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Some days you’re the pigeon and some days, you are the statue (2021)

This vulnerable and deeply reflective text was written by an anonymous workshop participant.

There is an expression I Like to humorously muse to, “Some days you’re the pigeon and some days, you’re the statue.” A phrase more appropriate for comfort on a bad day. However, it is the first thing that came to my mind this morning when reflecting on last night’s Shibari workshop. 

No, I did not shit on nor be shat upon, even in the metaphorical sense. The pigeon/statue relationship is, in the most stripped down sense, the controller verses the controlled. And it’s an inevitable experience for all living creatures. Shibari is the Japanese art of rope play. A delicate dance of giving and receiving power and control. I should fully disclose that I, and presumably many others, might initially view rope play through the narrow lens of pornographic fantasy. However, when one actually embarks on a Shibari session, the depths of thought and emotion begin to show themselves. Some things can only be understood while hanging from the ceiling with your hands and legs tied up and immobilized. 

The first exercise took place without any ropes at all. The goal was to understand the importance of ritual and communication. To be conscious and present when approaching your partner and to be responsive and permissive when being approached by your partner. To understand how body movements, breathing, and muscle tension become the language behind the ritual. My friend Jaandree was cohosting the workshop with the teacher, Andy. Jaandree and Andy would demonstrate the exercises for the class and then the four other couples in the room would follow along. Jaandree would then become my partner after the demonstrations. It was an intimidating blessing. Me, with no experience at all, being paired with someone who not only routinely practices these highly intimate and vulnerable arts, but teaches them as well. While I’d love to proclaim myself a dominant, masculine construction worker who also woodworks and does strength training on the side, my “dominant” character was clumsy, stiff, and timid on my initial approach. 

I found it much easier to relax and receive, and let Jaandree mold me into the various forms that this craft is capable of. Like and artist using their chosen material, my submissiveness became her blank canvas, upon which she was allowed to create her idea of beauty imbedded in the curves and contortions of the human body. As the ropes began to wrap my hands and my arms and legs became more restrained, I felt a bizarre surge of psychological empowerment. An odd carefree temptation to mouth off, to joke around. When your physical movement is restrained, you are only left with your mind. “Which part of me looks tasty?”  I asked with my hands tied together, over my head and restrained to my back. This musing dissolved as the workshop continued. Andy and Jaandree demonstrated that even your mind was capable of being contorted as the ropes dug deeper into the skin.

The final exercise involved suspending your partner from the ceiling rafter. A very simple knot tied around the waist, a few loops and a carabineer were the only physical elements involved, along with the two people. The real element present was the conscious and emotional presence of all who were participating in the ritual. The process of suspending someone a mere ten centimeters off the floor created an emotional space that was light years in diameter. My time suspended was very short. I was sweating and I felt a horrible cramp growing in my side… and not even the side that was bearing my weight. The discomfort caused by the heightened level of restraint overpowered my experienced and I opted to come down.

The other couples in the room took on their own emotional landscapes. With Jaandree sitting next to me, I became aware of just how much this room had transformed from a few hours before. There was crying, laughing, heavy breathing, but mostly silence from the six other participants as they all had begun to understand their physical and emotional presence and the effects that such a power dynamic could have. The pigeon-statue metaphor is about two things that are unaware of their effect on one another, quite the opposite tone that Shibari strives for. However, in neither the metaphor nor the intimate ritual are the participants able to read each other’s minds. The inconsiderate actions of the pigeon leave the statue feeling violated or even traumatized to a point where it feels it cannot wash off whatever was cast upon it. Shibari creates a space where power and control can be given and received. Such an experience will instill knowledge and discipline of one’s emotions, and leave them feeling more capable to deal with the challenges posed throughout life.