A Year
for Music!

Four Fears: Spiders, part I

Four Fears: Spiders, part I

Four Fears


In 1990, after I learned I had AIDS, I decided I did not want to die afraid. I made a list of everything I was afraid of—

  • Water
  • Public Speaking
  • Heights
  • Spiders


And I overcame each fear. In the next few days, I will tell you how (and I will pick a piece of music to listen to that has something to do with either the fear itself or with overcoming it). In previous posts, I have written about water, public speaking, and heights; today, I will write about spiders.



Why I Was Afraid of Spiders


Chris Buddle, in his article "Why Are We Afraid of Spiders" (The Conversation, 8 May 2014) sites studies of identical twins, which found that if one twin feared spiders, the other was likely to, even if they had been adopted out and raised separately—the conclusion being that a fear of spiders is not a learned behavior, but, rather, instinctual. We are hard-wired to fear spiders. The Wikipedia article on arachnophobia (the fear of spiders) explains the possible evolutionary basis for our fear of spiders this way: "By ensuring that their surroundings were free from [potentially venemous] spiders, arachnophobes [those who fear spiders] would have had a reduced risk of being bitten in ancestral environments, giving them a slight advantage over non-arachnophobes in terms of survival."


But if our fear of spiders is instinctual—is there any hope of overcoming it?



The Man and the Spider


I studied for six years with a guru. Many powerful teachings from her impacted me in those years, but one stands out. It is an ancient story from Japan: "The Man and the Spider." The story is meant to teach reverence for all living things: even spiders. It goes like this:

A man, his family, and their friends were sitting down to dinner—when they saw a spider in the middle of the table. The man took off a shoe to kill it: but he remembered Buddha's teachings of reverence for all living things. Instead of killing the spider, the man scooped it into his shoe and out into the garden, where he set it free.
Years come and go. Both the man and the spider have died. The man is suffering in Hell. The spider looks down from Heaven and sees the man: she remembers him and how he had spared her life. She weaves a web down to him—and he climbs up it out of Hell into Heaven.


That story hit me with great force. It still moves me deeply. I knew, upon hearing it, that I had found the beginnings of my way away from the fear of spiders.


From that day, I began carrying spiders out of my house. I stopped killing them. I keep empty jars by sinks, because I have often encountered spiders trying to get a drink of water. I scoop them into a jar and outside. These last years, I have even let spiders overwinter. They are quick learners: they soon stop weaving webs in the walkways where my head constantly tears them down: they construct them, instead, in high corners. I carry them out in the spring.


To be continued . . . 



Selected Composition


Sarah McLachlan, "Ordinary Miracle"



Program Notes


Sara McLachlan wrote "Ordinary Miracle" for the film Charlotte's Web (released in 2006). It is fitting that McLachlan would be part of a film about animals: she is noted for her work with The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The movie Charlotte's Web is, of course, about a spider, and those who come to love her.


Sarah McLachlan, "Ordinary Miracle"





I created "Whose Trust Shall Be a Spider's Web," the image above, in 2006. It is based on Mandelbrot fractals. The title is from Job 8:14 (KJV): "and whose trust shall be a spider's web."







Four Fears: Spiders, part II

Four Fears: Spiders, part II

Can't Get It Wrong: Interview with Virginia Smith

Can't Get It Wrong: Interview with Virginia Smith