Ode to the Spider

By Posted in - Life on April 1st, 2018 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.

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(6) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • BB - Reply

    April 27, 2018 at 23:42

    Coincidentally, my feelings about spiders have been transformed as well. It is their never-failing persistence and determination I have come to admire.
    First, as web after web appeared on the porch of my summer home, those pesty webs were vigorously swept away. Undeterred and cunning, the same spiders scurry away & hide in crevices, then shortly reappear and begin anew, weaving those resilient, super-strong creations, that not even the force of hose water breaks. Sweep them away again, the spiders spinning their webs return again. What a lesson in never giving up! I want this instinctual persistence!
    Now, we co-exist peacefully and I admire their handiwork, especially when the morning dew reveals the intricate patterns. Now, the webs only get swept away when company comes…only to be created again and again and again.

    • Elaine - Reply

      April 28, 2018 at 08:29

      Lovely! It’s true, they are very persistent. They also adapt. In my research I read the story of a man who, several days in a row, walked out onto his front porch, much as you describe, and walked right into a spider web, brushing it with the top of his head. By the 3rd or 4th day, he walked out and felt no web — the spider had spun one, in the exact same corner of the doorway, but just a few inches higher. Amazing, no? Thanks for the wonderful description.

  • Greg - Reply

    April 3, 2018 at 17:06

    I detest spiders. Even the image you posted gave me the heebee jeebees. That said, I very much appreciate their appetite for other insects. And, the way you described casting out their first line — without knowing for certain whether or not a current will catch and anchor it — made me think twice about change and courage. And self-assurance and confidence based on gained experience. I will do my best to remember that when seeing the 10,000 spiders in my back yard (or ceiling above my bed that I notice right before falling asleep, now awake), or when lifting my own spinnerets casting lines toward new beginnings.

    • Elaine - Reply

      April 3, 2018 at 21:34

      Ten thousand spiders??!!! Yikes! Although another interesting thing I learned about spiders is that as humans we are rarely more than 10 feet away from one. Food for thought, eh? Sleep tight!

  • Simon - Reply

    April 2, 2018 at 19:02

    Beautifully written.

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