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.
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?
The Carin Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com