I worked very hard to get here. And so did my mother, father, grandparents, and several generations before them. My great grandfather worked on the Baltic Canal in a gulag forced labor camp in the Soviet Union. It was a dangerous project; the fortunate survived, but the rest did not. My grandfather was born after my great grandfather returned home. He rarely saw his mother as he grew up. She worked in the wheat fields, leaving before sunrise and returning empty-handed after his bedtime, because the wheat she collected was only for the government to keep. The family went hungry. My grandfather's sister died of starvation, but my grandfather survived. As a child, I would listen to him casually l recount this and other stories, such as when he was playing hide and seek and came across a fresh mass grave of Jews, sprinting back home as fast as his little legs could carry him. Or of German soldiers occupying their home, eating and taking whatever they could find while the family lived in fear.
Fighting for survival was the only way of life for many generations until my generation saw significant improvements. Then, at the age of eighteen, I moved to the United States by myself. While waiting for my first minimum-wage paycheck, I had to ration a single pizza for a week. Seven days a week, I worked 12-hour shifts. It was a time in my life when I had to keep working at jobs I didn't like, keep going when my body said no, and keep smiling when I wanted to cry (the American Smile, a uniquely American skill that Russians don't have). It was also a time to be a coward, to be manipulative, to be aggressive, to cheat and to lie. But mostly it was a time to be a warrior. I had to summon up the strength, the courage, the resourcefulness and the resilience required of me to make it through, to find my bearings in a new country, in a new language, with no one to lean on. And I did it.
After years of frugality, I finally allowed Mama America to shower me with a certain level of abundance, which ushered in a wave of spiritual inquiry. What’s it all about, I asked the Universe. Why life? Why me? Who am I, anyway? All these generations of my ancestors fought so hard to survive…so that I could buy expensive Agent Provocateur lingerie and attend posh Manhattan play-parties? Is this all there is to it? As a result, in my mid-20s, I began a serious spiritual quest. In that noble endeavor, I also became a warrior, striving, digging, and pushing myself at all costs to get it. Deep trauma excavations, long exhausting retreats, the ruthless destruction of my ego, devoting all of my resources to achieving the most powerful results, gathering courage to face my deepest fears through extreme sports, using pain as a tool for self-discovery in my BDSM play, engaging in all kinds of cathartic explorations, even going as far as living burials (digging myself into a grave in order to understand the preciousness of life).
This path eventually led me to becoming a healer myself, and I chose to offer the most radical sessions to my clients, taking them on intense shamanic shadow work journeys. Shibari, the art of Japanese rope bondage, spoke to me deeply because it evolved from an ancient art of torture and is now used as a powerful healing modality. The ropes are extremely powerful. I know how to use them to break someone open if the goal is a deep transformational experience.
I also know how to hold space for the ecstasy and cathartic release that they can produce. I have no doubt that such experiences have therapeutic and spiritual value because I have been both the recipient and the giver and have seen and felt their healing potential. But recently, I was shown something new. After many shibari lessons, one of my mentors, Tati, took me on a rope journey unlike any I had ever experienced.
Tati‘s ability to own her sadistic side while remaining acutely aware of her partners was well known to me, so I was confident that everything would be fine. Still, I felt a pang of guilt when I asked her to be gentle because I was on my period. I wanted to be stronger, to be that radical soul ready to plunge into Kali‘s fire. It felt almost embarrassing to admit my weakness, so I quickly backtracked: well, actually, I’m fine, and I’m ready to surrender to whatever you have planned for me! That good old American smile. Tati responded that she was in the same place and mood. The music was soft and sweet, and the space was cozy. I wore my comfy panties and soft top, and we got started.
Tati’s ropes embraced me in unexpected ways. We were moving very slowly, as if we were in a gentle current at the bottom of the ocean. My body was embraced as though it were the most precious thing on earth. The forms it took felt exquisitely tender energetically and were technically flawless, sinking me into a sense of profound safety. My thoughts settled, my breathing slowed, and my muscles began to unwind as I was immobilized. I felt so safe to relax and to trust. As I heard her begin to sing, I noticed things becoming more nuanced and subtle. It was something I had long forgotten, or perhaps had never experienced to this extent before. I’ve felt blissful tenderness in the arms of a lover, but it always had an erotic charge, a hint of insecurity in the desire for more. Here, it felt as if the Mother of the World was gently caressing me on her lap, singing me lullabies, as if I had finally arrived. In this tender embrace, I began to
see. I realized that I, like the majority of people, treat ourselves as a means to an end in our pursuit of various forms of success, whether worldly or spiritual. In our rush to succeed, we lose sight of who we’re doing it for.
I realized that beneath the Divine Consciousness that I have come to know I ultimately embody, I am also a human being. That little, transient, and fragile human being is not an illusion to be discarded like trash on ones path to God, as many spiritual traditions imply. This little human being is a part of nature, and nature is Divine. Humans continually exploit nature in their ambitious endeavors, and I now saw how I exploited my own nature while seeking abundance and divine highs. I saw how brutal I am to my humanness in my desire to survive and thrive. I acknowledged that it was my drive that had brought me here, thanked it, and was now ready for something new. It was time to give in to everything that made me human. It was time to learn how to transform the illusion not only by the goddess Kali’s sword, but also by the love of the goddess Tara’s compassion. Just as I realized this, Tati whispered in my ear the only words she said during our session: “you are the most precious thing you have. Always remember that!” I burst into tears.
I sobbed quietly as I realized just how hard I’d been on myself. Inwardly, I apologized for not having compassion for myself, for pushing myself towards radical pursuits when I was bleeding, towards more hard work when I was exhausted, and towards helping others when I couldn’t help myself. I saw it at that moment, just before Tati’s ropes lifted me off the ground, hanging me upside down, making me feel light, precious, and divine. She swayed me from side to side, singing me songs and playing for me on her windchimes. My deepest wounds, darkest nights, and most difficult trials were all redeemed by that eternal tenderness. I realized what this life is all about while swinging upside down in a tender rope suspension: eternal tenderness with myself. I’ve come here to give myself this tenderness. At any given time, in any given situation, with every move, every word, every thought, in every battle, every longing, every failure. It’s not my usual practice, but I’m determined to fall in love with deepest humanness - my feelings, my anguish, my conditioning, my warrior, my wrinkles, and my failures.
Tati sang to me, and I realized I was singing along with her, spontaneously and without my usual judgment about my voice being ugly. I’ve never had such a gentle, loving, sweet, and tender session. Finally, she said that she reflected the tenderness that I exuded and that she felt similarly fortunate by it. It is now time to integrate, to begin believing this into my daily existence in order for it to stay with me. Because this is the new meaning I’ve discovered for my life: to begin living in everlasting self-tenderness. To be kind to myself at all times, and to inspire others to do the same.