You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.
Okay, this weekly post is a bit of a nerdgasm, the subject is actually the same as previous week when I wrote about the languages of power, but it provides a different perspective.
So the question – when you create a power dynamic, or a polarity, what is it actually that you hand-over as the submissive person? I believe that surrender is like a seed that you plant, and as it grows one hand over more and more of themselves. Each step of the growth process requires another kind of trust. If one finds themselves stuck and not being able to deepen the surrender, or if the submission feels more like an act, then these ideas might prove helpful.
The first thing one hand over is control of the body. For example, by obeying orders to hold a particular position by will, or being bound by ropes. To do this, the submissive must trust that the dominant can take care of their physical body. By not putting them in positions that they can’t handle. Maybe kneeling for a long time doesn’t work if one has bad knees. The submissive must feel safe to be touched by the dominant and to understand their body language, so they can follow their will.
The second and third thing differ in order between people in my experience. They are pain and pleasure. The one that feels more intimate is often harder to hand over. If the submissive agrees to be pleasured, most often sexually, the dominant can then decide when and how much, turning it into either a reward or tease-and-denial game. Pain, on the other hand, is creating a physical challenge for the submissive. For example, by impact play or painful bondage positions, etc. To surrender to either pain or pleasure, there is another kind of trust required. Trust when it comes to pain is much related to knowing how it will impact the body, like bruises and scars, and what the submissive is willing to handle. While pleasure is about the balance between arousal and satisfaction while understanding what is pleasurable and not. Pleasure and pain work very well together because they enable each other and are very similar in high doses, you can read more about this in my text about pain and kinbaku.
So the first three steps of surrendering are body, pleasure, and pain – and they are all focus on the physical. If the pain comes first, then the receiver might be more of a masochist than a submissive, but in my experience, it is also greatly influenced by the spaces where BDSM is practised. Traditionally many dungeons are non-sexual spaces, but this is changing when tantra, swinging and burning culture starts to flirt with BDSM. The fourth and fifth step moves more into the mind and soul.
The fourth thing to hand over is usually the heart or the self-image. Here the submissive let the dominant decide on who and what they are, and should be. Typical expressions are objectification, pet, and shame play. The reason to engage in these sessions is permission – for the submissive to be something they usually are not. It is most often oneself that defines who we need to be, and this limits us. For example, with the idea that one has to be beautiful to be loved, it is a relief to be made ugly. A way to learn to not take once ideas about “the self” so severe and open up to be something else. Often this process is masochistic as the ego will complain – I usually describe it as emotional masochism rather than physical. You can read more about this in my text about shame and humiliation. The most important thing to surrender one’s self-image is to trust that the dominant will lovingly and respectfully hold space for this process. In a way, it can be described as the dominant replacing the ego of the submissive with their own will. While the process of humiliation might be harsh, the key is that the submissive can stay in the experience without being overwhelmed or disassociating. You can read more about this in my notes about the book In an Unspoken Voice.
The fifth and final thing to hand over is devotion, and the most defining aspect is that the focus-shift from the submissive to the dominant. In the four first levels, the focus is on the experience of the submissive, and how they can journey through different sensations from physical to emotional. The final step is about surrendering to the desire of another. Taking this step requires the submissive to find the dominant worthy and trusting them enough to let go of their own desire. And knowing that they will still be taken care of in some way – but exactly how this looks will differ from person to person. My experience is that to fully surrender into devotion, one must first move through the first four steps. As they focus more on the submissive, they will build the trust needed for the fifth step.
Much of the fiction written around BDSM focuses heavily on devotion – to indeed be someone’s slave. But what I want to point out in this text, is that my experience is that one has to move through the body, pleasure, pain and self-image first. Otherwise one can simply pretend to be “a slave”, but it won’t feel the same, because it will just be a play, that ultimately aims to please the submissive. So a good question to ask – is devotion really the goal?
And just to end with a counter-argument that my friend proposed – maybe pain and pleasure is the ultimate surrender because they are the most “real”. Meaning the self-image and devotion only are intellectual ideas, while pain and pleasure when they flood our nervous system is impossible to ignore. What do you think?