tom bh
#Digital Nomad



Naively I had assumed that I would be bound by my hands and feet to a bed and be punished by a leather-clad dominatrix. So I was understandably nervous arriving at Schwelle’s weekly bondage evening in Berlin. Fortunately I’d been invited by my good friend Becky, who assured me I’d find it worthwhile.

I was in a large room, with around 30 others. Most people were sat around talking quietly. There was a serious atmosphere. Though not so serious to deter the cries of hysterical laughter from a woman being relentlessly tickled.

I sipped on some fruit tea from one of the many sofas.

People generally practiced clothed and in pairs — mindfully and diligently caring for the ropes and their partners. All ages, shapes and sizes. Some just embraced, because, after all, cuddling is pretty awesome. Others, clearly highly talented, suspended their partners from the ground with intricate, crochet-like, full-body knotwork.

Becky offered to tie me. After taking our place we had a briefing — bondage has boundaries and as obvious as it may seem, we agreed that we would use the word ‘stop’ to represent, and therefore communicate, the word ‘stop’. Clever stuff. I could use this word for any reason, whether because of pain or just generally feeling weird. As we began I quickly realised that the rope and tying were really only a small part of the experience. If this was a dance then the rope was merely the music. It’s the reason for physical proximity and contact, just as the rhythym of the tango requires various holds and embraces. So, why not tie slowly and play with the rope more than is practically required? For example, when the rope became stuck between my toes, Becky spotted the opportunity to stop and slowly dragged the rope, exploiting its abrasive tickle.

All the while I could see and hear the practice of others. It was bound to be the case that we were being watched. Maybe even in the same way I had done, were we being enjoyed as a spectacle? This certainly made me self-conscious, but not as embarrassed as I would have imagined. There we were, doing something that ordinarily is confined to privacy, but instead of being shunned, shamed or ridiculed, we were welcomed with respect and even dignity.


I have now been traveling for 5 months and visited 10 countries. It is an extraordinary privilege and one that few people ever have the means or opportunity for. What can I say about this chance of a lifetime? Of course I can document my route, the names of towns and cities, describe the sites, sounds and tastes. But I am not a journalist. I have left my home, for an indeterminate amount of time, to travel around the world, via a largely unplanned route.

What marks my adventure more than the itinerary of a travel diary is that I am unbound. I can come and go as I please. If someone or something makes me uncomfortable, then I can just move on. And what’s more, for every new place I can start afresh. I can reinvent myself. I’m not tied to any particular version of me. The barrier to acting out of character is lower.


I don’t want to talk about sex, I feel like I’ve already given too much information. Why would I want to make things awkward? It’s an uncomfortable subject for me, I’d rather just move on to be honest.

Sex is both everywhere and nowhere. It’s implied in so much of everyday existence; like bus stop ads, the size and shape of a t-shirt neckline or the innocent flirtatious smile of a friend’s, “Good morning!”. Yet constructive discourse on such realities as child pornography are plagued by unthinkable terrors and knee-jerk reactions. Taboo transforms the simple utterance of ‘stop’ into a fantastical minefield. Even at the other end of the consent spectrum — how many relationships could have dramatically changed their course with the simple words, “I want it like this”.

I would be naive, and indeed even handicapped, if I thought that the unbounded freedom of my journey meant that I was completely free of the everyday restrictions of being a human. After the fourth hour of Ukrainian border control, I want nothing more than to move on. When the occasion is called for, dwelling in our natural human bondage is a cold and sobering reality we avoid at our peril.

Crossing the Line

Being friends, Becky and I talked a lot afterwards. Are our boundaries still the same? What does it mean if we already have existing boundaries in other relationships? It was just respectful play right? Right?

Well was it?

I want to move on now. I feel awkward. I want to have my cake and to eat it. I want intimacy and I want freedom. But something’s making me dwell on this. Something is holding me here to reflect. My contemplative hands are tied.

The line is different for different people at different times. This is why we have the word, ‘stop’. It is a means of communicating the nuance of boundaries, as and when they arise. If I would have said, ‘stop’, to myself at the mere suggestion of visiting a bondage workshop, then bondage would have remained a stereotyped pornographic cliche. I needed to be there, in all the specifics of the moment, to discover where, in fact, my own boundaries were.

It was the same process to answer the questions Becky and I had. We needed to dwell on our feelings, as we felt them in the moment, letting ourselves be bound by them. A symbolic tying of ourselves to the vulnerability of open-ended discussion.


A well-known Zen koan enigmatically relates the beginning of Chinese Buddhism;

Why did Bodhidharma come to China?
For the cypress tree in the courtyard.

Bodhidharma was an Indian Buddhist monk that traveled to China sometime in the fifth or sixth century CE. In retrospect you might call him a missionary because he impressed the Chinese with Buddhism. However, the koan states that he wasn’t a missionary, in fact he traveled all that way just for a tree. Cypress trees aren’t particularly noteworthy, so maybe this tree had special meaning? The common interpretation is that the cypress tree is just a random cypress tree. Bodhidharma may have guessed that cypress trees grew in China, but he never could have imagined the precise way it swayed in the wind or cast a shadow on a summer evening. The tree represents the unimaginable and unrepeatable specifics of being alive in any given moment.

Once I’ve “shuffled off this mortal coil” of life, I won’t just miss the good times, I’ll miss even the mundane, the hum of a heater, the swish of cars passing. What a strange and extraordinary thing it is to be alive at all. Why is that I barely ever notice that? Why do I grimace on my meditation cushion, the winds of anxiety blowing me out of the room into lands of fantasy? So strong are the gusts sometimes, that perhaps I’d be wise to tie myself down.