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The Fragrant Dust

Author: Polly Peachum

Filed in: submission, service, spirituality, acceptance, humility, norms

From, a now defunct website.

From the author: 

I wrote this article in 1988 for one issue of a short-lived print bdsm zine called "The Original Agenda." This zine was produced and distributed by Jon Jacobs and Gloria Brame to a small subscription base comprised mostly of couples and individuals they had become acquainted with on Compuserve, from the Variations II forum, or Section 12b, which they co-founded.

The Original Agenda discussed issues of interest to people intrigued by extreme forms of power exchange. My CompuServe handle at that time was ~ ~ ~ denis ~ ~ ~, and that's how I signed this piece in the newsletter. At the time this was written I was just getting to know Jon, my future master. He went by the handle Master Red Dawn on Compuserve, or MRD, which was much easier to type.

Although I am not a believer in much of anything except maybe in the persistence of love, this piece has a somewhat spiritual flavor, because I was comparing some of the emotions and aspirations that I was experiencing as a newly conscious submissive to what I knew about similar expressions in the literature of Islamic mysticism. It's sixteen long years later, although they really seemed to go by in the blink of an eye, and I still like everything I wrote in this. So I figure it's time to get this one up on the web.


Some of us intensely enjoy submitting our wills to that of another. As this is a rather peculiar enthusiasm, most of us (not to mention our Significant Orderers) have discovered or adopted an explanation for our deviant desires. When we try to be honest with ourselves, the reasons that we use to explain why we love to submit include, but probably are not limited to:

    "I want most of all to be taken care of and told what to do in detail, like a little child"

    "I crave the embarrassment and humiliation that comes with assuming a weaker role"

    "I manipulate rather than confront to get what I want. This passive-aggressive style is the psychological earmark of a submissive."

    "I feel a marvelous relief when I can give up all responsibility for myself."

    "I love to feel pain, because perversely, I want to re-live (and punish myself for) an abusive childhood."

Each of these reasons may partially explain the psyche of someone who is submissive, but I suspect that the popularity of such explanations in an age admirably searching for the deep neurotic truths lies in their ability to fit the fashionable social formula: the more unflattering or self-serving the motivation, the truer it must be. I want to tell an alternate tale of the reasons for submission, one that I fear--as a more positive admission--may not gel so easily in the psychologically correct mind.

What I am going to talk about is something that cannot be easily admitted in an age intent upon beating itself over the head for its severe emotional defects. DO sick, neurotic motivations manage to account for the deeper, absolutely real thrill of submission? I don't think so. Boasting or not, it's time we submissives volunteered a deep dark secret: we're in it for the dust. That is, the intoxicating scent of humility sniffed from the dust of the ground at our masters' feet.

Humility is not a popular term in a culture addicted to the rather morbid brand of narcissism mentioned earlier. Neither is self-effacement nor renunciation--both have, to modern ears, that sanctimonious overtone of negating everything worthwhile in life. And don't mention sacrifice--if you dare to perform a self-sacrificial act in modern America, you are too obviously seeking admiration: a gilded plaque in the Hall of Saints and Martyrs! But despite their obvious unpopularity, these words--humility, self-effacement, renunciation, sacrifice-help to describe a state or experience that I--and, I believe, some others like me--have been looking for all of our lives. Ideas of sacrifice and denial send a chill up my spine:

    Being your slave, what should I do but tend
    Upon the hours and times of your desire?
    I have no precious time at all to spend,
    Nor services to do till you require.
    Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour,
    Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
    Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
    When you have bid your servant once adieu;
    Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
    Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
    But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought,
    Save, where you are how happy you make those:
    So true a fool is love, that in your will
    (Though you do anything) he thinks no ill.

Think of how it would be frowned upon if the modern person, even the modern slave, sat around like said sonnet-writer, doing nothing until her beloved walked into the door. As well-rounded healthy submissives, we know how to be constructive while the master is away. Shakespeare's words, however, express a truth that few of us in our self-reliant worlds like to admit: that the greatest happiness we get in life comes from the company of one special other. A submissive approaches that happiness in a perfectly natural way: through attentive service and sacrifice. When allowed, she can lose herself in her master's needs and will. And through "unselfing" herself, she enters paradise.

    No more nonsense! Lose yourself,
    and the hell of your heart becomes a heaven.

A common fear of novice submissives is that if they were to give themselves over completely to someone in absolute slavery, then their personalities would become submerged in the personality of their top and they--or an essential part of themselves--would shrivel up and die. I am convinced that this fear keeps many subs dog-paddling on the surface of submission, preferring the safety of superficiality to a dive into the depths of one's soul. Superficial submission takes many forms and is expressed in varying levels: from an unwillingness to admit that one is submissive; to an insistence that D/s be kept in the bedroom, away from everyday life and decisions; to "allowing" one's top beat you (physical masochism) but not humiliate you (emotional masochism) or vice-versa; to reserving the slightest area of one's mind, the smallest thoughts to oneself as sacrosanct, an inner sanctum one's owner is not allowed to enter.

Do you know the feeling--that ecstatic feeling of "consuming yourself like burning chaff" in the service of another? Need I describe the joy I feel at being called in to bring my master his dinner or to rub his feet? You'd be doing me (and perhaps other submissives) a disservice if you were to ascribe this joy to the self-satisfaction associated with being an "obedient little slave," or if you were simply to assume that I feel adoration in his presence. While both of those feelings are there, something else is at work as well. This something else has to do with performing acts of servitude, that, when combined with feelings of deference, humility, and self-renouncement, cause a delirious loss of one's sense of oneself. A submissive can sometimes briefly forget herself in the service of her owner. There is something on the edge of sacred about that forgetfulness.

    Lower yourself in submission,
    and become the beloved
    of every dwelling.

Is the desire to sacrifice for another sick? The sublimation of a death wish? If so, then I have had the urge to suicide since about the age of five. I remember the happiness I felt, even at that age, at doing things for my parents or my sisters, especially when I thought I was _required_ to do these things. How disappointed I would be when the little task was over, the requirement completed. I wanted the serving to last forever; it touched a deep part of myself; being a slave was the best game I had ever played.

I like to fantasize about what would happen if, at that young age, we could be sold or otherwise enslaved to someone kind and loving without being abruptly torn from our family or surroundings, or traumatized in any way. Despite disturbing questions that this raises about the ability to give consent, I think some of us would have taken to a youthful slavery like fish to water--and never looked back. I certainly knew--without the words--what I wanted back then. Then, for the next 25 years, I learned how to ignore and deny the one thing that would have made me truly happy. What a waste!

How many other submissives feel the desire to be a fulltime slave, to immerse themselves _totally_ in selfless devoted service--NOT for the self-congratulatory "I'm so good" pat on the bottom, but for the utterly delightful twist-in-the-belly feeling of "I'm less, and isn't that wonderful," a deep feeling of the extremes in power, an intoxication with dust. Perhaps your acquaintance with self-serving grovelers at S&M gatherings has turned you from the thought that submission can be anything more than a mass of confusing, selfish desires and narcissistic compulsions, but I doubt that anyone with genuine submissive feelings has not felt some of what I am trying to describe. Dominants seem to find it easy to explain the good feelings they experience when, in all of their glorious power, they give a submissive something she wants. Why then will they sometimes deny that similar selfless urges to give (albeit expressed in a different language) can exist in their greedy little slaves? Shakespeare captures nicely this essence of submission: what hell in heaven it is to await the opportunity to serve one's beloved:

    That God forbid, that made me first your slave,
    I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
    Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
    Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!
    O, let me suffer (being at your beck)
    The imprison'd absence of your liberty,
    And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each cheek
    Without accusing you of injury.
    But where you list, your charter is so strong,
    That you yourself may privilege your time:
    Do what you will, to you it doth belong
    Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
    I am to wait, though waiting so be hell;
    Not blame your pleasure be it ill or well.

The interior story of humility has been translated to words many times, but never so beautifully, I believe, as in the following Tale of the Sands. While written in a different context and for a different audience, The Tale of the Sands suggests that if you go farther into submission, deeper into helplessness before your master or mistress, that you will become more unique, more yourself, not less.

    “A stream, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.

    “It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no way. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: ‘The wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.’

    “The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly and this was why it could cross a desert.

    " ‘By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over to your destination.”

    “But how could this happen?

    “ ‘By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.’

    “This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to know that it could be regained?

    “ ‘The wind,’ said the sand, ‘performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.’

    “ ‘How can I know that is true?’

    “ ‘It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many years; and it certainly is not the same as a stream.’

    " ‘But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?’

    " ‘You cannot in either case remain so," the whisper said. "Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one.’

    “When he heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream. Dimly, he remembered a state in which he--or some part of him, was it?--had been held in the arms of a wind. He also remembered--or did he?--that this was the real thing, not necessarily the obvious thing to do.

    “And the stream raised his vapor into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away. And because he had had his doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in his mind the details of the experience. He reflected, ‘Yes, now I have learned my true identity.’

    “The stream was learning. But the sands whispered: ‘We know because we see it happen day after day: and because we, the sands, extend from the riverside all the way to the mountain.’

    “And that is why it is said that the way in which Stream of Life is to continue on its journey is written in the Sands.”
    --The Sufis, Idries Shah

The essence of submission is remarkably like that stream: it is fluid, yielding, flowing, flexible, capable of allowing itself to be dissolved and carried in another's will without being damaged. But unless a submissive can learn trust enough to let go completely and be consumed, the fear of losing one's self will keep her stuck in one spot, and, no matter how skillfully or gently limits are pushed, she will not budge from the desolate territory in which she is living her emotional stagnation. By "raising its vapors into the welcome arms of the wind" the stream both stares down its darkest fear and acquires a means to carry out its destiny. Likewise, humility can be the way that a submissive gets beyond the stagnant selfishness that fears annihilation, and in doing so, become fully absorbed in what one feels one was born to do: trusting, fearing, obeying, and attending to the needs of someone with absolute power over you.

Consumed. When you feel submissive, don't you want to be used, that is, to be observed, enjoyed, captured, plucked, engulfed, overwhelmed, ravished, devoured? Is not what you love most that feeling of helplessness and loss of control, the knowledge that you can do nothing, while your dominant can do anything to you? Both immensely satisfying and rather terrifying, humility, the act of smelling the fragrant dust, is an attitude of submission in which the exhilarating fact that someone has truly taken control of you and is steering your life is staring you directly in the face. And what can you do about it?

    From out of the streets of So-and-So,
    Oh wind, bring perfumes sweet to me
    For I am sick and pale with woe;
    Oh bring me rest from misery!
    The dust that lies before her door,
    Love's long-desired elixir, pour
    Upon this wasted heart of mine--
    Bring me a promise and a sign!

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