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 were effective in bringing about an acceptance of the feminine as Divine. Yet, in reality, each month I still cursed my bleeding time.
I began the Menstrual Practice with the intention of working through some of these issues. Working with collage during my menses on the day of my fullest flow 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. What I discovered as the cycles progressed was the treasure of my own creative power.
My intent in making a ritual of collage 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 (right) was a 'true' manifestation of my inner experience. The second collage (lower right) 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 creative 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. "
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. (right) 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.
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