Have you ever gone oystering? It is a cold, clammy business. I once had the great pleasure and pain to go oystering in Maine. I was given a set of tongs to scoop oysters off the bottom of. These tongs were formidable, resembling two rakes attached to two long poles tht work like scissors to scoop up the oyster. In the freezing air I looked at the hands of the master oysterer, his hands like giant red claws, more lobster than oyster. I looked at my own hands and saw that they too were fair on the way to becoming like his. I valiantly worked the tongs, even in spite of the oyster man's rude sallies, "Yer as slow as molasses running uphill in January." Finally, after what seemed an age of trying, I managed to clutch an oyster in my tongs. The oyster man opened the bivalve creature and there mirabile dictuu, was a dinky, misshapen... something. "You got yerself a pearl, " he muttered in his broad Maine accent. "Not too bad for a first timer."
"But why is it so small" I asked.
"Cause it's a young one," he explained. Only after much prodding, the dour gent was persuaded to tell me how the oyster went about making pearls. It begins with an irritation -- a piece of sand, grit, shell, which serves as an irritating parasite to the tender flesh of the oyster. In response, the oyster builds up layers of calcium carbonate around the alien element, gradually growing the pearl. A small pearl takes around 2-3 years to grow, a large one, closer to 10. Thus from irritating circumstances a thing of beauty can be made. What an analogy for our own lives! For how many years have you been engaged in transforming your irritants, thought invaders, miseries into a masterpiece?
As an exercise in raising pearls consider the following:
Say the words to yourself or others, "If I had not suffered, I would not now be able to..."
As you fill in your answer you may discover that the suffering engendered greater compassion, deeper understanding and empathy for others, as well as growing your mind and emotional breadth among many other things.
I once made a study of 55 of some of the most creative people in North America. What was significant about them was that they used their inner imageries to play in the grand field of ideas and inventiveness? What was also fascinating is how they also used their irritating circumstances as conscious means to add meaning and complexity to their creations. From first hand, I would observe with trembling trepidation as Margaret Mead would explode over a wrongdoing and then be galvanized into action to create the righting of the wrong. These were almost daily occurrences with her. Jonas Salk would get a blistering critique of his latest ideas, and would respond by going deeper into his creative place of contemplative imaginings. Joseph Campbell was always being called on his ideas by colleagues because he did not take a doctorate and was thought unprepared to offer his brilliant innovations in understanding myth and symbol. In response, he went running for miles, or swimming many laps as he reflected and perfected his research and ideas. Did they stay stung, humiliated, marinated in mortification and anger? Not at all. They rose to the challenge of their critics and doubters and took their work deeper, further than before. They made pearls out of grit, masterpieces out of morbid irritations.
I believe we can do the same.
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