Cultivating the Practice of Pearls

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 Pearls copysmallerfaux 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.pearlinoyster

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.

Takeaway

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?

NOTE:
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!

40 thoughts on “Cultivating the Practice of Pearls”

  1. oh, I’m so sorry Sister Chris, that you took a fall and were so severely injured…..what an ordeal….will keep you in my prayers…It is so good to see another Mining the Now…I very much missed it and your beautiful writing and perspective.

  2. I was thinking of you, today, Sister Chris, not knowing I’d find your blog when I opened my iPad this evening. It sounds like your recovery is going well. God keep you!

  3. I will be holding you in my heart in love and prayer as you heal, and I am in awe and gratitude, with the gifts given to us by our Sisters and Brothers in the Natural World.
    I am also challenged to see more clearly the gifts in unexpected and undesirable circumstances and situations

  4. Sorry to hear of your recent challenges. After reading your recent blog. I see good arising out of a difficult time. Thank you, Catherine

  5. Chris, how beautifully you have drawn from your pain and suffering the analogy of the pearl. Thank you for your wisdom and compassion for all life. May your healing days be joyful.

    1. Kay, as you can imagine, everything I write comes from my own experience and sometimes the best teachers are the ones (like pain) I wouldn’t choose on my own. I also draw on your own mystical approach to life, so thank you for your witness.

  6. Feel better soon. May many beautiful pearls find their origin in the pain you are experiencing. This Mining the Now was one such pearl for me.

  7. Thank you for your beautifully put words, they have been an encouraging and new way of looking at different situations in my life and in that if others in my own family. May you be blessed today in knowing that the Holy Spirit has used you and your words to make a difference.
    God bless you and your recovery,
    Diane Herrera

  8. I sense from this post that you find peace in knowing that a pearl will come from your present irritations and unexpected events. May God bless your recovery, and thank-you for this post, I hope to put it to good use for my self and for those I meet in suffering.

  9. Chris, thank you for this edition of “Mining the Now” that was delayed for over a month; I am so happy to see your words and expression at this time. The beauty, wonder, and unique way of the pearl “becoming” – thank you for sharing, and the way of mindfulness is so urgent for everyone considering what we see in national and world events; let’s embrace openness and space for others, in prayer and in service; best wishes to you during this time of healing and gaining strength. Jack Houston

  10. I hope you are heeling well and I pray for a speedy recover although that doesn’t sound possible. My thoughts and prayers are with you be patient with yourself in the process. God bless. Amy

  11. Dear Chris, I read with sadness of your injury and your extended hosp time. I will pray for you. I know a small bit about it. I fx my fibula and am still not healed after 8 months. Each day there is pain and life has changed since before when I was extremely active. I pray for you. I check into your column in the morning when it’s quiet. Each day i try to find bright spots. I have heard of this femur fx from people on osteo meds and hope this is not case with you. Regardless my prayers are for your healing. I question why we suffer when we could be doing more if we were well. This always crosses my mind. I am trying to trust. I am trying to heal. Much love

    1. Marilyn, I’m learning the hard way that healing is the slow work of God, and I do think there’s an emphasis on”slow.” Still, I also believe that there are some things that can be learned only in the school of suffering. With you in pondering the mystery of it all.

  12. I had saved this email to read ‘later’, and end of summer busy-ness took over until this morning. Grateful to carry your pearls of wisdom with me, and so very sorry to read about your accident – praying for your improved health each day,

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