Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Suffering: The Irritant that Produces the Pearl

The other day I wrote a post for Psych Central about suffering. I was a tad nervous posting it, because somehow I think I should have a more optimistic philosophy about life, and that I should be a more positive person, in general. However, given the feedback on the piece, I am glad I published it. Because maybe it will make you feel less alone if your world view is similar to mine. You can find it at Psych Central, but I have excerpted the first few paragraphs here.


Writing a Commencement speech is like writing your eulogy: You have to nail down in 10 minutes or less a succinct message that represents your entire life. It’s best to capture all the sweat and tears, the laughter and sorrow, life’s drama in a few tight, coherent paragraphs.

Having been asked to give one in May to my alma mater, Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, I have been studying Commencement addresses of the pros: J.K. Rowling, Anna Quindlen, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Jobs. And here’s what all of them had in common: suffering.

Yep. The primary theme in each of these essays is that suffering is the rubble on which success is built. I’m sure that you can bypass suffering altogether, but then you’d have a rather boring Commencement speech. I’ve read some of those too.


It’s the First Noble Truth of Buddhism: “Life is suffering.”

I’m very comfortable with that.

Because I agree with that statement wholeheartedly.

However, not everyone does. In writing my speech I came across some very different philosophies. One friend told me that my early draft was depressing. “This is not going to inspire college kids,” she said. “It’s pretty much saying that life is one hard test after another, but you get lucky every so often with a moment of happiness.”

“Yep,” I said. “That’s accurate, don’t you think?”

“No. I don’t,” she responded. “I would say that life is mostly good with an occasional moment of hardship.”

“Wow. Really? What kind of drugs are you taking?”


So I revised my essay it to be a perkier piece, spreading sunshine over the 10 minutes. I devoted paragraphs to the many joys of life: beautiful sunsets, babies born, weddings, yada yada through a little scrapbook of happy events. Life is one fun adventure and you are lucky because you are just beginning yours!

But somewhere in the process I lost my voice, my story, and the wisdom I earned in the psych ward. Not on peaceful walks with my dogs. Not while kayaking the beautiful fingers of the Chesapeake. All the good stuff came from intensely painful moments back when I was begging God for a malignant tumor. Those times became the irritating grains within the oyster shell that emerged as pearls.

Click here to continue reading.

  • Mike

    Therese, you were surely right the first time. Suffering isn’t necessary, as psychiatrist Thomas Hora put it, but it is inevitable. All great spiritual teachers teach that we find enlightenment either through wisdom or suffering, but that for most of us it is through suffering. Jesus said, “In this life you shall have trial and tribuation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” How many of us follow his path to transcend the sufferings of the world? We keep on suffering until we get it right. Keep on saying what you think is true because it is authentic and there is no right or wrong when we are sincere in our search for truth.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment barb

    amen amen amen, i believe in your words and your philosophies. transcending suffering is one of the most difficult journies i have endured in my lifetime, but once i accepted it, i found peace and contentment. that is not to say that pulling up to 4 ATMs that are empty does not irritate me. but i don’t get as upset as, say, 20 or 30 years ago. i have learned. and i praise God daily for peace and contentment.

    and by the way, i like the new look on Beyond Blue!! great pic. take care of yourself, find your peace, whereever it may be.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Christie Dunn

    Hi there’s and everyone who reads this message board. Another great message Therese. And the analogy of the pearl is really good. I think suffering gives us a choice: learn transcendence, or become bitter and become more important in your life than you were meant to be.
    I just watched a wonderful movie called “the human experience”….and the point that we have our joy and happiness and meaning in community. The family, the first community’and then it goes from there.

    I think began a.childlike belief and relationship with God that has had it’s ups and downs. I am glad that though I can’t do nursing, a very interactive, community driven activity I can volunteer and it won’t stress me out and I am victorious over the irritant and I see the pearl more clearly.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shelley

    I also feel the title is perfect.
    “A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life. It is the tear [that results] from the injury of the oyster. The treasure of our being in this world is also produced by an injured life. If we had not been wounded, if we had not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.”

    Stephan Hoeller

    I am a pearl. The question I ask myself, am I natural or cultured?

    Since mollusks produce pearls, without that mollusk I would remain a piece of sand, coral, rice, etc. none which are thought of as beautiful as a pearl.

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Terri

    For the last two years and still ongoing, I have suffered from suicidal depression constant anxiety and panic attacks. It’s going to be one mother of all pearls when and if I can get healed. I have actually had another mentally ill woman criticize me for calling myself mentally ill. I have had the gamut of family members telling me it’s my fault I’m ill because I don’t think enough positive thoughts and I think “If for one minute you could be in my shoes,sigh.”Every single morning I awake in almost unbearable pain from nerves shooting pain up and down my shoulders and through my abdomen and they last half the day through and I understand the doctor when he says they are psychosomatic and I should just do deep breathing and visualization exercises until he can get me an appointment for ECT. (I’ve tried dozens of medicines and my depression appears to be treatment resistant.) And still I don’t ask God “Why me?” Instead I think of all the other suffering people in the world and I have to ask myself,”Why not me?” I am no better than anyone else. As a good little Catholic girl I offer up my sufferings for the Poor Souls. That doesn’t prevent me from wallowing in self pity from time to time (OK, every day at some point or another). I am greedy for the prayers of others. One of the few bright spots right now is a psychiatrist who is understanding and yes, even caring. (His receptionist revealed to me on the QT that if I run out of money he will still treat me for free. ) And he reminds me often that none of this is my fault and that all the positive thoughts in the world aren’t going to make it just ‘go away’. He says its a disease just like my epilepsy and diabetes and needs medical treatment. And I have a wonderful son who just graduated with his bachelor’s in Psychology and he has bipolar and he UNDERSTANDS!!! Oh what a comfort and a blessing to be understood. I have a brother who comes every week to help me fill up my pill box with the 10 prescriptions I take every day and he drives me to my appointments when they are too far away for me to drive. And that was my eulogy. How did I do? (On a scale of 1 to 10). I love your writing by the way.It is a great comfort! God Love you . Terri

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