So this fetishization of vulnerability, what happens when it happens outside a defined container? If anything, it makes relationships stuck in fixed polarity. So, for example, someone stuck in the rescuer role will never have access to expressing vulnerability. Instead, they might find themselves constantly on their tip-toes, waiting to be needed by their partner’s victimhood or being persecuted for not always being available. Or someone stuck in the persecutor will never receive gratitude or devotion from “saving” another or the heart-melting support from showing vulnerability. Playing with these ritualized expressions of extreme polarity is exciting, but they come with risks, like in the story of Lolita. And this is what I’m trying to outline in this musing.
But how do I know when to say “No”? One way is feeling my nervous system and recognizing how it feels when I’m getting towards the borders of my window of tolerance. This is a very embodied approach. What if I want to say no before getting close to my edges. I think it depends on why; maybe it’s connected to before and after consent. Like it feels good now, but the aftermath is not worth it. Think the classical hang-over. I believe that one’s self-knowledge builds over time by practising and experiencing life. Like, such as how many glasses of wine I can drink if I want to hit the gym the following day. Or how deeply can I surrender or submit and still take care of myself the next day? Or the no is related to something outside of me, like a promise to someone else. Like I’ll only kiss my primary partner. Or I don’t want to have bruises from someone I don’t play with regularly.
In my experience, intimacy doesn’t need to be sexual. Sexuality in relationship to bodywork is already complicated because of prostitution, unfaithfulness in relationships, and how it’s portrayed today with over-dramatic fiction and pornography. Retreats and play parties are outstanding opportunities to learn about and celebrate sexuality; doing it inside a therapeutic relationship is more complex. Many people think that sexuality is what they want when intimacy is what they need. I believe that intimacy is big enough by itself. And, maybe, once one has learned intimacy, sexuality will follow smoothly. So, in my view, sex is one end goal of intimacy, but it’s only one of many, and it’s at the end. And what many people need is help to take the first steps in listening and feeling. Conscious kink and tantric rope bondage are excellent as foreplays, playgrounds, and rituals to practice the subject-subject relationships.
BDSM and tantra are almost always edgy subjects. They are attractive because there is a promise of adventure. But the thing with adventure is that there is always a risk of something going wrong. And it will if you keep practising long enough. So what to do when the shit hits the fan? I think it’s possible to split the troubles into three categories—trauma, consent and trust.
“She was no demi-mondaine who had taken a pseudonym to wage war upon the masculine sex, but the goddess of Love in person.”
– Severin, in Venus in furs
I recently wrote about my most archetypical client, “the masculine woman in the masculine world”. The feedback was excellent, so I’ll in this weekly musing talk about another common kind of client, the Venus in furs. She usually comes in some sort of relationship with a man. They can be secret lovers, single dating parents, or in a very passionate relationship. Fire is their defining element, and they talk about their previous relationships as grey and dull. Together they discovered tantra and BDSM and explore rope bondage, Wim Hof breathing techniques, and non-violent communication. They like to empower and challenge each other, and sometimes this blows up into violent fights with they fight fire with fire. “She is strong as marble and doesn’t back down.”, “He can stand like a rock when my emotions are storming”, and “Her fire fuels my heart”, etc., are things they appreciate about each other.
There is a rule at many of the events where I teach and co-create; that one may not abuse their position of power. Of course, the most obvious interpretation is; do not fuck your students. But there are many more layers to it, especially when working in the field of trauma and recovery. Transference is the psychological concept that I think describes it best.
1: an act, process, or instance of transferring: CONVEYANCE, TRANSFER
2: the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object (such as a psychoanalyst conducting therapy)
It describes a fundamental human behaviour, that when a hierarchy of power exists, one tends to transfer the values and ideas from the top to the bottom. This happens effortlessly and unconsciously. Creating the reversed flow seems an almost impossible challenge for any organization. That is my experience from my years as an organizational coach. Nevertheless, it’s a crucial part of any capitalistic system, where successful knowledge seeds down into the hierarchy. And it creates a feedback loop that reinforces the power dynamic to create stability. While this is maybe wanted in the marketplace, what happens when it takes place inside a workshop environment or therapeutic relationship? And how is it affected when the themes inside that hierarchy are power, abuse, and sexuality?
I’m often asked; why people pay to be bound in rope, and the answer depends heavily on the person paying. And most of my clients are female, about 75%, I would estimate, and this musing is a fictional description of a much too common life situation.
My friend Michael is making an app called reLove that acts as a first point of contact for people curious about conscious relating, intimacy and embodiment. He asked me make a short introduction to practicing surrender – so here is my take on it. I hope you enjoy it.
BBC recently released their short documentary about me and my therapeutic rope bondage, and that led to a bunch of question around the subject of power, abuse and therapy. Being the victim of abuse is having ones power taken away. If the abuse is repetitive, the victim usually normalizes the behaviour, hence taking it for granted to have their power taken away. The result is generally that the person feels powerless and is unable to maintain healthy boundaries to people around them. It is like something has been taken away from them—a part of their spirit. But they are often unable to put the finger on it, as the traumatized state is the new normal. So why can rope bondage help, and what do I think is the keys to success?
Awe is more complicated—awe as in both awful and awesome. At first, I thought about it as a thin line or a sweet-spot between awful and awesome. Now I realize that it is both at once. Where pain becomes pleasure and pleasure becomes pain, and I want and don’t want something at the same time. Where I no longer know how-to or can choose. It’s where I have to surrender or, metaphorically, die.