Ode to the Spider
Would you trade this human body for any other? I would not, despite its flaws and limits. But I’ve thought about it. I have envied the elephant its massive dignity, the cat its lithe spine, the seahorse its deep mute grace. I have imagined myself, like the young Arthur apprenticed to Merlin, wearing the wings of a soaring eagle, or the perfect crisp suit of a black ant, industrious as hell, communicating with my fellow workers.
But until now I have had only a grudging respect for spiders. Yes, they keep the insect population in check. But oh, the fangs. The hairy legs. Eight eyes and still myopic. Loners. Who would trade places with that?
Recently I learned some things that cast the arachnids in a different light.
A spiderweb is a remarkable feat of engineering: intricate, resilient, effective as both alarm system and dinnerbell. What I didn’t know is that most spiders rebuild their webs every day (or night). The orb is torn, debris gets stuck. The spider rips it all down, like the sand mandalas of Tibetan monks, the elaborate fruit of painstaking attention returning to the elements. And the spider doesn’t just dismantle the web; it eats it, to recycle the silk.
I like the spider’s way of digesting its experience.
And each day (or night), it begins anew. To start a web, a spider spins a single thread of silk, a gossamer stronger than steel. It lifts up its spinnerets and casts the line out into the air. A current – even the faintest, even the heat rising from a patch of ground warming in the sun – will carry this thread to an anchor point, forming a bridge that the spider crosses to weave the rest of the web. By all evidence, it doesn’t take long for that first thread to catch – the average spider spins a full web in about an hour. It is able to work with the incalculable, rely on the unforeseeable. If it wasn’t a spider, I would say it had faith. Let’s call it a healthy rapport with the unknown.
I like the spider’s relationship to what it can’t control.
I want this sense of my place in the universe: to feel there is something bigger than me, and let my work be carried. Let myself be carried – for some spiders spin a thread and lift their eight legs off the ground and let the current take them. Ballooning, it’s called. Wingless, they have found a way to fly using what they have, and the wind.
I want to spin my best silk to the wind, to make the unknown my partner in creation.
I want to say that our instinct is more powerful than we imagine.
Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management. You can also join her for Write & Breathe: regular meetups combining writing for wellbeing and conscious breathing.
Motivating, thought-provoking, informative: The Attentive Body monthly newsletter. It’s free – sign up here.