Have you been cocooning?

This year winter endured.  I partly felt glad that we had at least one more year without the planet melting, and yet became tired, worn out and ground down.  “I’m ready for something else,” I thought.

Then, one day in April, I noticed some yellow forsythia blossoms as I entered Central Park with my dogs.  We circled around the hill that nestles into the corner of Central Park West and 85th Street and I saw a spray of daffodils.  And a tiny crocus or two. 

The trees were still barren, but I knew from past experience that in about five minutes Spring would arrive.  I looked up at the branches of the leafless trees and saw that they weren’t barren at all; tiny beginnings of buds had already emerged.  They were just bumps, nearly imperceptible, but clear in their promise.

Spring springs out of nothing.  It is so unexpected.  A month before all I saw on my morning trek to the subway were yard-high, frozen piles of snow, adorned by the dog poop.  All of a sudden, the snow was gone, the sidewalks were clean, the days were starting early and lasting long, Magnolias were blossoming, and pollen was bursting forth. 

I saw a starling with a mouthful of nesting straws.  What comes next?  Eggs, hatchlings, baby birds trying out their wings. 

The narrative of nature is:  Nothing, nothing, nothing . . . and then everything!  It’s so predictable but the predictability doesn’t make it any less dramatic. 

I didn’t pay much attention to nature when I was younger.  It just didn’t play much a role in my consciousness.  Maybe because I spent a good part of my youth in Arizona and California, where seasons blend into one another, and where I experienced them primarily through car windows and hot walks through parking lots.  But now, as a big, aging grown-up, I feel finely attuned to the change of seasons, and I think about what it all means.

The coaching program where I did my training, the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, uses a model for change that makes me think of the change of seasons. This model is described at length in Frederic Hudson’s book, The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal

The Hudson diagram has four quandrants:  “Going for It,” where life feels big, full and positive; “Doldrums,” where everything’s out of synch and the old ways don’t work; “Cocooning,” where life feels quiet and blank; and “Getting Ready,” where new possibilities emerge.  It’s a rich framework.  I won’t go into it in depth here, except to say that the model suggests that growth feels different at different times of your life.  Sometimes it feels great, sometimes it feels lousy, sometimes it feels submerged and hard-to-detect.  And sometimes it feels like spring.  And spring often comes when … well, when it feels like spring will never come.  

When you go through big life change, whether you want it or not, you often pass through a period of blankness and confusion.  You know who you used to be, but you don’t know who you are becoming.  You’d like to have more direction, but you don’t.  You’ve given up on clinging to the past, but you aren’t yet clear what you are reaching for.  

This is the “Cocooning” period.  Like winter this past year, it can last a really long time, and while it lasts you despair whether anything else will ever come.  You wonder what happened to the person you once were, that person full of energy and ideas.  For me, my cocooning period lasted from around 1999 to 2003.  That was a long winter.

But spring does come, and with it come new life and new possibilities.  Eventually, the cocoon is ready to open.  You can’t push it, you can’t rush it, and you can’t know what it will look like when it opens up.  But one day spring does come.


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