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The Art of S/m

by Rick Umbaugh

"Enlightenment is not within the teachings of others, but within the self... One must only be willing to view themselves with an open mind and heart, to see the cosmos and harmony within. For then, when they turn their eyes from their own self, shall those eyes be open to the rest of existence and see it for what it is... Existence simply is."

-- Caliban Hyde

If you look at what we do it is as much a martial art as Karate, Aikido, Kendo or the ancient western Art of the Fence. It requires the acquisition and application of physical skills that are then applied to another human being It requires a certain empathy towards the other person, which goes beyond normal human interaction. In the martial arts these skills are applied to overcome the resistance of an opponent, while in the S/m arts these skills are used to overcome the mental resistance of a partner, but they both require that empathy to be able to become that other person, to know what they are going to feel and what they are going to do before they do.

>From another direction, what we do can be considered a fine art as the idea behind it is to make sure that someone leaves a scene a better person than one found them. Whether that has some kind of Zen connotation of taking them further along the way towards "enlightenment" or simply is a matter of giving them a rousing good orgasm, the idea is to leave one's bottom in a better, more satisfied state than one found him or her. We play on a submissive body much in the same way a violinist plays a violin in order to give it depth and pliability. The difference between music and S/m, which makes so much of what we do so intense, is that music exists for a mass audience, while we create music for an audience of one. More importantly the instrument is also a participant. It is a dance in which two people acquire a different state of mind, a transcendental state has many names but is without definition.

So where is this place, which we are attempting to go, this state of transcendence. (Perhaps here is a good place for the caveat since we are about, at least in my lexicon, to be entering the world of Zen and the Tao. There are no words that can describe exactly what I'm talking about; it's been tried by poets and philosophers much better than me. I can only write around it, without touching it. "Because the mystery cannot be known or named, it is called the Tao." -- Lao Tsu.) Viewed from yet another place what I am talking about is a form of religious experience, the stuff of mystics and shamans. While we use many of the same techniques as they we call what we do recreation and they call it religion. It is what Russell Shorto, in his book Saints and Madmen calls a "god-drug", a physical way of short cutting ourselves into the presence of the gods without the mythology attendant on more traditional religious practices. Moreover, we have found a way of doing all this within the context of play, which makes so much of this discussion much too serious to capture what it is we really do.

Paul Fleishman -- Winner of the 1993 Pfister Award -- wrote, in his book The Healing Spirit about love: "Every case of psychotherapy, to a greater or lesser extent, is a problems of the failure to love. My interest in religious issues in psychotherapy has been spurred on by a series of patients who have told me spontaneously, without prompting, that their impaired search for love was floundering because they were seeking religion through sexual intimacy."

In, Saints and Madmen, Mr. Shorto also quotes Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda's commentary on their translation of Patunjali's Sutras? they talk about Freud's idea of religion as repressed sex and note that Patunjali's response would have been "But then sex is nothing but potential religion". Mr. Shorto goes on to say, "The idea behind both of these passages is that the sexual urge and the spiritual urge come from a need not to be alone, a need to connect" and states that this is the goal of psychotherapy as well.

This connection between sex and religion explains a lot of historical phenomena. The distaste for sexuality found in the early, apocalyptic Christian church, indeed its general distaste for sexual relations throughout the years, the crusade against porn from the French monarchy's prosecutions of the Marquis De Sade through America's own Anthony Comstock and, of course, the Meese Commission. Sexual impulses and religious impulses are the two wildest most creative and destructive drives that humankind is subject to and so much of history has been an effort of the latter to control the former. Both can be manifestations of the ultimate sanity and the ultimate insanity, all in the same package of competing ideas.

My sense of spirituality comes from the east. Taoism (without the shamanist/magical appendage) and Zen (without the Buddhist/Shinto encrustation) seek also to create a unity between the world and the individual, which is greater, more vivid than the normal fog that most of us, of nature walk around in. At its simplest, most fundamental it is Walking around Zen or the Tao of the Everyday, fetching wood and carrying water. This means that everything is Zen and that all actions are the Tao and we attain it by emptying ourselves to the experiences of life, whatever they are without judgment or critical appreciation. The Way embraces suffering; the way embraces joy but it makes no weighing between the two.

My experience of subspace is the same as my experience of Zen. It is a giving up of the intellectual sense of "me" and what "I" am. It is a surrender to the physical part of me, the animal within, which reacts to the physical without making a judgment about it. It is a willingness to allow the body to take one where it wants to go without the interference of the intellect. It is climax increased logarithmically by the addition of endorphins, allowing one to feel oneness with one's partner and the world.

Subspace is an easy connection to this religious experience, but what about those of us who Top, who are the yang to the bottom's yin? While the submissive is attuned to the passive, accepting part of life, the Dominant is attuned to the playful, giving part of life. He or she is the connector of Yin and Yang. That's what makes us very much separate from the traditional mysticisms, except perhaps the Tantric investigation of sexuality. We do not seek unity within individually (at least not the S/m part of our lives) but unity within our relationships. The yin and yang are separated into individuals, and individual roles and it is the practice of the scene, which creates the unity.

The idea of the scene is to weld myself so closely to my partner that his or her climax becomes my climax. This notion is at least one explanation of what we call the power exchange. It is also the reason that so many of us feel the sharp focus of illumination as we come away from a successful scene. DomSpace is less physical than the experience of subspace and considerably subtler, but it is every bit as powerful as the experience of subspace. So, what we are after in this exceptional act of passion and cruelty we call a scene is that oneness, that transcendence which is the same goal as religion, which is the same goal as vanilla sex. This is why religion, in general, discourages sexual experimentation; it is competition. The physical and mental discipline the Art of S/m requires to be successful means that the "suchness" we experience in our sex lives is more intense, more long lasting than the experience of vanilla sex. It attaches us to the world of sensation rather than to the more ephemeral world of mythology. This practicality does not make it any less a "way" to experience our own godhood nor does it make what we do any more than the mythologies of other ways to find god. It makes it, instead, a way of life, a way of fetching wood and carrying water, a way of getting one's slave to fetch the wood and carry water, a way to find the god-ness in ourselves.

? A collection of conversations rather like the dialogues of Socrates.

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