The Safety Cocoon We’ve Been Living In
Reflective Questions to Guide Our Emergence
In some ways this past year has felt like a year-long retreat. Each of us has experienced our own unique version. For my family, we’ve limited our outings considerably only shopping for essentials online. Our social life has amounted to run-ins with familiar eyes at the grocery store and “seeing” friends on online chats, our son on video games and in chat spaces. Our favorite ways to spend time together typically include daily walks and forays into nature. We meditate. We learn together (taking on homeschooling, yet another unexpected turn of events). I stare out of the window as a matter of course. “What are the birds up to today?” I wonder. We relish in our family dinners offering thanks for staying healthy, maintaining our jobs, and accessing fresh foods. If we are not exactly monks, we are narrowing in on a more simplistic existence.
“I just don’t like people anymore,” my thirteen-year-old son teased but I know there’s a kernel of truth he’s expressing not wanting to emerge from our safety cocoon. Yet, upon this writing, more than 33 million people (or 10% of the U.S. population) have been fully vaccinated to prevent COVID-19. As we consider moving back out of our homes and into schools and workplaces, into community centers and restaurants, there are a number of reflective questions we can ask. After all if we’ve truly retreated, shouldn’t we emerge wiser?
Pamela McLean of the Hudson Institute, author of The Handbook of Coaching; A Developmental Approach, describes a cocoon stage in a person’s life as triggered by an ending or life crisis that forces the person to turn inward. She eloquently writes,
People who cocoon come come to terms with who they are without their previous roles dominating them. They work through an identity crisis and take time out, psychologically speaking, for soul searching. Little by little, out of solitude grows a more resilient self, anchored in a revised set of core values and sense of peace, all the while challenged by new purpose and passion.1
In this time of cocooning, we’ve felt vulnerable – to COVID, in our livelihoods, to differences that have divided relationships, to chaos and injustice in our neighborhoods and across the national and global landscape. And that sensitivity is characteristic of cocooning, when the caterpillar literally turns to goo and reforms her very identity. If she leaves too soon in the goo state, she will not survive. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable situation to be in this “neutral zone” in a world of do-ers and accomplishers who want to know what we’ve been up to — when in reality, we are staring out of the window wondering what the squirrels are thinking. In fact, it’s reassuring to understand that the emptiness felt during this time, the quiet, the aloneness, the space unfilled is exactly what we need to let go of our past, integrate it into our present and reform into something new.
This collective cocooning is challenging us all to accept and allow for an internal transformation to take place. If we surrender to this uncomfortable place while we need it and use the time it takes to look inward – however long (and no one else can prescribe it for you!), we can emerge from our cocoon as a fully developed butterfly.
William Bridges in his book, “Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes” offers frameworks to understand these changes we are undergoing.2 He discusses the five “d”s we go through as we are letting go of our past identity and worldview including disengagement, dismantling, disidentification, disenchantment, and disorientation. As we fully feel and face the endings we are experiencing along with the loss and grief and fear, we enter into this unknown, uncertain place. We can change our external environment to shake things up and attempt to speed the way out of the “neutral zone.” We can change jobs, move houses, get a divorce, or disown close friends with the mistaken notion that we’ll feel some relief from this new beginning it creates, a welcome distraction. Have you seen the real estate market? Meanwhile, our core is quietly begging us to stare out of the window and reflect on some deeply essential questions, questions that may require different answers than we’ve ever given before (and that’s scary cause maybe I’m not who I thought I was).
We are experiencing a unique moment to empathize with our tweens and teens since they are undergoing their own cocoon experience. They are in the process of reforming their identity wholly from “I am who my parents told me I am” to “I am who I believe I really am.” As they seek privacy, push us away, yearn for their independent time and space, we can recognize the signs of the “goo” state. They know they are vulnerable and they are highly sensitive to our comments, to anything that reeks of judgment because their vision of themselves is shakey and undetermined. We can find some peace in knowing that they are right where they should be existing in the midst of discomfort. We are better equipped to support them and indeed more authentically aware if we too are existing in our developmental discomfort.
As we anticipate emerging from our cocoons, instead of risking a return to old stories and patterns when a new identity, set of core values and sense of purpose wants to be discovered, we may take some time to reflect. Here are some questions to get you started.
- What am I deeply feeling these days including the layers beneath the surface?
- Are there difficult feelings I’ve been escaping? How can I uncover them, own them, accept them, and make meaning of them in life-giving ways?
- How have I fundamentally changed? What personas did I put on that I’ve shed in the past year? What qualities do I most want to embody going forward?
- What do I know to be true? What do I stand for? What can’t I stand for?
- Are there old stories or assumptions about my own identity that must change? How can I let them go?
- Who do I envision being when I emerge from my cocoon? What will my version of butterfly be like?
- What is my reason for being, my sense of purpose that validates why I’ve been given the gift of life?
- How do I want to be and give the best of who I am? How will I contribute to making a difference in the world (even if small)?
- What boundaries do I need to set to assert who I newly am?
As we enter the spring season, it may remain wintertime inside our hearts and minds as we reflect on the past and integrate our learning so that we can move toward our emergent future. A blooming tulip’s petals, though beautiful at each stage of opening, cannot be forced open. If attempted, the tulip petals will rip. So too, in our own development, we cannot emerge until we we are ready. If we’ve taken time out to be reflective about our changing identity, we can enter spring time on our own terms and engage in an authentic rebirth.
- McLean, P. & Hudson, F. (2012). The Completely Revised. Handbook of Coaching; A Developmental Approach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2nd Ed.). Cambridge, MA: DeCapo Press.