Table of Contents
Anthropological and Historical Notes
The Lunar Calendar
Moon and Menstruation
Attitude Towards Role
Spirituality and Creativity
Art as Sacred Ritual
Design of the Journal
Healing the Split
Education and Therapy
Welcome / Art / Journal /
copyright 1994 Jean Tracy
To women everywhere, from the heart and mind, body and soul.
During the course of studies of my first year at Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, I rediscovered a long forgotten part of myself. Previously silenced by outside authority and the lack of connection to an inner source, the artist in me awakened to my source of creativity. The courses of the Certificate year presented an opportunity for self-knowing. It was through this process of self-knowing that I discovered the realm of pure potential of being. I was put in touch with the part of me that was born to create, to express experience. However, when left to myself, I could not sustain the energy to maintain creative focus. What was lacking? Why could I not make the journey to the inner well and draw from it? Why was I held in check? What was the key to maintaining creative energy?
For my final project I wanted to find a way through this mysterious wall of resistance. I had many pieces of the puzzle strewn about my desk but it took a series of synchronistic encounters with other women to pull it into focus. Through the careful mentoring from Ruth Cox, the power of Kundalini, the inspiration of Kathie Carlson and Ginny Fauvre, the Menstrual Practice was born.
Kathie Carlson speaks of the symbolic and psychological flow of the primal feminine power in connection with the menstrual cycle in her book In Her Image (p.90). We are taught by patriarchal culture to flow at all times with nourishment, support and to use our magic in service of our husband/partner and children. Carlson suggests that keeping the magic to ourselves was one source if not the source of feminine creativity. This concept was most liberating and inspirational. I wanted to tap into this magic - to learn first hand what keeping some magic for myself might mean.
I began to make collages once a month, on the strongest day of bleeding. In addition to this I kept track of my creativity levels during different times in the cycle: The time of Bleeding, Ovulation and pre-menses or just before bleeding. Snake and Snake Productions produces a moon calendar for marking off the menses and I created a modified version of it to view my cycles over the six months of the study. I had been having such great results with the initial process that I wanted to share this wonderful phenomenon with other women. I wondered if the positive results were unique to my situation or rather this was something to which all women had access. The idea of a research project emerged.
I wanted to guide the women to pay attention to their bodies from an objective state along with an exploration of the feelings associated with sensations that resided in their bodies. It was very important to me to allow the process to emerge organically and naturally for the women. Women, in general, are used to placing themselves under the direction and control of others and I wanted to avoid strict or rigid guidelines that would do this. I had a study to complete, however, and was very concerned that I might not get the material I wanted.
I placed some suggestions for creative play in the back of the journal and went over the possibilities and general structure with each of the women in our initial interview. I encouraged them to feel free to explore their inner world as they knew best. When the journals were presented to the seven women who agreed to be part of the study - I felt as if I was giving them a precious gift into which I had placed my heart and soul.
The Journal was given to seven women as an invitation to self-reflection. These seven women were chosen because they had all voiced frustration with their lack of ability to maintain creative focus and none of them had ever paid particular attention to their menstrual cycles. Both the journal and the study will be described in more detail in Section IV.
I continued to follow my cycles along with the other women. My understanding of the power of this process developed while the study was undertaken. I had no conscious idea of how powerful this time is for women when I began. It was as if I naively opened Pandora's Box, not realizing the consequences until I was in the thick of it.
While my expectations for the other women were not met, what was revealed to me was much more than I could have ever expected. My personal experiences have led me to believe that awareness of the menstrual cycle can lead to a sustainment of creative life. I found that awareness coupled with some form of ritual and the exercise of divine play on the day of bleeding is necessary to realize the full potential of this time. Most of all it was the healing of the body through fully claiming my sexuality that brought me to a profound experience of the feminine and, as Hildegard von Bingen wrote, the "divine right to create".
The word sexuality conjures up images of the 'femme fatale' for most women. The French coquette, the black widow luring men into her web are ways women use their power of sexual attraction to get what they want. Sexual attraction has been one of the only means of power available to women and has worked quite effectively for thousands of years.
Sexuality, however, is more than sexual attraction. Based on the underlying creative force of the physical universe it is a woman's means to her own power. This power can be used to control and dominate as in the patriarchal model or it can be used as fuel for creative action by channeling this energy into constructive outlets.
The full use of a woman's sexuality depends on the recognition of it. What is not recognized cannot be utilized. Full recognition of one's sexuality requires an experience of body - of the physical activity surrounding the procreative organs. The deep wounding that many women carry with them from the start of menstruation, or menarche, is one of the initial blocks to the recognition of sexuality and consequently the flow of creative energy. It is through honoring the menstrual cycle that she can heal these wounds that keep her from a full and abundant creative life.
The attitude of a woman towards her own sexuality is key to surmounting the difficult task of claiming her power to create and to keep on creating. There is an intimate connection between our emotional, sexual and creative energy and the menstrual cycle. The very foundation of a woman's life force is her sexuality - it is her link to the Divine. A woman's body is not only her connection to the Divine, it is the channel from which creativity springs and it is her access to wisdom.
Power can be a negative word for many women. We have been taught not to access it. The myths and stories of Western culture present images of negative use of female power as in villainous queens or mean and cruel mothers and nubile princesses victimized by circumstances. The films of today are just now beginning to portray strong women capable of meeting life's challenges. Yet, as a collective whole women are only now awakening to the limitless potential of creative life stemming from full recognition of the feminine. I found this awakening consciousness in the women of the study.
Women of today's western culture have learned the ways of the masculine world and ventured into the work arena. We've become competent in business, we've developed faculties of reason and with the aid of technology have become self-sufficient. In effect, we have learned to control and dominate our world. In the process we've lost the connection to the feminine, to our own sexuality.
The natural rhythm of our menstrual cycle is at the root of a connection with the feminine. Women can align to this rhythm and the doors to embodied wisdom and vision will open.
A surprising, yet delightful side effect of the practice was the disappearance of premenstrual symptoms. As my practice evolved the cramping, bloating and swelling diminished altogether. The discovery of my own monthly process and the development of an intimate relationship with it allowed me to access a well of creative energy. I found the sustainment I was looking for. All of the blocks, the tortuous anxiety, and the lack of ability to respond to creative impulse had vanished and over time enthusiasm emerged. This enthusiasm was the precious gift I had secretly hoped for. By the end of the study I could, for the first time in a long time, find what I needed to respond to creative impulse. I was beginning to learn how to practically flow with the waxing and waning of energy reserves and the rhythm of my cycle was becoming naturally ingrained in my consciousness.
Anthropological and Historical Notes on Menstruation
Menstrual Blood has been long been considered sacred. In occult anatomy it was believed that the spirit was embodied in blood. Popular thought of the 12th century held that babies were congealed by menstrual blood. Many myths and religious beliefs throughout history centered around this life-giving blood. Barbara Walker in The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets lists several instances where menstrual blood was an integral part of spiritual life. Indian myth called the sacred fluid Soma and priests drank it at sacrificial ceremonies, sometimes mixed with milk. Egyptian pharaohs became divine by ingesting the blood of Isis, a soma-like ambrosia called Sa. Claret was the traditional drink of kings and also a synonym for blood; it's name meant literally 'enlightenment'. There was a saying 'The man in the moon drinks claret', connected with the idea that wine represented lunar blood. (Encyclopedia, p.637)
The sacredness of blood was carried from matriarchal times into patriarchal thinking. It is apparent in the blood sacrifices of various systems of worship and in all the healing magic in which blood has played a part. Marie von Franz in her text The Grail Legend, writes that "Consecrations and initiations are ratified, contracts sealed and crimes expiated with blood. This idea is everywhere based on the assumption that blood embodies the life-principle and is the seat of the soul." (Grail, p.92)
The work of the Alchemists in the Middle Ages incorporated blood in their ritual for "The soul.. dwells in the life-spirit of the pure blood." "As Jung explains in Alchemical Studies, blood points to the animation of the substance by an indwelling soul." (Alchemical, p.96)
The Blood of Jesus has long been believed by Christians as the highest form of love - the church teaches that Jesus gave his life to redeem our sins: In his blood is the wisdom of the human heart. From the sermon of St. George written between 1250 and 1280, "on the Cross we should contemplate His loving heart, as that from which flows devoted love." In most versions of the Grail according to Marie von Franz, the bleeding lance appears because it is the instrument by which the redeeming blood was brought forth into manifestation. The drops of blood symbolize the sacrificial death of Christ.
That patriarchal relics of blood should be considered especially holy and that great power was attributed to them may easily be understood in the recognition of the body's essential need of this blood to maintain life. The major difference, however, between the sacred blood of patriarchal ritual and that of Goddess worship lies in the underlying attribute of the types of blood. Menstrual blood is life-giving and provides nourishment for a growing fetus. It is fertile fuel for life on earth and represents abundance and creativity. The blood of the heart is essential to the body and without it we no longer have life. To take the blood of the heart is to take life.
THE LUNAR CALENDAR
For centuries, people were accustomed to marking time by the moon. Two different calendars were used throughout the Christian era in Europe: The official Julian solar calendar and the unofficial lunar calendar. The lunar calendar consisted of thirteen 28-day months with four 7-day weeks, marking new, waxing, full, and waning moon phases. Thirteen 28-day months adds up to 364 days per year, with an extra day to make 365. Many nursery rhymes and fairy tales describe the annual cycle as 'a year and a day'.
According to Barbara Walker , every woman among the Maya of Central America knew the "Great Maya calendar had first been based on her menstrual cycles". The Chinese explained their menstrual calendar with the holy calendar plant, lik-kiep. A pod grew every day for 14 days on this plant and then fell off for 14 days. When the use of the solar calendar took precedence, the Chinese added extra days to the plant's life when "a pod withered without falling off". (Encyclopedia, p.646)
Maria Gimbutas' work pulls together a delightful number of clay reminders of ancient Goddess worship. One in particular applies to the lunar cycles. The Venus of Laussel is a figure of woman holding a horn in the shape of the crescent moon marked with 13 incisions. She has her left hand placed over her womb. There are 13 moon cycles in a year - 13 times a woman bleeds. Gimbutas suggests this is a pregnant goddess yet if that were so, I believe there would be 10 markings. The typical gestation period is 10 moons or 40 weeks. This clay figurine could possibly be one of the first menstrual calendars. Nevertheless, this ancient artist found that the connection between the 13 markings of the moon and the womb was awesome enough to be inscribed in stone.
With the demise of the lunar calendar and the widespread use of the Gregorian calendar of present day, women had to adjust our psyche to an order not in accordance with our natural rhythms. We became out-of-sync at a primal level. The practice and the study included a moon calendar which would, hopefully, enable the shifting of consciousness to this primal synchronization. Through genetic memory we might reclaim a time when the feminine cycle was integrated into our common experience of life.
Menarche or the first period is considered one of the most important stages in a woman's life. It marks the moment of passing into the fertile ground of womanhood. Initiation rites for marking this passage were prevalent across the world. Many rites included elaborate procedures and costuming involving the whole village. Seclusion was almost certainly a part of the rite and the time spent in darkness varied, some for what seems to be a cruel length of time and others just four days. In one tribal tradition the virgin was dressed in red before she entered into the light and her womanhood to be received by the village in a grand procession.
The stories women tell of their first period set the tone for their attitude towards being a woman. Phyllis Collier, a 72 year old woman, was divorced after ten years of marriage and has lived by the generosity of her Father for most of her life. She raised six children, worked for a time in real estate and now spends her days writing screenplays. Her story of menarche was so inspirational that I asked her to write it down for the journal.
"We called it the curse, but the dark connotations of that word never occurred to me, for all the women I grew up among were not cursed but cherished and blessed. In the summertime, we were all sent away from the temptations of our small town to the Lake of the Woods, while the men stayed in the heat to haul ice or saw lumber to make our living.
It was when I was staying all night with Marylou in the screened porch of the Johnson cabin that I got my period. I was twelve already and waiting impatiently for it.
When I woke up and discovered that it had really begun, I didn't wake up anyone, but rolled my pajamas up and snuck out past the sleeping bodies into the glorious morning of my womanhood. I had come down in the row boat the night before, so I pushed it off onto the calm surface of the lake and rowed out into the middle, where the pink sky of the sunrise was reflected on the still water. There's a place right in the center of the lake where the hills will echo back to you just perfectly. When I reached it I sat there and dreamed of my life and then I called softly, 'I'm a Woman!' The echo called back, joyfully, reassuringly: Woman ...woman ...woman."
Phyllis intuitively recognized that to relish in this moment was essential to her creative life - she set out onto the lake alone to be embraced by nature.
Most of the women in the study did not have such an inspirational awakening to their femininity. For the most part they were filled with shame or dismissal. One woman recounts her painful experience of shame:
"Prior to my 1st period my mother sat next to me on my bed and explained menstruation. She had a book and "sample" Kotexs and I believe she did her best. I do not remember the circumstances of my 1st period except that I told my mother and she told my father. This was very embarrassing for me and I felt shamed. After that, for several periods, I didn't say anything to her and she never asked. I used Kleenex instead of napkins and when I bled thru to my panties I hid them in a bag in my closet. One day she confronted me with the disappearance of all my underwear. I showed her the stash of dried and stained panties I had accumulated. I remember this painfully - her sister - my Aunt and Uncle were visiting. She was irate and she brought them and my father to my room to show what I had done. On many occasions my Father had confronted me with lewd and suggestive actions. Now with my secret exposed to these 4 adults I felt only shame for my emerging womanhood."
With the gathering of stories among women, it is becoming increasingly clear that the majority of women carry wounding in regards to menarche.
The first shame imprinted upon their psyche becomes the foundation for their attitude towards their feminine role. An initiation rite that honors this passage into womanhood and inspires us to embrace woman's sexuality seems crucial for a woman's menstrual health.
Along with the reverence for menstrual blood came a fear of its potential power. Walker writes that
"because menstrual blood occupied a central position in matriarchal theologies and was already sacer - holy dreadful - patriarchal aesetic thinkers showed almost hysterical fear of it. The Laws of Manu said if a man ever approached a menstruating woman, he would lose his wisdom, energy, sight, strength, and vitality." (Encyclopedia p.641)
Widespread among various cultures is the existence of menstrual taboos. Various laws were set down for women during their time of bleeding. Prevalent among tribal cultures was the idea that woman were not allowed to see light, nor touch water and earth less she endanger the lives of others in the tribe. The power of woman during this time was believed to be so great as to potentially produce chaos and the destruction of the delicate balance of life itself.
In Turkish societies women were not allowed to touch the Sacred Book or enter into the sacred precinct while menstruating. Carol Delaney reports in Blood Magic that:
"According to village women, and as confirmed by men, menstruation is believed to have been given to women because of Hawa's (Eve) act of disobedience against Allah in Cennet (Garden/Paradise). Her susceptibility to the persuasions of Satan that led her to eat the forbidden fruit is a sign of her moral weakness and thus provides the rationale for women's being under the protection of men." (Blood Magic, p.79)
The menstruant's gaze possessed a special ability to inflict harm - the Evil Eye. The Evil Eye can cause crops to fail, food to rot, and babies to fall sick. According to Judy Grahn's findings in ancient texts, there was also an "Eye of Life", the bestowing of which was a blessing, recalled in such phrases as "look kindly upon" or "beneficent gaze." The Evil Eye has gotten much more attention, however, especially since it was believed to be as much involuntary as voluntary, making its power much more in need of control. (Blood, Bread and Roses, p.87)
Because her gaze carried great danger to men, the menstruant often emerged from seclusion with her head bowed. She also kept her head, or at least her eyes, sometimes her entire body, covered anytime she went out in public during her period.
"In India, women still understand menstrual cycles in terms of the "fire of the dragon", a description of the accumulation of excess energy within the body. The time between ovulation and menstruation is the most suffused with "dragonfire", and discipline (taboo) is required to control the wild energy...Menstruation then drains away the built-up energy until the next ovular cycle." (Blood, Bread p.64)
As part of the celebration of the menses, many cultures practiced a seclusion rite. Women were separated from the tribe, commonly staying in a darkened hut or ritual space. Some would stay for up to 10 days with other women in the tribe, dancing, weaving and chanting. The seclusion rites that have been a part of history have been at once a welcome part of sacred life and an enforced restriction based on fear.
Judy Grahn in Blood, Bread and Roses speaks of a primal creation myth in relationship to the menstrual seclusion rites.
"If - as we are told in a multitude of creation stories - the act that enabled the human mind to emerge from Chaos was an act of separation, then menstrual seclusion rites are repeated separations" that enacted the creation stories. The first woman had only the "intelligence of her own body and its actions; she had only her blood, and its peculiar entrainment with the moon. And when she secluded herself in imitation of the moon, she externalized the metaphoric connection." (Blood, Bread, p.20)
The seclusions rites became a ritual for making a spiritual connection between her body and the moon, between the act of creation and her existence as a woman. The ritual was sacred in that she was honoring something greater than herself - something of which she was a part - something which all women shared.
"What makes Chaos so ominous is that to enter human mind we step out of the security of instinct. We enter the frail construct of a consciousness which is held in place externally and accessed through cultural memory and repetition. The farther we get from inner knowledge, the more dependent on the external mind we become. Menstrual seclusion rites continually created light and separated it from dark. Every time a girl began her period for the first time, she separated and was not allowed to see light. Then at the end of her bleeding, she emerged into the light. . . In this way, seclusion reenacts the original awakening of human consciousness." (Blood, Bread, p.16)
There could have a practical aspect to the seclusion. Animals such as wild dogs would be considered predators and the smell of a woman bleeding could endanger the tribe. If the woman separated from the rest of the tribe, less energy would be spent running from wild dogs leaving more time available for gathering food. The menstruant's seclusion would have been a kind of sacrifice, for the farther the woman distanced herself from the other members of her tribe, the safer they were. It is no wonder that one of the first animals to be tamed was the dog. Hecate, the Greek goddess of death has a black dog. The jackal evolved into one of the greatest Egyptian Gods - Anubis, guardian of the dead and messenger of Osiris.
The shedding of blood is connected with death and the recognition of the great power available to a woman during the time of her bleeding bought up great fears of death and chaos. The inherent faith in women to control this power and use it for constructive purposes was lacking in a great many cultures.
Thomas Buckley and Alma Gottlieb in their cross-cultural edition of menstruation, Blood Magic, found that many taboos, rather than protecting society from
"a universally ascribed feminine evil, explicitly protect the perceived creative spirituality of menstrous women from the influence of others in a more neutral state, as well as protecting the latter in turn from the potent, positive spiritual force ascribed to such women." (Blood Magic, p.79)
The Yurok population of Northern California isolated menstruating women because they believed it was a time when she was at the height of her powers. The young girls and menopausal women attended to the duties of the households while the menstruating women retreated into solitude to access wisdom and vision. All of their energies were applied in concentrated meditation. For them, the menses was a powerful, positive phenomenon with esoteric significance. The blood that flows serves to 'purify' the woman, preparing her for spiritual accomplishment. Woman's strength was to be found by going inside herself, feeling all of her body exactly as it is and paying attention. This provided a route to knowledge and wealth.
The women of this study had difficulty finding time in their busy schedules to seclude themselves. Certainly there is no cultural support for this activity and not many homes are equipped with a menstrual hut. It takes courage to brave the consequences of claiming time to ourselves when our daily routine of tending to other's needs is deeply ingrained on the collective mind.
My husband and two boys share our home with me. Menstrual blood is a mystery they would rather not be confronted with. When I declared that I was going to be taking time for myself on the day of my period they had some difficulty accepting it. Both the boys and my husband felt left out and somewhat rejected by my desire to be alone. However, I was able to justify myself by linking the practice to my studies. My family was already used to giving me time for reading or completing my assignments and I simply attached this new concept to one already in place.
The most common reason given by the women in the study for not taking time out is lack of time. Inherent in this excuse is a sense of being controlled by something outside of ourselves. Are women in charge of their own time or do they give up the power to outside circumstances? In ordinary reality we don't have enough time to sit for twenty minutes. But in non-ordinary dreamtime we step into a magic space where years go by - where solutions come, insight is gained and wisdom accessed. Then when we return to ordinary time only five minutes has passed. We emerge renewed as if we've had the whole day off.
Once I established a routine of going up to my office for my monthly ritual, the resistance ceased. The boys let me alone and did not enter the room during this time. It is the same for any meditation practice. Discipline is required along with a firm commitment to the practice in order to allow the space to open up. The results of taking this small amount of ordinary time were, for me, ten-fold in its rewards.
There has been within recent years a resurgence of interest in Native American spirituality. Many modern Americans grappled with the practical realities of integrating these beliefs and rituals into daily life. It is the same for women trying to integrate ancient ways of matriarchal culture into our hectic schedules. We really don't embrace drinking blood on a regular basis and it isn't practical to squat in the living room, bleeding on the carpet. Yet we can translate the practice of seclusion into modern times simply by closing the door.
THE MOON AND MENSTRUATION
Women throughout history synchronized their menstrual cycles by following the moon's cycles. Believing that the time of the Dark Moon held the mysterious power of the deep unconscious and it's power draws nature inwards, they usually bled at this time.
There is evidence that the intensity of the light of the Full Moon can effect the timing of ovulation. According to Buckley's text, it is probable that one night of exposure to the Full Moon would suffice to regularize the onset of menstruation. Within the Yurok population it was said that if a woman got out of synchronization with the moon and with other women of the household, she could "get back in by sitting in the moonlight and talking to the moon, asking it to balance [her]". (Blood Magic, p.203)
The cycle of ovulation is ruled by the moon. Studies have shown that peak conception rates and probably ovulation appear to occur at the full moon or the day before. (Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom p.97) Scientific research has documented that the moon rules the flow of fluids (ocean tides as well as individual body fluids) and affects the unconscious mind and dreams. Environmental cues such as light, the moon, and the tides play a documented role in regulating women's menstrual cycles and fertility.
This summer, I had the opportunity to test this theory. I slept out on the porch with the light of the Full Moon gracing my body the entire night. Indeed, I did ovulate the next day and consequently started my menses one week early on the dark of the moon. However, my cycle returned to its normal cycle with the next period. This could be due to the fact that I slept indoors and utilized artificial light the rest of the month.
In the study, space was included for noting the phase of the moon and it was my hope that the women would find this helpful when reflecting on their monthly cycle. In my enthusiasm I lost sight of the fact that most of the women were not familiar with the terms waxing and waning, much less the psychological significance of the phases. Although farmers have long used the phases of the moon for planting, the general populace has lost touch with this tried and true method for guaranteeing good growth.
In the Tantric tradition a woman is viewed as a virgin (Kumari) just after menstruation, as a young wife (Sarasvati) during the week following menstruation, as a worldly mistress of the house (Laksmi) during the next week, and as a wise lady (Kali) during the approach to menstruation. "During menstruation itself she is "beyond worldliness", "dead to the the world and its responsibilities", and therefore freed from household duties. It is during this time that she serves as a link between this world and the next. (Blood, Bread p.188)
The four names, Kumari, Sarasvati, Laksmi, and Kali, designate the separate phases of the Moon and together they represent a complete life cycle.
Kali, as the dark moon, is associated with death, transformation and blood sacrifice. Death is not her only attribute. She is also a primal creator and giver of life, love and compassion. So although she is the most destructive aspect of menstrual power, she is also its potential for new life.
Kumari, the virgin, is renewal, the waxing crescent. Having gone through the dangerous time of bleeding, the virgin emerges fresh and renewed, cleaned of vaginal bacteria. Filled with potential fertility, she is ready to begin her journey to the light.
Sarasvati is the half-moon position. She is the young wife, delicate, modest and self-absorbed, an artist intellectual depicted with lute, gold ring, book and swan. In the stage of becoming, she is the symbol for creative development.
Laksmi is Sarasvati's older sister, the full moon and the woman in the fullness of mid-life. She looks out firmly and with confidence as her cornucopia flows down her lap. Creative vision has come to fruition and is seen in her rich and complex life.
In these four goddesses, the moon is completely expressed, its phases comprehended in the life cycle of every woman. The moon is a divinely ordained mirror for woman's stages of development. Literally, it functions as a mirror of the stages of holding and releasing menstrual blood. Figuratively it is a mirror of the phases of woman's creative consciousness.
It is a well known fact that women living together soon synchronize their menses. It would be interesting to observe primitive societies where women sleep by the moon and no artificial light exists. I wonder, do they all bleed at the new moon naturally or is it a phenomenon of invocation?
Biological Links to Creativity and Spirituality
Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, finds that the changes in levels of creativity for women coincide with biological factors:
"On the strictly physical level, the span of time between menses and ovulation (known as the follicular phase) coincides with the growth and development of an egg. On the expanded level of ideas and creativity, this first half of the cycle is also a very good time to initiate new projects." (Women's Bodies p.98)
I had scheduled myself to begin writing as soon as the journals were gathered (As if I hadn't learned anything for the past year, I scheduled my activities against my cycle!) and had no energy to begin. It was a strange feeling, not wrought with tension or resistance, but quiet, like the eye of a hurricane. Suddenly the day after I did my collage, it was as if someone had turned on the motor and I was ready to go. It wasn't until I was into the project for a week or so that I realized my energy level coincided with my menstrual cycle.
"Ovulation, which occurs at mid cycle, is accompanied by an abrupt rise in the neuropeptides FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). Ovulation represents creativity at its peak, followed by evaluative and reflective time, looking back upon what is created (ovulation through menses). The FSH, LH surge that accompanies ovulations may be the biologic basis for the increased mental and emotional creative receptivity experienced at ovulation." (Women's Bodies p.98)
ATTITUDE TOWARD THE ROLE OF FEMININE
With change to patriarchal thinking, women's attitude towards their menses (their sexuality) changed. Vieda Skultans found two attitudes toward menstrual blood loss on her study of women in the South of Wales. Some women wished to avoid the loss of blood, and others considered it a vital contribution to their physical and emotional well-being. (Blood Magic, pp. 137-160)
The women who did not "make a fuss about periods" having an attitude of almost stoical acceptance toward its occurrence were found to be fearful of "losing life's blood". Some insisted their periods had "no effect at all" on them. However, upon further investigation, Skultans found a number of medical complaints among the women. Their marriages had suffered difficulties and sexual relations were not satisfactory. The women who were 'happy' with their periods considered bleeding a natural process for clearing out of poisons. They enjoyed sexual relations and wished to nourish their roles as women.
The attitude toward the menstrual cycle has much to do with the woman's feelings about her role as a woman. If a woman accepts the values propagated by the patriarchal system (logic, reasoning, aggression, domination and mastery of the weak or feminine) then she must accept inferiority or hide her natural abilities of intuition, body wisdom and anything to do with being feminine; in essence: her creative self. The denial of her very essence causes a soul/body split.
Jung talks about this split within woman as early as 1927 in an essay Woman in Europe:
"So long as a woman lives the life of the past she can never come into conflict with history. But no sooner does she begin to deviate, however slightly, from a cultural trend that has dominated the past then she encounters the full weight of historical inertia, and this unexpected shock may injure her, perhaps fatally. Her hesitation and her doubt are understandable enough, for, if she submits to the law of love, she finds that she is not only in a highly disagreeable and dubious situation, where every kind of lewdness and depravity abounds, but actually caught between two universal forces - historical inertia and the divine urge to create.
There is no doubt that the woman of today is deeply concerned with this problem. She gives expression to one of the cultural tendencies of our time: the urge to live a completer life, a longing for meaning and fulfillment, a growing disgust with senseless one-sidedness, with the unconscious instinctuality and blind contingency." ( Aspects of the Feminine, p.72)
Christiane Northrup sees a direct relationship between the attitude of women towards their bodies and the number of illnesses surrounding the functions of her procreative organs.
"PNI and related research shows that the subtle electromagnetic fields around and within the body form a crucial link between the cultural wounding .... and the gynecological ... problems women have.." (Women's Bodies, p. 28)
Women who have survived sexual abuse tend to divorce themselves from their bodies and in Northrup's experience come into her office with problems relating to the procreative organs. Northrup's reports that women who experience their sexuality as negative can experience spotting, along with a myriad of other symptoms such as cysts, fibroid tumors and PMS. All of which, she supposes, is the body's way of calling out for healing. The newer body/mind science that is being embraced within our culture supports the recognition that an intrinsic belief system that is out of harmony with the natural processes of our bodies can cause illness.
What was once revered as sacred is now a shameful, disgusting occurrence in women's lives. Given the prevalent attitudes toward the feminine, it is not surprising that women have many disorders with respect to their menstrual cycle. Although many people are taking steps toward healing the feminine - until we see a wholehearted embrace of the feminine as Divine, until the essential experience of being a woman is celebrated and honored - we will not be able live lives based on wholeness.
Jean Shinoda Bolen in her book Crossing to Avalon reminds us that "Women's mysteries, the blood mysteries of the body, are not the same as the physical realities of menstruation, lactation, pregnancy, and menopause; for physiology to become mystery, a mystical affiliation must be made between a woman and the archetypal feminine. . . Under patriarchy, this connection has been suppressed; there are no words or rituals that celebrate the connection between a woman's physiological initiations and spiritual meaning."(Crossing, p.68)
The male God of Judaism, the male Christ of Christianity and the Male Buddha of Buddhism do not grant women a direct relationship to the Divine. Women have been excluded from many forms of worship. For example, in Japan, for many centuries women were not allowed to make the sacred climb up Mt. Fuji. Women have been in agreement, consciously or unconsciously, to experience our spirituality through the male perspective since the eradication of Goddess worship.
It might be helpful to give a definition of what I mean by patriarchal value system. It is that men and women are in conscious or unconscious agreement to shame, taboo and dominate the basic components of the female gender. When women are dismissed as hysterical, when intuitive insights are ignored or scoffed at, when the realm of emotion is not valued or woman's sexuality is looked upon as evil, when the blood of their wombs is considered disgusting then the values of the patriarchy are sustained.
Spirit is often described as the animating force in living organisms. It is incorporeal and not pertaining to matter. Many religious practices aspire to ascend from matter. Matter is regarded as the evil that keeps us from spirit. Funk and Wagnall's dictionary defines spiritual as "affecting the immaterial nature or soul of man". Always, spirituality holds a reverence of a power that is greater than the self - and the feminine aspect of spirituality recognizes an inherent connection of all matter through that power.
Bolen writes: "In the Grail legends, spirit, heart, and mind are the three paths represented by the three knights who find the Grail. Left out is the possibility of experiencing the Grail through the body. That the sacred can be experienced through the body is everywhere denied by patriarchal religions. For the body to be considered holy once again, the Goddess (the feminine aspect of the Deity) must return, for it is only through a Goddess consciousness that matter can be perceived as having a sacred dimension." (Crossing, p.38)
The Goddess Spirituality is grounded in Mother Earth. It is not so much a mastery over nature as a co-operation and alignment with the natural unfoldment of life. All of physical reality at the sub-atomic level is simply a fluctuation of energy and information. We experience this energy and information as our body. Body is the objective experience of consciousness and mind is the subjective experience of consciousness.
The physical realm has always been designated to the feminine. We speak of Mother Earth, naturally attributing the cycles of life to the feminine. Hindu and Buddhist philosophies instruct that the feminine principle as matter or form is the container for spirit, the masculine principle. Within spirituality from a feminine perspective there is a connection to our bodies - to the physical earth - to the cycles of the moon.
I was once initiated by a Swami from Yogananda's Kriya Yoga order. As he prepared to initiate me, he boomed loudly to the people gathered in the room "Woman is the embodiment of Spirit". Although India has religious practices which honor the three aspects of the feminine (Virgin, Mother and Crone), their practical devaluation of the woman in the rituals of daily life is alarming. Girls are burned as an accepted practice when they reach the age of thirteen if the financial burden of marrying them off is too great for the family.
Bolen confronts a truth for women: "Living for at least five thousand years in cultures where there is no Goddess, no reverence for childbearing and child rearing, where dominating the earth and women is theologically sanctioned and men demonstrate their manhood through war and other equivalent rites of passage, any woman, no matter how personally privileged, is spiritually oppressed.. Under patriarchy, women become alienated from other women and from our own bodies. That which makes us different from men makes us feel inferior and ashamed, as does that which we do that men don't accept in women." (Crossing, p.267)
Through aligning with the natural rhythms of the cycle (the pulse of the Great Mother), woman can find the mystical affiliation between the physical realities of menstrual pads & stained underwear and the archetypal feminine experience. To find the divine through the material is an ancient idea - it is only through recent rememberings of collective experience that we are including the body once again in our vision of the Divine.
We can see more clearly the relationship between creativity and menstruation when we consider the chakra system. Chakras are subtle energy centers associated with specific regions of the body. There are seven major centers that run from the base of the spine up a central column to the crown of the head.
Northrup writes "These energy centers connect our nerves, hormones, and emotions. Their locations run parallel to the body's neuroendocrine-immune system and form a link between our energy anatomy and our physical anatomy. The energy system of the human body is a holographic field that carries information for the growth, development, and reproduction of the physical body." (Women's Bodies, p.72)
The second chakra, known as Svadhisthana in Eastern philosophies, is located in the region of the womb. It is associated with the element of water and corresponds to bodily functions having to do with liquid: circulation, urinary elimination, sexuality and reproduction. It is considered feminine. Traditionally this chakra is the center of sexuality, emotions, pleasure, nurturance and creativity.
The principle issue within the energy of the second chakra is duality/desire. Sexuality is the celebration of duality and desire. It is the dance that regenerates, renews and reproduces in its attraction of the polarities inherent within duality. Sexuality is a life force; a profound rhythm pulsing through all of life. It is the motivating factor behind creativity. Without the desire to unite, we would not have the resulting creation of new forms. When sexuality is repressed, so is the life force, so is the motivation to create. Hence, freeing the blocks to sexuality is a prelude to freeing the creativity.
The second chakra is also related to the moon. Like the moon's pull on the tides, our desires and passions can move great oceans of energy. Desire and passion at the level of the second chakra motivates us for movement and change. Desire is the seed of all movement.
Emotions (from the Latin movere "to move" and e meaning "out") are another aspect of the Second Chakra. Through emoting we are moving out a flow of consciousness. We are expressing an experience of life. The moving out of emotions is a relief where as the suppression of them results in tension and pain. Absence of tension creates a harmonic flow within the body/mind. All these attributes of the second chakra: emotions, sexuality and creativity are activated by the flow of blood in this area of the body - the womb.
Most Tantric practices attempt to use the heat created by the arousal of sexual energy to awaken the Goddess Kundalini. Once awakened, this potent life force then rises up the central channel or Sushumna to the brain. It can be circulated directly through the chakras or emitted from the crown of the head and allowed to gently fall through the auric field. No doubt the ancient priestesses of Matriarchal worship utilized some of this powerful energy for vision and prophecy. Barbara Walker reports:
"In the occult language of the Tantras, two ingredients of the Great Rite were sukra, semen, and rakta, menstrual blood. The officiating priestess had to be menstrous so her lunar energies were at flood tide." (Encyclopedia, p.641)
Imbalance or improper flow of energy in the Second Chakra can cause illness in the physical body. This is due to emotional and psychological blocks with second chakra issues. Northrup reminds us that the uterus and ovaries are the major organs in the second chakra. This area is both literally and figuratively "creative space" out of which women can produce babies, relationships, careers, novels, insights, and other creative or artistic works.
When our energy is not flowing smoothly in this area of the body, gynecological problems, such as fibroid tumors, can result. Northrup sites relationship wounds such as
*Fear of abandonment
as the major psychological issues relating to gynecological health problems.
She sees the relegation of toxins in our bodies as an important to maintaining our health. Precancerous cells arise regularly in our bodies.
"They form invasive cancers only when our internal controls break down. ... Mental and emotional energy goes in and out of physical form regularly, bouncing on the continuum between energy and matter, particle and wave." When we have unresolved chronic emotional stress it "registers in our energy field as a disturbance that can manifest in physical illness." (Women's Bodies p.72)
Northrup explains this beautifully when she writes:
"Most of the blockages in our energy systems are emotional in nature. It's helpful to think of your energy system as being like a stream of water flowing along. As long as this energy flow is healthy and you are feeling good about yourself, there's much less risk of disease. Environmental toxins, dietary fat and excess sugar or alcohol (to name a few) usually don't manifest in disease unless factors have already 'set up' the pattern of blockage in the body's energy system in the first place. Environmental or dietary risk factors can be likened to 'debris' carried along in the body's energy flow. This debris stays afloat unless there is a felled tree or other blockage to the water flowing in the stream. When there is, the debris collects on the branches of the felled tree and accumulates. Over time, similar accumulations in the body's energy flow can result in physical illness." (Women's Bodies, p.69)
Since creative expression is based upon an emotional motivation and the desire to create - the blocks to creativity are essentially emotional in nature. When a woman menstruates, she is pressured by society to hide and deny this central aspect of her nature. This part of herself is stored in unacknowledged emotions residing in her body. Since the menstrual cycle is representative of a woman's creative powers, these too are hidden and denied. Society has transformed women's creative power at menstruation into a self-destructive psychology.
Northrup reinforces this thought when she writes: "Puberty and the first menstruation for many women have been saturated with shame and humiliation. Nothing in our society - with the exception of violence and fear - has been more effective in keeping women in their place than the degradation of the menstrual cycle." (Women's Bodies, p.105)
Linda Schierse Leonard addresses negative results of blocked energy in Meeting the Madwoman:
"When the Madwoman's ecstatic dancing energy is denied expression, it takes destructive form and can unknowingly hurt or kill ... her own work of creation." (Meeting, p.15) and "A woman who suppresses her talents can make herself victim and prisoner of her own creative urges. If she denies this creative energy, it can turn into a self-destructive rage. This self-destruction can take the form of addiction, depression, phobias, and anxiety reaction" or emotional outbursts that destroy our intimate relationships. (Meeting, p.83)
"If a woman is forced out of her own natural rhythm or is unable to find her own place in the world, and if she does not accept her own inner feminine powers and try to correct her personal and social situation, she will become and remain victimized. . . . How can we check or avoid the destructive aspect of the Madwoman? The first step is to confront and accept the dark, chaotic intuitions coming from our innermost selves." (Meeting, p.83)
Demetra George in her book Mysteries of the Dark Moon supports Linda Leonard's findings about the Madwoman in that
"The suppressed rage over the rejection and debasement of an intrinsic aspect of a woman's nature, in fact the seat of her personal power, becomes directed inward."(Mysteries, p.214)
Women experience this unconscious self-directed anger as the physical pain of cramping, bloating, bad temper and hypersensitivity.
Today women have to open the doors of their own cages. Schierse encourages us to do so and invites us to meet and identify the Madwoman who tries to cage us, to try to understand why she is mad, to free her energy for constructive ends, and to see if we can help her to help ourselves. We say we want to open the cage - but how? The ritual of going within at the time of bleeding helps to unite us with our objective experience of reality - our bodies. It gives us an opportunity to meet the Madwoman when she is most likely to show her face. Redirecting rage and clearing blocks is necessary to be able to channel the energy effectively. (Meeting, p.72)
Spirituality and Creativity
The making of Art can be a spiritual healing process. Art therapy pioneer Edith Kramer suggests that art as a way of knowing offers a path back to direct participation in life. What is creative expression but a moving out or exteriorization of the flow of consciousness at the emotional and psychological level. This uniting of the seen and the unseen is a process that brings wholeness to the soul of the creator. The closer we are to our experience of consciousness, the closer we are to the Self.
When the artist expresses the profound emotion within, unconscious material is brought to the surface as it manifests. This unconscious material can be intimately tied to the part of us we are afraid to acknowledge. Gifted singers are essentially risking standing naked in front of a group of strangers when they voice the vulnerable emotions carried within them. They are embracing the intimacy of communing with others on a deep emotional level. This in itself is a healing.
Ancient shamans used art-making to externalize the power shown them during shamanic journeys. It was a means of honoring the inner experience of spirit and a direct way of bringing the power of another world (non-ordinary reality) into the forms of this world (ordinary reality). What carries this power to form - is it the rational mind of patriarchal thought? Probably not. The carrier is most likely the unseen forces of life that flow on the surface of emotion.
Eric Maisel in his book Fearless Creating believes anxiety is inherent in the creative process and that a successful artist is one who has learned to manage anxiety. Liz Greene in her book Dynamics of the Unconscious declares that there is a belief that "in order for a person to be truly creative - that is, inspired by a divine spark - he or she has to be melancholic. " It was assumed in Western Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries that one had to be of a melancholic nature in order to be in touch with any of the deeper mysteries. A connection was drawn between creative inspiration and the black state into which the true artist or philosopher fell. (Dynamics, p.97)
Liz Greene writes "The melancholic poet, such as Byron or Shelley, or Keats who was essentially a manic depressive although it would be rude and unromantic to call him that, was expected to behave in such ways because melancholic troughs were felt to be part of the suffering of the creative nature." (Dynamics, p.98)
There is something very profound hinted at in this strange relationship between melancholy and creativity. It is during this state of melancholy or depression that one shuts out the outside world and retreats into the inner world - at first a dark and desolate place in contrast to the world of public life. It is in this dark place that the artist becomes one with emotion - with the flow of consciousness inherent in his/her experience. From the darkest reaches - the connection to the light begins to emerge and with it the urge to create. The emoting or flowing outward of experience finds a channel in the placement of paint upon a canvas, a word upon the paper or the sound of a musical instrument.
Greene says "Both male and female poets - for example, Yeats, and Rilke, May Sarton and Anna Akhmatova - acknowledge the Muse as an interior, feminine source of creativity. Artists of all kinds understand that the Muse symbolizes a transcendent energy that cannot be controlled. They treasure the energy and give thanks when they have it and lament when they lose it." (Dynamics p.106)
It is this very process that is recreated each month during a woman's menses. The darkness, the space of silent potential calls her inward as precious life giving blood begins to flow outward. There is an opportunity to let oneself be enveloped by the dark formlessness of the void - that formless silence which taps into the physical order of the universe - and emerge renewed.
What can be reclaimed in the honoring of woman's sexuality - is the regular visitation of the Muse during the time of bleeding for women. The Muse or feminine aspect of creativity is a consistent force available to women on a monthly basis. She is the lunar information, she is the voice of emotion, feeling, of inner knowing - a knowing that is within the field of the inter-connectedness of life.
Ritual plays a large part in bringing spiritual meaning into our lives. All religious doctrines hold recognition for ritual as a unifying principle and a means for bringing the sacred into physical form. Through the process of ritual we create a body experience of the sacred dimensions of life here on earth. We actualize an inner knowing by delegating time and space for reverence of forces greater than ourselves.
"Rituals acknowledge the relationship of culture with the cosmos by imitating the biological and physical order of the universe." (The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 27, p.74)
Sandra Diaz and D. Don Sawatzky in interviews with six Native Americans found that rituals are where healing occurs and where the participant must deal with their fear of the unknown. For one woman, involvement in ritual brought about an emotional connection with Native cultural ways. "As they learned more about what it meant to be Native through ceremonies and rituals, [they] began the process of healing the emotional pain brought about by [separation]" from their heritage. (Journal, pp. 69-85) Women too share a wounding from being separated from their heritage; the heritage of honoring the feminine.
ART AS SACRED RITUAL
By setting up a ritual space to access vision we can channel this powerful energy of the menses to constructive means. Collage making is a means of working with the unconscious symbolism that is accessible to us at this time. Writing of a haiku or a poem can also give us access to the feminine aspect of creativity. It is important to understand that the art is not a doing but an allowing to emerge. Whatever technique we choose must be free-flowing and not requiring a lot of action or masculine type energy. The yang expression can be utilized when we are heading into the Full Moon phase. Creating a ritual surrounding the menstrual cycle is a means of bringing the spiritual realm into the material realm of the body. Women can use this time-tried method for healing the separation they feel regarding their sexuality.
During the ritual of being present with our bodies woman can acknowledge the natural need to draw inward and then feel the desire to unite with her inner knowing of the universe, of spirit. However it is at this moment that she becomes aware of what it is that keeps them apart. As Jack Kornfield wrote in Path with a Heart,
"When we come into the present, we begin to feel the life around us again, but we also encounter whatever we have been avoiding."(Path, p. 26)
What we have been avoiding is our unknown.
For me, the practice was a powerfully transformative experience. My periods had been fraught with excruciating cramps since the birth of my first child. The years before childbirth had been filled with uneventful periods; no cramps or bloating and shortened time span with light bleeding. Since becoming a mother, I had grown to hate my menstrual cycle. The mess was disgusting, the symptoms and emotional outbursts were nearly unbearable and I refused to take pain pills. This coincides with the progressive surrendering of myself through taking on the role of wife and mother. I had given up on the false masculine role I had earlier adopted only to find that the feminine was too weak to carry me.
Consequently, I joined women's groups and participated in workshops that were, in essence, about reclaiming and healing the feminine. Rituals celebrating matriarchal holidays and acts such as dripping our menstrual blood into clay goddesses were effective in bringing about an acceptance of the feminine as Divine. Yet, in reality, each month I still cursed my bleeding time.
Working with collage during my menses and following my menstrual life through journal writing was hopefully a door into finding a practical love for bleeding. It became much more than that as the months progressed.
I chose to work with the collage process I was introduced to at the ITP intensives. Ginny Fauvre had told me about her commitment as an artist to doing a collage once a month. I made an adjustment to her process and aimed to do the collage on the day of my fullest flow each month. My intent was to allow the unconscious to arise and to invoke vision. This intent yielded two collages more often than not. The first one would reveal personal material (usually prophetic) and the second collage presented a vision or inspirational image.
From the moment I began collage, I felt an enormous power running through me. My hands heated up which is a sign for me that the life force is flowing. I was more enthralled with the collage making at first, than really sitting down to listen to my body. It wasn't until the third period that I was able to quiet myself and pay attention.
Having practiced meditation for several years now, the ability to sit came naturally. However, my form of meditation has always been concentration and visualization. When I finally sat down to listen to my body on the fourth month what I heard was overwhelming. There was a deep grief running through me for being a woman. I began to cry for woman, not only for her suffering and oppression, but mostly for her continuing struggle with creative focus. I sobbed for myself, yes, and for all the women with whom I shared this painful experience. "I felt a profound connection", I wrote, "to all the women who have gone before me and who are with me now and are yet to come. We bond in this moment of eternity with the knowledge of this essential feminine experience."
Listening to my body then, I had to admit to myself that I did not fully honor the feminine. When the emotions subsided a joy - almost imperceptible at first - slowly emerged from the darkness. What came from that tiny point of light was channeled into collage. When the first collage was finished, I felt as if the universe struck a tuning fork and had thrown my being into perfect pitch. The resulting image was a 'true' manifestation of my inner experience. At that moment I had a purely unselfconscious desire to have it 'shown'. There was a natural inclination to reach out to others with this experience from the profound experience of connection I had felt during the making of the collage. The second collage revealed an vision of Divine Feminine Creativity. The image of a woman's hands encircled by a golden orb in a field of red named for me the sacredness of woman's work.
The events of this day were an important step in the process of, as Ruth Cox wrote: "finding the wellspring of creativity from which to draw". In my journal I concluded that "because I was able to let go of deep emotional grief I believe this new emotion of joyful participation in the creative process is possible. " By ovulation, I had heard of a ground breaking Art show entitled 'Menarche, Menses, and Menopause'. I submitted slides and the collage of this fourth month was chosen for the show and consequently sold.
From this moment on, my premenstrual symptoms were negligible. In working on the design and production of the journal, I was taking positive steps towards channeling my anger towards the patriarchy: I was working on a solution. By taking time out for drawing inward during my menses, I was claiming a naturally born right for woman. My family (all male) made the necessary adjustments although at first they were hurt because they felt I was withdrawing unfairly. When my husband experienced the way in which withdrawing "made you process the stages in a more natural way", he actually wanted me to "go away". I believe they all sensed that it was an important step towards a happier household.
After the first dramatic emotional release, it became a natural process to release leftover emotions at the pre-menses or begin stage each month. Freeing the emotions was like peeling back a layer. Underneath the layer of emotions, was a layer concerning issues of sexuality. Events in my life synchronistically corresponded to the evolution I was experiencing through the practice. I began to make changes in my life surrounding the issues that came up each month.
For example, the collage of the fifth month was prophetic in that it was about speaking out. (see Appendix) In the forefront of the collage is an image of a mountain lion fiercely growling, red spikes are emanating from behind his image and a female saint is standing by, her left hand gently resting on the lion's head. Her right hand holds a sword tinged with blood. I wondered at the way she gently stood with the fierce growl of the lion as if in friendship. Her sword of truth and decisive action gave me courage. (It had just beheaded some unlucky man). At this point I added the ritual of Shamanic Journey to my practice because I needed help processing the message I was receiving through the collage.
The teacher in my journey helped me to see that the collage was speaking of years of neglect. I had been told to "shut up!" so many times in my life that my soul was angry with me for agreeing to hold back and suppress any feelings and thoughts that people wouldn't like.
A dental check up revealed decay and bone loss in two molars. Besides recommended surgery, I was told to 'exercise my jaw' each night. I began by demanding respect for my body. This adamant claim sent shock waves throughout my immediate circle and created a dynamic shift within the family. Woman's claim for her own power stemming from her sexuality meets with anger and/or violent resistance in those not emotionally equipped to cope with the change. Our inexperience in these matters does not ease their resistance. Many close relationships were severed as the waves of change destabilized their foundations.
Having peeled through the layers of sexuality, I was now dealing with deeply buried shadow material. Accessing the powerful energies of bleeding time brought transformation at an accelerated rate. I felt as if I was in a whirlpool and fighting to get up to the surface. The emotional material that came up for me was overwhelming. I remembered that in my teen years I actually had the experience of being caught in a whirlpool. Just before I lost consciousness I realized that there was no drain - the water had nowhere to go. So I let go. I was carried down to the bottom and shot up to the surface by the current of water, my life breath still with me. This image served me well and I let go of resistance to the feelings arising at this time and let them take me down; having faith that I would be sprung upwards again by the very current that was pulling me down. At the same time, I had to face the ways in which I had been cruel to the feminine, the ways in which I had not honored my sexuality.
Perhaps this was just the timing for emotional crisis in my life and the practice had nothing to do with setting off the chain of events. However, it seemed that the practice itself was opening up a wealth of energy held in check for a lifetime or more. There was a cleaning and clearing of energy at deeper and deeper levels until I was freed once again to embrace my desire for joy. Not only did I deal with issues of sexuality but the central issue of creativity reared its head. For instance, some of the shadow material presented an unconscious egoic need to be recognized as the source of my own creativity. I was able to bring this aspect of myself to consciousness and consequently recognize that I am a channel for the creative principle in the universe. This in itself was simultaneously grounding and uplifting. The peeling away of this shadow layer made room for accessing vision.
It wasn't until the eleventh month that the experience of vision I was seeking came forth. It had taken 10 months of working at an accelerated pace with my personal issues to be in a position to access vision in the way I had hoped for. I feel that I am only now just beginning to feel a deep connection to the Feminine on a sacred level. Only now am I able to glimpse the full potential of the practice.
A pattern crystallized for me and I discovered a sequence of layers with each period. Once the emotions stored up each month were recognized and released, my sexual energy was fueled. With the channeling of the sexual energy into collage - my creativity was fired up. The flow of emotional energy allowed for a flow of sexual energy. The flow of sexual energy allowed for a flow of creative energy. All of the usual resistances, anxieties and blocks to creativity disappeared and my month was fruitful. When I approached creative work, it was with enthusiasm and ease. The torturous procedure I had endured for years in order to produce anything had simply vanished.
Maisel's theory on anxiety did not support my personal experience as I discovered that I did not have to suffer!
The creative energy naturally waned toward the end of my cycle as I prepared to regroup. The care giving I do for my family inevitably pulls me out of touch with my own needs. Consequently, pre-menses self-reflection has become invaluable for attending to the unfinished business of self. I am only now just beginning to align with my body's natural rhythm.
It wasn't until the eleventh period that I knew exactly when my bleeding would start without any physical symptoms. Synchronizing the practical aspects of working my schedule to flow with my natural process (like when to begin writing this paper) is something I am still learning. However, due to following this practice for a year, I have a conscious understanding of the needs of my body and how to let it guide me.
When there is no honoring of the life blood of women, of the wetness of fruit of the womb, we become dried-up. Michael Fox's commentary on the Illuminations of Hildegard von Bingen tells us that Hildegard believed 'drying up' is the gravest of sins. "It interferes with our exalted vocation to create." Moistness or 'greening power' is the "power of springtime, a germinating force, a fruitfulness that comes from God(dess) and penetrates all creation... The earth sweats, germinating power from its very pores." (Illuminations, pp.30-33)
Creativity is not just 'doing art' - it is the state of the pure joy of being manifest in the physical realm. This state of joy opens us to the flow of the life force which, by its very nature, is creative. To have joy - to drink from the nectar of life is the essence of the state needed for absolute creativity to flow freely. Joy is the open embrace of life. When we are closed to joy, we are closed to creativity.
The principle of creativity is to make a new form from the combination of old forms. For example: Nature is creative. It takes various elements and puts them together in many forms. Within the pulse of life at the microscopic level, molecules are coming together to form new structures in an eternal dance. This dance becomes cyclical as it manifests at a larger level: a seed begets a plant which flowers and dies to fertilize the ground and nurture a new seed. The cyclical nature of life is apparent in the way our body's cells are continually renewing and the menstrual cycle is just one more extension of this fundamental principle of creativity.
The cyclical nature of daily life is seen in terms of night to day. We sleep during the dark of the day, renewing our vitality through dreaming and silent rest. During the daylight hours we take active part in creation. This is the time for the expression of our innate nature to come to fruition.
The creativity of daily life can be played out in many ways. For women, historically, creative activity has taken the form of cooking, knitting, sewing, gardening and child care. A more subtle form of creation is 'atmosphere'. Women usually take responsibility for the atmosphere of the home. Atmosphere is an elusive art form where the ingredients are not readily discernible yet together they create a container for a certain experience. Women are generally the central force in creating a nurturing atmosphere for their families.
We can be creative in many ways - it can be a slow, painful birthing of expression, a soulful sad excrement of a toxic psyche, or a joyous participation in the sacredness of life. When we are totally open to joy - the flow of expression is more apt to channel the sacred into manifestation.
The traditional forms of creativity are important yet they do not give expression to woman's rich inner life. The quality of creative life requires not only joy but an openness to movement and change. And all this movement and change takes energy. How can a woman truly give or find the energy to create unless she is connected to a refueling source?
Hawaiian Huna philosophy has a word MAKIA which translates "Energy flows where attention goes". (Dawn Mountain Light, p.2) Qi Gung (pronounced chee-kung) is an Oriental practice which utilizes this philosophy by channeling QI or life force to the five primary organs of the body: liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. These five organs are important because they regulate the flow of fluids (nutrition, waste and toxins) in our bodies. We know from Qi Gung that attention and visualization brings Chi to the intended area of focus. For instance, holding the palms slightly curved and facing each other about 10 inches apart while focusing attention in the center of the space between them can generate noticeable heat.
Activation of the second chakra through attention and visualization can effect physical sensations of heat and tingling. When blood flows during the menstrual cycle attention is drawn, consciously or unconsciously, to the womb. Recognizing the reciprocal relationship within the inter-relatedness of life, suppose that the reverse is true: That stimulation of certain aspects of the body can cause activation of the related chakra. Where there is energy, motion and change occurring during the time of bleeding, activation of the second chakra would result. This activation of the second chakra stimulates the powerful regenerative forces.
We can pull this activated energy up to the higher centers by focusing attention on the areas of their domain. For instance, if I place myself in a ritual space and gather about me images that I am drawn to, as I begin to place the images according to an inner knowing - I will be giving attention to the higher centers of vision and manifesting truth. As we have seen in Qi Gong practices, attention to a certain area brings life force energy to that area. In giving attention to these higher centers, the excess energy from the second chakra is drawn upward.
Accessing vision during menstruation is largely dependent on channeling energy to the sixth chakra. This energy comes from the activation of the second chakra brought on through bleeding. In Mysteries of the Dark Moon Demetra George comments on the erotic sexuality women experience at this time.
"During a woman's full moon ovulatory time she feels most open, magnetic and nurturing to others. .. By contrast, at the dark moon menstrual flow time, a woman's energetic flow is no longer turned outward... but rather it is turned inward. She feels more of a need to nurture herself, and wants to pull away from the demands and expectations of other people in her life. Her sexual desire peaks just before menstruation." (Mysteries, p.206)
The assertive quality of the sexual nature of a woman during the time of her menses, according to Demetra George, encompasses all that is threatening to patriarchal values and therefore suppressed. The sign of blood marks her inability to conceive - so what is all this erotic sexual energy to be used for if not for procreation? The sexuality that surfaces during the time of bloodletting was ritually used in matriarchal times for ecstasy, healing, regeneration and spiritual illumination. Ancient Tantric Yogi practices include techniques of sacred sexual intercourse who's 'red and white elixirs' could be intermingled, leading to enlightenment through ecstatic illumination.
"In India today as part of a three-day public Hindu festival, women sprinkle red powder on the hood of a cobra in its arched upright position. With red outer lips, liquid streaking tongue, and crescent fangs, it strikingly resembles the menstruating moon/vulva. Snake thus embodies the power of sexuality and ecstasy, terror and joy - beautiful, dangerous, and vulnerable, necessary. Snake is flow, of blood force, of energy, of sexuality, of life - and above all, of menstruation." (Blood, Bread, p.61)
Egyptian pharaohs wore the emblem of the cobra on their head dresses. This cobra emerges from the position of the third eye showing a mastery of the unruly forces of nature. The snake has long been a symbol for Kundalini. Through discipline and practice, this potentially destructive force can be controlled and utilized for activating vision and manifesting truth. Siddartha was enveloped by the hood of a Cobra when he received enlightenment under the banyan tree. Tantric Kriya Yoga initiates in the Cobra breath circulate sexual energy for the express purpose of attaining enlightenment and one of the benefits (or detriments, depending on your attachments) is activation of the sixth chakra.
The power of the menstrual cycle was used long ago in Greece. Delphus is one of the Greek words meaning 'womb'. The Oracle of Delphi was world renown for its accuracy in the foretelling of events. The priestesses' ability to prophecy was believed to be enhanced when she was menstruating. The oracular priestesses of the Sibylline colleges would prophesy once a month at the time of their most intense menstrual flow.
Christiane Northrup reminds us
"Since our culture generally appreciates only what we can understand rationally, many women tend to block the flow of unconscious 'lunar' information that comes to them premenstrually. Lunar information is reflective and intuitive. It comes to us in our dreams, our emotions, our hungers. When we routinely block the information coming to us, it has no choice but to come back as PMS in the same way that our other feelings and bodily symptoms, if ignored, often result in illness.
"Premenstrually, the 'veil between the worlds' of the seen and unseen, the conscious and the unconscious, is much thinner. We have access to parts of our often-unconscious selves that are less available to us at all other times of the month." (Women's Bodies p.101)
Jean Shinoda Bolen recognizes the validity of vision:
"Through meditation or dreams, while in a mystical or ecstatic state, a person who taps into the collective unconscious or a morphic field has gained access to transpersonal experience where time and distance are immaterial. ... Jung's collective unconscious has much the same implication: archetypal images, associated feelings, and patterns of behavior are the tents of the collective unconscious (or the field), of which we are unaware until they are activated and brought to consciousness." (Crossing p.96)
If a woman can find a way to reclaim the time alone during the menstrual cycle - she can reconnect to the deepest source of her feminine nature and psychic life. The body's craving to draw inward into quiet and stillness is a positive step towards accessing the wealth of inner creative energy that peaks at this time. There is an opportunity to transform this psychic energy into a flow of creative inspiration when we make the time to sit and listen to our body's wisdom.
DESIGN OF JOURNAL
Throughout my own spiritual journey to reclaim the lost parts of my soul, I kept coming back to the same issue: healing the feminine. My quest for wholeness could not be met without recognizing the missing half of my consciousness. The sustainment of my connection to the source of my creativity could not be met without giving way to the natural cyclical process of its energy. This was directly connected to my menstrual cycle. Yet how could I honor this aspect of my life when each month I cursed the very process that made me a woman? I knew I had to find a way to begin to celebrate the essential feminine experience, the menstrual cycle. For, although intellectually I understood that the menstrual cycle was to be honored, it wasn't until I ritualized the event that my body integrated the knowing.
The journal was designed as an invitation to women to take time out each month to reconnect to their bodies. Through the process of self-reflection they were invited to pay attention to and be present with the sensations connected to being a woman and bleeding. If possible they were to utilize the exercises for invoking vision on the day of the fullest flow of their period. This journal and creative play were both a means for allowing the lunar information to come through. Included was a moon calendar for marking the days of flow and noting the phase of the moon. (see Appendix)
The self-reflection process was to be undertaken at three phases of each cycle: Bleeding, Ovulation and Pre-menses. Questions were given as guidelines and a box for checking off at each stage the levels of Creative, Sexual, Physical, Emotional and Social Energy. The journal gave examples of creative exercises and it was suggested that they do one of those on the day of the Fullest Flow. I phoned each of the women at various intervals throughout the study and concluded with an in-depth interview.
The Study consisted of seven women, all Caucasian, middle-aged. This was a small initiatory study. A cross-cultural link as well as wider age range could be brought in later if the study were to be modified and expanded. The women varied in their levels of spirituality, and in their concept of the feminine. The women had each lamented to me for the loss of some aspect of creativity and all but one were enthusiastic about the concept of honoring their menstrual cycle. This was an uncharted area for all of them. "I can't believe we're actually standing in the kitchen and talking about our periods!" one woman said to me as she uneasily fidgeted with her body position.
INDIVIDUAL WOMEN'S STORIES
The women in this study share intimate details of their inner life and out of respect for them I have changed their names and those they refer to.
Pam is a 40 year old woman, Caucasian, single with no children. She has a highly visible career as a real estate agent in a small growing town in the Northwest. Pam was sexually abused as a child and had semi-regular and extremely painful periods until the age of 18. She took Percodan to ease the pain. At age 18 her bleeding stopped and she did not have another period until the age of 36. Pam has a "love-hate" relationship with her periods and would "prefer not to deal with them". She takes pride in being able to overcome her emotional and physical states during her period, to go out in the world and work, be charming and easy to get along with. There is a hint of disappointment in women who "use their periods as an excuse". Pam has many acquaintances yet told me she does not talk to anyone about her inner life.
When Pam began this study she was in a self-defined mid-life crisis. Her years of being a model citizen left her longing to return to the "wild hippie days". She had planned a trip on Harley Davidson motorcycles with a group of friends to Sturgis, a large gathering event for Harley riders. It was there her period began - 10 days early.
"I awoke to a gushing flow which seemed in a way to represent to me all the emotions and energy I was feeling on this trip. Out of element, existing totally in the moment, I found myself highly charged . . . sexual energy was intense and my emotions were charged." She felt earthy and wild.
During our phone conversation after the second period, Pam revealed that writing about her very first period brought up a lot of painful memories and she was beginning to take notice that her periods brought out her vulnerabilities. She was reticent about experiencing this pain. She spoke of her tendency to fight insecurity and depression by "digging in and working harder". This only made her feel more blue. Taking time for herself was "a new concept" and she informed me that her motivation to take time out came from meeting the needs of my study. She was doing it for me.
Pam had just made an appointment with the Doctor as she was aware of extreme pain in her ovaries. She expressed gratitude for the journal
"because it gives me a vehicle to pay attention to a cycle which I previously did everything possible to ignore. Going to the Doctor and writing in this journal (or at least thinking about the process of writing)... I feel like I am taking care of myself."
"The tests came back fine", she wrote later and was pleased that she was able to take the moon calendar with her to the doctor's office.
Pam had experienced many years of placing the needs of her community and friends over her own needs. She has a highly refined sense of grace in regards to making others feel comfortable in social situations. It was not until she began the journal that she brought this theme to consciousness. By the end of the second period she also noticed an emotional pattern emerging.
"In the days before my period begins, I feel a very dark cloud enveloping my being. I doubt myself and am extra sensitive. Even though I recognize this mood, I find it extremely difficult to pull myself out of it."
The recognition of her need to care for herself brought out during her third month a willingness to admit to a longing to be nurtured and loved. She felt that "correlating this process w/my period is much too simplified and my emotions make me feel much too vulnerable to tackle this."
At this point her work became unusually demanding and she was no longer able to continue the study. She did write that a definite pattern surfaced in the three-four months of observation.
"What I've noticed is that I am much more sociable and feel more creative after I've finished my period. As ovulation progresses into menstruation, I begin to feel increasingly withdrawn and unsure of myself. Right before I start to Bleed (1-2 days prior) I am very horny and have a large appetite for food and sex."
Pam could not approach the part of the study that accessed vision. The demands of her schedule and her outward focus made it very difficult for her to make contact with the inner realm. The overwhelming emotional material that blocked the threshold of this realm was too much for her to cope with on her own.
Her Physical Energy cycle had a closer relationship with the amount of exercise she was getting and the type of food she was eating. Sexual Desire, Emotions, and Desire to Socialize corresponded directly with her cycle. Pam saw Creativity as an outward "doing things" energy and this came easier right before ovulation.
Sally is a woman who has chosen a more traditional path. She had grown up in a "chauvinistic family" where the men came first. Sally became a nurse and put her husband through dental school. When he began his practice she devoted her time to being a housewife. She has two boys, age 6 and 10 who attend Catholic elementary school. Sally works now and again on projects for the hospital such as writing patient educational booklets. She takes her family to Mass on Sundays and volunteers from time to time at church and school functions. Sally studied Art in high school and did well. Putting aside her creative ambitions, she focused on emotional and material security within the confines of marriage.
Sally has always had painful periods - taking pain pills to ease the symptoms. She has a matter-of -fact attitude toward her sexuality. For Sally's first period, she relied on her older sister to "show her the ropes". She remembers her grandfather as the one to comfort her by saying ,"I hear you got the curse today". "He was so sweet", she wrote, "It is my grandfather that I remember being emotionally supportive to me."
The first period of the study was typical of most:
"I start my period around 2 am. The 1st 8-10 hours of my period, I have bad cramps, feel fuzzy, very tired, almost flu like... Emotions are blah! Life goes on tho. I'm very busy and can't take time out to feel 'sick'. I have to get chores done. Kids cared for. I had a patch work quilt to complete today and did so even tho all I wanted to do was read or watch Star Trek Next Generation or Deep Space Nine on TV."
Full Flow was basically the same. "I don't feel physically well. No visions or dreams. No time for self-reflection. I had to get up, fix breakfast for the family, clean house in preparation for out of town guests, finish a quilt, fix lunch for the family, and then entertain our guests."
During ovulation her energy levels were the same as her begin date. She wrote, "I'm exhausted. It was a holiday and family crisis on both sides of the family. I was there for support emotionally." Sally had a "full blown allergy attack" which she blamed on the stress. She felt she must take charge during emotional crises "so they don't get worse". Although Sally realized that feeling responsible for taking charge of the crisis created stress in her life - she did not intend to change her outlook.
By pre-menses she was craving chocolate, bread, and crackers. "I'm feeling bloated and feel fat and ugly." How many of us women have gone through this same scenario!
At the time of bleeding on the second month the family had made plans to go water skiing. "As usual," she writes "with a family I cannot just change my plans simply because I start my period." Sally stated that she feels more energy at ovulation time and is very productive around the house.
Pre-menses brought more craving for chocolate and carbohydrates. "I want to start this period and 'feel' better." She was on vacation at her sister's house and helping out by caring for their kids so her sister and brother-in-law could get away.
The third month brought out the same painful symptoms. She was "emotionally blocked and tired", still on vacation at her sister's and longing for home. She has a close relationship with her sister and feels quite nourished by the contact. The ovulation phase was quite productive this cycle. "I physically and emotionally feel best between the end of my bleeding until just after I ovulate."
Premenstrual symptoms were the same as before. There was no progression or evolution due to writing in the journal. When I called Sally I sensed an acceptance of life as it was. A choice had been made long ago to place the needs of her family as priority over all else. The ill effects were just part of the 'curse'.
The fourth menses brought the usual symptoms along with hot flashes. It was her 39th birthday and her husband was working. She was "emotionally down" because her husband did not plan "our traditional b-day activities we do for the members in my family."
I was saddened by this line. Sally devoted so much of her life in caring for her family and making sure their birthdays are celebrated. Yet no one did this for her. At ovulation, Sally's energy level was back up.
"I just continue with my usual daily routine of taking care of my family."
Month five brought the same painful cramps.
"I put my emotions aside. I'd really like to just stay in bed and read but I have to get the car packed to go away, fix up some food to take along and pick up the kids from school early."
When I called for the journal, Sally said she found no correlation between creativity and her menstrual cycle. She had not had time to do any of the exercises for invoking vision. She felt that women use their symptoms as an excuse to be lazy or get attention. Be tough, she said. When she doesn't feel like doing anything she says to herself "get over it!" and feels better once she is active. In a letter she sent with the journal, Sally wrote:
"I really don't think of my life as very creative anymore, yet after talking to you I realize what I do on a daily basis is very creative. My days consist of doing things for others. We rarely go out for meals - I cook from scratch, do all my own housekeeping, entertain the kids in the neighborhood, make my own greeting cards on the computer or by hand, quilt, plant in the yard, entertain other families for dinner, etc. etc. etc. I guess I am still creative."
Writing in the journal did not create any obvious significant change in Sally's life but for the realization that creativity still filtered through her life. The recognition that the precious energy she spends on others is of value was an important step. She remained proud of overcoming her 'weakness' and considered the 'curse' a way of life for women.
Through working with Sally, it became clear to me that calling menstruation a curse was a means for accepting the negative aspects of being a strong creative channel thwarted by being in a woman's body in today's culture. Knowing that women's attitudes toward sexuality effect health, it would be easy to suspect that Sally's premenstrual pains coincide with her attitude that the curse is just part of being a woman. Sally represents the women Jung was speaking of who cannot confront the strong historical inertia of their sex.
My great grandmother was a formidable caretaker, cooking for 30-40 people consistently, healing and caring for their sick; yet she died an untimely death because no one took her to the doctor. Sally is living out this same tragic consequence of being the sole care giver in a family. Where the woman is the sole nurturer, the other members of the family do not learn how to care and give on their own.
I'm left to ponder what, if any, help can be given in this case. If we trust the soul's natural inclination for health - might she be drawn naturally to a rich and full creative life when the time is ripe? Or will she simply suffer through her womanness never thinking of asking for better.
Karen is a working artist. She and her husband make art together. They recently became parents and work together to run the household. Karen does most of the cooking and child care, however and is struggling with balancing her needs with that of her child's.
Karen and her husband see their life in terms of a yearly cycle. From January to July they gather and incubate ideas. One or both of them takes a job as Artist in Residence at one of the local schools. This work is as much a gathering process as any due to the influx of new ideas from the students. From July to November they work steadily to produce a collection of works that are shown annually in a gallery in Cincinnati. November to December brings the letting go process as their works are sold.
Karen agreed to do the study after one woman dropped out entirely - in August - just as her work time was accelerating. She has rarely had cramps during her menses and feels comfortable in her role as a woman. Karen is not afraid to speak up for what she needs yet carries a wounding within her mother-daughter relationship.
Karen's attitude on creativity is that "the more you work, the more things start happening creatively." She saw no relationship between the energy level of creativity and her sexual desire. "Although my husband seems to have much more desire during creative times!"
Karen didn't know quite where to focus her attention - on her inner emotional life or her outer creative life. She chose to write about her creative life. Karen felt torn between devoting time to self-reflection and grabbing moments when her child was napping to work on her show. "It's hard to write when I could be painting" was the extent of her observations during the second month.
Upon questioning she told me she was most intrigued by the flexibility of her menstrual cycle. She and her husband had been asked to sit on a panel of judges for the purpose of granting money to a selection of 59 artists. She felt it was a great responsibility and wanted to be attentive to all the work presented to her. On the morning of the day of the judging she found herself in her heaviest flow. Anxiety mounted as she fretted about taking breaks to change her napkin. She wanted to be able to give each artist the appropriate attention. At the Fair, she was surprised to find on her first break that she was only spotting. She did not have to take another break for the entire day in order to change her pad. "I never realized how strong mind over body could be!" she exclaimed.
Ovulation brought high creative levels of productivity.
"Very easy painting; painting is easy now, maybe because I have more full days and blocks of time to work. Maybe because the deadline is 2 1/2 weeks away." "Its exciting to see them in full completion".
After only 3 months it was time to collect the journals. She was disappointed that the time was up. "I really would've liked more time - say a year - to really get into it", she said.
Karen takes good care of her body, eating healthy food and getting plenty of exercise. She has always been able to work creatively and has associated this work with the outward flow of energy. She enjoys most the act of creating. Putting colors together and seeing them come alive is her greatest joy. The gestation of ideas comes naturally for her during the winter months. She has greatly simplified her focus over the years and concentrates on color over form.
Although she is not particularly conscious of her spirituality, she has an intuitive feel for life and its natural rhythms. There are "plenty of times to enjoy life", she says. "We go for walks whenever we want." Her choices for an aesthetic and creative life place her in a unique position and brings her much joy in everyday living. This seems to balance the wounding that has taken place in regards to being a woman. Karen's art does not spring from her deep inner sanctum yet it does reflect a joyous participation in the creative process.
Linda is a Caucasion woman in her early forties who lives in Los Angeles with her husband Dick. She and her husband were both involved in music when they first met. Dick has become a successful musician, his albums selling fairly well. About four years ago Linda got her real estate license and, putting her singing career on the back burner, placed her focus on material wealth. She spends many hours of the day devoted to her work in real estate and has prospered. They have no children.
Linda has written some songs of her own and dreams of producing her own album. There are people who support this activity: the production connections are in place. She has fear surrounding the process of working with other people as she has always been self-sufficient and independent.
Linda's youth was spent in disciplined practice of gymnastics. She won several competitions at an early age under the direction of her parents. Linda started her period 'late' in life due to the rigorous physical activity of gymnastics. She has not suffered cramps although her back aches before bleeding starts. Her cycles are irregular and getting more so as she ages. "Mom was the same way", she told me.
Linda has emotional issues that come up at the time of her period. She dismisses them as things that "don't really matter". She does not use any form of birth control so looks forward to her period as a time when she is able to have sexual relations with her husband. He is traveling a good deal of the time and she feels lonely when he is gone.
Linda's work became increasingly demanding as the study got under way and she was not able to write in the journal as much as she would have liked. However, she did keep a level of awareness during this time and her letter of self-reflection is worth noting:
"Perhaps some overview of my observations will in some way be helpful. First of all, I felt it difficult to find the time/inclination to take "time out" for this. But I'm not sure that it was that I didn't have the time. I think the "kind" of time time I felt I needed was hard to find. That is, the kind of time that is not squeezed between other things - other pressing things - other stressful things. Still, I was far more in-tune with my body/mind than usual, and more aware of the ways in which my menses affects me.
In general, my impression is that I am more aware of a need to produce/manifest at the time of ovulation and thereafter. But at the same time, I was frustrated when I didn't make the time, and very aware of my fear. It is almost as though there is an equal and opposite force keeping me from taking action toward my goals. The goals that matter to me. The money-related business goals seem to get met, but the creative/music goals are shoved back.
At ovulation and pre-menses, I'm angry with myself for this. When my period starts, I seem not to care as much. No - it's not that I don't care. More, that it feels as if everything is as it should be, and my goals, the ones that really matter are being met - day by day they are manifesting because I believe they are. And when this Zen-like feeling sets in - it's great. If there's a creativity in it, it's the manifesting of power, my power, even in the smallest things. Activities like cleaning house, which at other times make me resentful, take on a different hue altogether. Part of this is experienced as comfortably with "nesting" activities. But it's not just that; there's an ongoing meditation.
During [bleeding], which I'd say is only 2 days, the pace of my actions slows while my awareness is heightened. I doubt my actions are physically slow, but I experience my own movement as deliberate, and I enjoy the process. That's what I mean by Zen-like. My impression is that I would be most likely to get things done just after my period.
By the way, something bothered me about the adjectives "blocked" vs. "flowing". I knew what you wanted, but somehow I felt uncomfortable with the concept. When I feel unsociable, it's not that I feel blocked. That's "redirected", emotions don't feel blocked or flowing - more, I'm either centered or off-balance. Even creativity. Perhaps creative energy is redirected.
Linda's observations show a direct relationship between her energy levels and her cycle. However, the larger issue of an inner block to overcoming the fear of realizing her own voice takes precedence over her cycles of creativity.
Linda's first step of observing the body's natural process is indicative of a larger collective need to find a way into the deeper connection with our bodies. She and the other women in the study have a daily rhythm that does not support the activity of self-reflection.
Melanie is a single woman, age 36, working in the film industry since 1990 when she transitioned from her work with battered women. She has dreams of directing and for the past five years has worked as a production assistant, location scout,wardrobe assistant and producer. She is a competent organizer and takes her work seriously.
Melanie is very conscious of her body and works out with weights at a gym regularly. She is conscious of women's issues and global concerns and her focus is on her work. She has no form of spirituality or religious practice. Her family lives outside the US and she has a few close friends.
Melanie enjoys being a woman and takes care with her appearance, exercising her creativity in the choice of clothes. Her first period was greeted with enthusiasm by her mother.
"Since we were staying at my grandparents relatives in Berlin, it took only an hour or so til all my relatives knew that I had gotten my period. I recall more feelings of embarrassment than joy. Mostly because I was a private person, I didn't want people to know stuff about me that I didn't want to share..."
Her periods have been regular with her only symptom being lower back pain. On the first month of the study she wrote that the pain serves as a reminder that she is bleeding.
"It has become such a natural part of my life. For 24 years now, I generally expect some fullness and back pain."
Melanie did not do any of the exercises to invoke vision on the day of her fullest flow. She recognized longings for physical contact. "In particular with a man." Her sexuality was flowing unusually high this first month, "not like I usually feel when I'm bleeding." If you recall, Pam had the same reaction during her first month along with one other woman in this study. Perhaps the initial act of paying attention releases a surge of energy in the second chakra or womb area. Perhaps the act of participating in a study allows for a psyche that is willing to recognize her sexuality.
Soon after bleeding, Melanie was roller blading on a crowded sidewalk during a 4th of July celebration. A small child ran into the path in front of her. She leapt to avoid hitting the child and fell and seriously broke her arm. Metal plates had to be surgically implanted and she was on pain medication for three weeks.
At ovulation she was in the hospital receiving "lots of attention from loved ones and hospital staff." When I spoke to her about the syncronicity of realizing a longing for intimacy during her menses and finding an inpouring of love from her friends at ovulation she did not consider it relevant. By pre-menses she was missing the attention and "feeling need to be around people, attention, have people care for me, like me."
The second menses was spent preparing for a filming job in the Yukon. On the day of the fullest flow she wrote,
"I just got huge hit of love and affection when I broke my arm - it has been like a reminder - how wonderful love and caring is. I am really feeling lonely and really am missing not having an intimate relationship."
By ovulation she was up in the Yukon working 20-hour days. She was hoping for some time when co-workers did not want something from her. Her body was tired from lack of sleep. She was still concerned about a relationship. "Visions of love and intimacy not happening though I do keep my eyes open."
Her next period surprised her as she wasn't expecting it for a few more days. "Since I was surprised by my period I didn't have any backaches." She was tired and easily irritated. The PMS symptoms, she felt, were attributed to the stressful work situation and lack of sleep. In retrospect she wrote,
"I was brought to tears two times during this job - both while I had my period. Don't like tears when I'm working - just want the job to go well and people to mind their own business. Wonder if I would not have cried if I didn't have my period."
A pattern was emerging for Melanie. The time of bleeding brought up her longings for intimacy and close physical contact. These feelings and desires are in direct correlation to second chakra activities. At ovulation she was usually over-working and feeling a need to be alone due to the demands of her work. By the end of the third month she realized upon looking over her pattern that she needed to
"let go of talk and begin into action... If I'm not happy with my body, my love life, my career, do something about it. If I let go of my whining that means I have to take action."
On the Full Flow day of the fourth month, Melanie did something that, although she didn't realize it, I consider an attempt to invoke vision. She spent the evening "lollygagging and listening to music. Danced around the condo, sometimes playing a song a number of times." This free form of expression is the basis of setting aside time and allowing 'lunar information' to speak. "Taking a few hits off a pipe helped me with my dancing around to music."
At ovulation she had met a man who was a boat captain and was considering her "next career". It "will have to do with water, crewing charters, owning a boat, who knows. It was fun to meet someone who left photography and now makes a living taking peoples boats here and there."
Pre-menses brought the realization that she still appeared "to be searching for something ...What I need to learn is to be happy in the here and now."
By the fifth month she had ended her intense work period and felt a need to reconnect with old friends. She spent the day in the country with friends she hadn't seen in 15 years. It was relaxing and nurturing for her. Melanie felt that her work-time cycles took precedence over her natural rhythm. Although the menses is a time of turning inward, her long period of work without seeing friends brought up a stronger need for contact at this time.
In self-reflection she wrote:
My creativity tended to surge when called for by daily life. These past months I didn't do anything that I would call artistically creative. More everyday life creative. I did sense my energy go up and down during my cycle, so I would say I had more energy and possibly more fun during mid-cycle. Time for reflection was more apparent around my period. That's when I tend to have more intimacy feelings.
Creativity - am still striving to get myself to really believe that creativity comes in other forms besides the arts.
Hildegard of Bingen's viriditas or the moist greening power of the universe is the other form of creativity that alludes her. The arts are a means of expressing the profound emotions flowing from that moistness. But the creative life - the flowing 'viriditas' with its profusion of forms is what is not grasped here on the physical level - the objective experience of consciousness.
"Still not quite clear on the role my cycle has on who I am and what I do and when I do it, The calendar with the moons was interesting, I had extended cycle June/July by about one week. My broken arm and surgery must have extended the cycle. Then it got right back on track in August which is why I was surprised by my period up in the Yukon. I was looking at my cycle month by month vs. ongoing"
Marking the moons with red pen at bleeding time creates a visual effect. Regular cycles produce an easily discernible diagonal pattern. This pattern facilitates the awareness of the regulation of the cycle. The objectivity of seeing time visually in terms of cycles sets up a thought structure that can contain an evolutionary cyclical awareness vs. the linear markings of time.
Three months later, Melanie told me that she didn't really know how to invoke vision. She didn't understand what I was asking for. Our culture does not instruct women on how to access this subtle arena. Inadequacies prevail and instruction is vitally needed for entering the realm of potentiality.
Chris is in her early 40's, married with two young children ages 18 mos. and 5 years of age. She spent her 30's engaged in the practice of law and found her joy in writing for a prestigious law review. The birth of her children curtailed her career and she now spends her days in care giving. She told me she has always wanted to produce documentary films and has redirected that hope towards her children. It is her desire that perhaps her son would be the artist. Chris is deeply connected to her spirituality, having devoted much of her life to the practice of honoring God. She has recently made a commitment to honoring the feminine aspect of the Divine and leads a women's spiritual group.
Chris has made a decision to stay home with her children as she values the need for a feminine 'magnet' of love, nurture and care. She is considering home school for her children, yet is torn between the emerging revelation of her own needs and the concern for giving the best to her children.
Chris is still nursing the youngest so her body is in the direct possession of this young boy. He was present during our interviews and it reminded me of that time period when women find it difficult to complete sentences; the interruptions are more constant than the flow of thought. She works some afternoons for the city prosecutor's office reading briefs and is grateful for the time to focus her mind.
Normal menses for Chris is feeling crabby and irritable the first day, sometimes bloated with cramps, and then heavy 2-3 days of bleeding. She has always been irregular. While nursing her periods are not as intense with only one day of full flow.
Chris feels she has no chance to be creative, that her life moves at a 'glacial pace' due to the calls for attention by her children. When I called her about one and a half months into the study, she kept repeating "Ah! This is what it's like!" She had forgotten the joy of writing and the pleasure of being alone with a few moments to herself. Participating in the study brought back the experience for her.
She found it difficult to grab a block of time to quietly settle into self-reflection. There was a greater pull to clean the house as she felt the constant pressure of a necessity left undone. Chris is frequently fatigued and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of energy required to fulfill her goals of nurturing and care giving.
It took her awhile to adjust to the rhythm. When she did find the time to write in the journal she said she
"felt like the parched desert and then: Ah, I remember! Taking time for myself was like rain in the desert."
For Chris, the "integration of loving the feminine goes straight to the center of the earth - it's like an archetypal feminine - it's what I'm trying to bring into the home - it's what being at home as a Mom means. It's like how much I want to be with my children and the kind of rhythm I want for my family. When I'm really on - I feel the pulse - you just sort of flow with the pulse. That's how deep it goes for me."
Chris was consistent in terms of her energy cycles. Her physical energy was "flat" the first day of her period. She feels heightened sexual desire right before her period and right before ovulation. She wasn't able to follow her emotional states because "I haven't done it long enough but this last time both at menses and ovulation it was really black."
Chris is by nature introverted and making contact with people requires a lot of energy for her. She found that although she could be 'nice and pleasant' to those around her during her bleeding time, she'd rather be alone. She began the study in June and uppermost in her mind was the concern for a relationship. She and her best girlfriend of 12 years had become estranged in March due to mis-communication.
On the Full Flow day of her first month, Chris wrote:
"The longings I have felt are for personal time - to meditate and to write in a journal. I used to keep a journal and writing in this one has been a wonderful reminder about how meaningful journaling can be.
I've missed the depth of my friendship with Audrey. While there was some yucky stuff I miss the soul journey I shared with her. I have felt at times desolate - like God has forsaken me."
She did not write at ovulation or pre-menses for the entire length of the study. "pre-menses was way beyond anything I could think about tracking."
The second period of bleeding came during a trip to North Carolina.
"This was the day we went to the Cape Hatteras light house - it definitely was a powerful day!. .. We climbed six stories of stairs to the top. It was a beautiful clear day with a nice breeze.... I took the time to say a prayer - for the earth, the children, Audrey and myself.
It was as though I tapped into the power of the earth and sea of that place and sent my prayer on its way. While I am aware of earth energy, I rarely ever felt it in such a powerful way. Ho!"
Later she told me she thought, "This is what they're talking about. This is the power available to women [when they menstruate]."
The third month brought the usual low energy and "shortened patience with my children." She had a powerful sexual dream about her friend Audrey. She remembered thinking in the dream, "So this is what is at the bottom of the conflict between us" and her dream self felt a longing for Audrey sexually.
Her time for self-reflection brought a desire to establish a routine for her family. "Also to connect with and establish my own sense of self - I want my own personal time - like meditating in the morning." About the time of ovulation, Chris did begin a practice of taking time to meditate three mornings a week.
The first day of the fourth and final month of the study was the "hardest day since I began this journal." On the full flow day she wrote:
"Many longings this period almost created a crisis. I was that miserable. I came to realize my schedule is too busy. I don't like my work. I want to send my children to a good Waldorf school on the island and I may do home school.
I was able to talk to Tom about these things and he was able to really 'listen'. What a bonus! Out of this came some situations. Check with Pam about picking up Susan - see if I can find other work."
She dreamed of James Arness and a very gentle, sweet kiss. When she went to find him, people were trying to stop her, capture her, and prevent her from reaching him. "I knew when I got to him, I would be safe." For Chris, James Arness represented the hero archetype. In her childhood she dreamed of marrying him. "He was so strong, handsome and kind. He was a good guy, " she told me. She sees him as a positive animus figure and partner in her sacred inner marriage.
In an overview of this study Chris told me
"Everytime I would sit there, be quiet and write - then I would end up feeling the pulse - you know, that I was talking about, and there would be something imperative that would come up."
"The 1st thing was to write in the journal. It took a long time to manifest this. "
Just two weeks before our final interview she had found her old journal and began to write again.
"Next was to really establish rhythms for the family. This is really important to me. It welled up from inside as opposed to knowing it - out there."
We talked about the dreams of the third month. Her friend Audrey represented the qualities she wanted to integrate in her quest for 'living the pulse'. Audrey is "really bright, very spiritual, highly intuitive. She has the capacity to be - well the closest thing I've ever experienced of mothering energy - Complete embracing, accepting, loving, nurturing energy. "
As we talked we saw an evolution begin to emerge. Writing in the journal put her in touch with her inner realm. From this space she was able to connect deeply and powerfully with her intent to bring the feminine into her daily life. She dreamed of integrating the qualities she needed to accomplish this task via a sexual experience with a woman who represented these qualities. Then something didn't move forward. She came up against the blocks, which are represented in her misery of the fourth month. Chris was able to find a partner who would listen and help her to realize some solutions. She is now recognizing a need for action: to get help with the children, try to find satisfying work and get back to James Arness.
HEALING THE SPLIT
Women are called upon to be nurturers, to give unconditionally of ourselves and especially of our bodies. To give without replenishment eventually leads to disease, depression and fatigue. The body calls for inward pull to regenerate and is overridden by unconscious agreement to sustain a belief system that does not recognize this need. Some choose conscious domination of impulse and mastery over the body versus the feminine ideal of listening and co-operating with the natural pull inward.
The call for inner reflection and the decision to override it causes a split. This split between mind and body becomes greater with each cycle. The gap created by this split is filled with the pain and grief of separation. In order to participate fully in the experience of the feminine, women must face the unfathomable depths of this pain of separation. It is this task of bridging the chasm between spirit and body that intimidates the majority of women in this study and perhaps in all of patriarchal society.
Asking for insight into the results of the study, I undertook a Shamanic Journey. In the journey I was shown the common theme that the women in the study shared: fear of joy. To experience joy, we must open to a state that is sometimes unfamiliar and more often that not, means a release of suffering. We are very comfortable with suffering; it has been the state of the human condition for thousands of years. This comfortable state is leading to disease and psychological degeneration. Women have been denying basic needs for far too long. It is imperative that we take the steps to heal this aggravating split within women. The obstacles encountered by the women in the study show us how much needs to be done in our quest for wholeness.
EDUCATION AND THERAPY FOR MENSTRUAL HEALTH
There is a strong need for education. Many women are not aware of their own body's needs and are held in check by definitions that have outlived their usefulness. This is apparent in the difficulties the women encountered with the journaling process. How can they access something they don't acknowledge?
On the surface level, journaling is a successful means for helping to guide women to pay attention to their bodies. However, quite rapidly the need arises to process the emotions held in the body and brought to consciousness. For the majority, women's bodies are carrying the emotions of a life-time of grief in regards to being a woman. From that first initial shock of dismissal at menarche a woman carries a silent heartache and continues to add to it with each period. Some women need a hand opening the door to their inner world and facing their pain. The time of bleeding brought to consciousness many emotional vulnerabilities for the women. Dismissed or repressed issues call out to be recognized during the menses and if not recognized, they call out again and again in ever more harmful ways. Initiation rites and menstrual reclamation rituals could be a tremendous blessing. One courageous act such as this would resound throughout the universe giving permission to be a woman in direct relationship to the Divine.
Most of the women in the study needed help in seeing how one cycle affects the other. It is not easy to see the thread running through their lives and they tended to separate events as single moments, failing to see the inter-relatedness or common theme. The moon calendar helped here but some sort of counsel would illuminate the woman's evolving cycles.
Therapy would be very helpful. Someone with the skills to mirror the process for the woman once a month could help to bring to consciousness the material needing to be integrated. The therapist could also provide support for facing the realities of a woman's life. Personal experience showed me that before the ritual of menses can become a fulfilling spiritual practice, the issues surrounding emotions, sexuality and creativity must be dealt with in a healthy manner.
When women finally sit down to listen to their own bodies, the result is very uncomfortable for those not prepared to address the changes they need to make in their lives. Each of the women in this study are suffering for not caring for themselves at a basic level. Perhaps making the changes they need to make seems a daunting task and encouragement would give them the support they need.
A frequent complaint among women is "I'm not being heard!" This has to do with a value system that doesn't honor intuition, feeling and emotion. When Jungian thinking is applied to this statement, there is a direct relationship between the outer expression of not being heard and the inner inability of woman to listen to herself. The agitation and anxiety felt before the period is the sound of the split between voicing and being heard. The spirit embodied in woman is calling to be heard and woman is just not paying attention!
It's time women accept responsibility for our part in patriarchal suppression and ask ourselves some important questions:
If we're not being heard -- are we listening to our bodies?
If we're not being cared for - are we taking care of ourselves?
If we're not finding respect - do we abandon our own sexuality?
The culture will support us when our attitudes change. By the sheer volume of our numbers, we would effect cultural revolution.
If we find a way to celebrate a direct physical manifestation of the feminine; if we can find the wisdom inherent in the experience then we can begin to integrate. By aligning to the rhythm of the menstrual flow women would be able to acknowledge the time for regeneration and reclaim creative life.
Women are not shown how to access their creativity. Those who try to find their way into a rich and fulfilling creative life are groping in the dark. These pioneering women are like the mangrove trees that reach their arms down into the bitter salty waters. They have no foundation from which to draw nourishment. Slowly but surely the branches sprout roots which find their way through the sea into the sandy soil below. Debris collects over time until a foundation is built around the roots, rich enough to support the new tree.
Most women need to be shown the possibilities for creative life that will lead them to desire and this desire will seed the movement towards joy. Many women who are aware of their urge for creative life are unsure of the steps they need to take to access divine play. Education and a supportive environment are essential for women exploring these realms.
The words 'blocked' and 'flowing' brought up a lot of resistance among the majority of the women. They did not feel that the words adequately described what was occurring for them. In checking off the circles in the box, the inclination is to say all is well. Inner reflection sometimes revealed feelings contrary to the objective response. The act of writing in the journal was more effective in helping the women to access their inner states than checking off boxes.
The experience of doing this research was both very disappointing and enlivening. It was difficult to be neutral about something for which I had such passion! This was the first time I had initiated a study and my inexperience brought many inconsistencies forward. I was not fully aware of the feminist and transpersonal allowances for the subjective experience of the researcher and did not know how to work with it.
I was enlivened by the contact with the women and filled with compassion for the volume of their wounding. This pain is the common denominator that binds us together and if acknowledged, will lead us to the embodied wisdom inherent in our sex. It would be preferable to experience this journey with women in a therapeutic setting rather than as research. The thirst for wholeness is more a realm of the heart than of the mind. The richness of my personal experience leads me to believe that the menstrual practice is a very effective and powerful healing tool.
Take a look at the Journal