Staying on the Old Road, Part 2

What if you could return to your mother’s womb, where it is warm and safe? You rock gently in your pool of amniotic fluid, and that fluid is contained within the amniotic sac, providing a warm, protective environment. Your needs are met and nothing is required of you.

Actually, most of us do return to our mother’s womb. We create a cocoon for ourselves in order to make the world safer, easier, more comfortable. It could be said that this cocoon is built upon the foundation of our fears because it is constructed as a response to everything we view as threatening or uncomfortable in the world. We want a place to go to, to reside in, that feels like home.

There’s something to be said for that . . . except that what feels like home by the time we’re adults is not our authentic selves, it’s the persona we have created. So we build a palace for our persona. The caterpillar forms its cocoon using the silk it emits from glands. That silk is gluey and when it dries, it becomes hard. We humans create our cocoons from the stuff of our lives. The cocoon is created by the dysfunctional strategies we have developed to make ourselves feel safe and comfortable. It, too, is gluey. It, too, becomes hard when dry.

And we do become dry. We suck the very life right out of ourselves as we construct the cocoon. We eliminate any beliefs that may be threatening to the persona. We spend our time doing things that support the persona. We invite people into our lives who do not challenge our persona or the cocoon we’ve constructed from it. Anyone else is “them.”

Pema Chödrön has described the cocoon in a way that first lulls the listener into thinking that this would be a nice thing. She builds her description layer on layer until the listener begins to be just a little uncomfortable, just a little antsy. By the time she’s done, you’re horrified. She does all of this within the space of a few minutes.

Pema likens the cocoon to a room that is just right for you. It’s your room and everything in it is perfect—for you. Everything in it pleases you, from the smells to the music to the room temperature to the furnishings. In fact, it so pleases you that you stay in there as much as you can. When you must go out, you are reminded of just how unsafe and annoying the world is. You retreat back into your room as soon as possible. You leave it less often. You try to never leave it. Even then, some of the world filters in and you find yourself pulling the shades and stuffing towels under the door to keep as much of the world out as possible.

You decide that it is pretty nice in there. Just perfect, in fact. But it’s so closed up, no fresh air can get in. It’s suffocating.

This is a precise description of what we do to ourselves. And some of us take it even further. After being in that perfect room for a time, we decide it’s not quite perfect enough. There are some things in there that don’t fit as well as we thought. So we open the door just enough to toss them out. Strangely, the room gets smaller when we do that, not more spacious because there’s less in it. No. It closes in on us even more because we have put even more limits on what is safe and comfortable.

For such a confined space to actually be safe and comfortable, though, you have to restrict what it means to be “me” and what it means to be “human.” The smaller that room becomes, the more restrictive those definitions are. And the less you can breathe. In fact, what you are breathing is nothing more than your own recycled breath, and sooner or later, all the oxygen will be gone from that room.

What’s to be done?

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

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4 Responses to “Staying on the Old Road, Part 2”

  1. Christine Says:

    Wow. So true. Can’t wait to read the next part!

  2. gaildstorey Says:

    This is one of the best metaphors for contracting inside the conditioned self I’ve read. Thank you, Melanie, extremely helpful.

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