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Gratitude Moon - The Cosmic Web

Have you ever noticed how many spider webs there are in late fall? At first, I thought it was the heavy dew that made them more visible. But everywhere I looked, the trees, hedges, and shrubs were covered in sheets of webs. As I suspected, woodland and garden spiders do build more and larger webs as the days get shorter and the nights get longer. This is the mating season for spiders and thus the female is collecting more insects as food to build her strength for mating, egg laying and sometimes egg incubation over the winter. On sunny days with a small breeze, she turns her abdomen in the direction of the wind and emits several strands of silk, carried on the wind until it attaches to an object. From there she spins her web, then feeds, repeating the process until the first hard freeze. Dependent on the type of spider, after laying her eggs, she may leave the eggs and die, or hide away with the egg sac until spring when the spiderlings hatch. I have seen some indoor spiders moving around with their egg-sacs on daily duties.

I have always been fascinated by spiders and their beautiful webs. I am not the only one, as my husband says it was laying in the grass with his mom watching a spider weave her web on a fence, that he became fascinated with the natural world, eventually becoming a wildlife biologist. I too have watched the orb-weavers spin their intricate webs…done at a very fast pace! They make experienced knitters look slow! Once the outer strands of web have been tethered to various points of contact, you can see the silk being emitted from the abdomen held by spinnerets or tiny fingers with hairs that comb the silk as it emerges. Then they use two of their long legs to attach the silk at the appropriate points to make their style of web. The silk, a protein, is actually a liquid that is squeezed out like toothpaste from a tube. As she pulls on it, the liquid silk sets; the harder she pulls, the stronger the silk becomes, equivalent to steel wire. This is a technology that should inspire some biomimicry!

There are seven types of silk used by various types of spiders, those used for: making the web, wrapping prey, making an egg-sac, spinning a nest, creating a drag line that they drop down on, and the sticky droplets used as glue to hold the web attachments. When we lived on the East Coast, I opened our sliding glass door to the sunroom only to see a very large web spanning the top of the door opening. So, I ducked under to not disturb the web, several times over, likely creating a breeze. A few days later it was clear she found that place vulnerable, as she had rolled up her web by eating the silk and moved it elsewhere.

I feel tremendous gratitude for the role that spiders play in our world and I rarely disturb them (although I may relocate them). Spiders are arthropods which are the invertebrates (such as crabs, flies, mites and centipedes) who constitute over 90% of the animal kingdom. They are vital to the functioning of Earth’s systems in controlling insect populations that would, for instance, overrun gardens and devastate agricultural fields. Thus, spiders are carnivorous. However, unable to swallow, they puncture and inject digestive fluids into their prey and suck out the remains. Some spiders first inject venom to subdue the prey and then wrap it in silk. On our garage door, I once watched a spider start to wrap a large and fighting fly, then inject it, and finish wrapping, taking only a couple of minutes for the whole process. Perhaps, this is why humans feel some level of fear (and think about spiders during Halloween) even though the vast majority of spiders are harmless. They can seem humanlike as many have two prominent eyes on a front flat face, like us, even though they may have 6-8 eyes. In some species, females also eat the males after mating, who generally would die soon after. This provides vital nutrients, which have proven to generate healthier and stronger spiderlings.

For the web-spinner spiders, there is an infinite variety of designs, as there is in bird’s nests. They are attuned to the slightest vibrations of the web, whether wind or prey. This image of a highly sensitive web through which vibrations are constantly transmitting information is the new, emerging image of the cosmos. In this photo from the Hubble telescope, it shows the 'cosmic web' as the large scale structure of the universe. As NASA explains, each bright knot is an entire galaxy whereas the purple filaments show the material connecting the galaxies. With previous technology, we could only see the galaxies not the material connecting them within this cosmic web.

What has been taken for granted as the nature of reality over the past 500 hundred years is giving way to a view of reality as an underlying energy field that transmits information across both time and space. These fields are like a “superfine net” where the lines and knots are floating and constantly moving, one thing impacting all other things, says Erwin Laszlo in The Whispering Pond. “There are subtle and ongoing connections among the things and events that co-exist in the universe”. This is hard to grasp from within a Newtonian worldview, and so it has taken 100 years for the ideas of quantum physics to slowly permeate popular understanding.

In Fritjof Capra’s The Web of Life, scientists have called this connected cosmos as well as Earth's “complex, highly integrative systems of life” by many names - from network dynamics to nonlinear systems to deep ecology to holism - all part of a massive paradigm shift in all the sciences and social sciences. It is taking us away from view of the universe as a large machine, matter as separate entities, and change as progressive and linear. It is taking us toward a view of the universe as dynamic, constantly changing and expanding, connected by energy fields and to Earth as an integrated system that is intelligent and living in that it self-organizes and self-regulates to maintain the optimal conditions for life to exist. This intelligence, intricacy, and lifegivingness should give us pause for gratitude each day!

A more ancient understanding from Buddhism is Indra's net of jewels...a celestial net with a jewel at each node which stretches out indefinitely in all directions. If you look at one jewel, you will see all other jewels reflected in that there are repeated interrelationships among everything in the cosmos, at every level. All that is, is part of our identity and all is mutually influencing, called "interbeing". Scientists call this the holographic universe (see Michael Talbot).

Even more interesting, quantum physicists found “nonlocal coherence” where an event has a quasi-immediate impact somewhere else, without travelling through space and time as currently known. This nonlocality and nonduality has been part of Buddhism for centuries. This image of a cosmic web helps us understand that all things are connected to all else, through this underlying energy field. Just like a spider on a cosmic web, we can pick up this energy and information, in a variety of ways. It also helps explain the power of thoughts and prayers.

For years, I had dreams about a deep, red valley with a tall pinnacle of rock. After one powerful vision, it occurred to me that this might be an actual place. The tall pinnacle is called Spider Rock and exists in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. In Navajo or Diné Creation stories, Spider Woman lives on the sacred Spider Rock and she was the One to weave the web of the universe. Her cosmic web is echoed throughout the cosmos, in the patterns of the night sky, in the patterns of the natural world such as spider webs, and in the patterns within our bodies such as skin and muscle. As a Navajo guide explained on our visit, this is a power place and one could certainly feel the strong energy there and in that whole region. As well, Spider Woman gave the Navajo the gift of weaving, the loom, as well as the weaving songs that inspire their handwork and honor Her and her gift.

This is a very different Creation story from the Judeo-Christian story but its resonance with quantum physics and Buddhism is remarkable and gives a much richer image of the rhythm and pattern making of life, where the human mind, body and spirit can be balanced and vibrate in harmony and beauty with the rest of Life and the cosmos. Can you feel the filaments of energy that vibrate through the universe and you, connecting you to all that is?

I wish to thank James Smeaton in Antigonish, Nova Scotia for his lovely photo, featured first.


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