You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.
Sometimes I joke that having conscious sexuality as a hobby and passion is a masochistic trait in itself, repeatedly diving into both emotional and physical processes. Over and over again. Yes, what doesn’t kill us does make us stronger. And I see this around me in my work. That resilience is the fruit growing from the explorations. Sometimes I can even be envious of newcomers that feel so much every time. In every tie. In every exercise. In every movement. So many feelings. I think it’s because their perception is scrambling, the salience landscape reshapes, and suddenly, the world appears in another light. So the subconscious, or maybe the nervous system, reacts with all these emotions—anger, contempt, disgust, surprise, sadness and fear—telling the conscious self that something is going on. I mused about this in What emotions are welcome in your bondage?. Once, I stayed in a hippie commune over the summer, offering my services as a medical massage therapist, it was an emotional rollercoaster, and I became friends with another great bodyworker. He half-jokingly said, “never take your emotions too seriously; they always come and go”. And I think it’s good advice; emotions do come and go; listen to them like whispers in the wind, especially in a generally safer, more emotionally welcoming, and hence more vulnerable space than everyday life (the three tend to go together).
But there is also something intense happening on a relational level. Playing with BDSM forges an emotional bond. And there is nothing strange in that. It’s even what many people keep looking for because they want to feel. And they want to belong. However, this connection might remain for a long time, like unfinished business. And therefore cause harm, hiccups and heartache. Some might even enjoy this emotional masochism while walking down rainy streets listening to the gloomy words of Nick Cave. It might even be romantic. But for others, it’s better to learn how to cut this invisible cord. I try to teach it at every workshop, but people tend not to get it. Maybe because they are overwhelmed with ecstatic feelings, and perhaps they underestimate the pain that could come later. The steps are quite simple. It comes from the ritual of forming a relationship in a contained space and understanding what that means. That the ritual we enter is different from everyday life, and I’m another person joining, and so is my partner. It sounds so esoteric when I write it, I know.
Practically, I ask people to take the following steps.
- Become aware of the play space, what is inside and what is outside. This can be two tatami mats, a circle in the sand, or a dungeon room.
- Become aware of who you are inside the space. Allow yourself to feel different, and perceive yourself in another way. Maybe the salience landscape of yourself is reshaped.
- Become aware of who your partner is inside the space. What do they mean to you? What desires and duties are awakenings inside of you? And feel how this will change your relationship with them.
For me, this usually takes at least ten minutes, but I enjoy dragging it out for much longer when I can. And it gets incorporated into the preparatory tasks for the session. I like to maintain my space continuously and have things in their place for practical and symbolic reasons. For example, I enjoy serving my partner tea according to my rituals and allowing them to be taken care of while submitting to my structure. It changes how I see them. And it’s important to construct this different reality. Because then it’s so much easier to later separate from it, simply because it is something different. I remember someone telling this anecdotal story about the Japanese bondage master Yukimura (1948-2016), that revealed to his students that it’s much more important to observe how he served tea than how he tied. And I can imagine it, how it was part of his ritual.
After the session, the ritual is reversed.
- Remove yourself from your partner. Physically let go of touch, energetically move outside of their bubble, and relationally see them as no longer belonging to you.
- Bring your awareness to yourself. I enjoy connecting to my basic needs; tea, food, sleep, sauna, cuddles, or maybe sex. But be aware that sex and cuddles inside the power dynamics are very different compared to outside. So be conscious and consensual about what you want.
- Come back to the everyday world. Take a walk in the sunshine, enjoy the wind, and sit at your favourite coffee shop reading a book.
I believe the more second nature this ritual becomes, the more powerful it is because it makes it safer to journey deeper into the play space. When I write second nature, I mean embodied and maybe even mundane. It’s very different from adding more esoteric artefacts, or more steps, or more anything. Actually, the more I move with this ritual, or maybe any kind of ritual, the fewer things I need. It has boiled down to the bare minimum because of the symbolic gestures that matter, and I have made them mine. Again, it sounds so esoteric when I write it, but practically, I just do the most meaningful steps over and over again, beating them into who I am.
I should probably write that this is entirely different if the intention is to maintain a full-time master-slave relationship where the goal is to transfer the bond into everyday life. Or maybe it’s a deeper sign of submission when the submissive keeps returning, reestablishing the relational chains over and over again, as a conscious decision. But that’s a thought for another musing.
So what if the cord hasn’t been cut? First, I think it’s a good lesson to be learnt; not to underestimate the power of rituals and power dynamics. Next is honouring that the meeting was meaningful and left an imprint. Finally, maybe honestly sharing about the experience with whom it happened, if they are available. Otherwise, sharing with someone else that has an insight into one’s emotional landscape, or last resort, musing about it in private. In the end, in my experience, it usually comes down to finding the same vulnerability or emotional depths as discovered during the play and then having the opportunity to traverse back out of it slowly. From some kind of trauma awareness, I don’t believe returning and releasing what happened during the actual play is needed, but rather the things that remained afterwards. That is the cord that wasn’t cut.