Our convenient food, entertainment, AC/heating, cars shuttling us from bubble to bubble…indoor, plugged-in exercise…is set up to create constant Cocoon.
There’s just one problem…we love fresh air.
The Cocoon is talked about in the Shambhala teachings. Shambhala, while related to Buddhism, is non-sectarian, secular, open to those of any religion or agnostics.
The Cocoon is a powerful concept that continues to shed light on my daily life and habits to this day. It is, according to Chogyam Trungpa’s Shambhala: the Sacred Path of the Warrior,
“an enclosed familiar world in which we can hide or go to sleep…The way of cowardice is to embed ourselves in a cocoon…perpetuate habitual patterns. When we are constantly recreating our basic patterns of behavior and thought, we never have to leap into fresh air or onto fresh ground.”
“In the cocoon there is no idea of light at all, until we experience some longing for openness. When we begin to examine that comfortable darkness—look at it, smell it, feel it—we find it is claustrophobic. So the first impulse that draws us away from the darkness towards the light of the Great Eastern Sun [a vision of enlightened society, helping others] is a longing for ventilation. As soon as we begin to sense the possibility of fresh air, we realize that our arms and legs are being restricted. We want to stretch out and walk, dance even jump.
We realize that there is an alternative to cocoon: we discover that we could be free from that trap. With that longing for fresh air, for a breeze of delight, we open our eyes, and we begin to look for an alternative environment…And to our surprise, we begin to see light, even though it may be hazy at first. The tearing of the cocoon begins at that point. When we look back to the cocoon and see the suffering that takes place in the world of the coward, that inspires us to go forward in our journey of warriorship.”
For more, do a weekend meditation program through Shambhala Training at a meditation center near you (they’re all over the place). Don’t worry, you don’t have to join any cult or sign over your first born: you just have to sit with your own mind, which can be bad enough.
The below is via Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a pioneering Buddhist teacher, author of over 20 books, founder of Naropa University and Vajradhatu, now called Shambhala.
The point of the Shambhala training is to get out of the cocoon, which is the shyness and aggression in which we have wrapped ourselves. When we have more aggression, we feel more fortified. We feel good, because we have more to talk about. We feel that we are the greatest author of the complaint. We write poetry about it. We express ourselves through it. Instead of constantly complaining, can’t we do something positive to help this world? The more we complain, the more concrete slabs will be put on the earth. The less we complain, the more possibilities there will be of tilling the land and sowing seeds. We should feel that we can do something positive for the world instead of covering it with our aggression and complaints.
The approach of the Shambhala training is to do something very concrete, very basic, very definite, and to begin at the beginning. In the Shambhala tradition, we talk about being a warrior. I would like to make it clear that a warrior, in this case, is not someone who wages war. A Shambhala warrior is someone who is brave enough not to give in to the aggression and contradictions that exist in society. A warrior, or pawo in Tibetan, is a brave person, a genuine person who is able to step out of the cocoon—that very comfortable cocoon that he or she is trying to sleep in.
If you are in your cocoon, occasionally you shout your complaints, such as: “Leave me alone!” “Bug off.” “I want to be who I am.” Your cocoon is fabricated out of tremendous aggression, which comes from fighting against your environment, your parental upbringing, your educational upbringing, your upbringing of all kinds. You don’t really have to fight with your cocoon. You can raise your head and just take a little peek out of the cocoon. Sometimes, when you first peek your head out, you find the air a bit too fresh and cold. But still, it is good. It is the best fresh air of spring or autumn or, for that matter, the best fresh air of winter or summer. So when you stick your neck out of the cocoon for the first time, you like it in spite of the discomfort of the environment. You find that it’s delightful. Then, having peeked out, you become brave enough to climb out of the cocoon. You sit on your cocoon and look around at your world. You stretch your arms, and you begin to develop your head and shoulders. The environment is friendly. It is called “planet earth.” Or it is called “Boston” or “New York City.” It is your world.
Your neck and your hips are not all that stiff, so you can turn and look around. The environment is not as bad as you thought. Still sitting on the cocoon, you raise yourself up a little further. Then you kneel, and finally you stand up on your cocoon. As you look around, you begin to realize that the cocoon is no longer useful. You don’t have to buy the advertisers’ logic that, if you don’t have insulation in your house, you’re going to die. You don’t really need the insulation of your cocoon. It’s just a little cast that’s been put on you by your own collective imaginary paranoia and confusion, which didn’t want to relate with the world outside.
Then, you extend one leg, rather tentatively, to touch the ground around the cocoon. Traditionally, the right leg goes first. You wonder where your foot is going to land. You’ve never touched the soles of your feet before on the soil of this planet earth. When you first touch the earth, you find it’s very rough. It’s made out of earth, dirt. But soon you discover the intelligence that will allow you to walk on the earth, and you begin to think the process might be workable. You realize that you inherited this family heirloom, called “planet earth,” a long time ago.
You sigh with relief, maybe a medium sigh, extend your left foot, and touch the ground on the other side of the cocoon. The second time you touch the ground, to your surprise you find that the earth is kind and gentle and much less rough. You begin to feel gentleness and affection and softness. You feel that you might even fall in love on your planet earth. You can fall in love. You feel real passion, which is very positive.
At that point, you decide to leave your old beloved cocoon behind and to stand up without touching the cocoon at all. So you stand on your two feet, and you take a walk outside of the cocoon. Each step is rough and soft, rough and soft: rough because the exploration is still a challenge and soft because you don’t find anything trying to kill you or eat you up at all. You don’t have to defend yourself or fight any unexpected attackers or wild beasts. The world around you is so fine and beautiful that you know that you can raise yourself up as a warrior, a powerful person. You begin to feel that the world is absolutely workable, not even merely workable, but wonderful. To your surprise, you find that lots of others around you are also leaving their cocoons. You find hosts of ex-cocooners all over the place.
As ex-cocooners, we feel that we can be dignified and wonderful people. We do not have to reject anything at all. As we step out of our cocoons, we find goodness and gratefulness taking place in us all the time. As we stand on the earth, we find that the world is not particularly depressed. On the other hand, there is need for tremendous hard work. As we stand up and walk around, having finally got out of our own cocoons, we see that there are hundreds of thousands of others who are still half breathing in their cocoons. So we feel very touched and sad, extremely sad.
From the dictionary’s point of view, sadness has negative connotations. If you feel sad, you feel unfortunate or bad. Or you are sad because you don’t have enough money or you don’t have any security. But from the Shambhala point of view, sadness is also inspiring. You feel sad and empty-hearted, but you also feel something positive, because this sadness involves appreciation of others. You would like to tell those who are still stuck in their cocoons that, if they got out of the cocoon, they would also feel that genuine sadness. That empty-heartedness is the principle of the brokenhearted warrior. As an ex-cocooner, you feel it is wonderful that people of the past have gotten out of their cocoons. You wish that you could tell the cocooners the story of the warriors of the Great Eastern Sun and the story of the Kingdom of Shambhala. All the warriors of the past had to leave their cocoons. You wish you could let the cocooners know that. You would like to tell them that they are not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of others who have made this journey.
Once you develop this quality of sadness, you also develop a quality of dignity or positive arrogance within yourself, which is quite different from the usual negative arrogance. You can manifest yourself with dignity to show the degraded world that trying to avoid death by sleeping in a cocoon is not the way. The degraded world, in which people are sleeping in their cocoons trying to avoid the pain of death, is called the setting-sun world. In that world, people are looking for the sunset as a sign that there will be a peaceful night ahead. But that night is never peaceful: It is always pitch-dark. Those who arise from the cocoon are called the people of the Great Eastern Sun. They are not blinded by opening their eyes, and they are not embarrassed about developing head and shoulders and stepping out of their cocoons. Such people begin to breathe the fresh morning air. They experience brilliance, which is constant and beautiful.
In the sitting practice of meditation, which is part of the Shambhala training, we stress the importance of good posture. Posture is important, not just in sitting practice, but in whatever you do. Whether you are talking to a client or talking to your mate, whether you’re talking to your pets or talking to yourself—which does sometimes happen—having a good posture of head and shoulders is an expression that you’ve stepped out of your cocoon. One of the reasons that people sing in the shower is that the water showering down on you forces you to stand up and have good head and shoulders. You begin to feel cleaned out, so you begin to sing or hum. This is not a myth; it’s true. When you have water falling on your shoulders, your head, and your face, there’s a sense that you’re relating with heaven.