by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM August 11, 2019
I’ve always been fond of pearls, the jewels associated with my birth month of June. I love their simple elegance: not showy, not gaudy, a classic statement of beauty. There’s also some sentiment attached to my fondness for pearls, because my mother often put on her faux string of pearls to complete an outfit for a special occasion. That gesture was sort of like the period at the end of a sentence, announcing, “Finished and ready. Go out and meet the world.” When no one else was interested in my mother’s costume jewelry after her death, I claimed her double string of pearls. I feel her nearness when I wear them, and I continue her ritual: pause for an observant glance in the mirror and then go out and meet the world.
Perhaps I’ve been so taken in by the loveliness of pearls that until recently I’d given little thought to the path of their creation. A path that begins in pain or discomfort. A path that is usually unexpected and pretty much unwanted—it’s an irritation, after all—but an irritation that brings forth treasure from an oyster.
Oysters can filter fifty gallons of water in a single day, taking in whatever impurities of silt or sand the current sends their way and purifying that water. This discernment of sorts reminds us that pearls are formed inside a living, breathing creature. A grain of sand, a bit of debris is all it takes to initiate the forming of a new shape. An oyster immediately responds by covering the unwanted visitor with layer after layer of nacre, mother-of-pearl, until a new gem is formed. Pearls, objects of exquisite beauty, are born out of intrusion and the uninvited. Their singular beauty begins in a place of discomfort, a locus of accommodating newness.
In “Working Mindfully with Physical Pain,” Mark Coleman, founder of the Mindfulness Institute, notes that our experience of pain is influenced by the quality of our attention. “If we meet pain with resistance and fear, or with an agenda to get rid of it,” he notes, “it often feels worse because we grip in contraction against it. If we meet pain with a sense of surrender, of softening the contraction or the tight muscles around it, this can increase a sense of space or ease, even when the difficult experience continues.”
The practice of mindfulness—and it is indeed a practice—invites us not to run from the pain that comes into our lives. Instead, to name it and accept it with an open and kind attention, to reframe difficult experiences from being a burden into being a chalice of growth and understanding, to open our heart to ourselves and to broaden compassion for all those who suffer physically.
This has echoes beyond physical pain and offers parallels for the life of the spirit. The path of the pearl invites us into reviewing our day and asking:
What has been my response today to pain, to irritation, to newness? How have I embraced the interruptions that have come into this day? Where did I welcome the stranger who arrived in need but at an inconvenient time?
Today and every day, may we grow in our practice of facing whatever breaks us open, look within to our deepest talents, and ask for the grace of spaciousness of heart to welcome whoever and whatever each moment brings us.
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
“Pearls, objects of exquisite beauty, are born out of intrusion and the uninvited.”
Reflect on an experience in your life when you were challenged beyond your comfort zone: to welcome a person different from yourself, or to embrace a fresh idea, or to lean into a different way of doing things.
What did that invitation feel like? Look like?
How did the Holy One invite you to expand your worldview at that time?
Where might you be called to show spaciousness of heart now?
In case you’re wondering what happened to Mining the Now:
This blog was originally written to be posted on June 30. However, the day before, I slipped and badly fractured my femur, so I had to have emergency surgery to repair and reconstruct my thigh bone and at the same time to have hip revision surgery to relieve sciatic pain resulting from a compressed nerve. After 35 days in the hospital, rehab and physical therapy, I’m now continuing my recovery at home. I’ve canceled all my commitments for August and September while I enter into the slow work of healing, but I hope to begin offering new posts for Mining the Now sometime in September.
Thank you for your understanding and for the continued prayer and healing energies you send my way. I hold you in my heart and in my prayers of gratitude. Blessings!