That’s an uplifting image, isn’t it? I can barely watch the previews for Fear Factor, where they show contestants lying down in a box, covered with a mass of creepy-crawly snakes slithering every which way over them. I’d last, oh, about one second before I screamed, “get me out of here!” I’ve been thinking about a pit of vipers ever since my martial arts instructor, Warren, spoke about this concept last week. With the war in Iraq taking the turns it has, the Saddam statue falling today being a dramatic capstone to a pretty darn successful week for the Anglo-American forces (I can’t bring myself to use the term “coalition,” since there isn’t one), Warren’s ideas ring true to me—and relate to yesterday’s post.
The gist of what Warren was trying to get across to us is that a martial artist, or anyone for that matter, should look on life’s encounters—whether belligerent or peaceful—as akin to a pit of vipers. If you found yourself in such a pit, you’d be extremely wary and alert to everything happening around you. For you never know what is coming next. Oh! Here’s a viper striking from this direction. Better deal with him quickly, because the next one could come at you from any other direction. Or maybe the first viper will retreat briefly, and then strike again.
The point is, you never know. You just don’t know. So you have to be ready for anything. You have to do what needs to be done at this moment, and then be able to shift gears and do whatever needs to be done at the next moment. Pre-programmed habitual responses leave you responding to the pit of vipers (or more positively, the plethora of opportunities) in a dysfunctional fashion, always one step too slow, or out of sync with what is truly happening.
Today the war in Baghdad is going great. The conservative talk shows are having a field day, the hosts crowing about the vindication of Bush’s policies. “We told you so” is echoing through the Fox News Channel right now, and will continue for days. Until the next viper strikes. And then we’ll see how things change. I do my best to react to the reality of the present moment as regards the war, and not how I expected the moment to be, or what I ideally would like it to be. Right now, I’m almost as proud of our military as Sean Hannity is, god help me. The Iraqis seem genuinely thankful that we toppled Hussein. I would be too if I were them.
I thought the war would turn out more badly than it has. For awhile I was shocked to find myself rooting for the Iraqis at times, sort of like when you root for the 16th seed that is matched up against Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA playoffs. But I began to realize that what I was doing, really, was rooting for my expectations, not for the Iraqi army, and that made me feel better—less like a unpatriotic American and more like a normal human being who can’t lay aside his preconceptions when reality demands that they be trashed.