Path of the Pearl: Beauty from Adversity
by Mary Olsen
All art is
autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.
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
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
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
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
… How has that lesson had an impact on other parts of your
… Did you learn anything significant and enduring about
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.
Mary Olsen Kelly, author of
"Finding Each Other" and her newest book,
"Path of the Pearl: Discover Your Treasures." She is
also editor of "Fireside Treasury of Light." Mary
co-owns the Black Pearl Gallery fine jewelry stores in
Hawaii with her husband, Don. After thirteen years in the
pearl business, she is known as an expert in pearl sorting,
grading, and lore. Having survived the challenges of life’s
hardships, Mary is a joyful, living testament to the
inspiring words in the pages of her books.
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