The paradox of feeling free while bound has been repeated to the point of banality from rope bottoms and shibari enthusiasts all over. But, as is the case for most clichés, they’ve earned their status for a reason—namely that there tends to be some truth to them.
For those who haven’t experienced it, the contradiction is apparent while looking at a body all bundled up constricted; in which way could that feel liberating?
Contemplating the apparent fallacy, I realized that this is only one of many found in the realms of shibari and bondage. In this mundus inversus, discomfort can turn to ecstasy, physical compression to mental expansion, and surrender to transcendence. Let me try to explain…
Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…
When I recently showed pictures of myself in suspension to my dear friend Yael, she also asked; but, what does it feel like? Looking at my facial expressions, she wasn’t sure what to make of them: You’re laughing in some, but in others, I can’t tell if it hurts or feels good.
The short answer to that is, both: It feels good and it hurts (sometimes), and a part of the reason why it feels good is precisely because it hurts.
Before ever being suspended, I’d look at pictures and imagine it fairly easy to just hang around like that. My first time proved me otherwise. While the difficulty differs depending on many factors — from the locations and amounts of suspension points to the type of knots and rope used, to name a few — it can be incredibly challenging.
If I were to explain the way it feels in a deadpan way, I could use words like compressing, restricting, and tugging, all of which are sensations not typically viewed as pleasant. Yet, in a more poetic manner, I’d describe the same experience as a firm, comforting, and warm hug.
The keyword here is transmutation. Rope presents, in so many ways, opportunities to alchemize harmony from discord.
The secret of joy is the mastery of pain
We’ve sung the praises of pleasurable pain a number of times here on SPNKD, so I’ll be brief: But, as discussed in the article, Your Pain, My Pleasure; pain causes the secretion of endorphins, which apart from blocking it, stimulates the same exact areas of the brain as those activated when we experience pleasure, producing a rush similar to an opiate trip. Further, a warm, fuzzy sensation, akin to a marijuana high, can emerge from a spike in the bliss chemical, anandamide, another natural painkiller that binds to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
These are merely the physical and neurological reasons why certain types of pain can feel good, and why, especially the sensation of being brought down and released from a rope suspension, tends to send me off on a second flight—yet, this time, a figurative one.
Beyond the physical, what’s even more intriguing to me about rope are all the things that take place on the mental and spiritual planes.
The mind and spirit transcend the body
Restricted and unable to move, freely or at all, I’m made to confront my body and the sensations it produces in a peculiar way. Pulled in, anchored in my physical self, I’m given little choice but to be fully present. This intense mindfulness—which in this case is better described as bodifullness—allows me to escape the mind; to turn it off. This is where the feeling of freedom comes from: For the amount of time in which I’m held by the rope, I get to be free from thought, worry, mental stress, and whatever else is buzzing around in my head.
Then, when discomfort or pain is added—to my body in which I’m entirely present—I experience the full spectrum of each sensation. In order to cope with the intensity of them, instead of retreating back into the mind, I often slip off somewhere else: To the mythical spheres of rope-space, which, like subspace in BDSM lingo, is an altered psychological state of blissful euphoria.
I often experience hanging in ropes similar to meditation. But, just like how there’s active and passive stretching, a seated, silent meditation would be passive, while suspension would be an active meditation in which you’re pulled and bent into both mental and physical shapes by your rigger.
Our liberty is bound together
Speaking of; let’s not forget that there’s someone else with us in this altered state. It’s the two together, the model and the rigger who co-create the experience after all.
As for any intimate experience with another person, be it sex, a deep conversation, or something else entirely, your mutual chemistry determines the outcome and how enjoyable you both find it.
To me, bondage happens to land somewhere in between the two; it’s a deep, sensual, nonverbal conversation that can be incredibly sexy—even if and when no actual sex is involved. And, while the experience, skill level, and confidence of the one tying absolutely make a difference, your connection is paramount. And just because someone is good at what they do, doesn’t guarantee that they will be the right rope partner for you.
If you’re lucky to tie with someone you truly click with; who allows you to go to a place of utter trust and surrender, currents of energy may transmit to form bonds far stronger than the rope connecting you. It can be that you experience a closeness, unlike much you’ve felt before. This makes it possible for catharsis to take place.
The day you stop listening to your chaos, it will start transforming into catharsis
— Chandrama Deshmukh
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I ventured into the world of BDSM some years ago, it was partially with the longing to be able to let go; not only of control and to escape my slight obsession with being in charge — especially of the way I let people see me — but also to quiet the ever buzzing monkey-mind.
I won’t deny that I also came into all of it with my share of wounds in need of mending and in search of the antidote to the pain of having been let down; dropped to the ground by some of those (I thought) I could trust the most—especially in the cases of the masculine figures in my life. Between an absent-minded, unempathetic father and a long term partner who was an abusive narcissist, I’d been tiptoeing eggshells on thin ice for so long I’d forgotten what it was to feel truly safe.
I yearned to trust someone so thoroughly that I’d dare to put my life in their hands, in the knowing that they’d never drop me. I ached to be seen, beyond skin-deep; to be stripped bare, exposed, and, subsequently accepted—perhaps even loved—for what was found once the layers had been peeled back. I craved to be confronted with my own self; to be placed in front of a mirror and forced to face my daemons; all of the rawness and darkness, and perhaps even learn to embrace those parts too.
Through my journey, I’ve come to understand that it was the desire for release and not specific acts, toys, or tools that drew me there. Facing my fears and daring to trust are my biggest kinks; being shown that I’m strong, even when I let myself surrender and be soft. So far, whips and chains (and every other gadget in the bag) have taken me far, but, recently, ropes are proving to pull me the extra mile down the path of transmutation.
We are at our most powerful the moment we no longer need to be powerful
—Eric Micha’el Leventhal
So, while from an outside look, you may see me going into ropes as an act of submission—of giving up my apparent freedom and allowing another to restrict, compact, and stretch me according to their will. This is true as well. Yet, each time I let their mighty arms wrap around me, I continue to grow far beyond the ropes; to cultivate trust, connection, and intimacy, and deepen my understanding of empathy and nonverbal communication.
When I surrender, it’s not as much to the person tying me, but to myself; I relinquish my ego and transcend beyond it. And, while physically constricted, my consciousness expands, and through letting myself to be soft and malleable, I find strength. After each time I’m released I become increasingly resilient, more confident, and self-aware.
I suppose, with this, I join the choir of rope fans singing in favor of the bound/free fallacy, but please, let me stay captive for many years to come. There’s still so much to discover and I’m tempted to ask, where to next? Instead, I’m closing my eyes and jumping, in the utmost trust that the net will catch me and show the way.
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