Merging the Erotic with the Ecstatic
(Copyright Ó Skip Chasey, 2001. All rights reserved.)
August 26, 2002
Thank you for attending my presentation on cathartic flogging. It is my pleasure to provide you with the following notes and expanded discourse to help you use this powerful SM practice to facilitate your own cathartic experiences.
Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines catharsis as “a purification or purgation of the emotions that brings about spiritual renewal.” Catharsis provides release from tension, an increased feeling of aliveness and can even serve as a catalyst for what Buddhists call enlightenment--a blessed state in which one sees through the illusions of unhappiness and suffering. The conscious integration of radical sexuality and spirituality through the mindful use of a flogger can result in ecstasy for both the Dom and the sub.
There are three psycho-spiritual components to a cathartic flogging experience, each of which must be in place for catharsis to occur. The dynamics of these three components can be summarized by the words “Intention,” “Surrender” and “Focus.”
As with all human sexuality,
SM can be either sacred or profane depending upon the intentions of the
participants. People who engage in
flogging do so with all kinds of intentions.
Problems arise when the intention of the Dom and the intention of the
sub don’t coincide, particularly if those intentions are not communicated. For example, if it’s the Dom’s intention to
administer punishment for a perceived transgression, and the sub’s intention to
receive pleasurable physical sensations, the experience is doomed from the
start. To facilitate a cathartic
experience, both the Dom and sub must have the mutual intention to be fully
present--body, mind and spirit--for what is about to take place, with no
expectation or desire of the other, and to clearly declare that intention
before the flogging begins. One way for
the Dom to declare this intention is to say that they have no desire for the
sub to act or react in any specific manner, wanting only that they both “be
real”. One way for the sub to declare
this intention is to say that they have no expectations regarding what they
will experience during the flogging, and that they will remain open to the
experience however it unfolds. This
mutual intention to be fully present carries with it the second component of
catharsis, which is “Surrender.”
The biggest hurdle one faces in any SM interaction--indeed, in every life experience--is surrender of the ego. The ego has a seemingly limitless number of layers to peel back before we arrive at the Truth of who we really are. The ego is not who we really are, but most of us go through life believing otherwise. The ego is crafty, and will use everything at its disposal to convince us that allowing it to remain in control of our life is in our best interests. Nothing could be further from the Truth.
For the Dom, surrender might mean giving up the notion that they are responsible, or even capable, of taking the sub on some sort of trip during the flogging. For the sub, this might mean letting go of the need to consciously direct the flogging, either verbally or non-verbally through suggestive movements of their body. Surrender is not the same as submission. Submission, in the context of bdsm, is when we turn over control of an experience (whether a “single serving scene” or our entire life) to someone we believe will direct the experience to our satisfaction, often at our direction. Surrender is when we relinquish the ego-defense that either of the participants is in control of the experience.
Surrender requires that each participant have no attachment to the results of the flogging, which is supported by the mutual intention to be fully present, with no expectations or desires.
Mention must be made of safewords. In my opinion, the primary--albeit unconscious--reason for the use of safewords by the sub to stop or direct an SM scene (a comparatively recent practice) is not, as one might think, to insure the sub’s physical safety. The truth is that if the Dom wants to truly harm the sub they will--a safeword simply lets the Dom know when the experience is no longer pleasurable for the sub. No, I believe the real reason safewords have made their way into SM is so that neither the Dom’s nor the sub’s ego is threatened by the experience. In being granted a safeword, the sub believes that they are in control of the experience, which satisfies their ego. The Dom’s ego is protected because, if the sub doesn’t use the safeword and a physical or emotional injury occurs, the Dom can maintain the false belief that they acted responsibly. However, maintaining or projecting control (or, more accurately, the illusion of control) prevents both the Dom and the sub from fully surrendering. The end result is that a powerful, potentially transformative experience for both participants is diminished to a tepid, paint-by-numbers game in which the ego runs rampant.
At the risk of being branded “safe, sane and consensual” heretics, we must be willing to forego the use of safewords if we wish to truly surrender. That does not mean that either participant can abdicate responsibility for the safety of the experience--quite the contrary. Surrender of the ego in this manner requires both participants to be fully attentive to each moment of the experience (which begins long before the flogging actually commences) and, if a real problem is encountered, to immediately address it. Flogging, even heavy flogging, is a relatively safe activity, but the ego, knowing there is no guarantee that any potential problem will actually be addressed, will feel threatened and will attempt to undermine the participants’ senses of well being by flooding them with illusory thoughts of imminent disaster. These thoughts are designed to interfere with the participants’ attentiveness, so that they remain dependent upon the ego rather than the integrity of the mutual intention for a sense of well being, however false that sense may be. The ability of the participants to remain attentive to each moment of the experience brings us to the third component--“Focus.”
In our contemporary culture, a lot of lip service is paid to “living in the moment.” Many people express the desire to live in the moment, correctly believing that’s where a true sense of well being resides. But the fact is that most of us really don’t want to live in the moment, because doing so would require us to unpack all of the emotional baggage we‘ve shelved. This emotional baggage can largely be categorized as unresolved grief.
By grief, I’m not referring only to those huge feelings we experience over the death of a loved one. There are all sorts of other losses we experience--big and small--that, if left unresolved, adversely affect our lives. Any change in our life, even good change, is a grieving experience, because change always involves loss. For example, moving to one’s “dream house” involves the loss of familiar surroundings. If every change is a loss, and all loss results in grief, then change results in grief. Because grief--a normal and natural healing process--comes in all shapes and sizes, it can feel vaguely unsettling at best and almost unbearable at worst. Most of us, when faced with a tremendous loss, do just enough grieving to be able to resume our daily routine, hoping that the rest will somehow disappear. But grief doesn’t simply disappear. Instead, like a teakettle over an open flame, the pressure of unresolved grief increases the longer it is ignored. A single unresolved loss will impede our ability to grieve every other loss we subsequently experience. Eventually, we become so emotionally blocked that we are unable to feel anything.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to grief--the only way out is through. Until we are willing to work through (i.e., fully experience) our grief, our consciousness is either focused on the past, which is marked by regret, or focused on the future, which is marked by fear. We certainly aren’t willing to live in the present moment, because doing so would bring us face-to-face with the grief we are trying to avoid.
If most of us are therefore predisposed to avoid the present moment, it would seem highly unlikely that the sub would be able to remain attentive during the flogging, despite their good intentions. Well, guess what? The flogger has only one message, and that message is “now.” “Whap, whap, whap, whap, whap...now, Now, Now, NOW, NOW.” The sub’s attention wanders for a moment and “whap, ” they are returned to the present moment. Of course, some of us have had literally years of practice avoiding the present moment, and our ability to do so is very strong. But the simple, unyielding message of the flogger will sooner or later bring even the most resistant individual to the present moment, clearing the way for catharsis.
I want to be clear that while facilitating catharsis in this manner is not therapy, it can be therapeutic.
For the Dom, having a cathartic flogging experience is a little trickier, but every bit as possible. The Dom does not have the advantage of the physical sensation of the flogger to bring them back to the present moment when their mind starts to wander. Therefore, to remain in the moment they must rely on the meditative discipline of “mindful attention.” Mindful attention requires the Dom to stay focused on the flogging, stroke by stroke, and not be distracted by their thoughts or feelings, or by the emotional reaction of the sub. Although the Dom may feel a bit intimidated--even threatened--by the sub’s catharsis, it’s important that they experience their feelings without attachment and without losing their focus. It’s also important that the Dom not try to flog the sub into catharsis, or stop the flogging when the sub’s catharsis begins. The Dom must not act according to any pre-planned scenario, or think about how “good” or “bad” of a flogging they are giving. Instead, the Dom must place their attention solely on simply flogging, one stroke at a time. Again, because the ego is fed by achievement and results, this practice requires absolute surrender.
There is a wonderful parable that illustrates this subtlety quite nicely. It seems that when a guest at the monastery volunteered to do the dishes after dinner, the Master said “Are you sure you know how wash dishes?” The guest protested that he had done the dishes all his life. Said the Master, “Ah, I have no doubt of your ability to make the dishes clean. I only doubt your ability to wash them.”
Joy exists only in the moment. The Divine exists only in the moment. Mindful attention allows us to remain in the moment. If you are able to flog in the moment, you will experience joy and quite possibly a direct connection to the Divine!
Before I end this letter, I want to remind you of a few more things.
1. While taking time to “come down” is important for any SM
scene, it is particularly important for this practice. A good rule of thumb is to devote at least
half as much time for after-care as you do for the flogging itself. This need not be anything more than quietly
holding each other. If the sub is
experiencing catharsis during this aftercare time, it is important that the Dom
not interfere by patting the sub, shushing them or otherwise attempting to calm
or stop the sub’s reaction. Such
“comfort” is in reality an expression of the Dom’s emotional discomfort with
the sub’s catharsis. Instead, the Dom
should allow the sub to have their experience and, if capable, support that
experience by gently holding the sub close while remaining emotionally present
There is a tendency to immediately to want talk about the scene during this aftercare time. However, the profound spiritual insights that can result from a cathartic experience are pre-empted by such chatter, and I therefore recommend that you refrain from doing so. When talking about an experience we are no longer in it, but instead have contained it and are looking at it from the outside. Once we do that, we are forever cut off from whatever further enlightenment might have come from that experience.
By way of allegory, lifting heavy weights does not build muscles, as many people mistakenly believe, but instead breaks down the muscle. It is only later, when the body is asleep, that the muscles recuperate and grow. In similar fashion, catharsis breaks down and cleans out the emotional blockage that has prevented us from being open and receptive to the mysteries of the Universe, but it’s only during a suitable period of quiet reflection after catharsis has occurred that real spiritual growth takes place.
2. It’s my belief that the flogger is a direct extension of the Dom’s arm, and that whatever the Dom is feeling is transmitted directly through the flogger and into the back (or other body part) of the sub. And, because of the physical properties of a flogger, this emotional transmission is magnified. Therefore, please do not use a flogger on anyone, for any purpose, if you are angry, anxious or afraid.
3. Whether the sub is standing, sitting or laying down during the flogging, the use of bondage is very important, both to facilitate the sub’s surrender as well as to keep the sub from moving unexpectedly thereby minimizing the risk of an errant blow. If you are inexperienced with bondage, there are a number of good books that can instruct you on safe bondage technique, including SM 101 and, for rope fetishists, the Erotic Bondage Handbook, both by Jay Wiseman (Greenery Press).
4. It’s important for the Dom to know how to use a flogger well. Practice makes perfect. Focusing your attention on only the stroke being given does not mean that a skillful technique is unnecessary. The act of playing the violin is transformed into the art of making music when the violinist, trusting the skills they have developed over years of practice, ceases to read the notes and instead focuses on the sound being made. It is the same with flogging. To learn more about flogging--including safety and first-aid, check out The Flagellation Factsheet at http://www.fetishalliance.net/Training/Play/Flogging/theflagellationfactsheetreference.html I also highly recommend the book Flogging by Joseph W. Bean (Greenery Press). Joseph’s book is a valuable treatise for beginning and experienced flogging enthusiasts alike.
5. It’s equally important for the sub to learn how to receive a flogging. It‘s been said, by those far more knowledgeable about human physiology than myself, that the body doesn’t register pain--only temperature and pressure. The mind then interprets those sensations and makes value judgments based on those interpretations. That is why one person’s pain is another person’s pleasure. Rather than resist the flogger, which leads to tenseness and an unpleasantly painful experience, you will do far better if you welcome the energy the flogger delivers and use your breath to circulate that energy throughout your body. Try it--you’ll be amazed.
6. For those wishing to avoid catharsis, I recommend structuring the scene around fantasy role play. Role play requires much more “head work” than “heart work,” and because such mental gymnastics take us out of the present moment, the chances for catharsis occurring are greatly reduced.
Not surprisingly, there is lot more to cathartic flogging than can be covered in these few pages, but hopefully there is enough in here to inspire you. Thanks again for accompanying me on this journey, if only for a short while. In closing I’d like to share with you a poem by Guillaume Apollonaire, which is inscribed on a wall of my dungeon:
Come to the edge, He said.
They said, we are afraid.
Come to the edge, He said.
He pushed them...and they flew.
May you fly ever higher!
Skip Chasey (a/k/a Master Skip) spoke as an openly gay Christian leatherman to a crowd of almost one million people at the Millennium March on Washington. He has presented workshops on various aspects of SM, spirituality and Master/slave relationships at Avatar (where he is an active member), Threshold, Orange Coast Leather Assembly, APEX, Shibari, Southeast Leatherfest, Club X LeatherFest, Thunder in the Mountains and the Leather Leadership Conference. In 1999 and 2000 Master Skip, at the invitation of his friend SlaveMaster, co-facilitated “Path of the Obedient Heart,” a series of retreats for leatherfolk and others open to utilizing SM as a tool for spiritual evolution. He is an occasional instructor at the monthly Leather Lab in North Hollywood and the annual Sampler weekend in Palm Springs, a core instructor at Butchmanns SM Academy in Tucson, and a co-founder of People of Leather Among You (“P.L.A.Y.”), a social and educational group for Southern California leatherfolk interested in the integration of spirituality and radical sexuality. A certified Grief Recoveryä counselor, Master Skip lives in Los Angeles, where he heads a family of spiritually grounded leathermen.
Reprinted and hosted with permission.