What’s a spider got to do with Mindfulness?

What’s a spider got to do with Mindfulness?
by John P. Rettger, PhD, RYT-200

I am offering up this short reflection on how mindfulness works in my life. Over the past few weeks I have been privy to what may seem like a rather small experience when you first think about it. This seemingly small experience has turned out to be quite a big emotional metaphor for me. It certainly has brought about a kind of emotional transformation within me. Here is my story. At my studio and yoga research center (some of you may know it as the Blue Elephant- blueelephantyoga.com) we have a couple of shared bathrooms that are located at the side of the building with a door that you enter directly from the outside. Naturally, this door lends itself to various little beings such as spiders entering into the bathroom.

Morning Dew Spider Web

Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Fir0002

Over the years I have seen several of these spiders come and go, perhaps some exited through the door, others likely down the various sink, shower, and toilet drains. Over the past couple of weeks, I have had daily check-ins with one particular spider that conveniently made her home above the men’s toilet. Perhaps only a spider would choose such an odd place to live.Over the weeks, I have watched her seemingly get bigger and bigger. During our initial getting to know each other phase, I must admit I felt that primitive, perhaps instinctual desire arise in me to assist this spider in moving on to its next incarnation. In those moments of what we in psychology call “homicidal ideation”, a stream of mindfulness and compassion flooded me; and three simple words become my guiding principal- “Let it be!”.So I have been letting it be and one day, some time ago, I noticed that the spider was again a bit smaller and there was a little white egg. In seeing this, I watched my thoughts arise with a sense of panic about how many spiders there were going to be, and that old instinctual worry of whether or not they are poisonous came up. And again, deep from within me, the homicidal ideation arose, and from even deeper within me, the mindfulness arose with a bit more tenacity than the rage. Again the words, just “Let it be!”

Over the days I watched this mama spider in relationship to her egg. I noticed how close she would get to it, as if holding it, and embracing it. In witnessing this kind of holding, I was feeling myself change in how I was viewing this tiny creature. At first I was no doubt caught up in how ugly and gross she was, to transforming and seeing her with soft eyes of compassion, and understanding how dearly she cherished and loved this egg. She was certainly fulfilling that motherly instinct. I began to see this spider with fresh eyes each day. Seeing her not just for her spiderness, but as a fellow inhabitant of our Mother Earth, making her contributions to our shared cosmic web. We were both journeying through existence together- birth, life, and inevitably some day for us both- death.

I saw and felt in waves of emotion in myself my own loneliness, my own desire for the kind of holding she gave to this dear egg. I felt my own desire to offer this kind of holding. I felt deep in my bones how interconnected we all are.

So, I have been letting it be and yesterday, when I got back from teaching, I went in to check on the spider and initially I could not see what happened to the egg. I went in to take a closer look and I saw that the egg had hatched. Scattered all the way throughout this web woven in the corner were so many of these little spiderlings. When I got past my now familiar, instinctual homicidal ideation and feeling of panic, I softly gazed at them and suddenly an image came into my mind. I saw the mother spider as the Sun and the spiderlings as all of these little stars in the sky reflecting a kind of Divine luminosity. I felt my heart light up and a tingle up my spine. As I looked closer at the mother spider, she looked worn out but also content, happy.

I reflected on how that initial desire to kill the spider, the egg, and now all of these baby spiders came rushing in so quickly and how easy it is, as a human, to exercise destruction over nature. As I breathed into all of this so many images came to me- the destruction of the trees, the tearing up of the earth for building, urban sprawl, oil dumping into the water… I took pause just let myself feel all of this sadness. The following words came into my mind: “I can not take part in that!”

In that moment, the spider family became my dharma teacher. I feel so blessed to have had this witnessing, and to have mindfulness and yoga in my life. What a gift it is to be able to receive this type of emotional awareness and healing. This experience has offered me renewed energy toward my dharma of offering these practices in service of healing for all beings. I can, and we all can make a huge difference in elevating consciousness and creating peace on earth everyday through our very own small actions. In this very moment, if we all performed one action to heal ourselves and thereby our planet, that would be more than 7,035,834,125* actions in service of healing.

Join me in offering up some healing energy in the first Donation-based Vinyasa class I will teach at YogaSource Palo Alto at 1:30pm, Saturday, Sep. 1. Info online at: yogasource.com/paloalto



*Population data from http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html retrieved on Aug 29, 2012