Pearls and Swirls

When roses arrived in a recent bouquet, I admired the swirling or twisting spiral of petals toward the mysterious center of the blooms. Each delicate petal followed neighboring petals to create an interdependent wholeness. If flower petals can spiral together for a common goodness, why are people having such difficulty? There are many reasons. Some reasons are not pretty. We need new approaches to come together in our country in this new year.

I like to think of new beginnings as evolving or spiraling. Swirling spirals are highlighted in the captivating art of Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers or seashells, suggesting some inner core vitality. Of course, Georgia took her inspiration from nature’s many swirls and spirals. When she painted White Shell with Red, she painted 5 whorls, or revolutions in the spiral growth, into center circling of the moon shell. The mollusk tribe keeps ancient company: with a 545-million-year fossil history, it predates the 230-million-year earliest dinosaurs. Remember, certain mollusks are home territory to pearls.

We might consider both pearls and swirling patterns as timeless. The curb-stone entrance to the inner chamber of the passage tomb, Newgrange in Ireland, has 3 inter-connected spirals. No one knows what message the stone carver meant to preserve, but the iconic design dating from 3000 BC is believed to represent creation, evolution, and perhaps cosmic energy. Or maybe the ancient Celts were nature artists like Georgia O’Keefe and simply observed that seashells and flower petals often grow in swirling spirals.

In Native or First People’s petroglyphs, it is suggested that the spiral petroglyph stands for the wind, or a blowing out of the old to open the way for the “new.” Another interpretation for a petroglyph spiral design is generation, or life as coiled until ready for emergence.

Distant galaxies appear as spiral nebulae. Years ago, on top of Mauna Kea on the big island of Hawaii, my family and I saw a sky densely swirled with stars. Through a telescope we were told that we were seeing distant galaxies. I only saw “dim” and “tiny” swirling masses, but I was awe-struck at witnessing the trail of what quantum mechanics scientists call the multiverse.

You will interpret your spiraling years with your own symbolism but take time to pause and follow your trailheads to an inner self. Each one of us has an inner telescope to amplify self-territory, a state of being where we experience inner beauty. Internal Family Systems (IFS) founder, Dick Swartz, lists 8 qualities of our innermost nature: calmness, compassion, creativity, courage, confidence, clarity, curiosity, and connectedness. Spiral inward and take some deep breaths.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

46. What inspires you in nature?

47. When do you take a pause to connect with your innermost nature?            

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. While obvious, I actually needed your “Remember, certain mollusks are home territory to pearls” During the four years we lived on the Pacific Coast, I marveled at shells.


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