By Edward Mills
We had a little excitement this morning at home. My wife came out of the bathroom and said, quite calmly, “Ed, there’s a big black spider in the bathtub.” Since I was watching my daughter, Ella, at the time, I carried her in there to investigate. I was a bit surprised that my wife did not call it a Brown Recluse. That’s our running joke. She grew up in Brown Recluse territory, and so whenever she sees a brownish spider she says “Ed, I just saw a Brown Recluse. Go get it.” I gently remind her that the Brown Recluse does not live in Northern California as I gather up the culprit and take it outside.
When Ella and I looked in the tub, I could understand why Melissa had not called it a Brown Recluse. This spider was a deep shiny black. I’m usually pretty casual about spiders, knowing that the only dangerous spider in our area is the black widow, a spider I had never before seen. But the color of this one caused me to act with a bit more caution. And it was good that I did. When I gathered up the critter in a Tupperware bowl, I could see, through the translucent plastic, a distinctive red hourglass on the belly. Here was my first Black Widow. Needless to say, my wife did not share in my scientific enthusiasm at this discovery.
She promptly took Ella from my arms and commanded me to take the spider far away from the house. I was gratified and a bit surprised that she did not encourage me to immediately squash it. Now I want to pause here and put in a bit of a plug for spiders. They get a bad rap. They take the blame for a lot of stuff they don’t do: flea bites, tick bites, bed bug bites, even mosquito bites. You name it, spiders take the blame for it. Most spiders don’t bite humans, others only bite when confronted, and of those that do bite, there are only a handful that are truly dangerous to humans. Even the bite of the supposedly deadly Black Widow is fatal in less than 1% of all instances.
And then there are the legends that have grown up around the infamous Brown Recluse. Over 60% of the medically diagnosed Brown Recluse bites occur in regions in which the spider does not live! How a spider that lives only in the South Central portion of the USA can be responsible for so many unexplained ailments here in California and elsewhere is beyond me. Here’s a brief excerpt from a spider info site to give you some perspective: A recent summary of reported spider bites in the United States between 1989 and 1993 included fewer than 5,000 incidents per year.
These numbers seem small when compared to the over 800,000 dog bites that required stitches each year. During the study period, dog bites were responsible for 20 deaths per year, and auto-deer collisions were associated with 130 annual deaths. You might be surprised to learn that there were no spider-bite related fatalities during that four-year period. At this point, you may be wondering what this has to do with life coaching.
Fear not, I do have a point I’m getting to. And as the good Dr. Seuss would say, “This may not seem important I know. But it is, and that’s why I’m bothering telling you so.” How do you feel about spiders? Do you cringe when you see one walking on your wall? Do you quiver at the thought of one crawling up your leg? Where do those feelings come from? When you were a youngster, did someone in your family go into paroxysms of fear whenever a spider was spotted? Did you inherit that fear? And does that fear continue to control your relationship with these critters?
Ok, lets face it, a fear of spiders is not going to prevent you from living a successful, abundant, joyous life. But here’s the catch: What fears do you harbor that DO prevent you from living that life? What other fears have you inherited from your family and friends and the culture around you? And how do those fears keep from becoming the person you have the potential to be? Because our fears are almost always founded in the past, they appear much larger than they really are.
When we experience a fear in the present, we’re really reacting to the projection of a deep-rooted belief that was planted inside us long ago. Just as the shadow of a spider walking in front of a light appears huge and frightening, so too do our fears become magnified many times when we look at the projection. The reality of the spider, when viewed from a place of present-time awareness, is much less scary. So too do your fears become manageable when you shift your perception from the shadow to the source. Fears thrive on the lies and exaggerations that are possible only in the dark, hidden places.
As soon as you bring those fears out into the light you can begin to see them for what they really are. The trick, of course, is knowing how to pull those fears out into the light. So here’s your assignment: When you see a spider (or a snake or a mouse or you look down from a balcony or get onto a plane or fill in the blank) and you notice the dread that lives in the pit of your stomach, know that you have a great opportunity to practice shifting your perception. So the next time you find yourself face to face with a spider, rather than running away or calling for reinforcements, try to stop and breathe for a moment and become an explorer of your inner world.
If you need to catch the spider and place it in a hermetically sealed container in order to breathe, that’s ok! And then see if you can observe that spider with the objectivity of a scientist. This practice will serve you well the next time you find yourself confronted by a fear that really does hold you back from the life you want to live. When you feel yourself quaking as you prepare to give a presentation, when you watch your arms quivering as you walk into a job interview, when your mouth becomes drier than the Sahara desert as you share your portfolio with a gallery owner, whenever you notice yourself entering a place of fear, become a scientist, objectively exploring the phenomenon. Become a neutral observer of your own life. When you discover the source of your fear, you may be surprised to find that the reality is much less scary than the perception. Oh, and when you’re done exploring those other fears, remember to say thank you to your new spider friends.