How do we get out of the cocoon that is suffocating us? How do we get some fresh air? Can we just keep the cocoon and pump some fresh air into it?
The beginnings of an answer can actually be found in a question: How do you even know that you are in the cocoon and are suffocating? The answer: You have paused and you have paid attention. And that is where it begins.
Moving at twice the speed of life and trying to accomplish everything at once while looking brilliant doing so is a part of what gets most of us into that cocoon in the first place. If what you have been doing has served as a kind of poison, then in this case, its functional opposite is the antidote. Of course, one of the surprising elements of this is that we often convince ourselves we have been paying attention. Isn’t that why we have all of the communication devices that are a part of our lives, like smartphones and tablet computers? Isn’t that why we post on Facebook, why we tweet, get LinkedIn, and otherwise participate in social media?
Well, yes and no. We probably begin with the best of intentions. We want to know what is going on. We want to be engaged. One problem, though, is that we often reach out to engage with others before or instead of becoming fully engaged with ourselves. A second problem is that the possibilities for interacting through the myriad forms of devices and programs are so great, that if we lined them up, we could probably have a very nice highway to Pluto. Okay, that might be hyperbole. A nice highway to the moon, then.
Not only do all of those possibilities eat away at our time and attention, they may very well change the way our brains function. Research seems to suggest that developing brains (those of children and adolescents) may become rewired by all that technology so that they become habituated to jumping from one thing to another instead of staying on task. And considering the plasticity of the brain, do we really think only children and adolescents may be affected? Regardless, there is a lot of evidence that multitasking fatigues the brain and performance suffers as a result. And too little downtime does not allow the brain to synthesize what we have been taking in.
All of this impacts our ability to pause and pay attention. But beyond that, many of us escape through our devices. They become just one more way to flee. After all, if you have all of your digital devices with you, you may never need to leave the cocoon.
But if you have paused and paid attention enough to notice how suffocating the cocoon is, enough to pick up the scent of decay in there, then you have the beginnings of an exit strategy.
What makes us pause and notice that the cocoon isn’t quite the perfect habitat after all? For many of us, it takes discomfort. The cocoon isn’t working for us so well anymore. Sometimes big life challenges or changes are involved: death, divorce, addiction or other serious illness, relationship schisms, job loss, emotional turmoil. Sometimes it is more subtle. The cumulative layers of persona become so heavy and limiting over time that we feel we’ve not only been wearing chain mail armor, we realize we’ve got plate armor over the chain mail. It’s hard to move with that kind of weight.
Sometimes, though, the universe intervenes in a gentle way. Something so beautiful catches our attention that we pause long enough to feel how good that beauty makes us feel and look around as if we’re seeing the world in a fresh way. That something beautiful might be any one of countless things: a sunset, the birth of a child, a piece of music that holds us in rapture, a profound statement made by someone—or any experience that touches our senses or internal state in a way that wakes us up, if only for a moment.
Then we begin to ask some questions.
To be continued.
Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall