By Mako Allen
People and knives have something in common: we can be sharpened. The process for both is remarkably similar. You repeat a simple action over and over, until the blade (or person) gets honed to a razor’s edge of sharpness. But it’s entirely possible to take that process too far, and wind up blunting the blade… or yourself.
Lao-tzu knew this very well.
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
The actions Lao-tzu cautions against in this verse are all related to different forms of the same behavior: gluttony, which is really a form of pride.
We fill our bowls to the brim because we live in a culture that worships the idea that more of something is always better. This is a reflection of a secret fear, that there will not be enough of something you need.
It’s not true though. Tao provides everything you need, just when you need it, in just the amount you need it. Often the things Tao provides aren’t things you ask for, or even want –but turn out to be just what you need.
The serenity Lao-tzu describes comes from trusting the Tao, and allowing it to provide those things for you. “Doing your work and stepping back” is a modern English way of describing a central concept of Taoism, wu-wei. Wu-wei is the action of non-action. It’s not passivity per se, but rather working with what’s around you, using it fully and effectively. Instead of grousing about what you don’t have, or working hard to amass things and approval you don’t need, when you practice wu-wei you appreciate what you have, and use it efficiently.
When you don’t do this, what you’re doing is called striving, and it is a recipe for disaster. I know this firsthand from experience.
Back in the late 1990’s I first got involved in the BDSM scene, and I was a very greedy young thing. I spent every Friday and Saturday night out at various scene clubs and play spaces, attended every class I could, and played as often as I could.
People at the Phoenix Society in Baltimore used to call me “slut boy”, because I wanted to do and try everything. I would spend my Sundays in a dazed, exhausted, very sore haze, and then stumble into work on Monday, just counting the hours until the very next Friday night.
I was particularly proud of the fact that I had a high pain tolerance and had never safe worded. I came to regret that pride very shortly.
One particular Friday night at Phoenix, I’d worked up the nerve to tell this one particular domme that I was an adult baby, but had never been diapered in play, except by some pro-mommies, once. She snapped her fingers, and ordered me to get her a diaper from my toy bag, and proceeded to diaper me in front of everyone, on the spot.
It was amazing, and I loved it. I wanted it again, enough that I completely threw my own instincts, judgment, and self-preservation out the window.
The next night, I met up with her again, this time at a play space in DC. She was looking for someone to cane. I was scared of canes at the time, having never really played with them before. They were very stingy, and I’ve always been more of a thud person. But I was proud of how tough, adventurous, and open I was. And I sure wanted her to diaper me again.
So I let her chain me up to this St. Andrew’s cross and blindfold me, and without really negotiating anything, we got started. It wasn’t long before I was so deep in subspace that I didn’t notice when she brought someone else into the scene. They burned my nipple hair off with a lit cigarette, then the two of them caned me savagely, until my arms and legs began to spasm against the St. Andrew’s cross.
I couldn’t even respond clearly enough to safeword.
Lucky for me, one of my closest friends was there, watching the whole time. When he realized what was going on, and how fried I really was, he stepped in and stopped the scene. Tao really does provide. He got some water into me, dressed me, and whisked me out of the club for a much needed meal.
I didn’t quite know what had happened to me. My friend didn’t realize this, and took the best care of me he could. Several hours later, while bending over to pick up something off the ground, I winced as my shirt grazed my nipples, which were incredibly sore for some unknown reason. I went to pull my shirt away from my chest, and watched with amazement as a puff of cigarette ash floated up and out of my shirt.
And then all the memories came crashing back in, and I utterly and completely fell apart.
Tao had indeed provided for me. In my pride and arrogance, I had played unsafely, and caused myself suffering which I needed. It provided me that lesson, as well as my friends to watch over and care for me, both then, and in the weeks to come.
The next time I had the opportunity to play with that woman, I chose not to. And the next time I played close to a limit, I safeworded, without any ego whatsoever.
I enjoyed that play too – it was a wonderful, intense spanking that I was fully present for. Instead of taking more for the sake of eventually becoming something I wasn’t, or holding on to something I thought I should be, I just let go.
An unclenched heart makes for a wonderfully sore bottom.