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Kink Reflection

Universal Needs and Power Exchange

I am fascinated with the mental aspects of power exchange. Rope and pain play are wonderful, and yet they only call to me as a physical manifestation of the mental control that power exchange offers. And I often wonder how needs play into power exchange relationships. Does one person give up their needs for another? Who really has a choice in the matter?

I have found that the best methodology to discuss needs in a meaningful way is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). For those unfamiliar, NVC is a communication methodology and philosophy of life that was pioneered in the 1960s by the late Marshall Rosenberg. NVC has flourished and is practiced all over the world, in interpersonal relationships and international crises.

A core principle of NVC is that there are a universal set of needs that humans share. You might relate this to a pyramid representing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that you have seen. Everyone, across all time, geography, gender, race, and other separations share the same needs, yet strategies to meet those needs differ. For example, we all desire connection, yet while I might want to catch up over coffee, you might want to go to a dance party. (Ohh, to be in the days of coffee dates and dance parties once again!) 

As I am deeply interested in both NVC and power exchange, I often wonder what different needs are being met for various people in power exchange relationships. Perhaps a particular submissive craves safety, belonging, and demonstrating competence in their relationship, while their Dominant may desire pleasure, consistency, and ease. These roles are intentionally different, so the needs satisfied are also different. 

I can see that a power exchange relationship, and in fact every relationship, is made up of a series of strategies. In my article “What’s Choice Got to Do With It?: Thoughts on Choosing Submission,” I explored choice. I contradicted a common refrain about Master/slave relationships when I discussed choice in these relationships.

Even in a relationship with a blanket consent policy, we actively choose to view how we perceive the actions of those that control us. We chose who we gave that power, and we choose to stay with them every day. Our lives are full of choices, even a life filled with submission.

Yet, that’s not the full extent. 

In the past, when I was first taught the language of Nonviolent Communication, I believed that strategies that met someone else’s needs must be at the expense of my needs. If my partner wants to watch a movie, and I want to play a card game, when we watch a movie at the end of the day, aren’t I sacrificing for him? Thus, I have the moral high ground, and I can leverage that against him when we next have a conflict: “I watched a movie for you! Don’t you want to meet my needs?” I know now that this is using the language of NVC to contradict the intentions.

The intention I’ve been focusing on lately has been prioritizing connection. According to Miki Kashtan, this involves “…[focusing] on connecting open-heartedly with everyone’s needs before seeking solutions, even in challenging situations.” When I watch a movie with my partner, I am choosing to meet one need over another. Perhaps I wanted stimulation through the game, yet I chose peace by preventing a conflict with my partner. Again, this comes back to choice. Even when I’m in a dire situation, I choose how I view a situation and that impacts the needs it meets. If my initial strategy isn’t the one we do, I can choose to pick a fight, thus satisfying my need to be seen and express myself authenticly. However, by turning the mind, I can focus instead on empathy and companionship.

When I bring this to a power exchange context, I am reminded of a passage from Slavecraft:

…[S]laves with this point of view get to a place in our heads where every time we give something up for the Master, we feel that our slavery, our surrender, is renewed and reinforced. So i’ve lost the pleasure of seeing the building [that i wanted to see], but i’ve gained my slavery. i’ve lost the opportunity to make that phone call [that i wanted to make], but i’ve gained my slavery. And when slavery is the most important thing in the world, joy is the result in my life.

SlaveCraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude by Guy Baldwin

The perspective of slavery, that intentionally cultivated frame of mind, deeply meets the needs that the author prioritizes. He chooses to see the denial of his personal strategies as a strategy in itself. It’s beautiful to me.

Perhaps I’m getting too heady here. Does this view of needs within power exchange resonate with you? Please let me know.

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Personal Journey Reflection

In Favor of Unstructured Thinking Time

Meditating is really fucking difficult. The way meditation has been explained to me – by therapists, mindfulness apps, and Buddhist monks alike – is emptying one’s mind. Noting thoughts, but not getting attached to them. People admit that it’s a challenge, and yet it’s worthwhile for the benefits. For me, it’s bordering on impossible.

I can hardly keep my body still, let alone my mind, and both seem mandatory for the meditation everyone describes. My brain makes quick, seemingly random connections, like relating oat milk to Texas in 15 seconds flat. (For those curious: Oat milk. “Oat milk is made with water. I wonder how much water is wasted making it. What else probably wastes water? Water parks! What was that water park jingle? ‘We’re going to Schlitterbahn! It’s the hottest coolest time in Texas!’” Texas.) 

That quick connection process seems common with people who are neurodivergent. This term was coined to refer to folks whose brains don’t work in the ways that society defines as normal. Think ADHD, autism spectrum, OCD, traumatic brain injury. While many people have found my ‘random’ connections frustrating, my friends who are also neurodivergent often find it familiar and sometimes even comforting. I’ve also found that neurodivergent folks especially struggle with ’emptying the mind’ meditation. Perhaps the jumping of focus from one topic to another becomes an issue for them as it has been for me.

I’ve never quite given up on finding some way to still and center myself, though. Nonviolent Communication, somatics, Paganism, and mental health spaces all advise something to this effect. Recently, I have found something that works for me. Something that doesn’t quite look spiritual or enlightened. Something mundane.

I make a cup of coffee or tea, head to the backyard with my dog Ajax, and slowly sip on my drink. I listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, the nearby construction, the traffic on the highway. I think my thoughts if I want to, but not with any intensity. I follow them wherever they take me. If I remember a jingle, I sing it out loud. I fidget, talk to my dog, and usually accidentally drip hot tea onto my lap. My time is measured by how long my drink lasts and how much patience Ajax has for me. When the time comes, I head in, rinse my mug, and continue my day. Mundane.

There’s an area of philosophy that is concerned with knowing. Epistemology. You probably remember an important piece of Western epistemology: “I think, therefore I am.” I’m not an epistemological scholar. However, like most people, I’m concerned with things like what I know, what I can know, how I can prove I know things, and how I can teach things to other people. What I’ve found is that I know things that I cannot articulate in words. With my unstructured thinking time, I know definitively that I have learned things – Yet, if asked, I couldn’t articulate what. It’s not that I’ve forgotten, I just don’t have the words. 

I’m not sure if this is a common experience. I know many people sit outside and sip nice drinks. Do they have this calming, centering experience as well? Do they come away with inarticulable knowledge? I ask because I genuinely don’t know. I honestly hope so. Perhaps someone could have told me about ‘a cup of tea on the back porch’ meditation sooner. Maybe I can be the one to pass it on to you.

In the six weeks, frequent unstructured thinking time has helped me combat overwhelm and connect with my purpose more than any yoga class or meditation retreat. It requires no gongs or cushions unless you want it to. If you haven’t tried it, especially if you’ve struggled with most meditation, I encourage you to do so. Follow your thoughts wherever they take you. It need only last as long as your favorite drink.

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Personal Journey Reflection

Silence Can Change a Dynamic

In December of 2019, I overworked myself in the name of service at The Woodshed. I had been assigned to escort a friend who was new to the kink scene to an event and then the dungeon afterward. In order to make a good impression, I wore my button-up and tie along with a binder to help flatten the appearance of my chest. Over the course of a few hours in the busy dungeon, I began to feel uncomfortable, but I ignored these indicators, thinking that a good servant should be able to withstand a little discomfort. Ultimately, I developed heatstroke, and while I was fine at the end of the day, I was a little embarrassed knowing that my suffering and the concern of my friends was completely preventable.

Like me overheating in a restrictive outfit and sweaty dungeons, many servants tend to aspire to selflessness. If only we could focus wholly on the person we’re serving and turn our needs off like a light switch, we’d be perfect. Without feelings or needs, we could be wonderful tools, used with whatever purpose our chosen person or people desire, right?

I must constantly remind myself that all tools need maintenance. If I tried to mow the lawn without putting fuel in the lawnmower, I wouldn’t get anywhere. Washing the dishes with an old sponge could take longer than with a fresh, clean one. Disconnecting from our feelings and needs is equivalent to never checking to see if our saw is sharp. Tools, whether human or inanimate, have certain requirements. Not caring for ourselves is neglecting our first and most important tool: ourselves.

This maintenance can be built into a dynamic. For example, a simple body scan meditation could begin and end a period of intense service. Self-managed check-ins could be part of an ongoing protocol and include different phrases for different levels of formality.

As a Dominant or Master, whether you have a casual dynamic or a serious, decades-long relationship, encouraging your servant to assess their feelings and needs can allow them to serve you with greater quality and duration. Additionally, a servant that has a great deal of insight can more fully surrender power, as they know what motivates and drains them.

For the servant currently without a dynamic such as myself, I encourage you to begin this practice daily. A short body-scan meditation can connect you with your embodied emotions in a few minutes, and this insight can help you manage your emotions when you’re alone and offer detailed information about your mood regulation when you enter a dynamic.

If we aspire to be effective tools, we must maintain the tools we have at our disposal.

Categories
Personal Journey Reflection

What’s Choice Got to Do With It?: Thoughts on Choosing Submission

Due to a recent dissolution of a long-running dynamic, I’m re-reading what I consider the central texts of kink. It’s a time to work on myself by reconsidering these books, and the ways my understanding of them has changed. As I read, I had a thought that while an outsider may see choice and submission as opposites, choice is vital to power exchange relationships. I know that the more self-understanding I have, the more powerful my choice to submit becomes.

My guiding philosophy is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). One foundational principle of NVC is that we always have choices, even when we feel disempowered: “Regardless of the circumstances, we can meet our need for autonomy by making conscious choices based on awareness of needs; at the very least in terms of the choice of the meaning we assign to the circumstances.” Here Inbal and Miki Kashtan explain that the bare minimum of choice can be found in how we decide to perceive our circumstances. I also believe this is the basis of choice.

If you think you can’t do anything but argue with your partner, that will happen. Once you turn your mind to the possibility that other strategies exist, you have more choices. Ultimately, deciding to see alternatives in a difficult situation opens up so many more choices. As Oren Jay Sofer has written in Say What You Mean, “The more aware we are, the more choice we have.”

From a logical standpoint though, why would anyone choose to submit to another person’s will? ? Dr. Rosenberg admonishes us when he writes in Nonviolent Communication, “With every choice you make, be conscious of what need it serves.” In NVC, needs are described as universal aspects of the human experience that everyone shares despite any differences in time, geography, and culture. What universal need does the desire to submit satisfy? For me, safety and stability come to mind when I consider how I feel when other the control of another. After experiencing the intense vulnerability that a life of submission offers, I believe that being owned by someone allows me to be known, seen, and understood in one of the most profound ways possible. 

According to Oren Jay Sofer, “One of the benefits of identifying our needs is that it gives us more choice. It gives us access to more creative options.” My understanding is that submission satisfies any number of needs for different people, and understanding how those needs differ allows us to find greater satisfaction. For example, the ideal rules, rituals, and lifestyle of someone who desires submission to challenge them would vary from someone who submits purely as an aspect of sexual expression. Or, perhaps their lives would look the same, but the intentionality behind every action would differ.

Ultimately, we make choices every day when we submit. Even in a relationship with a blanket consent policy, we actively choose to view how we perceive the actions of those that control us. We chose who we gave that power, and we choose to stay with them every day. Our lives are full of choices, even a life filled with submission. 

I truly believe that the more information we have, the more choice we have. I’m always learning from my life experiences. That’s why I’m dedicating the next three months to deeply understanding myself and what I desire out of submission.

What needs do you meet with submission? Do you have a different perspective on choice? Please share your thoughts with me and continue the discussion in the comments.