Getting Out of the Cocoon, Part 2

What kind of questions do we begin to ask? Many of us—maybe most of us—don’t begin with broad, sweeping questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the nature of reality? These are not the questions that usually first confront us when we finally pause and pay attention. No. The questions we begin to ask ourselves are often much narrower, much closer to our everyday lives: Why did I snap at her when she said that to me? What now (that I’m divorced/have lost my job/have retired)? Why am I sad/angry/empty/unfulfilled/anxious right now (or all the time)? Who am I trying to please by doing this? Where should I look for an answer to this problem? When will I finally find some peace?

These are the kinds of questions that begin to plow up the soil in the field of your life. But whether you just scratch the surface or plow deeply depends, in part, on whether you return to the same defensive strategies you’ve been using as you pursue the answers to your questions.

Why did I snap at her when she said that to me? The answer might be one of the following: Because she’s an idiot. Because this is really none of her business. Because she keeps nagging about that. Because she’s wrong. Because I know more about this than she does. Because she just doesn’t know what I’m up against. Any of those might be perfectly rational answers on any given occasion. Or they might have seemed perfectly rational at one time, but not now.

You may begin catching yourself in the act of responding in all too familiar ways that are predictable and either feel more defensive than rational or don’t feel representative of your best. And when you catch yourself recognizing something old and a little bit putrid in your answers, you can bet that there is at least one dead body in that field you’re beginning to plow—probably more than one. And however many there are, they are all you, versions of yourself it’s time to heal and integrate in the bid for power (in shamanic terms) that is a movement towards wholeness.

There is gold in that field you’re plowing, but it is probably not sitting close to the surface. You may have to plow deep. You may find yourself beginning with a timeworn answer, one you’ve trotted out again and again, probably with different people and in different circumstances. Then you stop. You discern a sense of futility to the answer, or discomfort, or hollowness. You may even have a sense of déjà vu. The answer you begin to give may feel true, in part, but shallow. Something in you is no longer satisfied with the same old answer.

If your skin begins to crawl and you realize you don’t actually have an answer, that very sense of “no answer” may feel like a black hole. And actually, that’s not a bad way to look at it.

At the risk of mixing metaphors with abandon (the field of your life with astronomical black holes), consider the black hole for a moment. I’m no scientist, so this is going to be expressed in the simplest of terms. A black hole is formed when a huge star is “dying.” It collapses and its matter gets squeezed into a small space. It becomes very dense and has immense gravity. It has such gravitational force, in fact, that its escape velocity (the speed needed to break away from that gravitational pull) is faster than the speed of light.

Well, sort of. You see, scientists talk about event horizons with black holes. The outer event horizon is at the edge of a black hole. If you were there, you could escape the gravitational pull. But the inner event horizon, which is in the middle layer of the black hole, has a gravitational pull too strong to escape. So we have the outer layer and the middle layer. “What’s in the center?” you ask. Thanks for asking. The center of a black hole is called the singularity. It is that very dense collapsed star. There’s no escaping that.

What does this have to do with the field of your life you’re beginning to plow with those questions? Everything, actually. Think of the center of the black hole, the singularity (a beautiful term when used as I’m about to), as your authentic self, the core of your being, your essential self without all the pain and unhealed issues. In short, you minus the baggage. That core has a gravitational pull that, once you have stepped beyond the outer event horizon, is inescapable.

When you begin to ask questions, you have arrived at the outer event horizon of your personal black hole. You can still escape the gravitational pull, but to do so, you will have to return to the same defense strategies that ultimately gave rise to the questions. If you begin to challenge your usual answers to those questions, you are mighty close to stepping beyond the outer event horizon. And when you do that, everything begins to change. You’re pulled right into that black hole. It’s scary, but you’re heading towards . . . the singularity.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

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12 Responses to “Getting Out of the Cocoon, Part 2”

  1. Michael Says:

    The idea of catching yourself is what I like best about this post. We catch ourselves all kinds of ways. When I was younger I had to learn to catch myself before I lost my temper. Lately I’ve caught myself in daydreams and had to come back down to earth. More importantly, in this context, we catch ourselves putting up defenses that may have been useful at one time but that time has passed and all that’s left is the original lie. Catching ourselves is one of the most important things we do.


    • Melanie Mulhall Says:


      Thanks for commenting. Yes, catching yourself in the act is important. Until we do that, we don’t really have the opportunity to choose how to think/act. But even before we catch ourselves in the act, something equally useful happens: we pause and pay attention. I’m deconstructing here. It’s subtle and happens very quickly. First, we pause and notice. Then we catch ourselves in the act. Then we may begin to ask ourselves some questions.

      You say that when you were younger, you learned to catch yourself before you lost your temper. That is a very useful example. My guess is that before you learned how to do this, you caught yourself after you lost your temper and regretted having done so. You probably began catching yourself afterwards every time you lost your temper. Then you probably caught yourself in the middle of the act of losing your temper. You might have done that for a period of time. Finally, you caught yourself when the anger began to well up but you hadn’t acted on it yet (said or done anything). And you made a choice. Again, I’ve deconstructed what happens. There is a kind of evolution to the process. In the simplest terms, we seem to train ourselves to catch ourselves earlier and earlier until we get to a point–as you did–where we catch ourselves before a thought and/or act that we will either regret later or is just the same old reaction.

      As you say, we catch ourselves putting up defenses that may have been useful at one time. For instance, the reaction we have as a child may be the best we can do at that time. But as we mature, we develop new abilities, we know things we didn’t know earlier, and we have more internal resources. In that case, there is no “original lie,” we’ve just outgrown that strategy and need to catch up to ourselves. In other cases, the defensive strategy was never particularly helpful, but we either don’t know better or get stuck in a groove. I’m not sure I see that as a “lie” either. But in yet other cases, we create an internal scenario that is an interpretation of what is happening outside of us that is more construct than objective reality. (Mind you, what we call objective reality is pretty limited, but you know what I mean.) In those cases, yes, you might say that there is an “original lie.”

      And actually, you have hit on something very important here. Many of our internal strategies (I almost made that all, but I can see cases where it wouldn’t be true) can be traced back to one version or another of a deep belief that we are less than the gorgeous creatures we actually are–that we are bad or wrong or lacking or less than. And that is surely a lie because the essential self is beautiful.

      Well, I guess you gave me quite a lot to respond to. Thanks for that.



  2. jerrie hurd Says:

    I catch myself in old patterns. A friend who was moving gave me a book called the Zen of Seeing. Fun. It forced me to think differently when I looked at things. Our job as writers is to open new visions for readers. Can’t do that if we’re stuck ourselves.


  3. Tammy Brackett Says:

    lord goodness, Melanie I so love reading your posts. Always insightful…enlightening….elegant and always on target. Much love!


  4. Karen Albright Lin Says:

    Hmm. You got me with the dead body in the field. I didn’t see the need to use the black hole…maybe for another post with a different angle? But honestly, that is the editor in me speaking, many readers don’t care about mixed metaphors and it isn’t like you mixed them up in the same paragraphs. Great post. And yes…we do usually start with the smaller questions…but as I grow older I find mine broadening. What am I afraid of? But then there’s always what foods would I never eat. On FB the other day I posed that question and since I’m a very brave eater I had to answer grilled phoenix with shaved unicorn, Sasquatch jerky and steamed Lock Nessy. That’s pretty specific…guess I still have a lot of kid in me.


    • Melanie Mulhall Says:


      What some others who read this post don’t know is that I asked my BMW peers to give me feedback on the mixed metaphor. Thanks for yours.

      As for your answer to the foods you’d never eat, I’m with you, sister. What kind of person could eat grilled phoenix with shaved unicorn? I don’t even want to know!


  5. Gail Storey Says:

    Melanie, I find so much to ponder in this brilliant post, one of your best ever. Yours is a powerfully unique perspective and I see the nature of our evolution much more clearly in these stunning metaphors. I’m particularly struck by how we initially fear the gravitational pull of the black hole, but what a treasure its essential center is. It reminds me of falling back into awareness. Thank you!


    • Melanie Mulhall Says:


      It’s exactly like falling back into awareness, I suspect. Thanks for your feedback. As you know, I feared that mixing my metaphors might somehow confuse or dilute the post, but I was pulled to the black hole metaphor after my initial reference to black holes and just went with it. Thank you for taking the time in your busy (cover girl) schedule to take a look.



  6. Susan Enfield Says:


    I really appreciate the deep perspective, and the metaphors/images help make it stick. The falling into the black hole makes me think it might be a quick process, but in my experience, it is a slow one! I always love your posts.


    • Melanie Mulhall Says:


      Thanks for your comment. You’re right about the black hole. While beginning to fall into it may seem to happen quickly, even suddenly, it is often a process that has been having its way with us for some time. And once we fall into that black hole, the trip is often not short, either.



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