A while ago, I attended a class on pain processing and catharsis, given by Lark and Keri. While listening to their presentation, it occurred to me that I get some of the same things out of climbing as I do BDSM… and if I’m doing much of one, I tend to do less of the other.
One common theme is that of overcoming the body and the mind. For example, in the class, Lark talked about strategies a bottom could use to prevent fainting (the idea being that the bottom didn’t want the scene to stop, and most tops would stop if the bottom fainted). These were physical techniques (such as trying to feel your feet on the floor, keeping your eyes open, focusing on a single spot to prevent tunnel vision from closing down your vision entirely). I don’t see an exact analog to climbing here, although paying careful attention to what you’re doing with your body while climbing is totally necessary (e.g. making sure not to overgrip holds, “resting” while in strenuous positions by deliberately switching your weight from one limb to another, etc). Of course, processing pain differently than in regular life is important to both BDSM and climbing. The techniques they taught for scening were interesting, but not relevant to climbing. In climbing, one more often just wants to ignore pain, and continue on, hopefully to a position one can rest in.
More directly related were some of the mental techniques. Both serious climbing and serious bottoming can force one to face one’s fears. A climber may be scared to proceed (and unable to easily retreat or stay in place). A climber that stays calm and present will have more options. She will be able to continue longer if relaxed and breathing deeply, rather than in a panicked way. She may be able to stay calmer by performing a rational evaluation of the situation (“might I fall here?” “yes.” “is it safe to fall?” “probably.” “ok, then go for it and trust in your gear and yourself.”; alternatively, “is it safe to fall here?” “no.” “can I do what I have to do get to somewhere safer?” “yes.” “ok, go for it and trust in your abilities”). Similarly, a bottom may be asking internally, “can I take this pain?” “is it within my negotiated limits?” “will this harm me in an unacceptable way?”. Trusting the top can allow a bottom to travel a lot further; oddly, in climbing, one’s climbing partner sometimes takes this role, and when under stress, belay partners may be able to push their partner to climb far harder than they would otherwise, using only verbal encouragement.
Another aspect of BDSM that was discussed in the class is what it brought to Lark and Keri, in terms of personal growth. Some of the things they mentioned also can be found in (or through) climbing. For example, feeling mentally strong as a result of overcoming one’s fears. Being able to be “in the moment”. Getting past blockages and barriers. The ability to show emotions in front of others.
I want to re-emphasize that I am in no way saying that what goes on in BDSM is exactly the same as climbing, or has the same meaning… but I have noticed that in my life, these two really do often fill similar roles.