Survivor -- Read this Card if You Want to Live
T-800 Terminator speaking to Sarah Conor in Terminator 2

Card #541 – Survivor — Read this Card if You Want to Live


“Come with me, if you want to live.”

— T-800 Terminator to Sarah Conor in Terminator 2

“By its very nature, a survival situation, like life itself, comes upon you unexpectedly. So, only if life is lived in its entirety as an act of survival can you have a hope of finding correct action at the moment of crisis. Survival is a path that must be walked from birth to death.”
— Laurence Gonzalez, Deep Survival

“(The survivor) does not impose pre-existing patterns on new information, but rather allows new information to reshape (his mental models). The person who has the best chance of handling a situation well is usually the one with the best . . . mental pictures or images of what is occurring outside of the body.”
— Al Siebert, The Survivor Personality

” . . . stress was eroding his ability to perceive. He saw less, heard less, began to miss important cues from his environment.”

“Few of us believe in our own mortality until we’re face to face with it, and then some of us will forget immediately after.” — Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival

When you get this card, it may or may not seem relevant to the card position or what’s happening in your life right now. This card may come up when you’re not in a survival situation because the most opportune time to learn survival skills is before they’re needed.

This is the longest of all Zap Oracle cards, but it’s also a concise survival manual for anyone who is an earthbound mortal. Sometimes it will focus on life-or-death situations, but it also teaches lifelong, everyday skills.

If you’re in a survival situation presently, it’s probably of the slow-moving sort, or you wouldn’t be doing an oracle reading. If that’s the case, the emphasis here is on the stance of the survivor and warrior. Focus on basics, discipline, attention to detail, and working with and through privations and difficulties. Try to minimize self-pity as you do the best you can from awakening to bedtime, working with what the day presents you.

Maintain a positive mental attitude, especially if circumstances are grim, and if other people are involved, raise group morale. This is a warrior-moving-forward-with-purpose stance, it has nothing to do with being a Pollyanna, putting your head in the sand or stamping a smiley face on a grim situation. It’s a stance consciously chosen in difficult circumstances because it greatly improves survival odds.

Twice, when I was a wilderness guide, I led a group demoralized by harsh conditions. They began to panic and got caught in a group-think consensus on a course of action that was highly dangerous because they mistakenly thought it would lead to a quicker escape from the harsh situation. I had to assertively impose a positive attitude on the group and insist on a painfully difficult but necessary course of action.

Physically fit people with the best equipment and training often make fatal mistakes in survival situations, while people with none of those things but street smarts, common sense, and determination survive.

Late at night on a Denver street, I was with a friend who was a bodybuilder and power lifter who was the strongest man in his weight class in Colorado. He was also a Brazillian jiu-jitsu coach. But he was not street smart, at least not that night, and all his other abilities tempted him toward making a choice that almost got both of us shot. I was half a block away when the situation developed, and had no idea what he had gotten himself into till he called out to me for help.

In an active shooter situation, the drill is:


Those actions are in a crucial order. Notice that “fight” is the last resort, not the first.

The old proverb is that if your only tool is a hammer, you’ll think everything is a nail. What was all that muscle and martial arts training for? He chose the last resort first in a situation he could have walked away from. He had many more mental maps related to Brazilian Ju Jitsu, and not as many about street situations. In Brazillan Ju Jitsu, bringing someone to the ground and getting them in a headlock might be a winning strategy. Trying that on the street created a catastrophic situation that came close to getting both of us shot.

Years later, I happened to see a show where a Brazillian Ju Jitsu guy would go to various other martial arts schools to learn from their styles. In the episode I saw, he was going to a Krav Maga training camp in Israel.

It set up something of a culture clash. Like most martial arts styles, Brazillian Ju-Jitsu is designed to win contests, while Krav Maga is designed to survive real-world, hand-to-hand combat.

Given a chance to spar, the star of the show managed to bring a fellow trainee down to the mat — a likely contest-winning development for a Brazillian Ju-Jitsu guy. But this enraged the female Israeli trainer. In heavily accented English, she screamed at him,

“Why you go on the gound? You go on the ground, you DIE!!!”

He went on the ground because he brought mental models from Brazillian Ju Jitsu, not real-world models like RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.

Based on my total lack of martial arts training but having grown up in the Bronx during its most dangerous era and then working for six years as the building security coordinator of an all-male public high school in the South Bronx during the crack epidemic, I’d rephrase what the Krav Maga trainer said this way,

“Why you letting things devolve into hand-to-hand combat? You fight with no weapon, you DIE!!!”

The reason should be obvious. A street situation is not a gentleman’s bar fight. If you’re attacked, the assailant(s) almost always have a huge physical advantage. They’re five, and you’re one. They’ve got a nine-millimeter, and you don’t.

If you live in a dangerous neighborhood, carry some damn pepper spray, at least. For less than twenty bucks, you can get one with an 18-foot range, and you don’t need training. But be forewarned, pepper spray doesn’t always work on crackheads because their tear ducts are burned out.

One day, when I was working in that high school in the South Bronx, martial legend Chuck Norris, at the height of his movie stardom, came to give an assembly talk. At first, the kids were excited, but as his talk droned on they became increasingly restless and pissed. They thought he was gonna show his stuff. Instead, they were getting what they considered a jive-ass talk from a rich white celebrity on doing their homework, not doing drugs, and staying in school.

When Norris was finally done with what was actually was a jive-ass talk that was not landing at all, there was time for some Q&A. A kid who was clearly pissed off by the whole experience came up to the mic for the first question:

“Yo. What you gonna’ do if the other guy got a gun?”


You’re going to be a corpse full of nine-millimeter holes and a lot of expensive martial arts lessons gone to waste.

The friend who almost got us killed was frequently getting significant injuries in Brazillian Ju Jitsu training sessions and contests. And yet he persisted in claiming he was learning survival skills. I pointed out to him that his Ju-Jitsu training was far more of a threat to his physical health than anything likely to happen to him living in Boulder, Colorado.

In a survival situation, I’ll take a skinny, crafty, streetwise person over an Olympic athlete with martial arts training and the best equipment but who isn’t street-smart.

RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. And if you do have to fight, don’t resort to hand-to-hand unless you’re on a movie set. There has to be something in the environment you can use as a weapon. Even if you were naked in a desert, you could still throw sand in an assailant’s face.

An inventive approach to using the materials at hand is a hallmark of survivor thinking.
— Laurence Gonzalez, Deep Survival

There are too many survival skills to cover in one card, so follow the links to learn more, and if you want to live, read the work of Laurence Gonzalez and Gavin de Becker. Gonzalez is the giant in the field of survival research, and de Becker is the giant in the field of personal security and how to avoid being a victim of violence. Links to their work follow.

Survival situations require you to recognize a dynamic paradox — a need for energy conservation and sudden bursts of energy. There’s a saying that war is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror.

During the boring part, conserve energy. During the terrifying, chaotic part, you need to stay calm and act with lightning speed and force when required.

As Gonzalez puts it:

“A survival situation is a ticking clock: You have only so much stored energy (and water), and every time you exert yourself, you’re using it up. The trick is to become extremely stingy with your scarce resources, balancing risk and reward, investing only in efforts that offer the biggest return.”

During the boring part, don’t neglect the need for rest. If you’re sweating, you’re probably working too hard and need to conserve energy and body moisture.

Gonzalez points out that children under six years old have one of the highest survival rates of any group, even though they’re tiny and lose body heat faster than adults. But in the same survival situation, they often do better than experienced hunters, physically fit backpackers, skilled sailors, and ex-military. They allow the evolutionary wisdom of instinct to guide them. If they’re thirsty, they’ll drink from a puddle. If they’re tired, they’ll curl up in a ball and go to sleep. The group that performs the worst are children ages 7-12. They’re more mental, but their minds lack skill and experience.

On the other side of the dynamic paradox, you have the red-hot chaotic emergency that’s like “a knife fight in a telephone booth,” as a fighter pilot put it. Your IQ can “roll back to that of ape” in a fraction of a second. You need two things — not to freeze, choke, or panic but to stay calm and also, as Gonzalez puts it,

“The fight for survival requires a burst of energy. You have to become like a weasel, moving fast and getting the job done.”

Biologists say, “Nature rewards energy and aggression.” Navy Seals use the phrase “Violence of Action” and define it this way: “Violence of action means the unrestricted use of speed, strength, surprise and aggression to achieve total dominance against your enemy.” It’s a principle of combat, but to adapt it to general survival situations, we could change the wording this way:

Decisive action means the use of speed, strength, surprise and aggression to regain control of a dangerous situation.

Stay calm and act decisively.

As Muhammad Ali put it, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

We live in an age of distraction where people lose situational awareness to their phones.

Victims are like sleepwalkers projecting sloppy mental models based on the past.

Survivors are humble, wary, open, and alert. They catch off details in their environment.

A victim looks up and thinks, “Oh, there’s John, I see him every day,” and looks down.

A survivor looks up and thinks, “Oh, there’s John, I see him every day — but wait, something’s different today. Something’s up.”

Today’s the day when unassuming John becomes a rampage shooter. The survivor picked up on off details and chose not to ignore what De Becker calls, “pre-incident indicators.” His research shows that most victims of violence receive preincident indicators that they ignore.

Something that drives me crazy is when people who have led sheltered lives trivialize the words “survivor” and “survival” to talk about stuff that is not a survival situation.

As Christopher Lasch pointed out in The Culture of Narcissism, “survival” and “survivor” are words often abused by narcissists to glamorize difficulties that don’t threaten survival. For example, Burning Man and other festivals and events, even indoor conventions I go to, often give you a “survival manual” for the event.

I mocked this narcissistic inflation of keeping your shit together at a festival into a survival situation in my Burning Man travelogue and critique — Incendiary Person in the Desert Carnival Realm:

. . . some of the older Burners in my crew gave me some more warnings about the conditions I would face out on the Playa making it sound like wicked dust storms would scour the flesh right off my bones. If I didn’t constantly drink water, I would turn into some kind of desiccated mummy-like husk that would get blown across the desert like a tumbleweed. I had trouble taking their warnings too seriously because I knew that most of them were out of shape and would never have survived past Burns if the conditions were really so challenging. Back in the day, I had been a wilderness guide and had led backpacking trips into remote desert canyons where there were no trails, let alone thousands of RVs. . . . I was again told about the philosophy of “Radical Self-Reliance,” a phrase pounded into my head from every Burning Man web page. For example, the preparation page is emblazoned with:


Your survival depends on your reading and following these lists:”

“But Eric,” I intoned with tastefully muted sarcasm, “didn’t you say that I can buy all the bags of ice I want there?”

“Yes, they will have several ice distribution centers.”

“OK, because based on my wilderness training, in the hot desert—and by a fairly easy-to-master, low-tech process—ice can easily be converted into water.”

Anyway, as I walked through the eighteen-aisle, florescent-lit cornucopia of the Winamuca supermarket (to get supplies before entering Burning Man), I thought about this philosophy of Radical Self-Reliance, and realized that in the coming week, the only thing that would stand between me and the empty desert would be the trail mix I had brought from Boulder and the large plastic jugs of supermarket water I was piling into my cart. At least that’s all that would stand between me and the desert besides Center Camp, where they sell coffee, chai, lemonade, and ice, and the 15,000 RVs filled with people offering free drinks and food. If this was “radical self-reliance,” what would regular self-reliance look like? Living off the land in a Las Vegas Casino with only a wallet full of gold credit cards to stand between you and the elements?”

Unfortunately, I was part of the staff of a small festival when a 19-year-old kid ODed in his tent. When it comes to Burning Man, last year, 2023, we got hit by flooding that turned the playa into sticky, wet cement. There was one fatality, but it had nothing to do with the weather. It was another OD. Get 80,000 people, many of them intoxicated, together for a week, and it should surprise no one that there will be an occasional fatality. Have 80,000 people stay home for a week, and statistically, there’s an excellent chance that one of them will die of a heart attack or have a fall in the bathroom that splits open their head. (The hard surfaces of a slippery bathroom are far more likely to kill you than brain-eating zombies, btw.)

Growing up in the most dangerous era of the Bronx surrounded by holocaust survivors and a dad who survived D-Day, and having been in a number of life-or-death situations myself, I’ve developed a survivor mentality that doesn’t always seem warranted.

When I was young, I thought a second holocaust and having to survive in the wilderness was not a matter of if, but when. I taught myself wilderness survival skills, spending three weeks in the snow without a tent on my first solo camping trip. Decades later, the only wilderness survival situations I’ve been in were because I chose to be a wilderness guide.

Even now, living in Boulder, the most un-Bronx-like place I could find, I still walk around with a camera bag containing pepper spray, a Swiss Army knife, a compact flashlight that could blind an attacker, etc., as though at any moment I might have to parachute behind enemy lines. Meanwhile, my neighborhood presents about the same mortal danger as Disney World. But any mortal situation, even Boulder or Disney World, can turn into a survival situation. The most dangerous thing that happened to me in the Bronx was getting severely mauled by a German Shepherd when I was eleven, something that could have happened anywhere. That was also when I first discovered that a survival situation can sometimes kick you into a nearly paranormal level of high functioning. That’s not uncommon — according to Gonzalez, 35% of the population have that capacity.

The need for your survival abilities and training could arrive one heartbeat from now. Even in Boulder or Disney World, you could find yourself in a life-or-death situation. For example, at my favorite Boulder supermarket, King Soopers, about an hour before I was scheduled to go there for a flu shot, a maniac killed ten people guess that’s an example that vaccines, just like any other pharmaceutical, can kill you, but so can viruses, so just play the odds as best you can.) And at the Seven Seas Lagoon in Disney World, an alligator killed a two-year-old.

Statistically, you are far more likely to be killed by your diet or your slippery bathroom than by a supermarket shooter or alligator. And the safest places on earth have slippery bathrooms.

As someone pointed out, “There are no survivors on this earth.” Eventually, something gets all of us, so it’s not about “surviving.” It’s more about thriving while you can and avoiding death when it would be inconvenient or happen in an unnecessarily messy and painful way. I’m not here to try and hang onto this one meat body with a white-knuckled grip until I can squeeze out every last possible second of incarnation. I’m psyched that I will eventually get to c cross the event horizon into another dimension , I just want to get my work (like the oracle revision I’m doing in 2024) done first. So my goal is not to do stupid shit that might cause unnecessary death or disability.

So, if you share the goal of that sort of “survival,” I have a few more practical suggestions.

Relax your vigilance about zombies unless the National Warning System sends you an alert that they’re closing in on your neighborhood, and instead pay more attention to your diet.

Few things are as likely to wreck the quality and quantity of your life than poor nutrition. Industrial food scientists are well aware that a fat, sugar, salt combo is as addictive as cocaine and use that trio to enslave people to toxic food-like substances. Though much of the research on human nutrition is highly flawed and unreliable, there is no controversy about SAD (the Standard American Diet, which is now the standard in much of the world) being highly toxic. As Michael Pollan says, “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Eat food, not what Pollan calls “food-like substances,” which are many steps removed from any plant or animal derivative and have long ingredient lists.

Avoid foods that make health claims. They’re usually highly contrived food-like substances with long ingredient lists.


Avoid anything that says “low fat” (they took out the healthier calories and replaced them with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup). Be wary of any food products that use the word “natural” on the packaging (meaning they’re not organic and probably have chemical pesticide residue), and avoid anything that has “natural flavors” in the ingredient list. Natural flavors — hmm, is that an extract of the natural-flavor plant? Notice that “natural flavors” doesn’t specify any ingredient, so what exactly is it? Simple — according to the FDA, “the term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” In other words, it is a toxic word salad of legalese and food technology jargon, creating a definition expansive enough that tanker cars filled with factory-fresh natural flavors pass through it every day.

Although much nutritional research is of very poor quality, the basics are not in dispute. But there is also no such thing as the one perfect diet for all people. People tend toward ideological dietary paradigms and double down on those with religious intensity, but the evidence is that people can thrive on highly divergent diets. See the book, Diet Cults.

Unlike nutrition research, the research showing that exercise has more effect on the quality and quantity of life than anything except meaningfulness and social connection is incontrovertible. Being sedentary is a death trip, increasing your risk of every kind of bad medical outcome. Read the book, Exercised. I also recommend the book, Outlive.

To increase your quantity and quality of life, do not become a true believer or absolutist for or against pharmaceuticals, including vaccines. Evaluate these carefully on a case-by-case basis. Pharmaceuticals can destroy your life quality or kill you outright, but they can also save your life and life quality.

For example, if you have cholesterol or blood pressure issues, there are relatively safe medications where the benefits likely outweigh the risks. If you take whatever the doctor prescribes without questioning it, you’re being stupid. If you are against all pharma/vaccines in all circumstances, you are being really, really stupid. Antibiotics are horribly misused, but before them, the average life expectancy was 47. Having said that, a study indicated that medical errors may now be the third leading cause of death.

I used to be a wilderness guide, mountain climber, and marathon runner, but I was fortunate to avoid life-changing injuries. I’ve mostly avoided sports and adventures where the risks were excessive. Contact sports with high rates of concussion and other injuries reduce life quantity and quality. However, for some, high-risk activities are so valuable the sacrifice may be worth it. But I would put a tremendous burden of proof on that, especially if you are a young male. Young males consistently discount risks and do things at the cost of their future selves. Many species of animals are found in the La Brea tar pits, but male adolescents of whatever species are the most common demographic.

In the classic Jack London story, “To Build a Fire”
, a physically strong and experienced but cocky young man ignores the advice of the village elders and ventures into the tundra alone and pays with his life. When you ignore well-established survival principles, unless a situation justifies sacrificing yourself, you’re being stupid. For example, most hypothermia deaths occur in moderate temperatures because people go on hikes wearing cotton, especially denim, which wilderness search and rescue people call “death cloth,” because if you get caught in the rain, it can kill you.

I used to teach “youth at risk” at an alternative school in New York. Among other subjects, I taught an urban survival course because statistically, what’s most likely to kill teenagers is their tendency to do stupid shit — which I pointed out to them, of course. But we also worked on how to survive situations they might get into because of doing stupid shit, just in case of the unlikely event that a teenager might ignore the cautionary advice of their teacher. I set up urban survivial scenarios, and would then have them split up into small groups and game out how to survive them. The goal was for the students to teach themselves that common sense and adaptability can keep you alive. For example, in one scenario I invented, a young guy decides to break into a junkyard at night to steal a part he needs to fix his rusty muscle car. Climbing over the tall chain link fence surrounding the junkyard, he slips and breaks his leg in the fall. Foolishly, he went on his nocturnal adventure wearing only a light jacket, and the temperature is dropping toward freezing. There won’t be anyone at the junkyard who could help for another fourteen hours. (This was before the era of kids having cell phones.) What should he do to survive?

I’d let the class brainstorm solutions until they arrived at one that could work, like crawling toward old newspapers or other insulating material or using a piece of broken glass or sharp metal to tear insulation off car seats. The next step would be to crawl into a relatively intact vehicle and cover yourself with the insulation.

Do some research on survival. I highly recommend books by Laurence Gonzales especially, Deep Surivial.

To state the obvious, the most dangerous creatures on earth are us. If you are feeling suicidal, call a suicide hotline. I’ve lost three people close to me to suicide. People you don’t think will commit suicide, will commit suicide. If someone talks about suicide — it’s very likely they’ll do it, even though they don’t seem like “the type.” I’ve learned that the hard way. Twice.

Confront the grim reality: people close to you and total strangers may injure, rape or kill you. I’ve never doubted the lethality of our species, but some who have had more sheltered lives act oblivious to this all-too-obvious reality. Read Gavin Debecker’s The Gift of Fear, and everybody, but very especially women, should take his free YouTube master class. As a survivor of many life-or-death violent situations, I can tell you that his research is accurate, and you’re a fool if you don’t learn from it.

If you think there’s such a thing as “casual sex,” you’re wrong. “Casual sex” is the dumbest oxymoron of all time. Is sex casual on the microbiological plane? No, it can create a life and/or give you an STD like AIDS. As above, so bellow. It’s also not casual on other essential planes of reality. You are merging your primal energy with another being, creating karma, and setting up intense dramas that range from loving and transcendent to shades of neurotic to toxic to homicidal.

You might think automotive fatalities are most likely at highway speeds. More often, they happen at intersections when you have the right of way and are struck from the left, on the driver’s side, by a vehicle speeding through the intersection. Look left, right, and left again before you enter intersections. If you’re on foot or a bike, know that intersections are high-danger zones.

In any situation where people wear helmets, wear a helmet. If you bike, get a Bontrager helmet with collapsable cells.

If you think stuff that happens to other people can’t happen to you, you’re a fool and may pay for that delusion with your life.

Oh, and please don’t create survival hazards for yourself and others by voting for egomaniacal fascists who charismatically channel your sense of grievance. That’s exactly how we got Hitler, World War II, the Holocaust, and many other living hells. If your awareness of history is vague before the birth of Tik-Tok, learn some history, otherwise you’ll be dooming us into repeating its worst episdoes.

If you see the world in black-and-white terms, don’t. You live in a grey-scaled matrix where there are perpetrators and victims on both sides of any large conflict. Avoid ideologies and getting your news from social media. Anyone telling you to “wake up” in a political context is almost certainly a dangerous sleepwalker trying to suck you into their nightmare. People who are always talking about a shadowy “they” (excepting the slight possibility that the world will be taken over by a non-binary sorcerer at some point) want you to join them in projecting the shadow they failed to integrate into the world. Also don’t get your news from polarized big talkers.

Be shrewd and well-informed about politics. If a very, very dark grey candidate is running against a light-to-medium-grey candidate (in other words, the very highest grade of politician), don’t signal your virtue by voting for a candidate you think is pure sparkling white but has no chance of winning. Vote for the light-to-medium grey candidate, and remember that you and I are also grey-scaled creatures.

Consider this an auspicious moment to evaluate all your life risks and reduce those that aren’t worth the potential benefits. And remember, the goal is not “survival” (you will likely survive death —

see Leslie Keen’s book, Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife and her Netflix series Surviving Death and Chapter III, Near-Death Experience and the Singularity Archetype of my book Crossing the Event Horizon (2nd edition available free on this site),

— but to work on your life mission during the unknown amount of time you have left.

I can’t endorse the work of Laurence Gonzales on survival enough. Deep Survival is one of the most valuable books ever written. period. Besides the priceless content, Laurence also happens to be a master of prose writing. If you’re an earthbound mortal, this book is required reading; it reveals essential reality principles, and can save your life. Here’s an example:

“Helping someone else is the best way to ensure your own survival. It takes you out of yourself. It helps you to rise above your fears. Now you’re a rescuer, not a victim. And seeing how your leadership and skill buoy others up gives you more energy and focus to endure.”

For more on the warrior stance see:

The Way of the Warrior

Warrior Quotes
The Taoist Path
Taoist Quotes

Finally, survival principles can be hard to absorb in the abstract, to see these survival principles embodied and lived out, try my sci-fi epic, Parallel Journeys, which can be read free on this site. If you prefer Audible, Kindle or physical versions, those are all available on Amazon.

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