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Breaking Out Of The Cocoon

September 25, 2014
I just love my bed

It’s so cozy!

Buddhism teaches that there are three common strategies for dealing with discomfort:

  • Try to get something that you’re lacking.
  • Try to get rid of something that’s bothering you.
  • Ignore the discomfort.

These three strategies are known respectively as greed, anger, and ignorance. Buddhism also teaches that all three strategies are ultimately unsuccessful, and that although they may give some short-term relief, in the long term they create more discomfort. For this reason greed, anger and ignorance are called the three poisons, or the three roots of non-virtue.

It’s not too hard to see how greed and anger can lead to greater discomfort. Greed trains us to become more and more sensitive to a feeling of lack. We end up endlessly chasing after things that we hope will make us happy. Anger trains us to become more and more sensitive to irritation. We end up endlessly on guard, ready to lash out against whatever we perceive as destroying our happiness. It is more difficult to see the negative effects of ignorance. Why? Because when we’re ignoring discomfort, we’re hiding. And we’re not just hiding from the discomfort.  We’re also hiding from ourselves.

Comfort InnWe hide in a of comfort zone, a cozy place that soothes us and shields us from directly experiencing our discomfort. We might hide in the comfort of cigarettes, or alcohol, or we might hide in the comfort zone of Netflix or Facebook, or in the comfort zone of romance novels or action films. There are many kinds of comfort zones that we might hide in. Most advertisements will try to sell you one. When we hide in a comfort zone, we’re distracted or numb — we dull out the sharpness of the feeling of discomfort, so we feel some relief. But our discomfort is in the here and now, so when we dull out the sharpness of the felling of discomfort, we’re also dulling out the sharpness of our awareness of the here and now. Dulling the sharpness of our awareness is called ignorance.

When we hide from the world in this way, we feel secure. We may think we have quieted our fear, but we are actually making ourselves numb with fear. We surround ourselves with our own familiar thoughts, so that nothing sharp or painful can touch us. –Trungpa Prinpoche

Trungpa Rinpoche called this kind of cozy, dulling comfort zone a cocoon. Like a cocoon, our comfort zone keeps out discomfort, and also prevents us from clearly perceiving or touching the here and now. Since we can’t clearly perceive and touch the here and now, we have a hard time understanding the effect of our actions. Not understanding the effect of our actions is also called ignorance. You Deserve a break todaySince we can’t understand the effect of our actions, we may think that there’s really no cost to hanging out in our cocoon. “We’re just resting!” we might say, “Give us a break.” But we’re not resting in the here and now, we’re hiding from the here and now. Resting in the here and now would be called meditation, and that resting would give us more strength. Hiding from the here and now is called ignorance, and that hiding is the root of our weakness.

There are many costs to hiding in a comfort zone:

Swinging from hummingbird to couch potato – When we’re hiding in our cocoon, we’re not dealing with our day-to-day obligations. So when we emerge, we find that there are many things that we need to do. We have to work very hard to catch up with all our work, buzzing back and forth from activity to activity like a hummingbird. There’s so much to catch up on that we become overwhelmed and exhausted, so we give ourselves a break by slipping back into the comfort zone. Which makes us fall behind again.

Mind wanderingMind Wandering – As we become more dependent on our cocoon, we find ourselves slipping back into the cocoon without meaning to. We might be in the middle on an important conversation, and then realize that we weren’t paying attention for the last few minutes, because we were distracted by thoughts of our favorite Netflix series. What was that other person saying? We find ourselves daydreaming, losing track of what we are doing and what others are saying. We space out.

dirty dishes

Why wash? They’ll only get dirty again…

Hangovers – many comfort zones are addicting and a little toxic. For instance, we may forget our troubles and feel a little better when we drink, but the next day the troubles are still there, and we also have a hangover. The hangover may be physical, and it may also be emotional. It’s not only substances that give us hangovers — if you spend hours on Facebook, you may find that your mind and body don’t feel good when you finally close the computer. Poor Poor Pitiful meFear – As we spend more and more time in the cocoon, we lose touch with the here and now and we can begin to become fearful of it. The world outside of the cocoon feels threatening. The cocoon begins to feel like our safe place, and we only want to stay inside. The world outside of the cocoon seems like just too much to deal with. In fact, the world seems so much of a hassle that we feel like we deserve to be in the cocoon. We begin to develop the view of Poor Me. The here and now seems like our enemy and the cocoon seems like our friend. Now we’re really becoming addicted to our cocoon. The Bad Lama says that developing the view of Poor Me is even worse than being a murderer. If you are a murderer, you might eventually realize that you made a horrible mistake and try to change. If you develop Poor Me, it’s hard to ever realize your mistake, and instead you just try to build a bulletproof, escape-proof cocoon.

Depression and Lethargy — As we get more and more addicted to our comfort zone, our energy collapses inward and we become lethargic and lazy. We begin to manifest dullness and torpor. We stop caring for the here and now.  We may stop taking care for our environment and taking care of our body. Why wash the dishes?  They’ll only get dirty again.

The Bad Lama says that the mental diseases of depression and lethargy are very hard to cure, because there is so little energy to work with, and so little desire to connect to the here and now, where the problems are occurring. (Why take a shower right in the middle of your internet Solitaire game?) The mental diseases connected with greed and anger are easier to cure, because they are directed outwardly toward an external object. This outward directed energy can be guided and trained. The inwardly collapsing energy of the diseases of ignorance are harder to engage and work with.

When we hide in a cocoon, we seek comfort in a fantasy here and now and lose touch with the actual here and now where we happen to be living. But our fantasies are occurring in the here and now, so we always have the possibility of connecting to this very moment. We can always break out of the cocoon. The way to combat the diseases of ignorance is to bring our awareness back to the actual here and now, clearly and energetically, again and again. Since our body is always in the here and now, we can use it to bring our awareness out of the cocoon and into the present moment. When we’re in our cocoon, our body can feel like just another of the many things hassling us. (What, do I have to bathe you again?) But if we want to break out of the coccon, our body can be our best ally in reconnecting to our awareness of the present moment. We can bring our attention to the posture of our body, to the activity of our body and to the sensations of our body.

sweeping monk

Sweeping Meditation

If our energy is very low, we can use our body to rouse our spirits. We might we take a brisk walk, or run, or swim. Think of this as your body making the mudra of activity. We can also realize that our immediate environment affects our mind, so we might begin to take care of our immediate environment. We could do some cleaning meditation.

When our energy is low and our addiction to the cocoon is strong, we might need to rely on some discipline to help us. It is good to get others to help us support this discipline, so finding a practice group, a sangha of follow practitioners, can help. Poor Me, with its feelings of despair and fear of being overwhelmed is just a story, a series of thoughts. We can combat this by familiarizing ourselves with more helpful thoughts – we can read and study inspiring texts. (Again, a group or class can help us with this discipline.)

We can also rely on a role model to gives us a sense of confidence and support. It doesn’t matter who the role model is – it could be the Dalai Lama or Lady Gaga. It is only important that the role model give us a sense of confidence in our ability to meet the world outside of the cocoon.

Finally, we can combat Poor Me by looking for people who need our help, and then doing our best to help them. At first we might just contemplate that there really are people other than Poor Me who need help. We might begin to notice them on TV or on stories on the internet. Then we can notice them closer by — on the street or in the classroom or in the place where we work. We might even notice them at home. And then we can reach out and do something. We can actually help someone else who needs our help. When we do that, Poor Me begins to dissolve, and we realize that we can be effective in this world.

Poor Me is always afraid. Poor Me is convinced that there is just too much pain and hassle in the present moment. That’s why Poor Me wants to hide in a cocoon. In order to let go of Poor Me, we need to develop the confidence that we can meet our pain directly. Actually, we have no choice about whether we will experience pain.  We only have a choice about how we will meet our pain. We will either meet our pain fearfully and cloudily or bravely and clearly. We can do it!  And once we meet the pain, we can learn to go beyond it, not identifying ourselves with the pain. We are not our pain. We are bigger than that. We are not Poor Me and neither are we Wounded Me.


Into the bright fresh air.

We can step out of our cocoon and into the bright fresh air. We can stop hiding from the present moment, and stop dulling our awareness. We can learn to find freedom and ease in the present moment. We can let go of our fear and find relief. When we connect clearly and energetically to the present moment, our awareness becomes sharper and sharper and grows grow into wisdom. Then we can really help ourselves and help others. We can learn to be really useful people in the world. We can be brave, wise people in a bright, vast world, or fearful, ineffective people in beautifully furnished luxury cocoons. Which sounds better to you?

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