The Yin-Yang and the Tree:
Two Models For A Spiritual Power-Dynamic Relationship

When we first began speaking in public about our commitment toward M/s as part of our spiritual path, and began to work out what that looked like and how to communicate it to others, our experiences were intensely personal. How this worked for us colored many of our assumptions about how it worked in general, if only because there were so few accessible models. However, as we met and talked with other couples (and triples) who were finding their own ways along the path, we noticed that the structures holding the spiritual energy in its place in the M/s relationships often differed from ours. There were many things in common, but some overarching patterns were very different indeed.

After a while, we began to notice that the various spiritual M/s relationships tended to fall into two basic patterns. Raven chose to call them "the yin-yang" and "the tree" as metaphors for how the energy moved in each relationship. (If the word "energy" is too woo-woo for you here, replace it with "effort" or "time and attention".) Neither is good, bad, or better than the other. Each M/s couple will gravitate into what is most comfortable for them. It's possible to do either of them wrong, but it's also possible that if you're strongly ensconced in one, looking in on the other from the outside can cause you to imagine "They're doing it wrong!" when in actuality they are merely doing a different path right.

The Yin-Yang

In the Yin-Yang model, the slave gives energy to the master, who transforms it and gives it back to the slave. The focus of the relationship, the hub that it rotates around, is mutual transformation and development of themselves as master and slave, and as people. Often the M/s relationship is the most important thing in their lives, the central point of their existences. One imagines the eternal interlocked circling of the Yin-Yang symbol -- each providing something crucial and transformative for the other. The master directs the energy, but it is still very much a mutual effort.

The Yin-Yang is easier for a M/s couple to start out with than the Tree, because it encourages bonding and focuses both parties on perfecting the relationship. It's especially easier for most slaves, because it gives them lots of attention. The energy is contained within the relationship and does not leak out, so both parties are less likely to get burned out. On the other hand, it can become a reason to isolate, and/or to neglect other areas of life. Whether this kind of intense isolated focus is the correct spiritual path for both people is something that should be carefully evaluated, and reevaluated on a regular basis. (Sometimes the easiest path isn't always the one that the Universe wants you to take.)

The Tree

Imagine a tree. The roots take up energy -- sustenance -- from the Earth, and pass them up through the trunk to the branches and leaves. Then fruit grows, and falls to the earth, or is plucked by humans and animals. An immense amount of energy goes into that fruit, which will go away into the world and benefit others, and the tree will never see that energy again. That's the model for this structure. Generally, in a Tree relationship, the master has some kind of Great Work that is his calling, and which dominates his whole life. The slave's job is to support him in whatever way is necessary while he does that Great Work, basically serving the Work as well through him. The slave is the roots that feed the master's branches and leaves, and the fruit is the Work that goes out as a gift to the world.

Being in a Tree relationship is much more difficult for most slaves than a Yin-Yang structure. Everything is sublimated to the Work, and it may come before the relationship itself in importance. The slave gets much less attention, and the emphasis for both master and slave is on becoming better tools, not bonding or perfecting each other or their mutual path. We generally recommend that M/s couples start out with Yin-Yang relationships in the early stages, when they're still working out not only their dynamic but their mutual spirituality. However, occasionally a slave signs up with a master who is already ensconced in their Great Work, and they are stuck with a difficult learning curve.

On the other hand, occasionally one finds a slave who does better with a Tree structure than with a Yin-Yang. These are usually strongly service-oriented people who are more fulfilled by useful work than by attention and control (although they may enjoy that as well). We remember the words of such a slave who had a brief and unsatisfactory relationship with a Yin-Yang master: "I'm not broken, I don't need your healing, just give me something useful to do!"

Not Just A Duality

When both master and slave (or dominant and submissive, or whatever label or level of dynamic intensity they may have) prefer the same structure, everything can be worked out. The problem is when they are not well matched in this. The counterpart to the slave in the last paragraph is the one who would blossom in a Yin-Yang relationship, but the Tree structure makes them feel abandoned and devalued: "I didn't give my life away to be ignored and used as a workhorse!"

Of course, not every couple is one or the other one hundred per cent the time. Some couples shift between the two in different parts of their lives. Even a committed Tree couple with an all-encompassing Great Work need to periodically take some Yin-Yang time for the sake of relationship maintenance. On the other side, a Yin-Yang couple might throw themselves into a short-term project and utilize the Tree structure for a short time. Yin-Yang couples might also find themselves in the common situation where outside circumstances -- work, illness, etc. -- conspire to prevent them from concentrating on their relationship to the extent that they would like. Rather than backing off from their M/s dynamic, they might find it more useful to restructure things as a Tree for the time being -- "You and I are a team, and we're going to work together to get through this."