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A few days ago, a friend of mine suggested writing a piece that would be addressed to those people who are struggling with unemployment; for those people that are coping with this difficult situation, which seems hopeless and endless, and have left them feeling unable and unworthy.. She specifically said to write a piece of advice so that they can feel understood, appreciated but most importantly not alone. Instead of writing a text, I borrowed a story from the book called “My Grandfather’s blessings”, written by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen.



“Some of the oldest and most delightful written words in the English language are the collective nouns dating from medieval times used to describe groups of birds and beasts. Many of these go back five hundred years or more, and lists of them appeared as early as 1440 in some of the first books printed in English. These words frequently offer an insight into the nature of the animals or birds they describe. Sometimes this is factual and sometimes poetic. Occasionally it is profound: a pride of lion, a party of jays, an ostentation of peacocks, an exultation of larks, a gaggle of geese, a charm of finches, a bed of clams, a school of fish, a cloud of gnats, and a parliament of owls are some examples. Over time, these sorts of words have been extended to other things as well. One of my favourites is pearls of wisdom.

An oyster is soft, tender and vulnerable. Without the sanctuary of its shell it could not survive. But oysters must open their shells in order to “breather” water. Sometime while an oyster is breathing, a gain of sand will enter its shell and become a part of its life from then on.

Such grains of sand cause pain, but an oyster does not alter in soft nature because of this. It does not become hard and leathery in order not to feel. It continues to entrust itself to the ocean, to open and breathe in order to live. But it does respond. Slowly and patiently, the oyster wraps the grain of sand in thin translucent layers until, over time, it has created something of great value in the place where it was most vulnerable to its pain. A pearl might be thought of as an oyster’s response to its suffering. Not every oyster can do this. Oysters that do are far more valuable to people than oysters that do not.

Sand is a way of life for an oyster. If you are soft and tender and must live on the sandy floor of the ocean, making pearls becomes a necessity if you are to live well.

Disappointment and loss are a part of every life. Many times we can put such things behind us and get on with the rest of our lives. But not everything is amenable to this approach. Some things are too big or too deep to do this, and we will have to leave important parts of ourselves behind if we treat them in this way. These are the places where wisdom begins to grow in us. It begins with suffering that we do not avoid or rationalise or put behind us. It starts with the realization that our loss, whatever it is, has become a part of us and altered our lives so profoundly that we cannot go back to the way it was before.

Something in us can transform such suffering into wisdom. The process of turning pain into wisdom often looks like a sorting process. First we experience everything. Then one by one we let things go, the anger, the blame, the sense of injustice, and finally even the pain itself, until all we have left is a deeper sense of the value of life and a greater capacity to live it’. ( Extract from the book “My grandfather’s blessings, stories of strength, refuge and belonging”, p. 139-140, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., 2000)


So going back to the issue of unemployment and all the associated difficulties, could it be wiser to approach things like ‘a grain of sand’; although this grain temporarily exists, nevertheless it also has the capacity of becoming a pearl! It depends on how you approach things in life. On the other hand, if the pain is too difficult to handle right now, could it be wiser to remind yourselves that ‘this grain of sound’ doesn’t take away your abilities, your goals in life! You are still entitled to live life to its fullest and you should always bear that in mind…

Eva Lychrou is a psychotherapist based in London, helping people deal with family issues, relationship difficulties and self development in general.

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