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"We create by how we feel and what we believe. Being in a right relationship helps to clear our feelings, shows them for what they really are, releases negative emotions and dispels crippling fears."

Zen Leather
by Jack Rinella

Mike is a 41 year old bottom with whom I've been discussing SM relationships. We've never met, but his frequent phone calls have become a welcome part of my evening. If all goes as planned he'll be (to put it mildly) a house guest for IML weekend.

The question he asked last night bears repeating, even if I do risk a reputation for being too spiritual. I'm too something for most everyone, so I'll accept that acknowledgment of my intensity and hope that in the long run you'll see that I'm well rounded, even if I'm too well-rounded.

First a little background.

I made Mike's acquaintance on the phone about a month ago. He's a New York choreographer, single, and quite independent. He's a frustrated, experienced, and somewhat lonely leatherman looking for a top, even a master if he can find one. He's intellectually demanding. His fantasy life is both well-defined and un-fulfilled.

The intensity of his SM aspirations plagues him with doubt; the lack of suitable partner nibbles at his self-esteem; and he is almost desperate for affection, physical contact, and stability. None of this is helped, of course, by his "hand to mouth" financial existence.

He's about to stage a dance production and therefore is busy with rehearsals; physically, in the midst of all this, his body is exhausted and he has the flu. All in all, it's not been a nice several months for Mike.

I've been there. I'm not there now. Yet I vividly remember the days of my misfortunes. My publishing company was going under, my car payments were tragically late, my children were nowhere near. I was broke, under-employed, and frustrated in the part-time jobs I did have. Though I worked 70 and 80 hour weeks, I had nothing to show for it.

I was bored with my lover and in despair at the collapse of my publishing dream. By January of 1990, all hell had broken loose. In April of that year, my lover moved out and I returned to being a leather man. What does all this have to do with Zen?

The question that Mike asked was "How does a master center a slave?" Being centered is a Zen term that means a person is balanced, calm, healthy, peaceful, grounded, nourished. Some might see it as a relaxed state, one of calm, creative, full of the realization of being well-off, in communion with one's self and one's environment.

I reflect on the days of my private hell to illustrate that being centered doesn't ignore distressful situations, that if I sound too polyanna, I have been otherwise as well. There's more to me than one column can say, more to leather than can ever be contained in a single book or video.

There is only one reason to be involved in the leather scene and that is for its benefits. If leather's not satisfying, fulfilling, pleasurable, then stay away from it.

I enjoy a good leather scene because it balances me. Rough and tumble SM sex has the effect of centering me, changing my mood into one of gentle satisfaction, sweet release, my perspective to one that makes life worth living.

Certainly there are other things that have a similar effect on me. It doesn't always have to be rough and tumble. Meditation, a good dinner with close friends, even a good night's sleep can bring calm and a sense of well-being. Writing, walking along the lake, and jerking off do that as well.

Without putting words into Mike's mouth, I'd say he feels scattered, pushed, harried. His health reflects such feelings, the hoarseness of his voice echoes his mind's state. I have yet to have a conversation with him that didn't start out by admitting to his being tired, listless. He's gone on to add adjectives describing himself as lonely, confused, slightly fearful.

The answer to his question and his dilemma applies in many circumstances. It has to do with being in a right relationship. Relationships are important to each of us.

Not every relationship, of course, is meant to be filled with SM, and even the vast majority of SM relationships lack any reality of dominance or submission. The master slave dynamic that Mike seeks is the exception .

How does a master center a slave? He does it by creating, with his slave, a right relationship, that is, one in which each is free to be him or herself; one with openness, honesty, and clarity of purpose. Centering comes from having a clear focus, mutual support, encouragement, and purpose.

The master can become another set of eyes and ears for the slave, giving guidance, protection, even direction.

We create by how we feel and what we believe. Being in a right relationship helps to clear our feelings, shows them for what they really are, releases negative emotions and dispels crippling fears.

Sometimes a slave needs to be drained of his or her frustrations, confusion, doubts. Sadomasochistic play can do just that. Likewise a good session does the same for the master. We all know how cleansing a "good cry" can be, or how comforting it is have someone hold us just at the right moment.

In a very real way, that is what SM is all about. In different ways, in different intensities, that is what every right relationship is about. Masters and slaves each have complementary needs, ones that fit together in a beautiful mosaic of mutual giving.

That is how a master centers his slave. Practically it may be through a good whipping, or a gentle hug, a stern lecture or loving advice. It may, of course, be more intimate, more private than outsiders can observe.

I know that the way that Lynn touches my body and I touch his goes beyond explanation. I can say, though, that when it happens in those special master/slave moments, I feel connected to him in an incredible way. That connection overflows to the whole universe. I feel the blocks and strains of everyday living nudged back into perspective. The tensions of life get unwound, moved, put back into a healthy and satisfying perspective.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a "slave applicant" named Joe who stayed with me for a week. His presence added a new dimension to my home. His care with the laundry, the cooking, and the dishes brought a seldom seen touch of carefulness to my living. I could see his pleasure at folding the laundry in his special, particular way. He could see my pleasure at discovering that it had been folded so carefully.

My friends know that that's not my style. But it was a style Joe added to my life, if only for a week. Together there was an exchange between us that was peaceful, caring, mutually supportive. He enjoyed doing what I enjoyed having done.

And so, in some small way, it centered both of us.

I don't understand all the ramifications of such actions. I only know it feels right. I also hope I have the chance to let Mike experience it first hand. When one centers the other, they are both centered. Not a bad way to be at all, and it certainly beats out the alternatives.

Copyright 2000 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact mrjackr@leathermail.com

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