Outside Our Cocoon
Blessings alone do not open our eyes. Indeed, blessings by themselves tend to close our eyes. We do not come to know Him in the blessing, but in the breaking. – Chip Brogden
The bourgeois prefers comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to the deathly inner consuming fire. – Hermann Hesse
Despite its soft and tender sound, it’s a dangerous thing for us. Could kill us, potentially, this cocooning thing.
I know, I know…cocooning? Like the thing the caterpillars do? Really?
Yes, really. Though to be clear, I’m talking about the definition listed below and not the whole metamorphosis into a butterfly. Cocooning, if you’re not totally sure what I’m talking about, is the "trend" that’s come to stay as a mainstay in our culture the past couple of years. Wikipedia describes it as a "trend that sees individuals socializing less and retreating into their home more." Another definition that about sums up my views on it comes from a site called TechTarget, which coincidentally, is not a site I am familiar with, but somehow agree with their thoughts about cocooning:
"Cocooning is the act of insulating or hiding oneself from the normal social environment, which may be perceived as distracting, unfriendly, dangerous, or otherwise unwelcome, at least for the present."
I might add to the definition a little, just so we’re all clear –
"Cocooning is the act of insulating or hiding oneself from the normal social environment, which may be perceived as distracting, unfriendly, dangerous, or otherwise unwelcome, at least for the present, or for an extended length of time."
This is the cocooning I’m talking about. The cocooning that we’ve fallen into seemingly unknowingly – this obsession with making ourselves as comfortable as possible throughout all points in life is probably the most challenging and destructive thing to happen to our culture as of late.
My problem with cocooning isn’t necessarily the general act, as, let’s face it, we all need it sometimes, as a way to rest or recoup before getting back out there in the trenches of the real world. I have small children I negotiate with, try to manage and put to sleep on a daily basis, so by all means I understand this needing a moment thing to regain your energy. If I remember correctly, it’s also a basic human need, rest. We all need a little rest, a little self-care and small comforts to get us through before we’re slung back into the next day of unstoppable reality.
After all, there is a reason that the slogan "Calgon, take me away" resonates with most of us. Some days nothing but hot water and a little peace and quiet can really heal us. And coincidentally it’s probably the most restorative thing we could do for ourselves, and in part, for our world. For taking good enough, loving care of ourselves can only help us and those around us. That’s not a sin; that’s a need.
I think we have gotten a little too carried away with the self-care and the propping ourselves up with our little luxuries lately. We know we’ve reached a point of no return when we chose headphones, with music of our own curation when we grocery shop. We know we have insulated ourselves a little too much when we can’t seem to feel connected to others, despite all the continuous reports that say we’re the most connected generation of them all. We know we have a problem when every day requires a cupcake as a prize to get through it.
My dad is a good example of this, this concept I’m so awkwardly trying to explain. While I don’t think he necessarily falls into this camp of overindulgence, he is somewhat close. A Buddhist for at least 20 years, he’s taken a difference perspective on life, saying what most Buddhists say about life, here on earth:
"Life is full of suffering."
This was sort of the mantra of my sister and I’s youth, life is full of suffering, when we would moan about riding the bus to the mall. Life is full of suffering, he would say for the times we couldn’t go to the mall, hang out with our friends and/or were grounded. It was kind of funny, how he used (and how often he used) this mantra in our teen years.
But he still believes in it wholeheartedly today. And he still says it. Which is all the more entertaining, as the last time I remember him telling me that, he told me in his tender, sort of "I understand" way, this "life is full of suffering" mantra I’d heard so many times before. But the last time I remember it, he was also saying this when we were inside his Mercedes.
This is what I mean by cocooning ourselves.
This – this noticing of the suffering, saying things about it, like "that’s life" or "the world is full of pain" but that’s about it in terms of our thoughts on others’ suffering. Meanwhile, we go along on our way. We go through the thoughts like we can only help so many people; we can’t really end suffering, but then again, were not really trying to either. It’s this sort of hanging on that we do, commenting and gasping about the bad news, but too paralyzed or too comfortable in our lush surroundings to do anything that would upset the equilibrium of our lives, our choices, or our Mercedes ownership.
What I also find interesting about this whole concept is that it seems to get a little over the top when the world gets a little over the top. The little luxuries we line up for ourselves (preaching to the choir here, in case you didn’t know) seems inverse to the relationship to what’s happening out in the world. The more trauma occurs in the world, the more overindulgent we tend to become with ourselves, trying to shield our inner child perhaps, from all the pain that we don’t have a name for, the feelings we don’t have words for, the sort of silent sadness that there is no space to quietly cry in.
It’s as if we don’t know how to house the feelings, find the words to speak the truth about what we feel or unable to shake the sense that something has gone very, very wrong here. We seem to lack knowing what to do, beyond gasping, wordless prayers that mostly end up in tears, and stuffing ourselves with food, alcohol, ice cream, massages, Snuggies and heated towel racks. We take, we insulate and we try to comfort ourselves the very best we can, using all categories of things, just in order not to feel, just to not remember, just not to get too worked up.
We need mani-pedis, to shake off the rough day, that rude way we were handled on Monday, we are trying desperately to recover, but we don’t think to ponder what we can do to make a change for the better, to try for a better workplace with more respect for all.
We, trying to protect the child from the inescapable, intense and constant pain of this world, end up creating a world of a padded room, where not only can our children not hurt themselves or experience pain, we also stunt their growth on learning about consequences and cut them off to the important lesson of how to survive when life gets bad, keeps handing you perpetual rotten lemons, one after another.
And you know what? I get it.
I so get it, I so understand the need for a mani-pedi, I understand the need for a cold glass of wine, I understand the need for heated floors and slippers, because, well: those 300 girls kidnapped in May. Because of what’s happening on the Gaza strip. Because of what’s happening at our border and within Ferguson.
There are a thousand other small stories too that are painful to the core, too – two Amish girls kidnapped (but thankfully found alive.) Robin Williams’ suicide. And that’s just one night of news.
Out our front door, there is cancer in one family, poverty in another, and the older woman at the end of the street recently returned from hip replacement surgery who’s in desperate need of a friendly face. Look a little further into your social network and there are the friends who can’t have children, the single mom who’s barely making it, and then there’s the couple that’s about to get married when her sister suddenly dies. It doesn’t make any sense. And life is full of it; it keeps handing us these pink slips everywhere, these little bits of pain. All we can think about then, is life is really rough and so therefore might as well eat dessert first, as who knows when you’ll be next?
There are tens of thousands of stories that are both ours and ours collectively that justify every comfort, every sense of extreme self-care. There are enough sad and terrible headlines that a cold glass of Chardonnay (and a bottle on ice next to the tub) in a hot bath while someone gives you a pedicure is totally understandable. The world is harsh, hard, and painful. We all know this.
But as Christians we are called to rise to the standard of Jesus. Heck no, we won’t achieve it, but we should certainly try. And by trying it means to take out the headphones, the snug world of our own creation and reach out. It means skin in the game, it means in order to help the broken world around us, and we have to come out of the cocoon.
Which may mean we miss a couple of sales at Target.
Which may mean our homes are not perfectly organized, but happy, and the people within it well-loved.
Which may mean that we reach out to those in suffering, to our broken world, to the neighbor next door as opposed to burying our head in the next big home project. Which may mean we clear time on our schedule to just listen to the woman down the street, the one with the hip replacement who talks too much but is actually very nice. Which may of course mean we get our heart stomped on a little bit by people sometimes. It isn’t always pretty (dealing with people isn’t always fun, either) but at least you have some skin in the game, and you have shown up, instead of isolating and cocooning yourself from the pain.
It isn’t always easy, this pain and bearing of suffering we carry around in us, and there are so few places we feel safe to bring it to light anymore. But being a Christian means being held to a higher standard and just trying, over and over again to find more grace and patience than you thought possible. And because of that, we try to give each other listening, give each other the place to call home, a space sacred for all those fears and scary thoughts, but we don’t remain there, or remain frozen in fear.
After all, as Anne Lammot says – "grace always bats last."