Breaking boundaries in kinky play and relationships isn’t really “breaking”. It’s more pushing against a semi-permeable membrane. If you’re literally breaking them, you’re doing it wrong.
I was listening to an Audio Dharma podcast while working out the other morning (search for Impermanence, January 10 2016), and Gil Fronsdal tells the story of a teacher who gives beeswax to her pupils and tells them to hold it in their hands while she tells them a story. The purpose of the story is to let the beeswax warm between the kids’ hands, so that it’s malleable and doesn’t break when they start sculpting with it.
The point Fronsdal is making is that we are the same as beeswax: if you try to change yourself when “cold”, you risk breaking in pieces. The purpose of meditation practice is to “warm yourself up” so that you can change easily, without breaking.
And because I’m always thinking about relationships and sex and kink, even when I’m going on the elliptical with a 150 bpm heart rate, it struck me that it’s the same when trying to push boundaries and break limits in kink.
Pushing and breaking
When you run in kinky circles, you often hear things like “I’m going to break you” or “I want to be broken”. What these people are expressing is the desire to push against boundaries, sometimes even go past them or make them irrelevant.
But trust me: nobody wants their limits broken cold.
A limit I used to have is no breath play. Breath play used to scare the hell out of me (and still does a little), but I let M explore it with me. At first it was just short little bouts, with his hand around my throat tight enough to just let a filet of air through. We had a very obvious signal telling him to stop. Which he honoured every single time. That was very important to establish trust.
At one point he told me: “I’m going to cut you off completely today.” And I was okay with that. The signal worked, I trusted that he would follow it and not kill me. And so he cut me off, for a few seconds. I signaled, and he stopped. (M wasn’t all terrible all the time. Just that the last time we did that was literally sometime in 2012.)
Since it’s been a while, my breath play limit has gone backwards a little–I need to establish trust with someone again. But I know that I can be warmed up to it, and that even a current hard limit (no tight neck rope) could eventually be pushed through. However, try to suggest strangling me with some rope right now, and I’ll be like, “fuck no!”
Let me use a (terrible) graphic to show you what I mean when I speak of the difference between pushing through a limit, and downright breaking it.
(Marvel at my amazing graphic design skillz! Mwhahahahaha!)
In the case of pushing, you have this resistance, but the membrane is permeable. You can actually reach through without breaking the whole. This leaves a person’s identity and other boundaries whole and safe.
However, in the case of breaking, well, the person breaks. Bits and pieces go everywhere. Identity is compromised, and all kinds of shit can make it through that you wouldn’t want. Sometimes it’ll feel like other boundaries have been broken at the same time, and that’s a big no no. Well, unless you are an abusive asshole.
When I say “break me”, I really mean “push me”
I’ve had the luck never to have a boundary downright broken cold. I don’t know how it feels. But I’ve read many accounts of people feeling, literally, broken, and betrayed, and somehow like something went wrong. And I can totally see that. When I have my boundaries pushed, I want to be able to softly adapt to my new shape, absorb the lesson and establish new boundaries that fit my new reality.
What I don’t want is having to pick up the pieces of myself that the session left behind. Even with the best aftercare, breaking boundaries is a risky proposition–especially if you want your partner to still trust you afterwards, and play with you again.
When I say “push me”, I want you to take me to my edge–where you know that I’m about to call red. And yet, I don’t call red, because you approach the edge gently, but firmly, just a little further each time. It’s a little bit like stretching in yoga: you don’t go so far as to hurt yourself, but you push firmly enough against your muscles and joints that you feel a little burn, and then, eventually, you’ve pushed firmly enough for long enough that you gain an extra half inch in flexibility… then an inch… and so on.
Pushing through boundaries is the work of weeks, sometimes months. It doesn’t happen in a single session, and it doesn’t usually happen with pick-up play at a party. For me, it demands trust, understanding, love, connection, talk, and respect. It demands full and constant awareness of your bottom’s status. Verbal check-ins. Debriefings. Reassurances.
In all honesty, why are we playing at all, except to push our boundaries? There is no growth in remaining stagnant.
And back to the wax
Your submissive (or yourself) is a piece of beeswax. You cannot sculpt it if it’s cold–all you’ll end up with are sharp pieces on the floor, and they’ll be difficult to put back together.
But if you take the time–to get to know them, to listen to them, to establish deep trust and understanding and connection–you’ll discover that you can shape them much more easily into whatever you want them to be.