fact miss the moment that is now. As a result you lose ground. You move out-of-touch with reality. You are most likely trapped by the past and, sadly, you probably don’t know it. You are not living! You are reacting. I suggest that comparing the now to something else is a wide spread phenomena and habit; and that it’s become normal and is the cause for why we humans tend to repeat so much of our past – especially the parts of the past that we swear we don’t want anymore.

On a flight last month from London to Los Angeles I watched a documentary about the nomadic sea gypsies living in the waters off Thailand. Of interest to documentarian was how these people are so in touch with the natural world around them (i.e. being here now) that they were able to sense the massive tsunami of December 26, 2004, as it was happening and take actions that allowed an inordinate number of them to survive when compared with other people of the region who perished. Researching these survivors the film maker interviewed an expert on their culture and found that these nomads have no word, no language construct, no concept for what we call “yesterday” or “tomorrow”. Ask one of these people, “How old are you?”, and they look at you like you are from Mars. “What are you talking about?” they would ask, because they have no concept called “age”. They sometime spend years (that’s our measurement) not seeing other family members and then decide to paddle over by for a visit. They have no “hello” or “goodbye” in their language. As a result when these family gatherings come about they do so without the extreme emotions present in most other cultures. It’s as if they went next door for a moment (our calendar might measure that moment as being 1825 days) and then came right back over. No big deal, they live in the now. The documentary ended with an equally profound observation about another word missing from their vocabulary. While they do have a natural sense of fear, they have no concept of, nor word for worry. Interesting!

Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Everyday, man crucifies himself between two thieves: the regrets of yesterday, and the fears of tomorrow.” Think about it. How much of what you want or once had (or you had the opportunity to have had) has been robbed from you by your regrets of yesterday and your worries about the future? I suggest that our culture, our society, individually and collectively, lives in regret and worry to an extreme. For evidence: take a good look at a newspaper; OR watch a popular TV sitcom or drama; OR listen five minutes of network radio news; OR watch a commercial; or listen to today’s political rhetoric. Then ask yourself, “was regret or worry used in what I just saw, read or heard?”

Number 2. Historical perspectives. Reportedly Charles Duell, head of the U.S. Patent Office in the late 1800’s was once quoted as saying, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” If he did say this … then was he ever wrong. I’ve often thought it would be great if we could exhume his body, load it onto the space shuttle, put an iPod on his chest and outfit him with earbuds, leave a copy of USA Today addressing the development cruise missile weaponry that uses scramjets to reach speeds on the order of 16,000 mph, leave a laptop computer on a table with instructions how to download and use Google-Earth®, put a blender and a microwave on the floor just for fun with instructions on how to make smoothies and bake a potato in a couple of minute. And then, wake him up and watch him freak out. Everything that can be invented … hasn’t. We (today) live in a reality that someone (past) would call impossible. BUT if we think in terms of the imagination, perhaps Duell had it right, assuming he actually said those words. Everything that can be invented lives in the imagination (Einstein believed this) … and therefore has already been invented at some level. Sound far-fetched? Read Steven Hawking’s work A Brief History of Time – another highly recommended book.

What’s this all got to do with Laurence Gonzales and Deep Survival? It has to do with our perceptions of reality and how we act upon perspectives with (or without) cognitive awareness. Gonzales asserts that people (including you and I) are run daily by our emotional/physical bodies and we don’t know it. We need to enhance our cognitive abilities.

Deep Survival builds upon itself. I recommend you start at the beginning and read progressively forward. Sure you can skip around if you want, but the author (a contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine and winner of numerous awards) is a serious student of life and a professional. He writes what he does, in the order that he does, for a purpose. Don’t miss this!!! That being said, if you were to skip forward to page 31 would find the following, “The oldest medical and philosophical model, going back to the Greeks, was of a unified organism (here he’s speaking of the human being) in which mind was part of and integral to the body. Plato, on the other hand, thought of mind and body as separate, with the soul going on after death. Aristotle brought them back together again. But it seems that people have been struggling with the spit for a very long time, indeed, probably because they innately feel as if they have minds that are somehow distinct from their bodies.”

As you continue to read you will find soundly researched and scientifically based arguments for the notion of one-ness … within individuals, between systems, across borders, etc.; indeed a connectedness (if you will) that has been proposed by some of the greatest thinkers and researchers old and new, e.g. Carl Jung and Meg Wheatley. Gonzales’ selected bibliography lists in excess of eighty well-accepted texts and authors, none of them lightweight or “fu-fu” or “woo-woo”. His homework runs from Marcus Aurelius (Meditations) to Maurice and Maralyn Bailey (117 Days Adrift) to Clausewitz (On Strategy: Inspiration and Insight from a Master Strategist) to Epictetus (Enchiridion) to Jim Collins (Good to Great) to R.F. Haines (A Breakdown in Simultaneous Information Processing) to Paul Fussell (Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War) to Daniel Goleman (Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence) to Tao-tzu (Tao Te Ching) to Al Siebert (The Survivor Personality) to Shane O’Mara (Spatially Selective Firing Properties of Hippocampal Formation Neurons in Rodents and Primates) to J. O’Keefe and L. Nadel (The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map) to R. M. Yerkes and J. B. Dodson (“The Relation of Strength to Stimulus to Rapidity of Habit-Formation,” Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology) … and on and on.

Number 3. This book relates to every aspect of daily life. When Chuck Root passed out copies last month my first impression was this would be a series of vignettes about mountain climbers and thrill seekers. I was wrong. I literally judged a book by its cover. Something many of us do with people and organizations and companies and philosophies. We judge by what we first observe (their covers) … then we shove our thinking into a box called the past … and it gets us into trouble.

Gonzales takes us through current research and understanding of brain chemistry and functioning. From this you will get a clear and basic knowledge of what each of us walks with every day that impacts our every moment whether you or not you want to believe it … the amygdala, functioning of the left and right brain hemispheres, pattern-recognition, nerve synapses, the hippocampus, etc. These are at work, even without our understanding or awareness; yes, even in this moment as you now read these words. They are at work right now, and will affect you today as you study for a test (if you are a student); or ask a girl or guy out on a date or you are wanting to break up or (if you are “looking around” or doing the opposite); or take your kids to school or change a diaper (if you are a parent); or go surfing or skinny dipping or water skiing or swimming (if you are on vacation); or run into a burning building or a forest fire or a bar fight or a domestic dispute (if you are a fireman or police officer); or buy or sell stocks or bonds or real estate (if you have money to invest or otherwise “play with”) … in short, no matter what you are up to today.

My own reflection. I found Deep Survival giving me a clearer understanding of myself, particularly in relationships – what I seek and avoid and why, what I am attracted to, what I’m blind to, what I am averse to, what I rush towards against all better judgment, what I attend to and (alas) what I disregard or want to pretend just isn’t so. Deep Survival also allowed me to better understand patterns of attitude and action that exist outside of myself, i.e. in other people, most importantly in those people I am or have been very close to or intimate with, and how I can make sense of these patterns. I found my first reading to be, in a word, unsettling. This is good, because being unsettled allows me (perhaps you too?) the opportunity to look anew and take fresh courses of action.

Deep Survival now becomes a highly suggested book for my friends and loved ones, and of course for those who have been and will be touched by the work of Allied Ronin. Get it. Read it. Take notes. Dog-ear it. Think about it … and then think about it some more. Read it again. Recommend it to others. And if you will --- Take Bold, Yet Mindful Action!

1 comment:

tony sheng said...

i found your blog via a blogsearch on Deep Survival. i was very impressed with the book as well and appreciated your review.
all the best