Posts Tagged ‘cocoon’

Getting Out of the Cocoon, Part 2

August 25, 2013

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

Staying on the Old Road, Part 2

June 23, 2013

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

Staying on the Old Road, Part 1

April 28, 2013

If you should not leave the old road for a new one, does that mean you need to spend years in therapy rehashing your past? And do we really spend the first half of our lives becoming dysfunctional? What do I mean when I use the word “dysfunctional” anyway?

The three blog posts on not leaving the old road for a new one elicited comments and questions, some on the blog, others on my Facebook page (to which I copy my blogs), and still others in e-mails and conversations. One reader asked if “dysfunctional” was the correct word to use. She suggested that you live your life and realize at some point that it isn’t working quite the way you planned. You may even feel as if your life is falling apart. You build a road with the wrong materials, keep adding to it with the wrong materials, and even go back and repair potholes with the wrong materials.

Are “the wrong materials” the equivalent of “dysfunctional”? Well, I believe we build the road with the materials we have on hand. And those materials on hand include everything that has gone into making us who we are. We develop strategies to help us navigate our way through life. And some of those strategies become barriers between the persona we create for ourselves and our authentic selves. And that, in my vernacular, is dysfunctional.

If our future becomes our past unless we do something other than keep repeating it, why aren’t a few years in therapy a good idea? They may be for you. My attitude is this: whatever works. But my preferences are clear, based on how I’ve lived my own life. I’m educated in the field of psychology. I have respect for it. I even worked as a therapist for a while during and after graduate school. But I found my way to shamanism and stayed there because I found it a more useful approach . . . for me.

The work of becoming a shaman is very much about working your way back to your authentic self by staying on the road you arrived at to “here” rather than simply leaving the old road for a new one. It is the work of courageously facing yourself as you are, accepting it, healing whatever needs to be healed within you, and making a choice to live a life of integrity—and by “integrity” I mean the kind of completeness you achieve with harmony of mind, body, spirit, and emotions. As it happens, that kind of harmony seems to support “integrity” as most people think of it—a fundamental incorruptibleness.

We so effectively keep ourselves wrapped in the comfortable cloak of our persona that it takes serious excavation to face ourselves as we are. And if you go looking for something buried somewhere other than where you buried it, what do you suppose your chances of finding it are? Exactly. So you stay on the old road.

I’m not going to delve into shamanic practices like recapitulation here. At least, not yet. It’s helpful, I think, to take a look at how we construct a road that takes us away from our authentic selves in the first place. And to do that, I’m going to borrow a concept from Buddhism as I, a non-Buddhist, have come to understand it: the cocoon.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall