The second cocoon
The second cocoon is the one you go into when you feel lost in your life as you have built it. You are in for a deep encounter with yourself, perhaps for the very first time. The second cocoon is the darkness you retreat into to fall utterly apart, and emerge transformed.
I didn’t invent the term, much as it appeals to me. It’s from Bill Plotkin’s book Soulcraft. It’s a book on hearing the call of your soul, going out into the wilderness (nature’s or your own inner darkness) and embracing what you meet down in the underworld.
I have not literally gone out into the wilderness on some vision quest like the ones Plotkin leads (there’s nothing left even remotely resembling wild nature in the densely populated area of the world where I currently live), but I have clearly heard the call of soul. Rereading the book with new eyes, I realize it started quite some time ago already, and over the course of last year I have answered the call. My cocoon was the plateau. Ever since I have let go of illusions, shed burdens and gave myself up to what I felt was calling me out.
One of the projects I have currently taken on is the translation of the first chapter of David Abram’s The spell of the sensuous into Dutch. I have been working on the trial chapter diligently, and yesterday I sent the draft to a publisher I hope will be interested.
Abram’s classic on how we might reconnect to the more-than-human world has shaken the foundations of my perception of life and nature to the core. By working on this particular excerpt, which deals with his experiences during the time he was staying with traditional magicians and shamans in Bali and Nepal, I have ever more clearly come to realize how much I actually recognize.
For instance: the shaman’s loyalty and allegiance, Abram writes, are not primarily to the human society, but to the intertwined realms of more-than-human reality, the web of existence that gives life to all species. The truth is: I recognize this kind of allegiance. I have felt it for a long time. I feel more connected to nature and its rhythms and needs than to the everyday clatter and chatter of human concerns.
I prefer to stand on the edge of society, looking out at what nature is telling me. Shut me in the center of the village and I’ll die.
So how to put this talent, this vocation, to good use?
Again, I realized I have already begun.
Not too long ago, well into my Sapling collaboration with Jurgen Walschot, I caught myself thinking: what we are spontaneously creating here is nothing short of animistic, almost shamanistic, art. We are both drawn to nature, to metamorphosizing and losing ourselves to natural currents wild and deep, and we are pulling readers along with us into an experience that goes beyond the mental constructs our species have grown used to reside in.
It is a thought that is at once exhilirating and very sobering. I feel I have so very much to learn. But I know that somehow, now, I’m ready to do this kind of work. It might estrange me more from some people — but I don’t mind. This is where I can really make a difference. And it’s where my heart tells me I’m home. In between the worlds.
In Soulcraft Plotkin tells how people going on a vision quest sometimes meet wild animals. The encounter always has a profound effect, as the animal will feature as a symbol, metaphor, totem, guide…
I realized I had just such an encounter several years ago, while I was slowly ascending towards the plateau, with a griffon vulture. I was awestruck by this bird’s majesty as soon as I saw one effortlessly circling high on the thermals. Then all of a sudden it descended to shear past the plateau where I was standing with my camera. Although they are photographically not my best shots, I am still very fond of these pictures, and I feel that was the moment Vulture called me.
I am prepared to follow his lead: roam the highest skies, and descend to clean up those things too dark or frightening for others to look at. I have always had a liking, or an understanding, for the dark. Beyond our fears of it, there’s wisdom and sadness. Nothing, I feel, is ever beyond embracing or healing. All is open to transformation, if we are willing to confront it.
I was reminded of my encounter with the griffon vulture earlier this week, upon two other powerful encounters.
Cycling home in the evening along a narrow farmer’s road, a buzzard came flying out of an oak tree just in front of me. It was very close, and breathtakingly beautiful. It swerved, soared along with me for a while, then sped up and perched in another tree up ahead, waiting for me.
When I passed under that tree, it took off again, in the opposite direction.
The very next morning, cycling through the fields again on my six mile trip to the train station, two big black crows were on the road. Usually they fly off before I even get close. But this time I stopped pedaling as I approached them. I became very quiet, all the way down to my center. I felt as sleek and still as the blue glow on their feathers.
They did not fly away. They both hopped on a nearby meadow fence pole, one on every side of the narrow road, like a gateway for me to cross. They didn’t fly off as I approached or even as I crossed the passage. It was only when I spoke to them, to offer my gratitude, that they took off, each in a different direction, opening the gate.
I feel I have entered, and been accepted into, uncharted territory. The skies are open.
I’m spreading my wings.