Lessons In Fear

Coleman Barks Guest House

In 2009, I attend and co-hosted a yoga retreat in the tropical wonderland of Costa Rica. One of the greatest appeals about the retreat was the fact that we got to live right in the thick of the rainforest. The prospect of living so proximal to nature was certainly alluring; however, I must admit that something I didn't think through completely was the fact  that moving into the  rain forest meant becoming roommates with those already living there, e.g., alien insects, poisonous frogs and deadly scorpions, leopards, jaguars, pumas, and really, really, really big spiders.
 
One night, I was turning down the covers (you see where this is going), preparing to hop into bed, when I encountered a rainforest roommate who also happened to be the biggest damn spider in the history of the world. He was big and brown and hairy and by the look of him could easily do push-ups with a Volkswagen on his back.

Crouched on the floor, conspicuously poised right next to the bedpost, the spider made it quite obvious to me that his plan was to wait quietly next to my bed, unnoticed, until I went to sleep, and then stealthily crawl up the bedpost, latch onto my jugular vein, and suck me dry, like the unrequited, wanton yearnings of a pallid male model in the tweener saga "Twilight."
 
At first I just stood there, stunned (this is their first attack tactic, you know; they stun you with their mere presence so that you are too afraid to run away, and then they come over and eat you whole.) I knew that I couldn't kill it; I get the guilts when I kill a mosquito, let alone something big enough to have its own Facebook page. Besides, I think you need a permit to kill an animal that big.
 
I grabbed a glass jar and went back into the other room, where I crouched and looked at the spider. He was looking back at me.

He didn't move.

I didn't move.

I told myself that I was trying to wear him down. After a long time in that position, I performed the most courageous act I've ever executed in my life: I sprang forward and with lightning-quick reflexes placed the jar over the spider.

Suddenly, the heretofore static Goliath leapt into a frenzy of motion, slithering and squirming, trying fruitlessly to find purchase for any of his eight legs upon the smooth walls of his new glass prison.

I grabbed a stack of poems I planned to share at the retreat and slid the paper underneath the jar, a new floor for the spider. Now with the spider between jar and paper, I felt confident to lift him up and take him next door to our friend Molly, who was fascinated with all the flora and fauna of the rain forest. I knew she'd love this.
 
After we all ooed and ahhhed, and had a good communal freakout, we decided to set our captive free. We walked down the path so that the 8-legged monster would be dissuaded to simply crawl back to my room and continue on with his plan to kill me. We lifted the jar off the spider and quickly backed away.

To show us that he wasn't afraid, the spider just sat there and smugly claimed ownership of the stack of poems he was resting on. "Let's see how strong you crazy bi-peds are now that I don't have this glass force field around me," he said with all 40 billion of his eyes.

So we did the only logical thing: we photographed the beast so we could show our friends the next day just how monstrous this spider was. We planned on posting it on social media and wondered if we could link to the spiders page.
 
It wasn't until I looked at the photos the next day that I realized just how perfect the scene was. This spider was stretched, all eight hairy legs of him, upon the poem called the "Guest House" by Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks). In this poem, the 13th century Persian Sufi mystic asserts that life is a guest house and that we must entertain everything that comes to our door. The poem goes something like this: "This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy a depression, a meanness, a 900 lb spider who wants to kill you. . ." My translation might be different than Coleman Barks's.
 
Rumi says that we are to entertain everything that comes our way because, who knows, the event that happens to show up on our doorstep, though uninvited, may be the very thing we need, or the very thing to prepare us for something else that comes next; it may teach us something important and valuable.

For me, yoga is such wonderful training to keep me aware and open enough to see these visitors as lessons and teachers, as well as handle them with some poise and grace when they come knockin'.
 
What I learned from my unexpected visitor:

You have to take whatever comes, good or bad. We cannot always control what comes our way, but we can control how we react to it
In itself, the difficult act of just staying open to what shows up changes us, heals us, transforms us
Some things happen for a reason. Other things just happen
Often what scares us most isn't malicious but just another part of the world following its own script
Oh, and make sure that when sleeping in the rainforest you check around your bed before you hop in

 
The Guesthouse


This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Scott