Spiders have long fascinated me.
Given their reputation, that may seem like a strange thing to say. These tiny beings inspire their own phobia, and even those of us who aren’t afraid of them wouldn’t necessarily keep them as pets. But they’re an unavoidable aspect of Autumn.
You may be wondering what spiders have to do with Nia, and there are many ways to answer that.
When Nia practitioners refer to the concept of “Life as Art” – part of Dancing Through Life – what this means is finding inspiration in the world around us in order to enrich our own experience.
There's also the metaphor of a spider’s very existence: it represents both natural time…and for many of us, fear.
I was moved to write about spiders the morning after enduring the dispiriting chaos of the first presidential debate. I woke up thinking about the terms that have dominated our lives lately: Unprecedented. Uncertain. Frightening. Dark. Looking out of my window, I saw morning sunlight dyed deep orange from California wildfire smoke once again hovering in the higher atmospheric layers above Seattle.
What else could I do but pour myself a cup of coffee and walk – no, let’s be real here, trudge – out to my garden to center myself? So it was. I surveyed the dahlias, the scarlet leaves on my dogwood tree, opened my ears to the chirps of morning birds.
Then I saw her, a spider weaving her web. She was so methodical, her delicate limbs collecting each tendril of silk as she produced it and connecting each spoke of her wheel to another, gracefully dancing from one to the next in a seamless spiral. She was minding her own business, not worried about her observer or the red sun or human anger.
Autumn is when most varieties of spiders, the vast majority of which aren't poisonous, seek mates before finding a safe space to lay their eggs and, inevitably, die. Children receive this lesson and many others about spiders when they read E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” an influential work that taught me to see the worthiness and loveliness in every creature, even vermin and pests.
White was insistent that any illustrations of Charlotte in his books refrain from glamourizing her face, preferring that any representations draw attention to her “eight wonderfully articulated legs (arms) which offer a great chance for ballet treatment," as writer Abby Walthausen explains in an essay about literature's most lovable spider.
White’s story empowered me to fall under the spell of a spider's movements, not the fear surrounding them. I've marveled at their artistic expression in all the years since I first read "Charlotte's Web," and this morning I was gratified to meditate on one spider's dance.
To watch a creature move so unhurriedly, so certain in her pattern-making even as the world around her falls further into uncertainty, is utterly soothing. If her work happens to be destroyed, she simply starts over. She does this every day.
Nature, when allowed, endures. I breathe this in.
I tell myself, this web is within my sphere of influence and care and will endure.
I breathe this in.
In return its creator helps me to endure by inviting me to pause, be seduced and for a few moments, to meditate on her work.
“The most fundamental benefit of seeing Life as Art is that it can make ordinary life as inspiring as viewing a great painting,” writes Nia Technique co-creators Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas in their foundational book on the practice. “This inspiration is not just figurative. It is literal. When we are inspired by art and beauty, we inhale the ethereal energy, or chi, that surrounds all great art and all physical beauty.”
Return, then, to the spider’s web, those intricate doilies draping across our gardens, weaving between doorposts and eaves and anywhere their sticky silk can take hold. Most of us don’t appreciate the telltale tickle on our skin of having barreled through one as we go about our business, myself included.
But those webs are architectural wonders and, when the morning dew catches each strand, a delight to the eye.
“When you learn how to perceive the whole world as art, you will feel inspiration from this art flow into you,” Debbie and Carlos wrote. “You’ll feel it as a physical sensation. You will actually inhale the beauty, with its chi, that is all around you. The world becomes your masterpiece.”
Its much easier to appreciate the web than its builder – the art rather than the artist – which is why I suggest reconsidering that notion. In this stressful season a spider’s autumnal weavings offer the gift of pausing, breathing and experiencing Life as Art.
So if given the opportunity, watch one as she weaves. They are much-needed reminders of all the goodness of which we can avail ourselves if we breathe, pause and refuse to be danced by fear.
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.”
― E. B. White, Charlotte's Web
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