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Facing challenge, and the sweet surrender (2020)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

Often when people come to me for private rope sessions, they express an interest in suspensions. The ideas about it are many; it can be “ultimate surrender”, defeating gravity, or flying. Maybe the peaceful faces often seen in bondage pictures are alluring—the beautiful suffering, that Japanese bondage has made almost iconic. In reality, hanging in ropes is both a physical and emotional challenge. I believe that there are two fundamental ways to handle hardship, generally in life, particularly in bondage.

Fighting is one way. Aggression, change and action are other words for it. I think it’s healthy to have access to one’s anger, as long as the reaction is proportional to the challenge. There is an accepted norm for fighting in our society, like being competitive in business, sports, and computer games. On this path, one learns to disconnect from their vulnerability and to build armour for battle. I remember some hectic periods of my career life when commuting to work in the morning with only a few hours of sleep. Being angry at people bumping into me while drinking my coffee at the subway was a valid tactic to raise my stress level, and readying myself to face the day’s challenges. My heartbeat increased, and my muscles tensed. Ready to fight. I adapted many techniques to function in this stressful environment, like working out rigorously, meditating and having a healthy diet. Anyone successful in such a competition does the same – I believe.

The other way is accepting. In a way, it is to mourn. To be with what is, rather than to do or change. Just like having access to one’s anger, it is healthy to accept. The serenity prayer speaks about the same two paths.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

Rope suspensions are more about accepting and less about changing, I believe. Of course, there is a grey-scale, so even when not fighting the challenge, one might still tense their core to protect the spine, for example. But my experience is that many people are better at changing than accepting, at least if they are new to rope bondage. So their experience becomes more about endurance than surrender. I remember a dancer that used to tie. She loved being in the ropes as the restrictions forced her to discover new ways of moving. She was always overcoming the challenge and doing so beautifully. But she never really surrendered, and forever remained in control. One night, I decided to tie her so that she couldn’t move at all. Completely restricted, she became completely dependent on me. And she hated it.

So when beginners come to ask for rope suspensions. The challenge often becomes too big, so they fall into fighting and endurance, instead of accepting and surrendering. This lesson is valuable in itself. I remember one man telling me about this extraordinary military breathing technique that he used to fight the pain, and I wondered why he didn’t just cry? When I ask—What was the most transformative? The answer is almost always, the start and end of the session when it was softer when they could actually surrender—mourning their suffering. And I believe this to be a much bigger gift, especially for someone that “good at fighting”—to offer another path of acceptance and sweet surrender.