Want a wake up call? Listen to this story, and see if you can hear your own story in it.
Okay, so there is this spider that, after laying her eggs, lays down in the center of them and slowly begins to decompose. By the time her eggs hatch, she has reached such a state that her body – the one that just gave birth to these baby spiders – now is their sustenance. They feed off her dead body until they can fend for themselves and venture off into the world on their own.
A powerful metaphor for the selfless and all-consuming nature of a mother’s love? Certainly. A reminder of the “circle of life” that connects us all? Yeah, that too. A gross and familiar example of how easily we can give of ourselves until there is nothing left? For me it was. I have been that spider more times than I care to admit. It’s easy to be seduced into the romantic notion of dying for a good cause. But I’m getting better. That spider is my inspiration. My muse for self-care.
Is that a true story? I have no idea – I can’t remember where I read it and, frankly, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the story it kicked up for you. Much like the flight attendant schpeel that reminds airplane passengers to put the oxygen mask over themselves first before assisting a child, the story of this spider calls us all to keep our martyring-ways in check. No matter what your “children” are – your job, your family, your volunteer work, your friends…. – she looks at us with an “are you serious?” glance and asks us point blank: “is this worth dying for?”
As added fuel to the potency of this story, the spider is actually a powerful symbol of balance – in fact, its body is literally the shape of a figure eight which, when laid on its side, forms an infinity sign: reminding us of the need to walk between and integrate the past and present, death and rebirth, physical and spiritual and masculine and feminine. In this context, the spider calls us to stay whole amidst the polarities that can pull our lives (and us) apart.
So why am I talking about this? For one, it is a constant struggle of mine as a working mom, a semi-recovering perfectionist and a woman of many passions who is driven, driven, driven to grow, learn and experience all that life has to offer. I call it “sucking the marrow of out the bone of life”. Well, duh! What happens when the marrow is sucked from the bone? The bones get brittle and snap. End of story. So this is personal for me. It’s about periodically slowing down and using my experience and wisdom to make conscious choices. That’s the easy part. The hard part comes before that moment: admitting I can’t have it all and do it all. Right now. I have to choose. And sometimes (cringe) I have to wait or (heaven forbid) say no outright.
On a related note, I see this pattern repeated everywhere – with my friends, family, clients. People are tired – especially the women I know. They give and give and give of themselves. They do it because they care, they believe and they are committed and loyal. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but at some point – and we all know when this happens for ourselves – we pass the tipping point and we give too much of ourselves. Sometimes we even lose ourselves. It can happen suddenly (like a “cosmic 2×4” upside the head) or it can happen very, very gradually until we wake up one day and realize we’re far, far away from where we wanted to be – from what fulfills us.
On a larger scale, I can even see the decomposed spider in organizations, government and educational institutions. Organizations committed to following a path, a plan or a strategy that has long-since lost its luster or outlived its relevance or usefulness. But nevertheless, the leaders and management in these situations tend to hold on even tighter – like a dog on a bone – for lack of …what? A better idea? A new focus? Courage to say that the emperor has no clothes or to admit failure? Most of us have experienced this or at the very least read about it in the news. You know it’s happening when people start talking about “bleeding” for the company. Again, the spider asks: “is this worth dying for?”
At the heart of this spider story is an invitation to be honest, to take responsibility and to make change. The embedded premise is that you are worth saving. You and your life are valuable. Caught up in the traps of our own minds, the spider taps us on the shoulder and reminds us to take responsibility for ourselves – for our lives – as much as we take responsibility for those people, circumstances and situations around us. She points at her decomposing body and asks, “is this really what you want?” Put another way, the spider reminds us of our responsibility to ourselves – and to our world. The spider insists, as Marianne Williamson once did with her famous quote: “Your playing small does not serve the world.”Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is and a host of other books, does some amazing work around poking holes in our limiting (often suffocating) belief systems that call us to unnecessary suffering. Starting with our thoughts, she asks 4 basic questions:
· Is it (our thought) true?
· Can I absolutely know that it’s true?
· How do I react when I think that thought?
· Who would I be without that thought?
By taking a hard and steady look at our stories we hold of “reality”, Katie gently (and not so gently) brings us back to ourselves and asks us to take responsibility for what is within our control. All the stress we feel, she boldly asserts, is caused by arguing with what is. She teaches that there are three types of “business” – yours, mine and the universe’s (or God’s). In this context, Katie cautions that our stress is often due to “mentally living out of your own business”. So next time you feel stressed (or feel the call to decompose), ask yourself who’s business you are in mentally. Watch how that question can bring you back to yourself and what you can control.
As we enter this season of birth and renewal, I invite you to take inventory of you and your life as you’ve created it. Are there parts of you that need to be resuscitated? Where do you need to breathe new life and love into yourself? And before you say, “I have no choice”, ask yourself if you are prepared to die as a result of that decision. Don’t be the spider. Choose to spare her and see what happens – to you and the world around you.