The Two-way Commitment

This development is very exciting to me.

We began using commitments in our co-counseling about two years ago, and, wherever they have been used well, they have enhanced and accelerated the re-emergence of the people using them a great deal. They even work somewhat without an effective counselor, once they have been set up and kept to, but they work extremely well when the counselor effectively assists in the making, practicing and thinking through the implications of the commitment.

In the first two weeks after the commitment work began, Peter Martynowich of Germantown, Pennsylvania, and Kay Downs of Island Heights, New Jersey, at separate workshops, each made commitments that, roughly, promised never again to agree to or collude with anything wrong. Neither was given a chance to practice the commitments (we did not understand the need for this at that time,) but were simply turned loose from the workshops where the commitments were made, and expected to carry them out in the wide world.

Each of them did so, in separate, dramatic circumstances that have already been reported in Present Time (No. 30, page 30 and No. 31, page 35). Kay protected a woman from physical violence against threats to her own life and without support from anyone. Peter stood up against a group of men trying to abduct a young woman and prevented the abduction against threats to his life.

Later, about a year ago at another workshop, two people began commenting on each other's difficulties in making a commitment. I invited them to the front of the workshop and asked them to take turns helping each other back and forth with their commitments. Something important seemed "almost" to happen, but they seemed unable to persist against their distresses sufficiently. The glimpsed possibilities were striking enough, however, that they remained clearly in my memory.

In April both Peter Martynowich and Kay Downs were present at the Regional Teachers' Workshop at Appel Farm, New Jersey. While demonstrating how to work on commitments with Kay, I remembered the almost-success of a year ago, and asked Peter to come up with Kay and work on his commitment also. At first I asked each in turn to repeat his or her commitment, and then, following the statement of the commitment, and ensuing discharge, asked each to think of and state aloud an implication that would follow from the commitment. Each of them worked very well and easily, with a great deal of discharge. I then asked them to be counselors to each other in exchanging the commitments and implications alternately, which they readily agreed to.

What happened then was one of the most hopeful developments in counseling that I can remember. Possibly because each had already kept his or her commitment against the threat of death in the wide world, possibly for other reasons, Peter and Kay were both completely responsible in counseling each other on their commitments, and each discharged steadily both when acting as client and as counselor, without it interfering in the slightest with their functioning as counselors. Not only that, but the phenomenon which we have observed in the work with commitments previously, that the client's mind remains fully active during discharge, was very prominent in their work with each other. They seemed to become more and more aware, more and more alert, more and more intelligent, the longer they exchanged their commitments.

At one crucial point, one of them voiced the implication of "being there completely" for the other one in the other one's keeping her commitment. A few turns later a similar expression came from the second one. A profound, visible affinity developed - one might say "flared" - between the two at that point, and their relationship with each other became very clear, very open, very effective. The exchanging of commitments went on smoothly, sharply. Each was obviously thinking better all the time, and the discharge simply cascaded from each of them.

When the demonstration ended I think everyone in the workshop felt (certainly I did) that we had seen "the co-counseling of the future" and had seen a direct route to re-emergence for any two people who could commit themselves thoroughly to each other and work in this way.

After the workshop, I attended an open question evening in Philadelphia, with several hundred people present. When asked about this experience at the workshop, I persuaded Peter and Kay to again exchange commitments in front of the Philadelphia meeting. They began where they had left off with heavy discharge, obvious awareness and deep respect and affinity.

I think we have, in this "exchange of commitments," one of the most direct routes to re-emergence one could imagine. By now I have tried this at several other workshops and in my own co-counseling sessions, and have assisted a number of other people to work at it. Although the results vary depending on the degree of re-emergence, etc., of the participants, it seems to work profoundly well for anyone who understands and really makes a commitment. It works better the farther people are along in their counseling.

To first work out the meaning and wording of a serious commitment for oneself, and to face the implications, seems to require thoughtful, brave counseling, one-way to begin with. The wording of the commitment varies with each person, but is equivalent to denying chronic distress any influence over one's attitudes and actions in the future. The counselor actively helps with the wording, tone, etc. of the commitment. It is "practiced" for an indefinite period, that is, the client "means it," but will be released from it at the end of each session.

(When the client has discharged sufficiently and thought through the implications of it thoroughly enough to be confident of keeping it "without any support and against united opposition," the commitment is made "permanent." Work with it continues in the same way, however. It just "bites deeper" and brings more discharge between sessions once it is permanent.)

I highly recommend at this point that anyone who has become a skillful counselor do the preliminary work and then attempt to exchange such meaningful commitment with her or his co-counselor, and persist over a period of time.

I would appreciate having reports of how this process works for you, to carry in Present Time and other journals.

Harvey Jackins
(First printed in Present Time No. 36, pp. 3-8)

Last modified: 2016-08-22 02:11:22-07