Did you ever start a project with one goal, and fail at that intention only to see the work bear unexpected fruit of another sort?
As I write this, my location is a hotel room near Washington, DC. The purpose of this trip is my attendance at the second of three medical acupuncture training seminars. In a roundabout way, the obscure blog (willspirit.com) that I started in Spring 2009 has led me to this hotel. It brought me to my current plan of using acupuncture to treat psychic distress.
At least partly because of my blogging, I’ve come to see that the available options for those who suffer from depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other mental health issues are too limited. Therapy is often helpful, but it doesn’t directly address psychic discomfort. It is a learning process, whereby new understanding and behaviors lead to better moods, but there is no immediate relief. Pharmaceutical medications can work more swiftly, but they are essentially symptomatic treatments that don’t smooth out the conflicts that cause emotional distress. They also entail many side effects. Acupuncture works quickly, aims specifically to calm internal conflicts, and is essentially side effect free.
Granted, acupuncture doesn’t work for everyone. Granted, its mechanism of action is unclear, and critics accuse it of being little more than a placebo. All these same things are said, of course, about antidepressants.
So while I’m not saying acupuncture is a miracle cure or the answer for everyone, it seems like something worth adding to the mix of treatments available to those with emotional issues. My coming to this realization was facilitated by my blogging.
My aspirations were very different when I began writing online, however. The initial idea was that my blogging would interest people, would snowball in popularity, and ultimately provide a ‘platform’ for a successful book. Looking back, I see that my naivete was almost laughable. My writing is not that special, building an audience is an arduous task, and books don’t usually sell (if they even get published.) So it’s a good thing that blogging led me to a viable and exciting new career direction, almost by accident.
Today’s entry is therefore about unexpected consequences. Would I have seen so clearly the need for alternative treatments in the mental health world without writing on line? Would I have thought to enter acupuncture training if I hadn’t had my blog as a laboratory to work out my ideas? Would I have had sufficient confidence without the supportive comments that have helped me grow? Even if the blog failed as a ‘platform’ for a larger writing project, it has been immensely valuable. Less gratifying for my ego than I’d hoped, but more useful to my future and my soul.
I can accept that. I can accept a lot of things that used to be hard for me. Acceptance is something I first learned, largely, from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy practitioner. It has been furthered by forays into Buddhist meditation. It seems to be the key to happiness, a key that we are simply not given to value in this culture.
One way to accept is to look for the benefits in every occurrence. As the saying goes, “it is an ill wind that blows no good.” Some of my most devastating losses have taught me my most essential lessons. By recognizing that, I realize that they are not actually losses at all, but exchanges. The currency of ego and materialism was exchanged for that of soul and wisdom. A fair bargain, in this case; the bargain is less than fair in many situations. Even so, we almost always gain something even if we lose everything that matters to us. It can be helpful to find those benefits in loss, however small and insufficient. They help offset the sense that we have suffered nothing but calamity, and remind us that life is never all black or all white.
We often hear of unexpected consequences in a negative context: “we drilled for oil and unexpectedly contaminated the Gulf of Mexico coastline,” but they go the other way, too. For instance: “I hated my losses as they happened, but now I see they helped me find unexpected delight in life.”
Look for the unexpected benefits in those situations that trouble you. Ask what you might have learned that you would never have figured out without hardship. Ask how your relationships have been tested and strengthened. Ask how you’ve grown. Doing so won’t make a bad situation good, but it might make it just a little more tolerable. And that’s an important step toward healing.