Updated: Nov 7, 2019
“People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.”
I found a black widow in my yard yesterday.
I was dismantling a wooden pen I’d built for the two pygmy goats I used to have. As I lifted the plywood floor, it went scurrying over the edge and out of sight.
I was spooked, so I went inside and dressed up in a long-sleeved t-shirt that I tucked into long-underwear. Then I put on gloves and went back outside. It was fun to look that ridiculous.
As I kept dismantling, I found the spider again. This time there was less wood and it was exposed on the ground. Still it tried desperately to hide. It scrunched itself down between two egg-sized rocks.
I was holding a hammer. I moved the rocks to expose the spider. It scurried between two other rocks, but its bulbous abdomen wouldn’t allow it to get far down. So it froze, out of options.
I could have squashed it with the hammer and been done with it. I squeezed the handle as I considered doing so.
But I couldn’t.
This creature so feared—and so ominously named—appeared to be terrified. It wanted only to get away from me, to be left alone.
Would I leave it alone? Or would I kill it? I didn’t want something poisonous in my backyard. But I didn’t want to squash this pulsing vessel of a trillion delicate connections.
Then I realized there was a third option. Capture it and take it somewhere away from houses. That felt good. A win for both of us.
* * *
Elsewhere in the poem I quoted above, Rumi urges “ask for what you really want.” I don’t really want to win at the expense of another losing. I just think sometimes that that’s the way it has to be.
But when I think something has to be, I close myself off to other things that could be. When I think I’m between a rock and a hard place, then I am.
Being in this mindset—being trapped in this world—tends to lead to insisting. It might be insisting on being heard, or insisting on a certain way of doing something.
To insist is to bang my head. In my backyard yesterday, to insist would have been to bang the spider with a hammer.
But if I pause and entertain the belief that I can have what I really want, then something else can happen. This something else is neither a rock nor a hard place, but a third possibility. I really wanted the spider out of my backyard and I really wanted it to live. Crouching over the spider, hammer in hand, I paused—and I got both.
* * *
Of course it doesn’t take, as my friend Joe would say, a rocket surgeon to come up with the idea of capturing the spider and moving it. But the practice of pausing has also allowed more impressive ideas to come to me. It’s when I get up from my writing, for example, and walk out into the sunshine that the breeze will blow an idea my way. Suddenly I see what will make what I’m writing pop or sing.
Often, when we feel at loggerheads with someone or something, we are insisting—and getting nowhere. We’re gripping a hammer tightly. We’re clenched. We’re forgetting the third possibility.
The third possibility is not hard. We find it when we soften and allow. In fact, it’s like becoming water. Water doesn’t care what surfaces it’s up against. It trickles down between them. When I do that, I find goodness down there, like a lighted underground cavern. Options open. Worlds open.
* * *
As I write in my book Making Belief, we think we’re seeing the world when all we’re ever seeing is a world. The good news is we can move between worlds. This is the miracle that Rumi wrote about. “People are going back and forth across the doorsill/ where the two worlds touch.”
Our culture is largely built around winning and losing. Elections, sports, lawsuits, arguments. Sacrifice too. To have this, we must sacrifice that. To get rid of the spider, I must kill it and feel bad. That’s the way of the world, we often tell ourselves. Dog eat dog.
Rumi doesn’t play that game. Rumi says ask for what you really want. When you find yourself in the world of winning and losing, sacrifice, and hard places, you can practice catching yourself. You can practice pausing and allowing a third possibility. You can wait for that possibility to arrive like a visitor at your round and open door.