Lately I have been thinking about a book I read long ago called Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, by Laurence Gonzales.
Coronavirus and these times we are living in rekindles my love of this book because Gonzales says how quickly a human adapts to a rapidly deteriorating situation—whether it be the sinking of a boat in the ocean or a broken limb on a mountainside or the imprisonment in a World War II POW camp—has everything to do with letting go of preconceived notions of how the situation should be and instead facing the reality of what lay before them and how to develop a plan of action. We must plan, but we must be able to let go of the plan as well.
In the end, he boils it down to the following rules of adventure (or beyond adventure, as I think about it): perceive, believe, then act—intelligence is a matter of “guessing well.” Avoid impulsive behavior; don’t hurry. Know your stuff—a deep knowledge of the world may save your life. Get the information you need for the activity you plan to engage in. Commune with the dead by understanding how other people got into trouble and why they died. And most importantly, be humble. Embrace the beginner’s mind. A Navy Seal commander stated that “the Rambo types are the first to go.” (Rambo is a US based character that basically means you take charge, shoot first, and think you are the only one who can fix it).
I think of Trump saying he doesn’t like testing because it finds more cases, which is the opposite of what Gonzales says about letting go of perceived notions and facing the reality of the situation. Embracing the “Rambo” will not help us. Getting clear information, using facts and historical lessons, and a clear plan would help.
I think the same is true in our individual lives. Facing the reality of covid, global economic devastation, systemic racism, and disruption on so many levels, and how well we adapt to the situation at hand is the key to survival. Making a plan but being adaptable enough to change the plan.
I do not pretend to be doing this very well, and clearly our US government is also not.
Wishing life were “back to normal” is not going to get us through this. Acting as though we are not in the middle of the wilderness of these converging challenges will not get us out safely or to the new place we hope for. Sitting under a tree feeling sorry for ourselves is not going to get us through (although rest will make a big difference).
I will put my faith in humility, a plan, and opening my eyes again when I start pretending, or get to feeling hopeless or powerless.
For me, these times require multi-faceted plans, and I am beginning to ask these questions:
- What is my plan this week, given the current situation and facts, for staying covid-safe?
- What do I need to face around my own situation and state of mind (loneliness, hopelessness, my health, economic realities of the world and how that impacts me and my businesses?)
- What do I want for my own life (connection, love, ability to have an impact toward a more just world, community, creativity, being brave), and how I am fostering these in these times?
- What do I want for the world (dismantling of systemic racism, strong community, brave people taking Brave action, love, equity), and given the answers to my current situation, what can I do about this now? What can I take on and what are my priorities in this moment?
- What resources do I have to lean on in this moment (the beauty of the world, friends, family, creativity as artist and gardener, resourcefulness and resilience, my generally optimistic and generous personality, etc)?
I have been wandering in the wilderness, lost, for awhile now. These questions have been forming but with zero clarity and lots of reactive behavior based on magical thinking or wishing things were different than they are.
Part of my plan is to admit when I am lost in the wilderness and go from there. Focus on this questions rekindles my hope, personally and collectively.
I can’t take it all on at once, but I can ask myself these questions this week and make a plan.
This is how it is for me.
How is it for you?
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