For most people, the idea of cohabiting with giant huntsman spiders sends shivers down their spine. But if you frequent this blog, you're probably aware of my acquired fondness for these eight-legged inhabitants of our home. Over time, they've become less like intruders and more like roommates, chasing down and managing pests in their own unique way. A harmony, if you will, has long been established.
But as it goes with nature, ecosystems are complex and constantly shifting. Enter the solitary spider-hunting wasps, an entirely new dimension to our indoor food web. These wasps, equipped with potent stingers (almost equal to the infamous Murder Hornet), have a singular mission: to incapacitate spiders and use them as hosts for their eggs. While they have zero interest in interacting with or harming us humans, they have a gruesome fate in store for our huntsman spiders --becoming a live buffet for their emerging wasp larvae.
This scenario places those like me, who have an inclination towards holistic living and a deep respect for all life, in a bit of a conundrum. How does one navigate the situation when a higher-order predator enters the scene? The wasps, after all, are merely following their instinctual programming. But, there's also our emotional and ecological investment in the resident spiders at play here.
One could argue that the introduction of a new predator might balance the ecosystem further. Perhaps the spider population was growing too large, and nature found its way to introduce a control. Or, it could simply be an incidental migration of these wasps into a new territory rich with prey.
Regardless, the dilemma remains: do we protect our beloved spiders or leave them to their natural fate?
For me, the answer is a gentle nudge. Recognizing that both species have their place in the grand tapestry of life, I opt for persuasion over force or inaction. Whenever I spot these wasps, I carefully usher them out one of our many windows. This protects our spider companions and encourages the wasps to go back to exploring hunting grounds beyond our walls.
Even so, I do think it's also important to understand that every individual's situation and comfort levels are different. Some might choose to allow nature to take its course entirely, while others may intervene more directly by outright killing the wasps (and probably the spiders too, actually). It's a personal choice, grounded in the unique relationship each person shares with the world around them. And I’m not going to be too judgey about this...
It’s just a reflection of the intricate dance of predator and prey, of life and death, of balance and change. And for holistic nature lovers, our role often shifts between observer, guardian, and participant. It's a beautiful and sometimes challenging dance. But always, it's a reminder of the interconnectedness of all living beings and the delicate threads that bind us together.
...and even as I wrap this up, I notice a mantis standing there on the windowsill looking expectantly outside as if to say, I forgot how I got in here, but would you mind letting me back out there-- and so I will.
Across all my social media I see lots of worry that reliance on AI is going to weaken the human mind, making us all dumber and less capable over time... and a common reply to this is that calculators, etc. haven't really made us collectively stupid but perhaps even more productive than ever. So what’s it going to be, is AI going to take away human agency or actually increase it?
I personally have a different line on this that I hope answers to both sides of that debate:
I suck at math. This is not because I have access to calculators and Alexa who can answer my math questions by voice. This is because I always sucked at math and I was never interested in changing that fact. It isn't just about being lazy, basic math was very challenging for me, and I decided to expend my energy on other things like reading advanced books, DIY fixing stuff, and yes, video games. Calculators or not, I was going to avoid a life of needing to regularly deal with math. And actually, I was pretty successful at arranging that..
On the flip side of this, I didn't pour my blood, sweat, and tears into a philosophy major because it was going to optimize my efficiency, make me a lot of easy money, or even make me famous... It was a serious and obscure challenge that I just happened to be very passionate about doing.
So I did it. To the fullest.
AI or not, humans are going to avoid doing what they don't want to do and throw themselves wholeheartedly into what they do want to do. Powerful tools like AI are simply likely to make it easier to do both.
And this isn't actually a new trend, we've come a long way from the tribal days where everyone needed to be good at lots of basic survival skills. Society's move towards diverse specializations has had a long history of walking hand in hand with technology... and it has always exponentially increased the breadth and depth of knowledge and capability rather than diminish it...
So if AI tools help you (or your children or your students) get through something you're not so good at or don't really enjoy doing, why not use them for that so you can focus on what you love and uniquely bring out into the world--
Redefining the root of all evil:
Pride is totally fine.
Mediocrity is actually blissful.
Being smug, everyone hates that.
You don't have to be the best at everything (or even anything) you do. Do what you want to the level that you want, and enjoy it.
How many of us would do our best to treat an autistic child with kindness and respect? I think most of us would. But even I, who has worked so long and patiently with autistic children as a teacher, can sometimes forget that there are lots of "undercover" autistic adults out there in the workaday world.
Maybe they have learned to "mask" most of their typical autistic behaviors to get along in society, or maybe they don't even know that they have "mild" autism. But they probably still end up showing some traits that many of us find annoying and irritating (social awkwardness, difficulty communicating, lack of humor, intensely specific interests, repetitive behaviors, rigid routines, emotional outbursts, hypersensitivity, physical clumsiness). And since it's really hard to know that they are in fact autistic, we pretty naturally assume that they are just irritating "normal" people getting in the way of our daily life...
I'm not going to say you're a big jerk because you unintentionally find some behaviors irritating in the adults around you and that maybe you don't always handle them well. As I said, even I don't always handle these things perfectly, and I've developed an incredible amount of patience from my long years of working closely and lovingly with autistic children.
What I will say is that when facing non-harmful but irritating behaviors in others, it's good to remind ourselves that we should really just be easygoing with everyone.
This will save us from looking like a jerk for lashing out and traumatizing someone who actually has underlying "disabilities". It will also make everyone's day go just a little bit smoother when you can gracefully let these things go. And finally, it will lower your own stress levels and blood pressure if you can manage to smile your way past it, which is a big win for your long-term physical and mental health.
I'm not saying you should completely ignore all problematic behavior around you, especially in longer-term relationships, but next time you find yourself getting annoyed at some trait or behavior that isn't likely to cause any actual harm, consider that there may be underlying factors (autism, anxiety, depression, insomnia, an illness in the family, grief over a loss, the list is long...) and see if you can let it slide. Even if there isn't anything deeper going on, your own health will still benefit anyway--
What some awesome women with autism want you to know about their experience:
Some powerful words from my favorite person known to be on the autism spectrum: the successful, sexy, and very witty science communicator, Kyle Hill
It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us.
Today on the drive to one of the schools where I teach English, I rolled down my window to enjoy the fresh mountain air. Unfortunately, I also startled a giant huntsman spider (literally the size of the palm of my hand) who proceeded to scurry from the window column just behind me and scamper back and forth across the inside of the front windshield looking for a way out of his predicament...
Luckily for both of us I've spent the last several years building up an immunity to giant huntsman spiders, so I was able to calmly find a wide turnout on this narrow, winding mountain road and stop safely. He was totally flipping out, looking desperately for a place to hide and finding none on the wide expanse of the front glass. Fortunately I was able to reach across the car to open the passenger door just as he started to drop down, and he jumped right out.
Unfortunately, because I had stopped on the opposite side of the road, this put him right on the edge of the roadway, and because I prefer not to drop off passengers directly into danger, I got out to find a way to coax him into the bushes on the shoulder rather than crossing the street and getting run over... Well, he wasn't willing to climb onto my boot (understandably I suppose) for a walkover, so I looked around and found some random bamboo branch to scoop/chase him in the right direction. In the end, my stowaway and I were both saved from high-impact deaths and I happily arrived just in time for my first class.
If you detect a whiff of affection for my unwitting passenger, you wouldn't be wrong. I do actually admire and respect these gentle but impressive giant spiders that share my environment and home. But it definitely wasn't always the case. In fact, I used to be terrified of all spiders as a child and young adult, and killed them on sight, without mercy and no questions asked.
So what changed? How did I trade such a common spider phobia for my current calmness in the face of giant arachnids? Well, there were certainly stages to the process...
First of all, there was an odd but practical decision to be made. I went through a pretty serious goth phase during which I thought authentic spiderwebs made for excellent room decor. And of course, having authentic spiderwebs decorating ones house means that there must be some real live spiders dwelling there at least part-time. So I made an uneasy alliance with the smaller spiders that as long as they stayed (and decorated) in the corners, they could live. If they ventured out into the living spaces I frequented, they would be killed immediately. I also began carefully researching which spiders might actually be safe so that I could sort out the truly dangerous ones and continue killing them with extreme prejudice.
Along the way, through research and simple observation I learned some things about their lives and habits and the fact that, like my predatory pet cat with mice, they kept the local fly population down. Slowly, I began to get used to them and got lazy about enforcing my territorial death sentencing. Around this time I also became a vegetarian and eventually began thinking that if I was changing my diet to avoid killing cows, I should also probably start applying that same logic to the smaller creatures in my environment...
By this time I was moving out of the cobwebby-style goth and into more glamorous goth stages and instead of killing the spiders whose spinning services I no longer required, I was catching them in a glass and relocating them outside where they could continue to keep the local environment pest-free and I could feel good about not murdering them unnecessarily. This kind of constant close contact with them helped retrain my physical aversion to them so that I could calmly scoop them up without any fear or loathing. I had befriended the spider.
This process came in very handy when I ended up moving to Japan where lives the giant huntsman spider. These spiders are confrontingly huge and shockingly fast. And they are everywhere. They don't spin webs but just hide out in corners and then suddenly run across the floor or wall or ceiling... I was certainly intimidated. But I had already researched what creatures are dangerous in Japan and these monsters are definitely not on that list. So I knew I just had to reapply my previous training on a larger scale...
Through research and observation I found that they are actually pretty much blind and they run after things that vibrate the floor like bugs, or my feet. So yes, they do sometimes run at my feet aggressively but as soon as they notice that I also happen to carry a big shadow they instantly retreat with equal speed from whence they came. And if I try to move them off with a broom, they rear up and try to look like big baddies at first, but on the second try they give up, flop over, and pretend to be dead, just big and dead. Oh, and they eat cockroaches, which are also big and everywhere here...
So by the time I moved out here to the mountains of Japan, where relocating each individual spider would be a hugely pointless waste of time, I had made my peace with the giant huntsman spider. Now we coexist in a kind of partnership with them eating the more unpleasant pests of the humid summers and me providing them with plenty of corners to hide in during the cold winters...
So what is the point here? Well, first perhaps something about how a reasonable concern about something as dangerous as black widow spiders needn't prompt us to also kill cute little helpful jumping spiders on sight. And how that can be logically extrapolated up to more intimidating but equally harmless creatures as well (including, umm, the infinite variety of humans).
Second, fear itself. Fear can certainly help keep us safe, but it can also harm us. My old fear of spiders could have just killed me on the road if I hadn't already dealt with it. Yes, that's a rare case of serendipity, but fear can easily push us into poor choices in the mundane situations of daily life, and it can limit us in some of the life-changing opportunities that do sometimes come up.
And finally, adaptation. I adapted to living with spiders (and a lot of other creatures actually) through the practical realities, then research and observation, and then familiarity. It is possible to adapt our fears so that they serve us rather than dominate us. Each fear and each person will have a different process, and some will probably benefit from including therapy of some kind... But if you have some fears that are limiting your life, consider processing them too. It can be so freeing--
After injuring my back in early summer, I finally started running again this morning. It was only about one kilometer, and it was basically three short runs interspersed with three short walks... but it felt great to be breathing hard and sweating a little from physical effort (rather than just sweltering in the summer heat). I followed up with some easy yoga and then a bath with relaxing epsom salts.
If you have also let your exercise fall by the wayside for some reason, now is an excellent time to start it up again... Why? because Fall brings back cool mornings that are refreshing but not too cold to easily get moving. And if you can get out to a park or other natural space, experiencing the change of the season can give you a fresh, motivating feeling. There's just something in the air...
A bit of advice though, don't let that invigorating feeling in the air overstimulate you into jumping right back in where you left off. Autumn also says, "Take it easy..." Start slow and gentle so you don't injure yourself and set yourself back even further. If you do muscle training, maybe start with just your body (pushups, etc.) before doing the heavy weights or machines. If you run, begin with long, slow strides that gently stretch and warm up your muscles, and intersperse your running with periods of long, slow walking. Or try some leisurely cycling... Focus on your breathing, and don't forget to enjoy the air and signs of the changing seasons around you.
Autumn with its colors, smells, foods, and traditions is my favorite season and no matter your favorite season I think we can probably agree that there is a certain magic in the early fall. If you are able, I urge you to get out there and soak up that magic right into your physique with some refreshing, reinvigorating, but also relaxing physical activity--
Toxic positivity is a negative relationship with negativity
The key to true positivity is a grounded, balanced positivity. Neither rejecting negativity outright nor wallowing in it, but respecting its place in this world of duality.
For example, when I used to start feeling depressed I would down a bottle of cabernet, light up the black candles (literally), set Leonard Cohen or Nine Inch Nails on repeat, sleep until noon, and turn my general corner of the neighborhood into a shadow realm of sorrow for days...
Naturally, that didn't feel so great and it took a considerable toll on my health, so I eventually gave it up for some sunny positivity--
Instead, I would put on some upbeat flamenco music, burn a ton of white sage, and blast everything with reiki while chanting some positive affirmations. Well, that certainly seems nicer and healthier, but it was also obsessive, controlling, and based in fear: fear of falling back into that old shadow... and it also wasn't lasting without constant repetition and upkeep, which made it start to feel inauthentic and ineffective...
Now, I'm finally much more (but not perfectly) centered. My general outlook is that positivity is a long-term movement with daily fluctuations, and so I worry less about the transient presence of negativity. When I feel down, I'm more likely to go ahead and honor it by listening to a few songs by Coldplay. Maybe I'll sit down and take a 15 minute break on the couch with some tea and a deep mood. Then I'll eat something sweet and get doing something productive but easy like washing the dishes, organizing my desk, bringing in some firewood,... and I'm back in the long-term movements of positivity.
Of course if something truly terrible happens, I will be broken for a longer period of time and just have to deal with it as best I can. But as an example of daily life, it really can work something like this... even for someone like me who leans towards depression (but without being clinically diagnosed as such).
It's about finding all the small, practical ways to take back some conscious control from our natural negative-bias (which has probably been amplified by our social and lifestyle environments) so we can make more balanced choices and develop more balanced mental habits. And this is not an "always look on the bright side of life" kind of thing... It's a clear-eyed acknowledgement of the functional place of negativity in our lives combined with the rich enjoyment of pleasurable moments and harnessing the motive power of positivity to take actions that can lead to more successes in this challenging world.
For some of you this may be a simple adjustment in lifestyle habits, or it may involve therapy or medications. I even offer a course of my own HERE in which I share my recommended playlist of analytical and practical tools for rebalancing your positivity/negativity index... but whatever you end up doing, I hope you find your path to a more pleasant space for living and breathing in.
Part of the joyomancy motto is "...in the direction of your highest possibilities--"
But why not the usual "Manifest your maximum potential !" ?
Because though I am not here to encourage you to wallow in your difficulties, neither am I here to push you into some life of success and happiness that I think may be best for you. In fact, I don't really have personal thoughts on what is best for you... I am leaving that up to you. Deep within, you already know what you want to achieve, and you eventually will achieve it. It's inevitable. And if not in this life, then in some other... I'm not really worrying about it, and I think neither should you. But when you are ready to advance the timetable on your purpose, I am here ready to help you clarify it and begin charting the course--
Last week I had some dental worries that got me down and a little anxious (I've always felt kind of weird and anxious about my teeth: are these little rocks in my mouth really a part of me? and why do they seem so willing to leave early?). Luckily they got resolved this Monday with just a normal filling, but the whole thing got me in a very thoughtful mood, and I was very happy to be able to lean on my partner for a little comfort... In that overdramatic mental space this song surfaced in my memory from more than 20 years ago and I've been listening to it a lot the past few days...
And then this morning I heard of the very sudden passing of an old high school friend. I saw his wife's final message to him on social media... It was simple and heartbreakingly earnest grief.
I'm not suggesting that you make this song your anthem, because you should ideally ground your happiness and health in your self. But we humans simply are not solitary creatures, and if you are lucky to have a truly great life-partner please take the time to be thankful for it and to celebrate it. And if you don't, that's fine too. Do the work on yourself to be your own best partner, and be grateful for the friends that give you an extra boost when that's still not quite enough for life's sometimes overwhelming events...
London Rain (Nothing Heals Me Like You Do) by Heather Nova
♪ a very lovely acoustic version
♫ original version backed with some moving rock guitar