The Sacred container of safe Touch and consent
I just went through a deep dive in the Wheel of Consent practitioner training and my Heart is filled with the depth of the learning I went through. From the painful dive into what I had to shed, to the powerful opening of deep embodiment and understanding of what consent is and feels like in the body and heart.
The Wheel of consent is the sacred container of my work as a practitioner with trauma de-armoring / sexual de-armoring and self-cervix work. For those of you who came to a session with me you have discovered how this is the key to reconnecting safely to your body sensations and to create a safe space with any practitioner / healer / doctor / etc.
Why consent? What is consent? It is an agreement made by two persons to operate together within a set of rules, within the wheel, where both persons agreed and are willing to stand together within it. In a world where consent is often absent or abused, from the physical taking to the emotional raping, from the disconnection to each other’s and act of war to the taking without consent (stealing) from each other’s and from the Earth, the Wheel of Consent is an essential tool to put in place consent in a powerful way.
Consent can come in 3 ways:
A request => A want (This is what I WANT)
o May I…
o Will you…
An offer => Willing to (This is what I am willing to offer / It is FOR YOU)
o Anything I can do for you? (Serving you)
o How do you want to touch me? (Allowing you)
An Invitation => Both persons putting their desire forward
o Playing together for example
o Also, the place of relationship building where we find a place we both are happy to be with and commit to (within our boundaries and limits).
The Wheel of Consent allow to step back into integrity. Into honesty. Into vulnerability. Into feelings. And ultimately into authentic relationship and safety. When agreements and consent are violated, we step into unsafe and dangerous areas of abuse and trauma and very often the trust that was broken could take years to repair and have traumatic consequences on the person who was abused.
The wheel was birthed by Betty Martin over 20+ years ago and has allowed people from all walks of life to create safe boundaries, agreements, which is the only place deep intimacy and authentic connection can really happen. It is first based on touch, but can be expanded to many other types of interactions.
It starts by two questions, with two ways of asking:
- How do you want to touch me? (it is for YOU).
In this corner of the wheel you are TAKING from me, you are receiving a gift from me (my body), it is FOR YOU (you requested it), and I am ALLOWING YOU (giving you access to my body within my limits and boundaries).
- How do you want me to touch you? (it is for YOU)
In that corner of the wheel you are ACCEPTING from me, the gift is coming from me (my touch), It is FOR YOU (you requested it), and I am SERVING YOU (giving you the touch YOU WANT through my action, my gift to you within my limits and boundaries).
The Wheel brings us into deep vulnerability (Asking for what we want) knowing we might not receive it. And that is fine… As the healing happen a lot in the WANTING (asking for what we want) often more than in the ACCEPTING/ALLOWING.
It is about BEING SEEN AND HEARD while accepting and honoring the person (serving us or allowing us) limits and boundaries.
The risk we feel in our nervous system of being said NO, brings a whole range of feelings in us which have not much to do with the refusal but with our shadows and wounds with refusal in our lives. Some of the feelings we experience when we hear a NO are very strong in us and do usually prevent us from asking what we want (which in turns let us fall deeper into negative emotions, old patterns and a “non-healing” state).
So, why don’t we ask for what we want?
- We might get a YES and then really have to go with our desires
- We might think we are not wanted if we get a NO
- We feel vulnerable
- We might experience rejection
- We might think a NO to our WANT is a NO to all of what we are
- We might feel Shame for what we ask for
- We might be seen in our desires
- We might not know how to ask for what we want
- We might think we will be judge
- We might think we will have to pay back (not receiving a genuine gift)
- We might feel fears of what might happen
- We might be used to disappointment (“why asking as I never get what I want…”)
- We might be afraid of not being heard
- We might think we are not good enough
- We might think our desires are not important
- We might think we won’t receive exactly what we ask for
- We might think it will bring expectations
- We might be afraid to be laugh at
- We might think what we ask won’t fit the image other have of us
- We might not feel safe
- We might think “I am a giver” not “a taker”
Endless list we all have experienced to some degree. Very often the “asking” for what we want bring our nervous system in fight/flight or numb mode. It feels like danger. Not because of the actual situation we are in but more often because of past traumas.
Asking for what we want is VERY VULNERABLE.
So, what do we do instead?
- We manipulate
- We expect
- We try to control
- We leave / run away
- We complain
- We make others pay for it
- We blame
- We steal (take without asking or take beyond agreement/consent)
- We feel depressed
- We feel angry
- We cheat
- We shut down
- We numb ourselves
- We bypass
- We avoid
- We lie
- We put pressure on others
- We settle for what we don’t want
- We deny
- We wait to be asked
- We reject others
- We stonewall others
- We harm self & others
- We pick a fight & argue
- We withhold
- We put our attention somewhere else
Endless list of coping mechanism we have all learned to get what we want when we were little as we could not always get what we wanted. All those mechanisms are based on survival neural pathways in our nervous system, on the fear system being activated and taking us out of safety, out of our Hearts (check the polyvagal theory from Dr. Stephen Porges to go deeper here).
It prevents any possibility of deep connection, of true intimacy, of authentic relationship.
As Betty shared with us “We all have been touched without consent, as babies and little kids, been “done to” things we did not ask for, and therefore we have learned that being touched without consent is more important than our needs”. Our parents and caretakers did not have bad intentions at all, they had to feed us, change our diapers, dress us, etc. But our nervous system developed with that wiring. Wires that allow non-requested touch. Wires that make us believe that what we want does not matter (or in many other ways as shared above).
The power of the Wheel of Consent is that it brings back the responsibility on ourselves FOR ASKING. We are not blaming others anymore for what we did not get. It brings us into radical honesty with ourselves where the possibility of authentic relationship with others is.
So, when looking at the Wheel we can identify 4 CORNERS:
We can see who is it for (RIGHT SIDE with Take & Accept), and who is giving the gift (LEFT SIDE with SERVE & Allow)
We can also see WHO IS DOING (often we think the one who do is the one giving (not for him/her) but it is not the case (TAKE CORNER)
We can also see when/how/where we slip out of consent, and fall into the shadows of the wheel (as a server, allow-er, taker or accept-er).
Here are some of the shadows:
- The Shadow of TAKING (not asking someone for a gift we want, and taking beyond that person limits and boundaries): Abuse, Stealing, Cheating, Raping, Grabbing, Invading, Dictatorship, war, becoming a perpetrator.
- The Shadow of ALLOWING (giving someone a gift they asked for beyond our boundaries or being taken from without consent): Victim, Being a doormat, Trauma, Dissociation, etc.
- The Shadow of ACCEPTING (accepting a gift from someone that we did not ask for, accepting something different or beyond what we ask for): Expectations, Entitlement, Bribery, etc.
- The Shadow of SERVING (giving a gift to someone beyond what they requested or serving them in a way they did not ask for): Pleasing, Saving, Rescuing, Burn Out, etc.
This brings ONE VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION:
WHO IS IT FOR?
If you ask me to do something for you, it is FOR YOU. This means I will not offer something different nor beyond what you ask: “Will you put your hand on my heart? Yes, I will”. This means I am not going to put my hand anywhere else, I am not going to put two hands, I am not going to massage your chest, and anytime you change your mind and ask me to remove my hand I will remove it. IT IS FOR YOU, as you asked for it. And you have the full right to change your mind at any time.
When it comes to intimate touch or touch with a partner, a client, the Wheel is essential to keep everyone safe and in trust. Everytime we do something because we are asked, everytime we ask something to someone, in every question we need to really check IN with this question “Who is it for?” and keep ourselves fully aligned in the agreement. If it is for you, it is for you, I will not change anything to what you asked. If it is for me, it is for me, and I will not allow or accept anything different from what I ask. This is a sacred agreement we make when there is a touch involve or when a moral, emotional need agreement is made.
We all can identify to some degrees where and when we are out of alignment. When we give what was not requested or give what we do not want to give. When we take what was not given/agreed. When we break out of the consent circle to follow our old behaviors and “feed” the pain, trauma, we have lived with for so long.
I got many deep insights from this work and an even deeper depth of connection to my needs, and to the respect of other people needs. It is also changing the way I see my role as a practitioner to empower my client even more in the responsibility and connection to his/her healing power.
One of the biggest one is that there is a tension, feeling like an opposite force at first, between our needs for deep intimacy and on the other side our need for honoring our own needs. It takes great courage and willingness, deep Heart and Love quality, to ask for what we need in any type of relationship, while accepting we might not get what we want. And going deeper on that idea, it takes even more maturity and embodiment to accept others boundary and see them as sacred, as my own boundary are and should be. To stay within the wheel together and not either go in the shadow or purely run away.
We somehow do not believe that being seen (even if we will not always get what we want “It’s good to want”) will create that deep intimacy we are craving. Why? Because the fear of rejection takes over the craving for Love and connection, fear takes over Love, it’s a story as old as humanity... So, we dance painfully in the in-between space which is very unsatisfying.
The truth is that when it comes to relationship there is a whole range between “Yes I want to” (A big fat yes, I want to give you the gift you are asking for) to “Hell No this is not something I cannot give you” (in the form and shape you ask for, opening here sometimes a possible reframing of the gift “but I am willing to offer you this”). In between are the “I am willing to” meaning it is not something that is a big fat yes, but I am willing to meet you there because I care and it is not beyond my boundaries. I am willing, for you, for “us” (the relationship) to step into a space that is beyond my comfort zone, and often into/through my fears/shame/pain.
One of the paths is to explore what is really behind the need/want we have. As often what we really want and the way we express it, might hide a deeper longing, a deeper more authentic need.
For example we might ask someone “Will you come to the restaurant this evening with me, it’s a really great new place I heard?” when the true needs might be “I want to try out this new restaurant” (it’s really my need) or “I want to spend a special quality time with you” (the new restaurant being just a cover up for our deep desires of connection and intimacy). It’s way less vulnerable to ask someone to go to the restaurant than to say “Will you spend 2 hours of deep quality time with me because I need to connect with you”.
When I dived into my deeper self, and see where this was playing for me, I discovered, and became intimate with my early life wounds and it was extremely painful. I felt terror. Extremely unsafe. Incapable of trusting what I was told. Seeing lies all around me even from people who love me. My inner wounded child was calling all the actions. I could see that because of my birth separation from my mother I would allow people to take from me (putting me in the victim mode, and them in the perpetrator role), to go way over my boundaries. I could also see that by being in the shadow of allowing, I would slide in the shadow of accepting and not ask for what I really wanted.
So, I come out of this week with deep shaking of how sacred boundaries are, what I am ok to allow and what I am not, and how consent is keeping me (and you) deeply safe and yet feeling very vulnerable. It also brings a deep emotional feeling of what a GIFT it is to receive from someone when that person has agreed to giving. That feeling brought me to a deeper appreciation for receiving a NO from someone, as I see them in their power, in their wholeness, and I see the deep vulnerability and strength it takes to not ALLOW someone to steal from us or do to us what we do not want/agreed with.
I see YOU in ME, so I can gift you the possibility to see ME in YOU. As my teacher says “there are no others”, so what I do to you is really something I am doing to me ultimately.
The embodiment takes a life time as Betty shared with us. It is a powerful way to fully embody “Make no harm” and to open to kindness & compassion for others, as beautifully expressed in the teachings of the Buddha. Yet we shall not make the “wheel of consent” a religion that works for everything and every situation. But very often when it comes to really wanting to heal our dysfunctional shadow patterns, being able to step into the Wheel with someone who is also willing to step in with us, can bring the deepest transformations (with all the pain & fears it brings, and all the Love it requires to “hang in there”), and totally shift the way we relate to each other, to ourselves and to the world.
We can finally step into INTIMACY. Into AUTHENTICITY. Into TRUST. Into SAFETY. And into LOVE. A reminder that my calling and prayer for DEEP INTIMACY this year is bringing me the most painful and yet liberating work and healing I can receive and offer to others.