Say I have somewhat ruthlessly tied my partner in a position for which she was unprepared. Unprepared? Some might say that’s bad form for a top, and I would beg their momentary indulgence. So, my partner is working hard with this position and is possibly breaking down a little before long... sooner than she’d like... and in recognition of this I add a bit more challenge to the picture, something subtle that shifts the focus of discomfort just enough to take her out of the mind that’s saying “I… can’t… do this…” and put her back into the body that’s feeling more and more with each passing moment.
While I can afford to appear aloof about all this shifty energy, she’s anything but: it’s really uncomfortable now and ere long she might want out, might even get a little irate, but she’s not using her safe signal. In a little while she might get vocally angry, which is easily frustrated with a gag, about which she’d be humiliated on top of her aching for release. But in the meantime we’ll all keep aware for a safe signal, or panic, or, hopefully, fuller and fuller consciousness and presence as her options fall by the wayside.
I may give her a moment’s respite in the form of a glancing, gentle touch, brokering the continuation with a moment’s kindness, as it were, but I'm in close to her suffering, which is now acute and which she's resisting - I sense that she wants to be still in her bondage but it’s hard... she wants to be good but she’s unprepared to be good, to perform as she thinks I want her to perform, as she thinks I want her to be. Thinking about doing something “right” or “well”, or how she can manage the pain or the humiliation. Thinking… thinking… and thereby making the Cartesian blunder of being – cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am. But what? What am I? What’s assumed here? Well, first of all a self, a substantial, individuated entity apart from other selves and things. “I” is not only assumed, it's separate, and separate is, of course, anything but intimate. Separate is alienated.
So, now the suffering is more than physical; it’s existential. She’s in her head, figuring how to do what she’s being challenged by to avoid being with the challenge and thereby risking who she thinks she is. She’s the solidly proverbial human doing as opposed to the shifty, ephemeral and maybe chaotic human being. The primary question is now before her, brought by her dangerous lover, someone with whom she would be intimate if she could figure out how. If she could figure her way out of alienation. Always figuring. How to answer? Figuring out what the original question was in the first place… perhaps finally figuring not to figure.
The head, the mind, the brain, the center of ratiocination is the back office of intimacy, it’s where your claims get processed by unfeeling functionaries who insist on procedure and logic ahead of inconvenient and disorderly emotions. As any process-driven bureaucratic organization would do, thinking insists on not only its primacy but on the expansion of its control. Not surprisingly, many of the people I’ve met in the BDSM community are very bright, one might even say brainy. Good with their heads, and, maybe, in the community specifically looking to get out of those same heads a little more often.
So, perhaps rather than militate against intimacy, we simply fall back on familiar and culturally endorsed patterns of dealing with new information – we sort, we categorize, we try to figure it out, we think about things. Think about that; when’s the last time you had an ecstatic experience by thinking about anything?
Maybe some of you are familiar with Eckhardt Tolle’s Power of Now and his concept of the “unmanifested”. The manifested is the reality we think we know and the one we rely on to explain our existence. It’s a relative existence, one in which context is all important. It’s the heir to a long tradition of what I call separationist belief structures, starting with Plato’s ontological division of the world into extensional and ideal realms in the “Cave Analogy” to an interpretation of grace that includes a fall from it - Lucifer’s fall from heaven, man’s fall in the book of Genesis, and with the fall the eternal struggle to return to God’s good side.
Coming into the Enlightenment, this basic principles of separation and alienation are present and operant in Descartes and the worldview he organized so neatly and imparted to, for example, Issac Newton, which in turn gave us Newtonian physics and the calculus and their divvying up of reality into smaller and smaller quanta, ad infinitum.
Already pickled in a guiding existential principle of separation and duality, these leaps forward in human thought to this day look to most folks like unvarnished benefits. Notwithstanding important confirmations in high-energy physics (e.g., Heisenberg and the "Uncertainty Principle") of long-standing theories enunciated in metaphysics (e.g., Liebniz and his "Monadology"), both of which concern themselves with primary substance, and which together are beginning to point to resolution in a non-granular universe, the doctrine of duality continues to advance a world view where parsing thought, method and calculation is practically a religion, one where quality is least of all judged on refinement of feeling and mostly based on reproducibility of results. Not altogether a bad thing, I would say, for it made writing this essay using a word processor a great deal more fluid a project than it might otherwise have been.