Friday, September 15, 2006

If we are to survive, we must reinvent cultural practices that satisfy our deep-rooted need for non-ordinary states, interpersonal bonding, and the intensification of both our individuality and our tribal belonging. we must create contemporary forms of sacred pursuits that are at least as engaging, enlivening, and complex as war, and which, more importantly, engender life, thriving communities, healthy natural environments, genuine education, joyful service, soulful maturity, cultural evolution, and love.

Soulcraft: Crossing the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche
Bill Plotkin, Ph.D.

I have been a spiritual seeker and BDSM player for some time now. The issue of how the two fit together is still not entirely clear to me. Admittedly, I keep my work affairs to myself when around my yoga and meditation brethren. But there is no shame there on my part. It's more that there is so much misunderstanding about this kind of play that I'd rather not get into it at those moments. Yet I am not a believer in an absolute world who is simply turning a blind eye to a state of dissonance. It would be too easy to say that BDSM play, because it incorporates so many elements associated with the aesthetics of evil-doers, is incongruent with peaceful, positive personal growth.

Perhaps a case can be made that BDSM play makes for a convenient hiding place for dysfunction. I have seen evidence of abdication of personal responsibility and mindless cruelty, particularly within the community which define themselves as lifestylers (the idea of manifesting outwardly inequal power dynamics on a permanent basis seems to be a central stumbling block). Certainly, as in all relationships, there needs to be vigilance and mindfulness to stop the slide into unhealthy co-dependencies.

Yet this is balanced by the advantage of greater and more clear communication than more traditional relationships. Negotiation is key in a typical BDSM interaction. Play partners discuss their desires, limits, concerns and state of mind before delving into a scene. This level of premeditation is rare in most vanilla versions of sensual power play -- and as far as I am concerned, all sex is power play. The darkness may still come out, but the shyness, shame and fear which prevented an open discussion beforehand makes it that much more likely that someone will leave feeling hurt, disrespected or misunderstood. In good BDSM play the darkness is negotiated, channelled and controlled. It is not denied. Rather, it is given space to breathe its fire.

I have been struck how in both the realms of spiritual exploration and BDSM play, one seeks out a connection to the divine and mystical. One shirks off the limitations of the individual self, giving in to greater forces at work. And in both, there can be a frustrating desire to find salvation through the power of another -- be it a deity or your "owner" -- when the truth is we all can only save ourselves.


Some more thoughts on this...

I was talking with a surfer who, at my behest, was regaling me with his own version of "war stories" from his time on the water. He is a BDSM player too, so as he spoke of these immense waves with their ferocious beauty he also related the experience to submission to a Mistress. How at some point the resistance stops and you just have to let go or be pummeled into the ground. He also talked about how important it is to be mindful when you are out there, to let the ego rest and be in tune with the endless flow.

Surfing, women's power, and spirituality. Teasing the big picture out of my head...

As women, we are deeply attuned to the forces of nature. Our very cycle is aligned with that of the earth's moon. And each month we bleed, we are reminded of our true animal nature: of the smell of the soil, the flow of rivers, these mortal coils we inhabit, and life itself.

Bill Plotkin's Soulcraft and other works view the shift long ago from matriarchal, goddess-worshipping societies to the current patriarchal paradigm as the denial and outright castigation of the infinite mysteriousness of natural creation and feminine wildness. The words "soiled" and "dirty" take on negative meanings in this new world, as does the very act of sex. Women's innate powers are suppressed and dismissed.

In the Philippines, before the Spanish came, women were the mystics and healers of their communities. Their special bond with nature and their keen intuitive powers were acknowledged and elevated into central, decision-making roles within the village. These roles were overtaken by the arrival of the priests with their western medicine and mutually exclusive religion. Yet that was only 600 years ago. One can still see the power of women evident in Filipino culture, where there have been two women presidents and Mother Mary is always in the background.

Women's wrath as a force of nature. Seeing a dominatrix as an act of primal submission, as a metaphor of one's submission to the forces of the universe. Harkening back to a time when the sacred and sexual were not separate and polarized. When ecstasy of the body and spirit could be one and the same. When heaven was a place on Mother Earth.