I often contemplate the process of learning and what exactly is taught or even wished for by my students. Sometimes I think I learn more from how my Ikebana teacher (the Japanese art of arranging flowers) greets me in the morning and brews the tea we share; than the things she says about cutting leaves, shaping branches and picking flowers. There is a way of being, being taught, by being. In Japanese, it’s called Dō (道), or the way. The way things are being done. So when people ask me exactly what will happen, in the most concrete way, I get scared that I conceal the magical forest by naming all the botanical specimens. The naive part of me wants to simply say – trust me, I’m a careful gardener.
To surrender is to let go and fall, trusting that one will be caught, by life, by love, by wonder, by another. Surrendering brings great pleasure when one learns to let go of controlling the body, the emotions, and the ego and devote oneself to something greater. It’s applicable in lovemaking as well as in life in general. But unfortunately, there is an overvaluation of power in today’s society, and everyone is fighting for it, while surrender is undervalued.
Moreover, surrender touches upon masochism, physically enjoying endorphins rushing through the body and emotionally letting go of shameful limiting beliefs. The basic idea I learnt from Zen Buddhism is that bliss emerges when we stop fighting and accept life as it is, and then there is no suffering. Before psychology considered masochism a disease, religion thought it to be the cure. And I think there is something to that when it’s conscious and consensual. In my experience, anyone can enjoy it, or at least find it meaningful when it’s slow enough and well-balanced between safety and bravery.
Surrender belongs to the feminine aspect of the neo-tantric polarity. Still, I believe it’s essential for everyone of any (and no) gender to incorporate it into themselves as self-development and passion for lovemaking. While teaching surrender, I also indirectly teach how to hold space for anothers’ process of letting go. Participants describe it as intimate, vulnerable and trusting. And it makes them more resilient to the hardships of life.
Being dominant is vulnerable because one has to expose their desire. The more deviant and taboo, the scarier it is, but still, both mainstream media and the BDSM subculture overflow with caricatures of emotionless masters and mistresses hiding behind their cruelty. Instead, I think one should blossom in their raw self-expression. Learning to wield power consciously and consensually requires a great understanding of one’s boundaries and being safe and brave enough to reject anyone overstepping them. At the same time, one should be humble and have humour; anyone that has to assert their power with violence doesn’t own it.
Power is given to someone that deserves it because of their deviant creativity, rocksteady presence, and ability to create magical spaces. Discovering one’s very personal dominant persona is a journey which will significantly affect what kind of submissives they will attract. Luckily BDSM overflows with expressions of power, and there are several rituals to practice and embody. And learning the symbolism of fetish items is a priceless tool for this transformation. Being dominant is a paradoxical balance between holding space and being selfish. Holding space is learning how to create a safe container for oneself and others to play with power while being selfish is expressing desire.
But eventually, one realizes that the real key is to stop “the doing” and simply be dominant and do as one pleases as if it is the most natural thing in the world. As dominance belongs to the masculine aspects of the neo-tantric polarity, mastering it beyond gender becomes a way to simultaneously make a parody of existing power structures while reclaiming a more healthy relationship to masculinity. So playing with hierarchies in the “bedroom” and play parties makes one more resilient to them in everyday life.
The most deviant nightly desires are often precisely the same things we rebel against during the day. Yes and no is closer to each other than feeling nothing. This is why we need contained rituals and conscious and consensual play parties. I believe that desire is like a seed buried deep in the subconscious; while it grows, it shapes our creativity and eros. If desire remains repressed, it will manifest itself in the most unexpected places. That’s why most people feel safer in a BDSM club than in a nightclub or even at the office.
Exploring desire is a layered process. When one layer peels away, another one appears. And there is an opportunity to deconstruct almost anything, like sexual orientation, gender, fetishes and kinks. It’s an empowering process of rediscovering oneself. However, desires are rarely a solo activity; if they were, they are likely to have been explored already. So exploring desire is a group process through interactions and witnessing. Seeing each other’s desires validates them, giving them life, and that makes us all both braver and safer because the shadows are out in the open.
Playing with desire borrows a lot of modalities from theater, like mask possession, character creation, and ritualized scenes. And it teaches how one person’s desires can co-exist and even enhance the desires of another or a group of others in a sort of wordless negotiation. Play parties are often the arena of these fantasies, birthing endless, dream-like explorations into experiences that would be unimaginable in everyday life. The following morning, everything is slow; it’s like the world is readjusting itself back to normal again while the tribe is celebrating and integrating their wounds and victories, knowing that the results will revibrate far into the outside world.
I teach all these three subjects on three different experience levels. In Japanese, there is an expression called Shu-Ha-Ri. It means to obey (Shu), to detach (Ha), and to leave (Ri). And it reflects my views on having a “good” teacher-student relationship.
The beginner level requires almost zero previous experience or practical knowledge. You may be asked to spend a couple of hours reading a text or watching an online tutorial beforehand. More focus is on going slow and establishing consent within clear instructions and exercises. The goal is to hold your hand tightly but still allow little detours and personal journies as you are introduced to the subject. You don’t have to know beforehand what you like and don’t like. You need no desires or fantasies. Instead, the teaching style will provide you with a smorgasbord of experiences to try, of which some you might love and others you might hate.
The intermediate level requires some previous experience and practical knowledge. If ropes are involved, you should be able to wrap the upper and lower body, creating something stable that can take the weight and attaching new ties to existing structures for partly lifting the body. You should also have experience with how your body and mind react in vulnerable and intimate situations and how to communicate your boundaries. It’s beneficial if you also have an idea about the fantasies and desires that lead you to these explorations. You will probably also be introduced to new niche techniques and be given both practical training and time to play. The goal is to provide you with a journey where you can surprise yourself and hopefully question both your beliefs and my teachings on the subject.
The advanced level requires you to already have a practice of your own. If ropes are involved, your technique must be good enough to suspend your partner or be suspended yourself, at least partially. You are assumed to have an understanding of consent, non-verbal communication, and all the grey zones that come with it. And have a sense of your traumas, triggers and possibly risky behaviours. The exercises are more ritualistic and experimental and go on longer without breaking the play for snack breaks and check-ins. There is less focus on practical skills, as you are assumed to already have a big enough pallet to play, and instead, there is more emphasis on creating an environment for you to master your craft.
Below is the botanical list of techniques that I use when teaching.
- Japanese Dō (道) of bondage
- Modern European improvisations
- Exploring intimacy without sexuality
- Eastern and Western Eros
- Letting go of shame
- Surrender as a strategy for life
- Connecting to tantra and therapy
- Pain, predicaments and (f)punishment
- Bodywork and breathwork
- Tripping without drugs on endorphins and dopamine
- Domination and submission
- Sadism and masochism
- Philosophical ideas about power
- Fetishism, leather and rubber
- Tea and death ceremonies
- Trauma and inquiry work
- Playing with rejection and desire
- Devotion to people and the mystery
- Embodied meditations and dance
- Long-term sensory deprivation
- Exploring archetypes and symbols
- Discovering fantasies and taboos
- Theatre and contact improvisation
- Deconstruction of personality
- Consent and boundary practices
- Ensemble and group collaboration
- Role-playing and mask possession
- Temple spaces and ceremonies