Let me start with a caveat that I know essentially nothing about the field and practice of Dominance and submission. Don't be fooled by my in-club use of the abbreviation Dom or the clever D/s acronym. I read some articles. My sex life has been sadly quite vanilla, with a swirl of bisexual fudge and taboo location sprinkles, and nothing to write home about. I haven't explored my sexuality probably for some of the reasons many people don't - sexual trauma that left me ashamed and fearful of my desire, toxic cultural conditioning, bad sex education, and questionable parenting. This has all been under considerable psychological suppression for many years, leaving much to be desired in my intimate relationships, in which I didn't even know what to ask for. Still don't.
I learned some things about myself that truly blew me away, both about my trauma and about what turns me on, by recently watching 50 Shades of Grey. It's okay, you can laugh or gasp or gawk. I told this to a friend recently and it took me five minutes of stuttering and giggling to get it out. Writing is easier. When it was all the craze, I had lots of judgments about those people, who were addicted to cheap sex and the frivolity of entertainment, drinking up whatever the industry whets their whistle with and wasting their lives. Hella shadowy (aka a projection of disowned parts of myself onto others). So, how did I come to be thrillingly gluttonous and panting in front of my computer for three nights in a row? I was lured into exploring submission by my own psyche, by soul, by Earth.
Dominating my psyche stopped working
We all have self-protective parts (also called subpersonalities) within our psyches. These parts developed when we were young to ensure our psychological, social, or physical survival. They helped us cope with the context in which we found ourselves, upon which we totally relied because we were children. Because my older siblings demanded the majority share of my parent's attention, I developed a protective strategy of always being okay, being easy, to gain love from mom and dad. I called this maturity, and it took/takes a lot of self control. While it was a handy strategy back then, and made it so I could survive in my family, it is not so helpful anymore. In general, our protective parts are immature ways to get our needs met that as adults do more harm than good. Even if we don't need them, those immature strategies have been playing protector for a long time and believe we still require their services. A key part of psychological development and conscious relating is to learn to identify these parts as such - they are not our full self, but fragments stuck in the past and running the show as if we still relied on our parents. (For in depth exploration of this I recommend Wild Mind by Bill Plotkin or read about Internal Family Systems).
Our inner critics are probably the easiest subpersonalities to come to recognize, because their mottos are pretty reliably nasty. Once we learn their tune, we can separate a bit from it, and come to say, as a first step, "oh, that's the voice of an inner critic", rather than "oh, I'm a piece of shit". Great move. Never believe all you think. For a long time, just that awareness was enough to bring me back to wholeness, to my current adult self. When that didn't work, I'd thank the inner protectors, and kindly ask them to let me continue what I was doing, and that I'd be happy to hear their concerns some other time. Essentially, I sent them to their rooms with condescension disguised as care. I never retrieved them or heard them out, much less love and thank them and care for the wounded ones they protect, which is what is truly required for healing. I treated them as nuisances I could swat away. At this time I was/am stepping deeper and deeper into soul, Earth's dream for me, which is a very risky way of living, and those young parts of me are scared, literally for my life. So my tried and true diversions became totally ineffectual against my inner critics and they bombarded me with shoulds every breath I took, dismissing all my attempts to participate in life as inadequate, incorrect and meaningless. I couldn't see through the thick fog of them, couldn't breath the dense air that turned to water in my lungs. What's worse is where it happened.
I was at an intensive with the Animas Valley Institute in the stunning Grand Tetons, among Moose and Bear and Fox, Cottonwood, River, and Moon. Animas programs are wild adventures into the mysteries of nature and psyche, where you just might encounter the myth you were born to live by. It's deep shit, and the foundation of meaning and value in my life. The programs are designed for people at a particular stage of human development, those who are ready for the mystical adventure of discovering their true purpose. Mature people like me. Other people are stuck in earlier stages of development and have unfinished tasks to tend, and Mystery to wait upon, until they can enter the land of milk and honey and get accepted on an underworld program with Animas. I hope you can tell I am revealing an inner flatterer of mine. One of those unfinished tasks, which is unfinished for all of us, is healing and wholing - cultivating our capacity to be with our inner protectors and wounded parts. But to me, that was not the advanced work of an Animas program, except maybe for those immature 50 Shades of Grey watching slackers.
Given my thick shame around having inner protectors (even though we all do), and my story about my maturity and its tie to gaining love, not being able to dominate my inner critic was humiliating. Even though it was a significant part of my experience in the program that week, I didn't share about it in councils or with the guides at all. But I did admit to myself that the way I was relating with those parts of my psyche was really not working. I am learning, slowly, and with help from a therapist and a guide, another way. But I don't know it yet. And the critical wave rises and crashes over me and debilitates me with regularity still. I almost always start by trying to claw my way out, talk myself down, send those parts away. It doesn't work. Instead, I submit. I don't mean accept what those voices are saying as truth. I mean accept those parts are here and that I essentially have no power over them. That they could take me and have their way with me at any moment, and often do. I fall to my knees and bow my head and pray. Not super sexy, I admit, but a huge relief, even pleasureful, to just give in. After a lifetime of controlling myself, of tyrannical inner parenting, this is a big move, a submissive move.
We all use the ego's dominating power to push things away. Especially uncomfortable or painful feelings. But the ego is only one part of the psyche, and not really in control. Submitting to how I really feel, rather than how I think I should feel, is a humbling skill I'm learning slowly.
Soul guide Dom
After 50 Shades, I wanted more. I was astounded and delighted to find a D/s movie featuring none other than Dom Carl Jung. What?! A Dangerous Method. This movie stirred a lot around a big question for me: how we respond to our instincts and primal desires (much more to come on this at some point). At one point, Jung is talking to a colleague (Otto Gross) about a patient/student of his who has made her desire for him clear, and whom Jung is clearly hooked by. Unlike Freud, Gross recommends his patients not suppress anything, a handy position for taking full advantage of transference, and also appealing to Jung who was looking for his own excuse and generally critical of Freud's take on sex. Anyway, that is all a topic for a later post, for sure. Gross says to Jung something like, "Take her to a secluded place and bring her to within an inch of her life. It is clearly what she wants." Holy shit did that turn me on. I hit the 15 second back spiral to hear him say it again.
This isn't a bad job description for a guide to soul - take people to a secluded place and bring them to within an inch of their lives. The journey to soul requires death. How we've understood ourselves and our world in adolescence must crumble, dissolve, melt. Then, we encounter shady powerful archetypal forces that ask even more of us. It requires nothing short of everything, repeatedly. If they are worth their snuff, a guide to soul holds our feet the flame, doesn't let us wriggle out of what Earth and Mystery are asking of us, prods with questions that expose us, pushes us. (Among other, more tender roles!) This, for me, is one of the deepest thrills of the journey to soul. The constant shedding and becoming that is wild and unruly and reaching for the most fecund possibilities. Massive transformation turns me on profoundly and I hunger for it. There is a part of each of us that does, that seeks disturbing truths that will upend or crack or deepen how we're living. The journey to soul isn't safe, but it is searingly alive.
So here I am on another underworld adventure. We were sent on a wander into the canyon, that we might encounter soul. I had an experience, reportable. The guide chose me to deepen - to ask questions and offer me mirroring with the intention of letting whatever happened, happen more. I can't really tell you what was said during the guiding because a numinous throbbing web reached up from the Earth, filling me with blood, and took over my tongue. It was otherworldly. My reportable experience blossomed into numinosity. I can tell you how it felt. It was as if the guide was putting me into whatever position he wanted and fucking me. And it was so good! After the guiding concluded, I honestly expected him to take me away from the group, drape me over a red rock and rail me. While there is a deeply painful and ecstatic very human dimension to this massive projection of mine, what I want to say now, on the more archetypal level, is something like this: that guide was a face for Mystery, a voice, the way Earth used a human to facilitate Their dream blossoming in me.
Earth wants Their way with us: A D/s conception of soul
If, like me, you were raised in the Western world, you were taught to believe nature is indifferent or hostile to us humans and that our only chance is to control it through domestication, damming, stocking, extracting...dominating nature with our supreme powers of manipulation and reason. The image that comes to me is one of wringing, trying to squeeze life out of the unyielding garment of competition, clawing to be the fittest for survival. This story of nature is what we've been telling ourselves, that doesn't mean it is true. And it goes without saying that human domination of nature really is not working anymore, just like it doesn't work intrapsychically.
It doesn't make much sense, when you think about it, that nature would be out to get us, since Earth made us, after all. Earth dreamed us into being and is waiting for us to wake up, to come out of our small ego worlds and realize, with our amazing powers of realization, that we are cells in a larger organism, that we are niches in a vast ecology. That Earth is wet and ready for us to dance in a life-making orgy with all the stunning gifts They have given us.
If we take a step back and look at the evolutionary unfolding here, it is clear that Earth's foundational desire is not competition, but abundance. Earth wants life. And Earth wants our lives. Our lives, which are seeded with millions of years of evolutionary love making, the sensuous dance of self with ecosystem, of self and Other, drawing forth unique expressions of creation. Earth is horny for creation. Just look at the incredible blossoming of diversity and complexity on this planet since life began. For a long time, single-celled organisms divided to create more life. This was good. Then, around 2 billion years ago, Earth seduced flowers to open in pollen and nectar and sexual reproduction emerged like a big bang, and the possibilities and complexities for life blossomed as sperm wriggled through egg membrane and organisms combined their millions of years of unfolding in a wild dance gene plucking. This is the fecundity we were born to inhabit, to take our place in the erotic becoming of more life.
Soul is our particular flavor of life force
energy, the way Earth draws forth creation with and through us. In other words, how Earth makes love with us. And Earth is a MASSIVE lover. Way way way beyond our measly human egos. The journey to soul is one of becoming conscious of our flavor of life force energy, our particular creative capacity in the web of life. But the truth is we can't know it all. Probably we hardly know anything, even if we call ourselves soul initiated, even if we can write a whole book of our wildly complex mythic identity. And that is okay. Perhaps more important is to know that we are not in control. That some wild incomprehensible Mystery holds us in its body, pulls on the blood cell that we are and delivers us what we need, oxygen from the heart of the world, and then delivers us where we are needed, engorging our reproductive tissues in arousal of Earth's biggest dream: Life.
Earth pulls the salmon upstream. Spawning is just as much done unto them as it is their doing, evidenced by their unrelenting thrashing against dams. We too are pulled instinctually and through sensuous coherence toward Earth's dream for us, but we have to let it happen. Yes, we participate, and importantly. We go out onto the land, we tend our dreams, claim our shadow. But I suspect we work too hard and leave too little space to be taken. I know I have. We’d be better off letting our lives fully happen to us, than forcing ourselves into soulcraft practice three times a week.
But if you must...Wander until you find a place where you feel vulnerable, exposed, humbled. Let the place know how and why it makes you feel that way. Perform gestures of your consent to this place, to welcome more deeply its demeaning impact on you. Get naked maybe. Share with this place the vulnerability you feel in your life, out loud, at length. Tell a story of a time when you were utterly humiliated by believing you were in control. Pay close attention to and be in dialogue with the beings of this place as you enter your powerlessness. Then, if you aren't already, connect with your longing to encounter soul, and express your commitment to enduring its pleasure. Demonstrate your longing to be dominated by Mystery. Tie yourself up, perhaps. And wait until your master comes to have their way with you. If nothing happens, come back again soon. Or better yet, live your life as if you are bound and waiting in submission.
The journey to soul is very often humiliating, debasing. And we love it. We need to be shown repeatedly that we are Earth's playthings. The ego is tempered through this, shaped to serve Mystery.
I trust Earth. I consent to whatever They want of me. I submit to be kneaded, and pleasured, and broken open in Their service. Please! Use me for more life making!
I leave you with Rilke:
The Man Watching
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can't bear without a friend,
I can't love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it's with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers' sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.