Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Let’s talk about cocooning. “Mmmmm - I’m going to close all the curtains and put on some smooth jazz, make a cup of hot cocoa and wrap myself up in a sherpa blanket. I need some me time, baby.“
Sounds pretty amazing, actually. After all, self care is essential…time to decompress and connect with your body. I am 100% in favor of it!
But what is “Cocooning”? The term “cocooning” was coined in 1981 by Faith Popcorn, a trend forecaster and marketing consultant. Her definition of cocooning is: staying inside one's home, insulated from perceived danger, instead of going out.
In her 1991 book, The Popcorn Report, Popcorn describes cocooning as: "the impulse to go inside when it just gets too tough and scary outside. To pull a shell of safety around yourself, so you're not at the mercy of a mean, unpredictable world." According to Popcorn, cocooning is about insulation and avoidance, peace and protection, coziness and control -a sort of hyper-nesting.”
Here we are half way through the year 2022 and the term cocooning seems to be more of a buzz word than it’s ever been. If we hear someone say “I’m just going through a cocoon phase” we, collectively, seem to understand they’re taking some time to themselves. Cocooning sounds safe and cozy. But if that’s the case, why are so many not emerging with a sense of renewed purpose, energy and clarity? Why do many actually feel more uncertain than ever?
On the heels of the Covid pandemic we, as a species, have become more isolated than ever before. What began as a temporary ‘shelter in place’ ordinance in early 2020, with the goal of stopping the spread of the deadly virus, quickly spiraled into panic and fear as it seemed no matter how far we distanced ourselves from one another, there was no end in sight. So we stayed inside. Isolation became the norm.
According to Faith Popcorn’s definition of cocooning this is exactly what we have been doing. To quote her definition again…..staying inside one's home, insulated from perceived danger, instead of going out.
So…do we feel peaceful? Protected? Has this supposed ‘shell of safety’ made us feel cozy and in control?
With access to more self-help tools than any other time in history the statistics for depression and anxiety are unprecedented. We know the effects of isolation as more and more studies are showing the toll it has taken on our psyches, our children, our relationships and our overall health. Long term Isolation is devastation.
SO….What if cocooning isn’t what we think it is?
The challenge with a long held consensus on the meaning of anything is that we tend to believe it without ever questioning. Often we adopt a phrase because it seems to make sense and there’s no harm in using it…until it doesn’t make sense and you begin to wonder why it seems to make sense to everyone but you!
And what if this accepted meaning is actually the direct opposite of what we were lead to believe?
Case in point:
“Blood is thicker than water” is a phrase that we use to justify choosing family bonds over the bonds that we have made by choice.
“I know that your friends have been planning this day for weeks but it’s your cousin’s birthday. You know…Blood is thicker than water.”
The actual saying is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”. The meaning of this saying is actually the opposite of the way we use it. The saying actually means that bonds that you’ve made by choice are more important than the people that you are bound to by the water of the womb. The saying reflects the fact that the bonds you choose for yourself can mean much more than the ones you don’t have much say in.
What does this have to do with ‘cocooning’?
I don’t deny that there are times we need to retreat be it an extended, literal escape from the frenzied, overstimulated, demanding events of every day life or a momentary pause to simply take a few deep breaths and calm the mind. For those who have the luxury of a little alone time to focus on self care, by all means….wrap yourself up in a warm, cozy blanket, turn off your cell phone, turn on some ambient music and sip some chai latte. Light the candles, soak in a warm bath and lose yourself in a good book. That sounds exquisite, right? It’s why we love to indulge in a spa day. Total relaxation… insulation and avoidance, peace and protection, coziness. That really does sound like being inside a safe, quiet cocoon, doesn’t it? You can certainly understand why the term ‘cocooning’ caught on.
I’m not here to rain on anyone’s happy dream of, as Faith Popcorn said, "pulling a shell of safety around yourself, so you're not at the mercy of a mean, unpredictable world” , but what happens inside the cocoon is actually the exact opposite of this peaceful scenario.
Am I just quibbling over semantics here?
No, I’m here to ask if you might be putting the cart before the horse. Contrary to what you may think, the cocoon phase is not a time of rest. It is not a time of self-discovery nor a time to retreat from the pain of the world. All of that comes before it’s time to ‘cocoon’.
If we are going to us a term that comes from the metamorphosis process, then we would benefit greatly from understanding what happens in that process. Once nature sends a signal to the caterpillar that all her days of consuming and growing, of creating an identity, building a system of self defense and living a life of limitation (crawling) are over, then and only then is she ready to surrender control of the only life she has ever known. This requires that the old caterpillar body be broken down and turned into something new. The caterpillar doesn’t modify its form by growing wings. It transforms..changes form. Inside the chrysalis (cocoon for moths) a caterpillar’s body digests itself from the inside out. The same juices it used to digest food as a larva it now uses to break down its own body! This is such a crucial piece of information! Something has to die so something new can be born. But something absolutely amazing happens next. Certain cells called “imaginal cells” have been waiting until the right time to form. These cells were there, inside the caterpillar, from the very beginning but have been kept from growing until metamorphosis. These cells will become the wings, antennae and other body parts of the emerging butterfly. The imaginal - ‘imago’ - the true image, was there all along waiting until the right time for the old form to be surrendered. This is what happens inside the cocoon!
Why does this matter? Because, as we now know, isolation is not healing but is, in truth, detrimental to our health. In fact, the more accurate word is devastating….long term isolation is devastating to our physical and mental health.
We need community. We need each other to share our struggles, our stories, our concerns or joys and sorrows. We do not heal in isolation…we heal in community. What we do, with intention, within community prepares us for time in the cocoon.
So if you’ve been spending time cut off from everyone else in hopes of finding yourself or evolving into your true self….if you’ve done all the retreating and resting and hyper-nesting and still feel stuck in the same patterns maybe you aren’t ready to cocoon.
In metamorphosis, time in the cocoon is the opposite of insulation and avoidance, peace and protection, coziness and control, as Popcorn describes it. When you are ready for cocoon time it is because you have already taken retreat inside your heart and mind. You have observed what’s blocking your peace of mind. You’ve looked for patterns that have contributed to breakdowns in your relationships. You’ve been open to questioning your own motives, your fears and the ways you’ve built a wall of defense around your heart. You’ve looked for old patterns of behavior that are no longer serving your growth path. You have been the investigator of your own life. You’ve been vulnerable enough to share this path with one of more trusted sources.
I hope you take the true self care you need by finding a guide or a community to help you prepare for your own 'cocoon' time. What emerges can be what sets you free.
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