This week, we begin the theme of Spider Web on the Dew on the Grass blog. Our first offering is from Chris Yeomans and in it she describes how the practice of meditation changes our relationship with everything, including the spiders that live in our bathroom.
I have an affectionate relationship with one, or maybe more than one, spider in my bathroom. When I say spider, I think it may not technically be a spider. Wikipedia tells me that it is an arachnid or spider-like creature. It is supposed not to spin silk. There are definitely no spider webs around it, but when it moves about, it looks as if it is using a silken line to suspend it against the wall. The bathroom has no window and no foliage, and I wonder what on earth it lives on. It thrives, and I may have established a relationship with several generations of this creature that I have always thought of as a harvestman spider. Perhaps it lives on things we call house dust mites. There’d be plenty of those in our house.
To me, the distinguishing feature about this creature is its utter fragility. It is so fine and delicate that I wouldn’t even think of touching it. I am astounded that such a creature even has life. What a miracle its legs are. When I meet with it, I look upon it with wonder that such a thing could even exist. I am struck by the tenderness and protectiveness that I feel towards it and realise too that I have come to feel like this (if not quite so acutely) about other living creatures such that I liberate them from buzzing in windows or hastening across carpets.
It has not always been thus. Decades ago, I would have been influenced by my mother, who did not hesitate to swot flies, stamp on ants, kill wasps. These things were regarded as a nuisance, unclean and to be eliminated. I didn’t think too much about it. Then I got involved with Buddhism and began to think more carefully about such things. Did it matter if I washed a stranded spider down the plughole instead of relocating it? What about drowning rats? Shooting grey squirrels.? All taken for granted in my childhood.
Then one day I watched a monk rescue an ant, which had strayed onto the dining table at a place where we were having a weekend retreat. He spoke to it, brushed it into his hand, and put it out through the window onto the border. Seeing this compassion in action was a game-changer. I was at the ‘trying very hard’ stage of practice, and this seemed like something I could manage to do. And over many years now, thanks, I am sure, to the practice, this compassion towards all living things has grown, almost regardless of any effort I might make, until it has become second nature.
As any senior monk will tell you, ‘Meditation works.’