Recently, I was working with a client who couldn't break through his problem with clutter. I suggested a sensitive, practical, easy way forward. I asked, "Does that seem do-able?" He laughed and replied, "Oh, it's do-able, but the question is -- will I do it?"
This client is a great stand-in for most of us, whether we're trying to lose weight, overcome an addiction, shift out of unhealthy patterns, treat ourselves better or heal long-debiliating trauma.
We know exactly what to do, and even have help in they way of therapists and coaches of all sorts. Still, we find ourselves unable to stay focused on, and complete, the necessary practices.
I've come to see a fundamental paradox in how we approach transformation. On the one hand, we pay lip service to the idea of oneness, of interdepence, of our deep connection and need for one another. On the other hand, when faced with our greatest challenges, we usually try to pull ourselves up by the bootstaps and do it all alone.
For example, I tell all my clients to be in touch between appointments, whenever something important comes up to ask or share. Many don't, for fear of bothering me or overstepping boundaries, even though I implore them to "err on the side of over-communicating."
Back to my client with the clutter. I asked him a follow-up question. "What if there were a caring acquaintance right beside you during your attempts at de-cluttering? If that person were a silent support, a resonating presence, and also available to listen and reflect what came up for you moment by moment, would it make a difference?"
There was a pause, and then my client began to cry. He was so moved by the idea, it was instantly clear we'd struck gold.
But how could we arrange for such a person to support my client? Who could be there, on-call, rather than on an appointment basis?
Isn't that the same key question for all of us? Isn't the moment of truth so often at 1 a.m. when you're reaching for that bag of chips? Or for whatever it is that will ease your present discomfort, but ultimately make the situation worse?
For this reason I'm constantly looking for new ways to touch base with my clients in between sessions. I want, as much as humanly possible, to be available to them at these pivotal moments.
Still, it's not enough. We need to be accompanied in our darkest, most challenging times in a way that rarely exists in today's incredibly isolating culture.
Even for those of us with friends and family members who would like to support us in such a way, the complex nature of those relationships, and the challenges those people face in their own lives, makes them unlikely candidates.
That's why I've begun imaging a new kind of occupation. I call the job professional communing. A communer is nearby, on stand-by, especially during your most vunerable times of day. A communer has been trained to accompany but not lead, to hold space, to invite you into the deepest possible connection to the emotions that are underlying your difficulty. A communer will come close, or back off, as you wish.
Your first thought may be, "Incredible! But impossible! The whole thing would have to cost a fortune." That's probably right. But I wonder if it would actually cost less than what we pay as a society for the ravages of addiction, depression, anxiety, etc.
You might also think this sounds kind of like an AA sponsor. That's true, but without a particular spiritual perspective, and available for the whole array of difficult life experience, not just for addiction.
I wonder if a lot of people would be drawn to a 1-year training program, following which they'd be eligible to provide this essential human service for a low but reasonable salary. Perhaps we're not ready yet for something like this, but it's time to start spreading the idea.
I've also brainstormed the idea of an online exchange, where you could offer this service to others and also procure it for yourself, approaching such partnerships with confidence, knowing that everyone in the exchange has been trained and vetted. Along with that, I envision you'd be able to touch base with people in an exploratory way, to assess your mutual "fit," before actually beginning a relationship of support.
I know all this may seem like pie in the sky, but don't many significant social shifts before they eventually become commonplace?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle lies inside us. I saw this when working with another client who just couldn't lose 50 life-threatening pounds. She tried everything, to no avail. I suggested a communer, knowing that she had the financial means to pay for the whole thing herself. I even offered to find great local candidates.
At first my client agreed but then quickly backed out. It seemed too shameful to need such support, and too hard to actually put it into practice.
So it's clear that the obstacles to our becoming a communer culture are serious, both within and without. But imagine how all our lives would change, dramatically, beautifully, if it ever came to be.