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May 1996

by William A. Henkin, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1996 by William A. Henkin

<Q> I recently got my first serious whipping, and in the middle of it I suddenly had to cry. It felt really good, but I didn't know whether it was still SM. Is it normal that you sometimes really want to cry?

<A> In some movie, I've forgotten which, Woody Allen was asked if sex was dirty: Only if it's done right, he replied. Is it normal that you sometimes really want to cry when whipped? Yes, often it is, if it's done right.

Since you say it (the whipping? crying?) felt really good I presume you weren't flogged Caine Mutiny Court Martial style with brine-soaked knouts bruising your bones and sending gouts of gore and shredded muscle flying everywhere. I presume, instead, that some competent whip-master or whip-mistress took you on a journey through your body and out of your mind: out of the usual western human mental mode of inflating, deflating, or ruminating on every experience till we lose the experience itself. If that was the case you probably felt your very normal desire to cry at a point of catharsis, when the physical, emotional, spiritual, and/or other tensions building up within you became so intense you no longer wanted to hold them in, or were no longer able to. Crying was merely your way – not uncommon in this or many consciousness communities – of releasing that tension and letting it go. Perhaps you felt rather tranquil after you cried. I hope the person who whipped you held and comforted you afterwards.

Many kinds of intense experiences can bring us to the edge of tears, from losing a loved one to falling in love, from touching the exposed nerves of a wound to feeling a gentle touch when we feel needy, from hearing a longed-for voice to hearing some saccharine rendition of a woebegone melody that reminds us of dancing with a highschool sweetheart on a soft summer evening of our lost and stunning innocence.

Not only is there nothing wrong with crying, there seems actually to be something positively good about experiencing the release that it can bring, whether the tears well up seemingly unbidden when we contemplate a loss or sorrow, or they come from the body-wracking sobs that take us over in our times of deepest grief.

Our society offers a paucity of rites and rituals or other ways in which we might acknowledge losses and other small and large transitions, so most of us store a lot of what some old New Agers used to call "unfinished business" in our bodies. Body workers concerned with movement, such as Moshe Feldenkrais, and those who do deep tissue work such as Ida Rolf, Don Johnson, and Joseph Heller, have been eloquent about ways in which the body retains tensions in the form of old defensive patterns, making us stiff and rigid both physically and psychologically, and about how controlled physical intensity can sometimes be used to release that psychic baggage from the body.

I've written elsewhere about the problems and even the dangers of doing therapy in the dungeon, and I don't want to suggest I've changed my mind about that. At the same time, while many forms of bodywork are not psychotherapy, they often can be therapeutic. A thoughtful, well-executed whipping from a sophisticated, experienced, and trustworthy whip-master or whip-mistress can function as a form of bodywork that leads to the release of pent-up energy, and lets the whippee feel light and gentle in a way few options offer. One important feature of SM is the energy exchange that it can be, and I'd guess from your question that your experience was somewhat on this order. In that case I congratulate both you for getting there and your top for taking you there.

Since the energy release seems to have been valuable for you I should also note that lots of books have been published that can provide you with, or lead you to, more information about non-whipping forms of bodywork. Just for starters, these include:

  1. Moshe Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
  2. Thomas Hanna, Somatics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1988.
  3. Joseph Heller and William A. Henkin, Bodywise. Oakland: Wingbow Press, 1991 [1986].
  4. B. K. S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga. New York: Schocken 1979.
  5. Don Johnson, The Body. Boston: Beacon, 1983.
  6. Ida P. Rolf, Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structure. Santa Monica, CA: Dennis Landman, 1977.

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