What is happening inside us when we do SM? Why does it feel good? What can we do to make it feel better or more rejuvenating? These are fundamental questions of SM. When you look at the human animal through the lens of biology we are all remarkably similar. We all share the same physical design we all have the same limbs, organs and biological needs as any human being on earth, as well as our prehistoric ancestors. Psychology, the world's religions and the amazing relevance of ancient literature all seem to indicate that we share a common internal architecture as well. Our bodies need nourishment and exercise, but the food of the soul is life itself.
One reason so many people have stumbled into the "heaven feeling" during SM play without even trying, has to do with the physical ordeal of bodyplay. Much of what we do: flagellation, penetration, bondage… prompts a powerful physiological response by tactile means alone. In my own exploration of the spiritual practice of SM,, the light bulb turning on came when I started noticing (through my voluminous reading) the intriguing similarities between our favorite activity and the mystical practices of world faiths. From prehistory forward people have engaged in rituals amusingly similar to contemporary SM. Examples? Fakirs meditating on beds of nails. Yogis turning bodily contortion into sublime acts of worship. The Sadhus going even farther, doing terribly odd things their bodies like rolling for thousands of miles, or maintaining a raised arm for years on end. Mother Africa has its initiatory rites involving scarification and rigorous corseting, and encumbarment. The Mandan Indians of the American plains performed gory rituals of mutilation and endurance like the Sundance, replicated by some contemporary SM connoisseurs. Th Shakers received their derogatory name because of their fits of ecstatic dancing, a practice shared by tribal Africans, Australian aboriginal and Sufi Dervishes alike. The list goes on and on: the Jewish mystic during a fast, the tribal initiate in a Micronesian flesh carving, the medieval Christian flagellant whipping his back into a crimson froth. All share the principal of bodily ordeal as a path towards higher awareness and mystical wisdom. When you consider the tingly otherworldly experiences we find our suburban dungeons can we really doubt the similarity between us and them?
The Physiology of Pleasurepain
Let's take a brief, look at the physiology of the SM encounter. Over the eons, our nervous systems evolved, at least in part, to rescue us from bad situations. Upon injury, the nervous system jabs the brain with a message guarantied to grab attention. Pain. It jolts the human beast into immediate action - a roaring scream, sudden spasmodic motion, fight or flight - all good things if, lets say, a saber tooth tiger takes an experimental bite of your posterior. Here's why it matters to us: To keep pain from crushing your ability to react, the brain floods the body with pain fighting natural opiates, hormones, enzymes, and adrenaline. And as any well-seasoned bottom knows, this response produces all sorts of fun. Feelings of excitement, arousal, clarity, even out of body or dream states. In short, the body's natural response to injury can be harnessed to create intense and mysterious sensations. When framed and emphasized by rites and rituals these natural responses would naturally be ascribed to supernatural powers.
A Calliope of the Senses: Types of Bodyplay
Just for fun I put together a table (I started with a shorter one by Fakir) clustering various SM techniques with activities from spiritual practice.
Fairly eye opening isn't it? How many SM activities have direct analogies in religious, spiritual, or curative practice. Notice also that the difference between bodyplay perceived as torture, religious ecstasy, or good clean fun is largely a matter of context and degree. Virtually any of these activities could be used as torture if they were done against ones will by an oppressor. The greatest sex in the world is still horrible - and criminal - if inflicted against someone's will.
True, true, scuba, phonesex, and potpourri are not traditional regarded
as spiritual practice. But they are human experiences that produce human
awe, the kind that leads to spiritual awakening. Lets return, for a moment
to that lone flagellant in a side chapel of the Vatican, seeing visions
and whipping his back into a massacre of welts. There's nothing in scripture
about Jesus encouraging people to beat the daylights out of themselves.
More likely, he is being visited by opioids than the Holy Spirit. But
what is he doing right? Well, he is breathing deeply, for one thing, and
he is concentrating on the object of his devotion. He's wailing the snot
out of himself, and that helps too. Perhaps he knows that he's enjoying
it too much, and that contributes to that deliciously nasty feeling of
being bad. Perhaps he's meditating on his trespasses and feels the forgiving
joy of the pain as it absolves him. But most importantly, he is forging
a link with a higher spiritual power, a two-way link up between himself
and the object of his worship using the language of pain. Now think for
moment. In an earlier time, before our knowledge of psyche, physiology
and the natural chemistry of the body, would we have any reason to doubt
he was having a vision from God? Religious fundamentalists will probably
hate me for describing the hobbies of true bad leatherfolk as spiritual
devotions. But what kind of sadist would I be if I were shy about popping
a deserving balloon. Grabbing a submissive woman's ass, especially someone
in at ease with her compliant side, and goosing her while her mouth lolls
open and her eyelids flutters, is a sort of call to prayer. And If the
serving of Tea can be made spiritual through mindful focus why not the
tender-savage caress of my single tail, in a candlelit dungeon?
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