Spiritual Practice: Cocooning

                I was recently in an online training on John O’Donahue, the Irish poet, priest, and prophet. The trainer talked about two kinds of time: receiving time and surface time. We live mostly in surface time, going about our business, but occasionally we take the time to get quiet, to go deep, which is receiving time. And when the trainer said those words I started crying and couldn’t stop.

            After some reflection I realized the hardest part of this coronavirus isolation for me has been missing out on the places I normally go for receiving time. My weekly trips to the library were gone, my monthly prayer retreats to the Mercy Center were gone, the road trips to the giant redwoods my husband I and enjoy were gone.

            John O’Donahue lived in the Burren in Ireland. The Burren is a large area of County Clare that is not the beautiful green we expect of Ireland, it is a barren rock-strewn area. Yet O’Donahue found beauty there. But I’m having a tough time finding the beauty in my own quarantine “burren.”

How do I develop the ability to rest and settle down during the virus when I can’t leave home? My husband and I walk the dog in the desert most days, but now there are dozens of other people joining us. I have my own room in our home for writing and reflection. But at home, I have a hard time settling as there is always the distraction of a chore that needs doing or a snack calling to me. I have a lot of excuses.

            This week I took a risk. I asked my friend if I could hang out in her spare room for the day. What a blessing it has been to be away from my home after four months of isolation. I’m just across town but it is quiet here and there is nothing else needing my attention.

            Why are times of silence and solitude so important? I’ve written much on this topic in this blog. If we look at Jesus as a model, he would withdraw to quiet places, such as a desert, a garden, or a tomb; and there the deep work was done, preparing him for what was next.

The whole world is cocooning right now because of a virus and radical changes are happening. And we “white” people now have an opportunity to dig deep, admit our racist tendencies and listen and learn new ways of being in the world. It is intense, hard and revolutionary.

            This space of solitude is called many things: the waiting room, the desert, liminal space. But I prefer the picture of a cocoon. A cocoon is a soft sanctuary and looks peaceful from the outside, but inside things are happening! A caterpillar is dissolving and its imaginal cells are fighting their way into becoming a butterfly. Cocooning is a very active period of waiting. Radical changes are happening if we allow it.

            Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the pain in the world I physically cocoon. I curl up in the covers on my bed and picture myself wrapped in a cocoon of God’s love, safe and at peace. This allows me to refuel for the fight for justice. We all need to pause and take a breath. Contemplation must undergird activism or we will burn out.

            I’m not the only one who thinks about cocooning. I just started reading Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions, and I found that she also uses cocooning as her analogy for growth during periods of waiting.

“Waiting is both passive and passionate…it’s a vibrant and contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deep labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to the disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places we live falsely. It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision.” (pg. 14)

She points out that trying to leave the cocoon before it is time can be damaging. A butterfly actually builds and strengthens its wings while trying to get out of the cocoon and “helping them along prematurely” means the wings will never grow strong enough to fly. Staying in our COVID isolation is very hard, but, leaving before it’s time could hurt us as well. We are invited to stay in, even though it feels like death. We can use this time to continue to grow, change and develop as people in ways that we cannot in surface time.

As I discovered, isolation does not equal cocooning. How can we find places to settle to where we can listen deeply?

Try one of these:

  • Open your coronavirus bubble enough to trade babysitting with someone so you can have time alone.
  • Get outside in nature, somewhere beautiful or look for beauty in ordinary places.
  • Continue to stretch yourself by reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching documentaries of people from a different culture than yours.
  • Borrow a friend’s spare room for a day.
  • Take a long drive in the car without the radio on.
  • Sit somewhere and stare at a tree for an hour. It’s amazing what will come up.

I’d like to hear how this time of cocooning is helping you to examine yourself deeply? How are you finding space for solitude? What are you learning that you will take with you into our new world?

Photos:

Cocoon

The Burren Pic

The Carin Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

13 thoughts on “Spiritual Practice: Cocooning

  1. Hi Jacci, I am presently experiencing a momentary writer’s block, so I am presently reading random blogs tagged ‘solitude’ as a means to catch the next gust of wind for my sails. I believe creative writing is an interactive process that needs to flow in both directions, so to speak, a natural law that we can’t override, even if we were to remain in solitude for the rest of our lives. No matter what, like the waves of the sea, the wind will turn us back to humanity. Your mention of John O’Donahue bated me right from the get go, and your comparison of how we experience time. His Burren reminds me of my own Island, which is often referred to as the Rock (Newfoundland) for good reason. It was also really nice and somewhat reassuring for me to read about your struggle with the pandemic and how you have taken steps to remain creative despite the challenges that abound. You certainly have a great eye for photography, largely because they complement your blog with a touch of perfection. For example, the rocks protruding from the water – one on top of the other – puts me in mind of grounding ourselves while in emotional turmoil by remaining connected. Actually, one of my fav childhood stories, that my school teachers used to remind us of from time to time, was the need to build our house on the rock, for when the storms come, and come they will, we may be prepared for whatever should come our way. Furthermore, I enjoy being surround by trees in the forest. If you remain still long enough, an hour may due as you say, then you may notice how the wind comes and goes in patterns of various sorts. Eventually the trees will begin to dance as they hold hands through their roots.
    Love & light,
    JY

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    1. What a wonderful reflection Jason. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I love the idea of the yin and yang of writing and reading. It helps me as well. I’ve always got five or six books going at once half fiction have nonfiction. 😀

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  2. Sounds like a great practice Jacci! Now what if you were to enter into a permanent solitude, and could only keep 10 books with you, which books would you choose? (No cheating; for example, some texts have a collection of books within it, such as the Catholic Bible, which includes 73 books altogether.) You on the other hand can only pick 10 books in total, each one by a different author.

    Perhaps you will side with quality over quantity in your selection, or maybe your addiction to reading itself will prod you to choose lengthy books instead. Either way, it may be prudent to make your selection based on that which will give you the greatest solace, rather than tickle your fancy.

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    1. Well, you must know that is an impossible question. Like chosing my favorite children. But I do think of authors as friends and spiritual mentors so I’d have to pick somethings by: John Philip Newell, Richard Rohr, Phyllis Tickle, NT Wright, Parker Palmer, Sue Monk Kids, Mary Oliver, John O’ Donohue, Henry Nouwen and JK Rowling 🙂

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      1. Wow! What a sophisticated list of authors you have. Do you know what they all have in common? Besides the obvious, such as being creative writers or on fire with love for God. Care to elaborate a little on your answer? This may reflect back or flower within you a unique perspective of what you truly value in life.

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  3. For me, they give words to my experience of the deconstruction and reconstruction of my faith and my hope for a better, more loving world.
    Except JK. I just love Harry Potter. But to me they are also deeply spiritual gospel tales.

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    1. The deconstruction and reconstruction process has been a challenge for me over the years. Perhaps my level of neurosis prevents me from coming to terms with my psychological wounds, therefore God remains somewhat fragmented to me. For instance, it seems incredibly difficult to rectify that God would allow souls to suffer for eternity in hell. This seems to detract from the message of Christ and contradict the gospel itself: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:18

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      1. Yes, those are some of the doctrines I’ve had to let go of. They make no sense. A more mystical and contemplative Christianity, Celtic Christianity, is fitting much better. That’s why the authors I listed are helping.

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      2. In some respects it’s like wrestling with an angel all the night long. Sometimes we need to break in order to be molded in God’s love. It was really nice meeting you. Presently looking into the lives of the authors you provided. For example, NT Wright has one hec of a right hook eh. He imbues me with a confidence that it’s possible to deal with injustice, poverty, disease, corruption, inequality, licentiousness and war. For him these are the things that matter, not my petty squabbling over whether some doctrine ought to be omitted or amended. One can read the entirety of his books and will likely find his message to be the same. This kind of continuity and integrity strengthens the heart.

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