Whenever I’m back home in Stockholm, I try to create my own rituals as an unholy marriage between being and doing. The inspiration comes to me every few years to conjure a series of events. My ambition is high. These are communal experiences where everyone is simultaneously affected by the space—like a feedback loop. Everything is made to be experienced in the here and now. And everything influences everything else: live musicians, an ever-changing light setup, and the different constellations of people and the wide range of personality quirks and unpredictable behaviour they bring along. Esoteric eroticism, sadomasochism, theatre and dance, all interfacing in a delicate choreography. Something created out of nothing, something that requires great skill, that is then to disappear as if it never had existed. Traditional mandalas are made of flowers, pebbles, exotic spices and fine sand. For me, the evening is perfect when I find myself in a constant flow between feelings, people and experiences—a journey into the unknown. That’s my mandala.
There must be some agreed-upon rules for this to work, like a universal stop-word, an understood invitation to play, and an agreement that we are there to take care of each other first and foremost. Most importantly, we are here to play. Not to talk or learn something or perform ancestral healing on one another. Not even to bring some experience to a predetermined conclusion – they are already complete in their own imperfection.
Playing in itself is risky because we don’t know what will happen. Presence and listening play considerable roles. This is delicate because all this is so easily destroyed by trying too hard; trying to avoid an uncomfortable silence by falling into social banter or trying to teach someone a particular skill, to be friendly, sociable and valuable or simply trying to pick someone up. Instead, just be, and witness how it all unfolds. And when it works, it always puts me in awe.
Daring To Trust
There is a feeling of synchronicity in the space: the philosophical idea that the most meaningful thing is the thing most likely to happen. Of course, there is no scientific proof of such thing, but I trust that my rituals become much better when I believe it to be true.
Venturing into the unknown is not a safe space to be in. A desire drives it to be an experience out of the ordinary. It needs to be safe enough, to not panic or disassociate. Safe enough to feel one’s feelings and allow them to lead. Rituals may be spaces in which rich personal revelations unfold, spaces which invite personal growth, however it is important to state that they are not substitutes for formal therapy. In therapy, you are supported in handling a challenging situation. And as a bodyworker, I want to take minimal risks and do only the things proven to work. In rituals, on the other hand, it’s an art where we attempt to discover something new about ourselves. We take risks to break the status quo and are more or less on our own, responsible for our own experience. I think an important key is to understand that there is always a risk and that things don’t get safer than this. I would never promise anyone ‘a safe experience’ because that would be lying.
When I start this journey into the unknown, metaphorically speaking, I must know what I know. If I wanted to climb Mount Everest, for example, I would beforehand ensure that I knew how to use an ice pick as well as understand my mental and physical limitations. I would not climb Mount Everest to discover this. However, climbing the world’s highest mountain is a lousy analogy; a ritual isn’t so hardcore. That is, if the participants can dedicate themselves to presence, being, and listening. And if being vulnerable is an unfolding unknown rather than a strived-for result. If I need to crack my whip six hundred and sixty-six times to transform into a leather overlord and claim my lovely fiance for all eternity, then that is not the kind of attitude that puts everyone at ease.
Valuing the Unknown
A ritual simmer with potential in some ways and need to be appreciated for what they are, not judged for what they are not. I sometimes hear complaints that these spaces were not fool-proof safe, or that people couldn’t use their five-metre-long bullwhip like they had wanted, or that they couldn’t freely chitty-chat with people to get to know them better. I almost always can see their point, and yet the real value of rituals are their unique offering to flirt with the unknown. People often count their unexpected sexual encounters as among the best in their lives. The strangers on a train phenomenon. Times like these make us marvel at how life has forever more to offer us than what we could ever imagine.
Travelling into this unknown is about letting go of control. And it’s a gradual process. As the evening progresses, I trust more and more in myself, which means that I dare to be more vulnerable. I find this idea incredibly alluring in the dominant role because I can let go of the belief that I need to know what I want to do beforehand and just express my desire as we go. And I can allow myself to be affected by my submissive partner. So many people find being dominant so draining because they think they need to be in complete control of absolutely everything, which makes them stuck in doing mode. The submissive role may be easier to play in these spaces because it is its natural narrative to release control. When I remind myself that everyone, submissive or dominant, is submitting to the shared experience, I get the most out of a ritual.
Being in this state of mind complicates rules because adhering to logical constraints is counterproductive when letting go of control. So instead, developing a shared culture becomes crucial – this embodied knowledge of what we are doing together and why it is the way it is. It’s totally possible to have a ritual without sadomasochism and esoteric eroticism as the underlying foundation. Play happens all the time. In improvisational theatre, in live roleplaying, in cuddle puddles etc. But the play that invites both power and intimacy simultaneously, two subjects that people, in general, have many issues with, is somehow special. Just perhaps that’s why these rituals are so alluring. They are a kind of victory celebration after all the sessions and retreats. I don’t think we will ever be fixed; instead, we learn to ride the demons which once haunted us – and celebrate that!