8 Things You Can Learn From a Spider

Before you whack it with a sneaker, take a moment to consider what the spider might teach you.

To succeed we’re often told to emulate the lowly ant. “Go to the ant thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise,” the Bible tells us. The ant’s industriousness is also heralded in the classic Aesop’s fable where the lazy grasshopper lays around all summer while the ant is busy scurrying about preparing for winter. Even that anthropomorphic cartoon ant is always getting one over on the Aardvark.

The thing is, the ant doesn’t work alone, she’s part of a colony (they’re all “shes” except for the drones), often numbering in the millions. Some believe the colony itself to be one giant organism with each ant a mere cog in the wheel. As a result each individual ant is expendable and readily replaced. Kind of like the world of business of late.  If an ant found herself downsized where would she go? While ants have impressive specialized skills, without the colony the individual ant is doomed. Sadly, that appears to be the grim prospect awaiting many in the workforce today.

I say, if you are going to look for inspiration among the tiny critters in the corners of your house,  look to the spider. I saw one the other day, a large, black hairy jumping spider.  She was walking along what to her must have been the strange alien landscape of my glass patio table. I crouched down to take a closer look and as I did she sensed me, stopped, and pivoted quickly on 8 legs to regard me with an equal number of blue-green eyes. This little creature was the product of 300 million years of evolution. Her kind was doing their thing before the dinosaurs roamed the earth. In the scheme of things, my kind is a latecomer to the gig of life.

Amazing spider, what can we learn from your success?

1. Patience. A spider is nothing if not patient. Check out an orb-weaver in your garden, or a common house spider in a dusty corner. After spinning a web they sit and bide their time. Spiders haven’t been around for hundreds of millions of years by complaining, or blaming others for their problems. They’ve got a job to do and they do it.

2. Hunger. Spiders are usually always hungry.  It drives them to roam, or to sit motionless for hours in their quest for prey. The spider knows if you’re not hungry for something you will quickly be eaten by someone else who is.

3. A neat bag of tricks. Spiders are famous for their ability to spin webs. Some spiders, such as the orb weaver, spin elaborate webs, while the handiwork of other species can be more crude.  The jumping spider doesn’t spin webs at all except to cover its eggs but it can also release a strand when it jumps to slow it’s descent, like a parachute. The jumping spider can also jump 25 times it’s own length. No doubt you’ve got some specialized skills in your own bag of tricks. When was the last time you used them?

4. They know what’s on their to-do list. The spider doesn’t while away the day pondering it’s purpose, or wondering about its place in the cosmos, or the futility of its existence. The spider starts each day with a single-minded purpose: Overpower something, and eat it.

5. The spider is always “in the now.” Arachnids would make Eckhart Tolle proud as they are always present in their current circumstances.  They don’t waste time on the past, or live in a non-existent future. They’re not on Facebook. Oblivious to their brief 1-2 year lifespan, the spider is always in the moment.

6. They walk a lonely road. Unlike ants, the spider doesn’t have a colony to depend on. From the moment it hatches most  spiders are on their own. They have to make their own breaks and there’s no one to bail them out. Sound familiar?

7. No intimidation. The spider doesn’t sit around thinking, “There must be other spiders better than me or more talented. Look at that web, I can’t do that.” NO. The spider brings it. It’s always game on for the spider. A million other spiders competing per each acre of grass? Who cares. Subduing prey 5 times larger than themselves? Bring it on.

8. They don’t pity themselves. The odds are stacked against the spider from the start. Most are eaten long before they reach maturity. There are predators everywhere, birds, wasps, other spiders, sometimes a size 12 Converse. The English novelist D.H. Lawrence once wrote: “I have never seen a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A little bird will fall dead, frozen from a bough, without ever having felt sorry for itself.”  So it is for the spider. They live out their lives in a “no whining zone.”

I grabbed a small twig and held it in front of my spider. As if to demonstrate her impressive leaping skills she seemingly materialized on the twig.  I carefully carried her over and released her in some leaves by a fence.  The spider paused for a moment to regard me again, then scurried off  to tackle her “to-do” list. It was a reminder to me to scurry off and tackle mine.

Advice From the Crypt

They’ve lived out their lives as fate decreed, yet the dead still harbor lessons the living may need.

In the Twilight Zone episode, “Night Call,” a woman named Elva Keene receives repeated mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night. Frightened, she implores the phone company to do something about it.

They trace the calls and upon investigating discover a broken telephone line in a cemetery after a storm. As it happens, the tombstone upon which the wire has fallen is that of…well, perhaps you should see it for yourself at the end of this post. Suffice to say someone is trying to talk to Elva from the grave.

Now that’s creepy, but you don’t need a supernatural event or a séance to receive messages from the other side.

Be glad you’re alive. We may lay wreaths and flowers there on holidays, but most of us tend to avoid cemeteries, perhaps not wanting to be reminded of our mortality. But instead of serving as a warning to one’s impending demise, let the denizens of your local necropolis serve as a positive call to action.  For when it comes to those interred it’s game over, but for you—if you’re reading this—life is a game you’re still playing. The question remains how will you cast your dice? What will you do with this precious gift you still have?

Remember “The Dash.” While grave markers exist in limitless shapes, sizes, and designs, they all mention the defining  dates of a person’s life.  For example, consider the tombstone of one Ezekial P. Jones, 1798-1862. The dates tell us when Jones was born and died, but between them is the dash—the dash represents everything he did in life. Everything. The good and the bad, every triumph and every failure, every joy and sorrow is all there in the cryptic dash. And just think, you are living out your own dash right now.

Present, but not voting. As a kid I enjoyed reading Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and recall being struck in particular by the bizarre story of Jeremy Bentham, a 19th-century British reformist and philanthopist. In accordance with his will, Bentham’s body was preserved with a wax head and displayed in a glass cabinet at University College London.

In a freaky ritual—at select college council meetings—Bentham’s remains were brought to the board room and at roll call it was recorded that Bentham was, “Present but not voting.”  Are you present and engaged in life, or do you differ little from Bentham’s dapper corpse by sitting on the sidelines?

A grave equalizer. “The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” Charles de Gaulle, French general and statesman, is quoted as saying. That means all those inflated-ego blowhards who annoy you in life will be replaced when their time is up, so don’t let them get to you. The same though, can be said of your own—if applicable—self-aggrandized importance. “Don’t take yourself so seriously,” says Bob Basso, author of This Job Should Be Fun. “After all the size of your funeral will depend on the weather.”

Your challenge. Ernest Hemingway laid down the gauntlet when he advised others to “do something original, or beat dead men at their own game.” It’s advice you might take when embarking on your own business venture. Who is in the grave that you admire? Their cards are on the table. Can you come up with a better hand?

Count your blessings. A stroll through an old cemetery reveals a variety of strange causes of death. Look at all the things they died of that you probably won’t succumb to.  Typhoid fever, whooping cough, smallbox, and even “consumption.” There are those trampled by a horse, struck by a streetcar, or lost at sea. You are lucky indeed to be alive at a time where life expectancy is better than ever. The odds improve every year that you might keep the Grim Reaper at bay and make it to your 100th birthday…or beyond.

What would the dead say? Recently I was reminded of a classmate who died shortly after high school graduation. We all know of people like that, particularly those taken early. While there seems no rhyme nor reason to it, think of them when you are faced with challenges in life. What would they think of your predicament? How grateful would they be just to live out your day today? How can you live your life in their honor…a life to the fullest?

Consider this telling epitaph…

Remember me as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, you soon will be.
Prepare for death, and think of me.