Finding out where you begin…
When we hear “boundaries” or “limits”, we likely think “restriction”, “obstacle”, something rather negative, limiting our free expression or our experience. I recall a conversation I had once with a girl who just had her first back bend in ropes and was obviously challenged. She literally said: “That’s not me, that’s just my back” and I said: “but honey, that IS you” and that got me thinking how deep this perspective is sitting in us. Reaching out for our idea of how it should be, we are almost eager to objectify ourselves.
I also recall another conversation about how all we discuss nowadays with our rope partners is “limits” and what we are not supposed to do, that we almost forget to discuss what we do like to do together. I guess, there is some truth in that…
How about I offer you another perspective, borrowed from the nature? Imagine river banks holding deep waters, forming a river-bed… There would be no sea without a sea shore. Instead water would be running on the surface in all directions. This is only because there is a solid land holding water, that we have a river. Isn’t it the same with our boundaries? We actually need those to contain our experience in ropes and everything else in life. They are not blocking the flow; they hold the water stream and allow it to go deep… Isn’t it more loving and nurturing image?
“Boundaries describe where we begin and not where we end… Boundaries tell us how far we’re extended, or not; this awareness offers the choice to expand them or bring them in closer”
The Art of Somatic Coaching, R. Strozzi-Heckler
People mix up sometimes limits and boundaries and use them interchangeably, so I think it’s worth to start with defining them.
Boundary is a personal property line of yours that marks the aspects you have a right to and you have a responsibility for. “Our domain” as my great inspirer Betty Martin calls it. My body, my sensations and my sexuality, my needs, my emotions and my thoughts, my values and my opinions, my time and my personal space and so on. This is what I own. That never changes.
Even if you are being tied up. By getting in the ropes you don’t give away your responsibility. You still own your body, emotions, sensations and you are still responsible for it. What you give away temporarily is some of your choices or some of your power (understanding “power” here as our ability to make a choice). The responsibility is still on you, you exercise it precisely by consciously choosing the partner you give your power to and clearly drawing the LIMITS of that given power. By doing so, you take the responsibility for your experience.
By not doing so, you avoid taking the responsibility for your experience, but that doesn’t mean that your boundaries went somewhere else. They are still yours. Body is yours. Sensations and emotions are yours. Pain is yours and skin is yours, and there is no one else in the world who should decide instead of you what experience you are to make. This is very important to feel it in your bonds, in your soma, that this is YOUR home and you are the one who is allowed to enjoy it and who is responsible to take care of it.
It’s worth repeating. No matter what “conceptual” responsibility your rigger claims that they have, in reality, it is yours. Wounds are only healing when it was your choice to have them.
Limits are our choices about how we exercise our boundaries. This is your decision, this is about how you feel in the moment. Limits are changing all the time, depending on the situation, our mood, our partner and so on.
How do we find them?
First, you have to get to know yourself. With every experience you collect some self-knowledge about how your body behaves in ropes, what physical & emotional resources you possess: your stamina, flexibility, ability to process pain and to stay present with the impact, preparation you need for the session, what factors influence your endurance, your needs for safety, your reactions on stress (when it’s too much), your emotional triggers and personal vulnerabilities and so on.
Then, it is your choice / your decision about how much of that capacity you are willing to offer in the moment. Those are the limits you communicate to your partner.
The learning edge
There is a learning edge, in this process of discovering yourself and your possibilities. Sometimes you want to play with edges and sometimes you don’t. Empowerment is when YOU choose when you do that.
For many, this is the most exciting game, to dance on the edge. We want to be taken “beyond”, we want to discover the new things about ourselves and people we play with. The pathway there however is going through knowing and respecting your boundaries and your limits, not giving them up. Because it is only within our boundaries that we can contain our experience, and not be flooded with the emotions and sensations, like that river I mentioned before…
When do you need to communicate your limits?
When you engage in the rope play that involves power exchange. When you submit, when you surrender… when you offer them a gift. When you are in the play where the rigger serves you and are the one who is getting a gift, then this is your rigger, who needs to communicate their limits… like my dear NawaRonin used to say: “I don’t do hammocks” 🙂
If you want more clarity on when you should talk limits and when you should talk wishes, read my article on intention-based consent negotiation.
Limitations are basically conditions that are not my choice. They can be physical or mental conditions or whatever else, for instance: I had a knee operation and I cannot bend my right knee. Health issues like poor circulation, allergies, joint problems and so on.
Some of these are permanent conditions, and some you can do something about. This is your decision whether you want to work on these limitations to improve your rope experience or not. Communicated as they are, your rope partners have to respect them.
If you are just starting…
If you are just starting with ropes: take it slow!
This is your responsibility to inform yourself, so you can take risk-aware decisions. This is not the responsibility of your rigger, though, of course, a nice thing to do.
Practically that means: define what your comfort zone is (the impact you know for sure you can deal with) and communicate it as your limits: playing on the floor, not in the air. One to two ropes, not all of them. Body parts: the leg, not the neck. Set up the time limits: 10 minutes test-play.
As you play for the first time, pay attention to what is happening inside of you when you are in ropes (instead of watching knots), and that will give you a tremendous amount of information about yourself which you can use in the next session and so it goes.
As you go on exploring and expanding your limits, „listen to the „pull“, not the „push“ (Betty Martin). What is the difference? The “pull” comes from inside as this quiet whisper that says: “this feels kinda hot, even though looks scary, I wish I had a partner to try that”. The “push” comes from outside as all those concepts we have about what rope play should be about or what expectations your rope partner might have. It feels like something we “should” be doing: “I should be ok with sexual play”, “I should be able to take that”.
With the time and committed practice, your limits will become present and natural reality in your body.