“The spider’s touch, how exquisitely fine! Feels at each thread, and lives along the line” – Alexander Pope
When I was in college I studied abroad my junior year. At the University I was attending, grades for your courses were determined by one oral exam at the end of the semester. There were no other assignments and, therefore, no other grades. Your success or failure on the exam was your success or failure in the course.
During exams, I found myself in a situation where I had a couple of exams on back to back days which made studying for both a little difficult. Like many other students, I had studied a little before the exam period, but really needed to catch up in the day or two before.
I had taken an exam earlier in the day, and was already exhausted from that. Apart from the course grade resting on this one exam, it was an oral exam, which I wasn’t used to. Not knowing something is one thing, but not knowing it when you are face to face with your professor trying to pass a course is another!
In the evening, I walked into the common kitchen of my building to take a short break and get a snack, dreading the upcoming night of studying and the exam I had to take first thing in the morning. It felt like my problem was engulfing me and that the Universe itself had decided to sit on my shoulders. My stress levels rose as I couldn’t seem to see anything but my problem ahead of me.
Then, as I stood by the window ruminating on my misery, I saw a spider. A tiny one. Just walking along the ledge of the window. For a moment, I became preoccupied with the spider, and it felt good.
I watched it move its tiny legs along the sill, just moving along, doing what spiders do. And, in that moment my “problem” seemed to regain its proper perspective and the Universe had retreated from the warm spot it found on my back.
That tiny spider helped me to see that the world existed outside of me and my problem. And that everything has a proper place in the Universe. Frankly, I had let my problems consume my life for a couple of days, and that’s why my stress levels were rising.
I realized that just as the spider was doing nothing other than being what it was, that all I also had to do what simply be what I was. The spider neither knew nor cared about university exams, it knew only making webs, eating insects and walking along this window ledge.
In my world, being what I was, I had to take exams, but I didn’t have to let that consume me any more than the spider was allowing walking along the window sill to consume him. It was simply a part of what he did.
I watched the spider for about 30 seconds, letting myself relax momentarily. And I remembered that tomorrow the exam would be over and soon after that mostly forgotten. I walked back to my room and opened my books again. But the image of that spider walking the ledge stayed with me.
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