A grain of sand. That's all it takes. It all seems so small in the grand scheme of things. But what power it can create. What authority. What influence. Just one tiny grain of sand.
It's an irritant you see. It gets in to the shell of a live oyster and is trapped inside its mantle folds. In response to this foreign body, the mollusk produces nacre, the substance that creates the mother of pearl that lines the inside of the shell. By continual secretion of the substance, the grain of sand is no longer an irritant to the oyster, and the shellfish can continue to live a normal life.
Unless of course one day it is found by a fisherman in search of treasure. Or perhaps pulled to the surface by one of the famous Ama women of Japan, who dive almost naked, and with virtually no equipment. For these people, the oyster's natural defense to discomfort in turn creates riches that can help feed and clothe them, provide for their families. These pearls are then sold and go on to provide a different meaning to the people able to afford them.
Eastern cultures believe that pearls symbolise purity and spiritual transformation. White pearls are for purity, innocence, faith and honesty. Gold or black pearls symbolise prosperity and riches. Rose or pink pearls are said to work well with the heart Chakra. Throughout history, pearls have traditionally been the most popular accessories with bridal wear, and still continue to be a strong favourite today. The innocence and beauty symbolised by the pearl is echoed, and therefore perfectly matched, by the bride.
Now, that's all well and good. But what of the oyster? What of its personal sacrifice in order to create such a revered treasure that holds such significance, such beauty and meaning on so many levels for so many people?
At the beginning, when the grain of sand first enters its shell, the oyster suffers discomfort, perhaps even pain. Granted, we can't measure the intensity of the oyster's distress with any level of accuracy, but I would reckon that to an oyster, it must be a pretty nasty experience. Why else would it work so hard to cover it up, to stop the irritation?
And it reminds me of the way we human beings work hard to cover up our emotional pain in order to live a normal life. We'll create layer after layer of emotional pearl to surround the shame or discomfort until it becomes something we can live with. Perhaps until it actually becomes something that we are so used to, we don't even remember that it is there. Those layers, in some cases, might be love. Forgiveness. Understanding. Perhaps in other cases simply denial. Ignorance. Perhaps stubborn refusal. Others still may choose lies. Criminal behaviour. Even addictions and possibly death. Whatever the label, we find numerous ways to numb our pain.
For me, over the past year, I have felt stripped naked and, like those Ama divers, out of my depth and under water without breathing apparatus. And yes, there have been many times I've felt close to succumbing to the depths. Tempted to lose consciousness in the water. Perhaps to float away to a place of peace. And yet I haven't. Instead I've faced the ferocity of pain that over the years I'd glossed over with pearl. I've ridden the waves of emotions I had previously believed would kill me. And I truly believe that in the process I have died. Not in the real sense of the word, of course, but in the sense that I am no longer the person I was. Yes I'm still in the same body, but spiritually and emotionally I believe I am unrecognisable.
And now I can look at the hurts and pains of the past - betrayal, abandonment, derision and humiliation - and realise that they have indeed now been turned in to pearls. My survival of these experiences has made me a stronger and wiser person. More complete and consciously certain than I have ever felt before. Yes, like the oyster, I don't believe I asked for any of this to happen and, like the oyster, my old life has been sacrificed in the process. But now I am left with a fulness and wonderment for life that I never knew existed. I had never accepted myself as being worthy of such abundance. And yes, it took my 'death' to feel this fully - but you know what? Now I can see with clarity that... yes... you guessed it... those pearls and riches were already there. I didn't need to 'die' to find them because they were within me all the time - I just never realised it.
So back to the oyster, who literally loses its life when the pearl is released. After years focusing energy on covering its discomfort to make life better, it is killed for the very irritant that caused it pain in the first place. Is there a rebirth of any sort for the oyster? Well, I don't know that. What I do know is that their pearls, once out in the open, last for hundreds of years - and can touch the lives of thousands of people. So yes, perhaps in that way the oyster is reborn, and acnowledged for its suffering.
It is said it's not what happens to us that makes the difference, it's how we respond to what happens that makes the difference. Perhaps that's why we speak of digging deep within ourselves, and marvel about revealing precious pearls of wisdom?