In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. ~ Aristotle
It was near the beginning of my bus ride and the end of my book when a tiny spider showed up on the page I was reading. How she arrived I can’t be sure. Perhaps she plopped into my book bag as I walked to the bus stop. Or maybe she was already a passenger and happened upon the landscape of my printed plain for a change of scenery. I wanted to finish reading the book and felt a bit irked that the spider was scurrying over paragraphs and punctuation making it impossible to make sense of anything but her impertinence.
Being a Buddhist the possibility of killing my guest was beyond comprehension and I didn’t want to leave her abandoned on the bus with good outcomes not showing much promise. I decided to give my arachnid friend my attention instead of the written word and swore a silent oath to carry her safely off the bus when I reached my stop. The book I was reading was “Living Dharma” by Ajahn Chah, the late and venerated Thai Buddhist monk. Dharma, or Dhamma (the pali spelling), means the truth or the teachings of the Buddha. The irony didn’t escape me.
As I watched the movement of the spider, I was fascinated to see she avoided the center of the pages, preferring the edges, crossing from left to right, circling time and again the blank margin of her seemingly inexhaustible course. Occasionally she would double back, retracing her steps as a person lost plays a card of sureness in what is clearly a stacked deck of demise. A few times she would try to crawl underneath onto the cover of the book, and I’d flip it over so she was upright again. When she’d begin to spin a web and start to drop down into my lap, I’d turn the book once more ensuring the soundness of her eight-legged trek until we reached our destination.
Through all of the laps and back and forthing she seemed to be asking in a language I do not know for a way out, a way that was safe, a way that offered promise of food and shelter. Peering over an edge, traversing the canyon of space between odd and even pages, crawling along top, bottom, back and front, never resting on the typeset lines, like so many orderly highways running perpendicular to her life’s course.
Earlier that week I had learned of the reorganization of our department at work, a change in our course that would mean more staff (clearly a vote of confidence from the highers up) and more growth. Yet the news was met with more than a bit of fear and circumspection from my co-workers. What would this mean? Who would do what? Were our jobs on the line? Where would we all sit? The questions and hypotheses were dashing and scurrying about as much as my spider companion.
Although I must admit to offering some of my own theories to the bevy of ponderings, I found I wasn’t caught up in the quandaries my colleagues were experiencing. Instead there was an equanimous sense of just being; listening to what was known and realizing anything beyond that was the wasteland territory of fear and supposition.
The Buddha spoke of the middle way, a way between the trappings of indulgence at one end and austerity at the other. Both carry with them their own sets of fears: the fear of losing what we have and the fear of not getting what we want. These are the tenets of dukkha, unsatisfactoriness or suffering, that all beings experience in this existence, be they eight, four, two and no legged. Being with the peace of that spacious equanimity, I chose to step away from the edges of fearful imaginings and settle myself down onto the middle of the page, observing each moment, each word with present awareness, keeping to the assured lines of the Dhamma and knowing that the future is as unknown and as vast in possibilities as the web of a spider.
As we approached our stop, I carefully balanced my edgy friend on the open book and when I stepped outside I leaned her page platform against a moist green leaf of a shrub planted next to the bus stop. She hurried away from the confines of text and teachings into the recesses of a new unknown world. I watched her disappear into the shadows of limb and earth before crossing the street and smiling into the gossamer light of day.
A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman
A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
Spider web via Wikimedia Commons