All my life I have been fascinated by spiders. I am not creeped out by them, even though, they are admittedly creepy. But that is part of the attraction, actually.
There is something, an allure perhaps, about that particular member of the insect kingdom. Perhaps its their eight eyes or their sometimes unsettling number of legs. But I find spiders use of their webs and their various hunting strategies to be of interest.
You can simplify the bulk of the spider kingdom by breaking them down into two main groups:
- Web weavers and spinners.
- Runners and jumpers.
One frigid New England winter in the early 1990s, I lived in the woods by a lake and used firewood to heat the house.
Lo and behold, the heat warmed the wooden wall planks, and a small jumping spider wandered into the kitchen, having come out of hibernation apparently.
Unfortunately, there was no food, no prey items, as it was January or February, and it was the only living insect I had seen in months.
I took it outside after capturing it gently in a glass, and set it down on a snowbank next to the front door. It didn’t move at all, but after a couple of minutes, slowly began to curl up, right there on the snow.
On impulse, I reached down and picked up the sleeping spider, and ate it. I felt that was perhaps the most merciful ending for the accident of its waking up. I didn’t want to smash it, and I felt bad about letting it wander around the house, slowly starving to death. It seemed cruel to abandon it on the snow like that, all exposed and everything.
A few years later, when I lived in the Sacramento area, I moved into an apartment not far from the American River Parkway. The apartment was on the ground floor, and had a sliding glass door which opened onto a small cement patio overlooking a humble backyard about twenty feet, by ten feet, surrounded by plank fencing, and filled with native grasses grown tall.
As I looked around and took in the depth of the patio itself, and panned my eyes around the overhang above me, I noticed rows of support beams, beams which held up the balcony above me on the second floor.
The planks were deep, two inches by sixteen perhaps, and spaced evenly apart, except for one side, which had two, very close together.
In between those two support beams, was nothing but shadowed blackness. Perfect place, I thought to myself almost instantly, for a black widow.
As I glanced around the corner and walls, I took in the web. It was sprawling and hard to see from certain angles, but it was littered with husks. Husks in the web. Husks hanging from the web. A pile of husks on the ground.
I knelt down to get some idea of what it was killing, and it seemed like pretty much everything. Butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, and other spiders all lay shriveled and bleached out to an even tan or transparent brown.
I went and got a small hand flashlight, adjusted the beam head to narrow focus as I walked back outside, and panned the beam across the gaping black crack. Sure enough, my beam immediately reflected back at me, the moment I cast it into the space. Precisely where I thought she would be, and she was among the biggest black widows I have ever seen in California.
I turned off my beam, and spoke to it then,
“I’ll make you a deal. I will leave you alone. You, just stay up there and keep doing what you are doing. Okay?”
Several months later, I was outside, late at night, in the dark, observing comet Hale-Bopp. I had been out there for over an hour or so, and I turned slowly to my left.
The black widow had come down on a single thread right above me, and was mere inches from my face.
She was utterly still, just sitting there, hovering in space next to me, with all eight of her legs stretched casually out in eight different directions, like sensing antenna, just listening, and gleaming dully with her ominous abdomen reflecting the light coming from street lamps.
I went completely still as well, go figure. Then as I realized it wasn’t doing anything, and my heart wasn’t racing, I wasn’t shaking or adrenalinized. So I spoke to it again, quietly, and said,
“Hey. I thought we had an agreement that you weren’t going to do exactly that. Hmm?”
After a moment of not moving at all, she suddenly animated all of her legs, and after wriggling for a moment seemingly at me, crept up her line and went back into the shadows.
Several years later, I created a meditation energy technique, based partly on web spinning spiders. A spider pays out a line of silk thread as it walks, runs, or creeps, and it is sensitive to vibrations along that strand, and to all the other strands in its web, regardless of the kind of web that it makes.
In order to increase my awareness of my internal world, I positioned my awareness in a particular place in space, either inside me, or around me. Then I moved extremely slowly in one direction only, either in a straight line, like up and down, left and right, or on arc, like tracing a circle, spiral, or sphere. As I moved my point of attention, I maintained that attention, that listening/sensitivity, as I moved.
By moving my attention span from the top of my head, the actual top of my skull, to my perineum, I created a “live wire” of listening/feeling/sensing-attention-focus.
By moving my attention focal point in an arc, from six inches above my head, to six inches in front of my abdomen, to six inches behind my shoulder blades, I created a curved live wire of listening/feeling/focused attention, like a phantom nerve cell.
I then spent hours, days actually, weaving my attention in circles, and arcs, at different levels inside and outside my body, thus creating a phantom/spectral/astral net out of my internal energy, my chi, my living awareness that extended both inward, into smaller and smaller spaces inside me, and outward, extending from the surface of my skin, to several inches away from my skin, to a few feet away from my skin, creating multiple shells, or spheres, each one consisting of a web of attention-strands all granting me increased sensitivity and consciousness, far greater than normal meditation, or non meditation states.
It was from that state of being centered in my own phantom web, that I gained total stillness of thought, a kind of void-mind where there is simply no conscious projecting imagery, or thoughts or inner dialogue, as most of you understand or experience. It is simply complete placidity of mind. I became a hub of feeling-strands all listening very intently all at once, all the time, and there was not a single occupying thought in my mind whatsoever, which some of you, having never ever experienced anything remotely like that, like my brother for instance, might declare, “Impossible”.
Not only is it possible, but it is extremely restful and regenerative to have no energy inside you wasted on what the Chinese call, “Monkey Mind”. Your mind is blank, but alive. Black, but awake. Silent, but sensing.
If you have ever experienced protracted periods of depression, or had racing thoughts, or experience anxiety, the state of Un-thought is an immense relief, a release, a respite, from those thoughts. Try to imagine it if you will. Instead of having depressive thinking, your mind has no depressive thoughts, whatsoever. Instead of having anxious, or excited thoughts, or angry thoughts, or even happy thoughts, you simply have quiet inside the space between your ears.
A place that is quiet inside your mind. A place devoid of upsetting emotions, or crippling feelings, or manic thought, doesn’t that sound like Heaven? To have the torment of your mind utterly silenced into total stillness? To feel all the chaos and noise inside you, and all the thoughts that trouble you from the moment you get up in the morning, to the moment you close your eyes before going to sleep, totally gone. Totally not existing at all.
Using my spiderweb weaving and spinning observations, and channeling their aspect, their intrinsic nature, their essence, into an attention-span building exercise, I was able to do just that, totally occupy my Being from every direction, centered within my web, in my brain, my heart, and my pelvis, just listening with my sensory strands extending around me like spider legs resting and gripping lightly on the web strands themselves.
Thirteen years later when I was in China learning the Hong Method of Chen style tai chi, a small grey orb weaver installed itself within days, right outside my dormitory door.
In Chinese folklore, having a spider under your eaves is supposed to bring good fortune and long life to the family that it blesses. I hoped the housekeepers remembered their own story-lore, as they made their daily rounds cleaning.
The spider was perfectly positioned at the end of a hallway against a window near an exit. Insects flew and crawled in all summer long, and often could not figure out how to leave. Consequently, many of the insects of the flying variety, ended up flying straight into the spider’s web to get out to the light beyond on the other side.
This strategy, the web location, proved to be so successful, that the spider literally ran around securing food constantly, and repairing its web. Whenever I passed it, I paused to regard it, and often spoke with it, or to it, day or night.
The spider grew very rapidly and become unbelievably spooky looking, wicked even, for an orb weaver. Its body grew, its legs thickened, and its abdomen swelled. As it grew bigger and bigger, it become more beautiful in its eerieness as I could now make out the black stripes on its head, the bands on its legs, the markings on its abdomen.
One day, close to the end of my stay there, at the end of summer in 2013, I was standing there, taking a video of the spider, now grown immense, as it was finishing up repairing small tears to its web.
Right as it finished in the center of it’s web, it walked, very stately, very methodically, carefully, in a diagonal line, up towards the eave out of the web proper and out of sight from all views but the perspective I had.
It reached the end of one of its large support lines attached to the eave, turned 180 degrees around, angled straight at me, and pulled up all its legs around the front of its body in a fence of banded fingers, flexed and feeling. And it looked right at me. I could sense it regarding me with all of its eyes, which were now so large, you could see its individual eyes from a short distance away.
We just sort of held contact like that. Then after a few moments, I turned my video capture off, and just marveled that the spider was completely aware of me, and we were both sitting very still, checking each other out.
Two years later, I encountered both types of spiders, again!
Last winter, I visited an old friend I grew up with who lived outside Sacramento, and the very first night I was there, I was sitting outside, in the dark, at night, observing the full moon, and suddenly looked down at the wall on my left. I could see something black hanging upside down, mere inches from my left leg.
A black widow was sitting right there.
I snapped it’s picture.
A few days ago, I was sitting outside, at night, and what do I see?
An enormous grey orb weaver.