Ritual (and a little help with long-distance DD)

Most couples engaged in a Domestic Discipline (DD) lifestyle are well aware of the power of ritual to create psychological change -- whether we consciously label it as such or not.

For many of us, it is the ritual aspect of discipline that holds much of the emotional power of DD. Maybe it's that particular phrase our partner uses to let us know that we've crossed a line and earned a spanking, or maybe it's the position we're required to assume, or how we reconnect once the discipline is done. Whatever the specifics, practicing DD generally includes repeated meaningful words and actions that evoke feelings of safety, love and connectedness for both partners.

For me, the importance of ritual in a DD relationship is one of the most positive aspects of this lifestyle, and a much-needed counterbalance to the unfortunate lack of ritual in our secular, "rational" Western culture.

For the most part, Western society has eschewed ritual on the grounds that it's irrational, backwards and meaningless. Young girls, for example, no longer have an established, culturally-accepted way to acknowledge their first menstruation as a transition into womanhood and as a result, often grow up feeling shameful and secret about their bodies and their femininity. And young men, denied even the physical demarcation of menstruation, have virtually no societal benchmarks or rituals to acknowledge their passage into manhood -- leading to a culture in which the majority of young men spend most of their lives unsure of whether they're adults or not.

What few true rituals we have left in our culture -- marriage, graduation, funerals -- commemorate only a handful of public events in our lives, leaving the smaller, more personal, and often ultimately more significant passages we go through unacknowledged and undervalued.

There's good reason why ritual has been an important part of virtually every culture since the beginning of civilization (ours notwithstanding). And there's a reason that spirituality and religion are founded almost entirely on the mindful practice of ritual. A culture without respect for ritual pays the price sooner or later.

Whatever we realize it or not, human beings need ritual if we're to grow into healthy, integrated adults. Ritual helps us to come to terms with our shortcomings and to celebrate our triumphs. And more than that, ritual creates a structure that helps us to make sense of the dizzying cacophony of random experiences we live through day-by-day. It gives the little things we do meaning and purpose by putting them the context of our larger life's journey.

Fortunately for us, DD is all about ritual (impromptu parking lot spankings not withstanding). The rituals of domestic discipline help us to incorporate the lessons we learn in our everyday lives into our deeper selves so we can become healthier people.

Our DD rituals also create a safe, mutually-understood mechanism by which we can connect with the deeper parts of ourselves that are normally less accessible to us.

For me, the ritual aspect of DD is what allows me to submit to the discipline that I've consented to (but don't always want in the moment). When my partner says, "go get the paddle," the familiarity of those words -- the same ones every time -- acts as a Pavlovian trigger, shifting my psychology from rebellion into submission more quickly and gracefully than if he used different words every time.

And the more those words pass between us, and the more we step through the increasingly-familiar dance of discipline, the more the practice and the benefits of discipline become engraved in our minds (our neutral networks, if you take the scientific approach). Ritual, at its core, is meaningful habit.

But most significantly, the ritual of discipline is a deeply spiritual process that helps us to to realize the effects of our actions on others and their actions on us. Discipline is a ritualizing of the universal emotional journey from anger (disconnection with humanity) to repentance (acknowledging our own humanity) to reconciliation (reconnection with humanity).

In my experience, when it's done well, Domestic Discipline is an experience in finding the divine spark inside myself that allows me to forgive myself and others for being human. Being reminded that my actions affect others in turn reminds me that I am connected to others.

The rules of DD mirror those of life -- when I hurt others, I am hurt, but when I love others, I am loved.

How Ritual Works

For many years, I misunderstood the nature of ritual, and mostly did it backwards. I thought ritual was something you were supposed to do when you were ready for it, and not before.

To use a small example, after one of my favorite cats died, I planned to scatter the ashes, but I kept putting it off. I felt like I couldn't scatter the ashes until I was ready to say goodbye. But a wise friend pointed out to me that I would likely never be ready to say goodbye unless I completed the ritual of scattering the ashes. If I waited to scatter them until I was ready, I'd probably have dead-cat ashes on my dresser for the rest of my life.

So although I didn't feel ready to say goodbye to my best kitty friend, I took my friend's advice and did the ash scattering ritual. Afterwards, I was surprised to find that I was able to say goodbye. The thing I thought I couldn't do until I was able to let go is actually what enabled me to let go. I'd been approaching the whole process of ritual backwards.

DD rituals work the same way. We step through them not because we're already ready, willing and able to accept discipline, but to help us get ready and accept it more humbly, gracefully and spiritually. If we waited until we were ready before bringing our partner the proverbial paddle, most of us would never submit, and we'd lose the powerful and amazing benefits of that submission. And our partners discipline us not because they've already forgiven us for what we've done, but as a way to help them on their own journey of mercy and understanding.

Our Commitment Ritual

The benefits of ritual are particularly on my mind just now, because after three beautiful weeks with my partner, we're again in different parts of the country for another month-long separation.

The day of my departure, we spent the afternoon at the beach. During that time, we talked about the challenges we still have in building and strengthening our DD relationship.

I talked about the fears I have that he doesn't take this crazy lifestyle seriously and is just humoring my "kink." I also shared again how hard it is to hold onto the connection we have when we're apart. He talked about his struggle with how to handle the times when I resist discipline, and how those incidents fuel his continued fears that I could revoke my consent, and then turn around in a moment of anger and accuse him of being abusive.

These are huge issues, of course, and I confessed that I despaired of ever truly resolving them. That's when he suggested that perhaps we needed a ceremony, a ritual, in which we both stated our commitment to a DD lifestyle, and said the things the other needed to hear in a formal pledge.

There wasn't much time to set it up, since I was leaving in a few hours. But another thing I've learned over the years is that simple rituals are often much more effective than elaborately planned and scripted ones, the latter of which often take so much concentration and choreography that there's no time to be in the moment.

So off we went to the local tourist shop, where we bought a simple $5 silver ring (for me, since he doesn't wear jewelry). Holding hands, we walked to a beautiful bench overlooking the ocean, and discussed what kinds of things we each needed to hear from the other to feel safer and more confident in our relationship.

As we sat side-by-side on the bench, I handed him the ring, promising that it symbolized my consent, commitment and submission to his discipline. I promised that the consent I was giving was true, no matter what I said or did in the heat of the moment. I also promised that to help him tell the difference, if I truly wanted to revoke my consent, I'd do it in a calm, rational, non-disciplinary moment. Finally, I explicitly pledged that I would not betray our trust by turning on him and accusing him of abuse for administering discipline, but to trust and talk through situations when I'm angry or when things go wrong.

As he put the ring on my finger, he promised to always strive to discipline with love, although he reminded me there would often be anger and disappointment, too. He reiterated his serious commitment to a DD relationship, and his willingness to do the hard work of building it. He reminded me that we are connected and that the energy between us is present, even when we're apart and it's harder to feel that connection.

We kissed, then held each other for a moment. We hadn't said anything that we hadn't said many times before, but this time, we said the words more formally and with the strength of our solemn word behind them.

A few hours later, it was time for me to leave. But this simple, impromptu ritual has had a surprising power. The presence of the ring, a physical reminder of our commitment and my consent, on my finger made the separation easier (the ritual pre-departure spanking helped, too, of course). And now that we're apart again, having something tangible to see and touch when my fears come up has been very stabilizing. I can touch the ring no matter where I am or what I'm doing and instantly invoke the power of the ritual and the special bond we share together.

The acid test of the ceremony came a few days later when our tempers flared during a phonecall (about not being together!) and I shifted into my habitual bitchy attitude, complete with the petulant hang-up. He called back a few minutes later, as he almost always does. Normally, I either pick up the phone with a nasty attitude or don't answer it all, knowing that he's almost certainly calling back to discipline me (and knowing full well he can't do much if I say no, given he's 1000 miles away).

But this time, almost without thinking about it, I felt the ring on my finger, remembered the promise of consent that I gave. My word means a lot to me, and I realized that simple promise on the beach had weight -- weight enough to cause me to pick up the phone respectfully, prepared for the consequences of my disrespect. It wasn't a perfect interaction -- if it had been, I wouldn't have hung up the phone or been disrespectful in the first place, but it was a lot more better than it had been in prior instances.

In sum,
I'm deeply grateful for the presence of the rituals of DD in my life, and for a partner who recognizes the value and power of them. I feel extremely fortunate to have access to such a powerful way of reconnecting with the transformative power of ritual.

I would love to hear about any rituals or ceremonies that you've used in your DD relationships to overcome relationship issues, solidify bonds or make the experience more emotionally and spiritually meaningful. Along with comments, please feel free to contribute to the discussion your rituals of preparation, discipline, reconnection or commitment. (long comments are fine!)