All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.
~ Federico Fellini
This miraculous living gift from the sea--the only gemstone to be produced by a living entity--is the creation of beauty from adversity, art from irritation. It illustrates that even the worst and most painful invasion can become something of healing artistry. The pearl is a glowing example of a mortal threat transformed into magnificence.
As human beings, we know pain and suffering in wondrous variety. We all experience adversity and irritation, loss and anguish. We may encounter failure, death, divorce, and disease. But like the oyster, we can learn to embrace these experiences, recognizing the transformational opportunities they present.
The oyster coats the surface of an irritant with layer upon layer of pearly nacre, each layer microscopically thin. The layers are applied in sections, like the leaves of a cabbage, that grow around the nucleus of the pearl. The edges of the leaves are jagged and overlap. This microscopic layering is so fine that fingers feel only a satiny smoothness, the eye cannot perceive the rough edges.
The memories of our lives are layered like the nacre of a pearl, petals of a flower, rings of a tree. These overlapping layers contain the knowledge and learning of each experience. They shape and form us. They smooth the jagged edges of our difficult times. In this way, the nucleus of our pain begins to integrate with the rest of our selves, the irritant journeys a little deeper inside us, but becomes less painful.
Like the pearl, our beauty is formed of life’s obstacles. The experiences of our lives, both thrilling and challenging, surround the core of our being. It isn’t always easy to find anything positive in the hardships we endure, but in time, beauty is often revealed. Each challenge is our nucleus for creation, each victorious work of art another pearl on our path. Transformation occurs again and again in our growing process. Every incident, every emotion, every success, every sorrow, becomes another layer of our development. Our pain, which can be unspeakably intense and sometimes debilitating, brings the lessons we never forget. They are imprinted deeply in our core, helping us to better weather future provocations.
Like the pearl, a solitary creation in the body of the oyster, the soul’s journey, the spirit’s adventure, is individual; we are essentially alone as we grow in richness and wisdom. As we grow older, wiser, more able to look with insight at the adversities of our lives, the universe offers up new and deeper levels of learning. Sometimes we find ourselves confronting an old wound we thought had already been healed. But when it reappears, we can see it from a new angle, which allows us to realize a more profound lesson. The pain may become less, and yet the awareness can become even more complete. I’ve come to firmly believe that none of us will be dealt pain any larger than we can handle. If the adversities seem huge, it is because God or the universe has decided that we are now able to deal with lessons of a much larger magnitude.
The pearl is a glowing, living reminder that we can make adversity into part of ourselves. Layering iridescent experiences upon the colorful challenges of our life, we culture our soul. As we become aware of the many ways to respond to pain and hardship, we note that some paths are more difficult than others. Some people fixate on the pain, keeping it fresh in their minds, for months, years, even decades. Others take small irritations and blow them way out of proportion, making them larger irritations. Complaining about ordeals endured will result in a life overshadowed by unending dissatisfaction. But when we integrate what we have learned from the challenges we have overcome, we can then celebrate them as blessings and further grow and evolve. When we have enough distance, we may ask, "What is there to learn from all of this?" And we discover ways in which the irritant reveals an opening into new arenas of knowledge. We use the lessons learned from each obstacle to become deeper and wiser human beings. These events then become the building blocks of an ever more satisfying life’s journey.
How many of us are able to take a challenge, as oysters do, and find the gift in it--actually turn it into something positive? This is what the pearl can teach us--to honor our strength and flexibility, to find our own beauty in the inner power it takes to bounce back rather than break apart. We surround irritations with a flow of blessings, a spiritual nacre, and we then use those experiences to create new pearls.
Our lives stretch out ahead of us, a path showing the journey ahead. The Tao, the Way, faith, dharma, the adventure--many words have been used to describe this embarkation into the unknown. We prepare as best we can drawing on experiences from childhood, what we've learned in school, and other life experiences that have helped us develop our personal code of ethics and morals. We make choices along the way about where to live, who to be friends with, who to fall in love with, whether to marry or have children. And through the twists and turns of our journey we make career choices to help us achieve success in the world. Our path leads us in and out of danger, in and out of sunlight and joy. Along the way we learn many things, and teachers and guides appear to help us along. Sometimes the path forks, and for a time we take a more painful route, one that might have appeared easier but holds even more opportunities to learn. We follow the path unfailingly through our lives, to the mystery beyond.
The path is strewn with the gems and pearls of our lives, loves, joys, successes, and achievements, and also littered with the debris of our broken dreams and broken hearts. But even those broken dreams may hold alluring beauty, for all of life is wondrous and magical, containing secrets and hidden wisdom. All of life is an opportunity to learn. The hardest times bring the most profound lessons, the biggest irritants can form the largest pearls. That is the way life instructs us, changes us. If we remain open to the experience and open our hearts and minds to learn from life’s hardships, it is then possible to see the challenge itself as a precious gift, a treasure--a pearl.
Pearls of Wisdom: The world is what you think it is. Pain and suffering, or art and beauty. How do you choose to see the challenges in your life? Our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes determine the results of those tests we face every day. We may not control the events of our lives, but we have power over the way we perceive them--and how we respond to them as well. If you want to see the irritant as something that ruins your life, it will be so. If you see it as a seed for the creation of something new and beautiful, that is what you will manifest. When change happens, there are only two possible responses: acceptance or resistance. But does resistance ever make circumstances go back to the way they were before? Or make anything better? Let the challenges be the seeds of the exquisite pearls of your life.
… What irritant have you experienced that you were later surprised to find you had learned from?
… How did you first respond to that irritation? Did you hold a grudge? Were you filled with resentment and anger?
… What allowed you to move forward and create the layers that made the experience less difficult?
Awareness and Beauty
…What do you have that you wouldn’t, if not for this experience?
…How has that lesson had an impact on other parts of your life?
…Did you learn anything significant and enduring about yourself?
Excerpted from Path of the Pearl: Discover Your Treasures, Copyright © 2002 Mary Olsen Kelly. All Rights Reserved. Permission to use this excerpt is granted by Beyond Words Publishing, tel. 503-531-8700.