Menstrual wisdom

What can we learn from our body and our cycles?
For many of us the rejection and distaste which surrounds menstruation in our culture is so ingrained that it is hard to step aside and see it for what it is—something imposed and unnatural. Most women experience menstruation as inconvenient at best. Few of us grew up recognising that our body cycles hold the potential to awaken powerful, healing female energy, much needed in the world today.

"Curse" or sacred time?
In ancient times a woman's menstrual blood was called her 'Moon-gift from the Goddess'. Its potent symbolic value was demonstrated in the ancient Greek custom of mixing it with seed-corn for the annual sowing, to provide the best possible fertilizer. 1 Before it became a 'nuisance' and the 'wrong' time of the month, menstruation was considered sacred. Sacred is in fact the Polynesian origin of the word 'taboo'. This veneration of women's natural rhythms and monthly flow contrasts strangely with the secret shame and 'curse' they have now become. 2

Sharing women's wisdom
Before the introduction of artificial light women ovulated at the full Moon and menstruated with the new Moon. The knowledge of feminine nature, its power, its unique beauty, its vast resources of wisdom and the special requirements of nutrition, lifestyle, ceremony and herbal information that support women in different stages of life, were shared amongst women during the 'sacred' time as they bled together. Sadly there is no place in today’s society where a woman learns about the complexities of her body cycles and how to connect with and support her feminine nature.

Attitudes to menarche destroy girls' self-esteem
The lack of recognition of menarche (her first period) is now being acknowledged as a source of self-esteem problems for adolescent girls. It has been well-documented that the self-esteem of girls plummets at puberty. This may well be a cause of the terrifying epidemic of eating disorders among young women.3 There is also a link between school absenteeism and menstruation, strongest in the first year after menarche and caused as much by embarrassment, depression, and fear of blood showing on clothing as by any physiological symptoms. A detailed study last year goes on to suggest that shame about menstruation creates an overall sense of body shame which affects not only a young woman's self-esteem but also her sexual behaviour and ability to make wise sexual decisions.4

What are we telling ourselves and our daughters about womanhood?
For most of us, menarche was, and remains an unritualized, uncelebrated non-event. One that leaves us with "unclean" periods from which we are told we require sanitary "protection". Is it any wonder that so many young women begin to think that there is something intrinsically "wrong" with them? As a society we certainly have a long way to go toward making the first period a time which supports a young girl and ushers her successfully into her adolescent years and her womanhood. 5,6

The rewards of breaking the taboo
It is gradually being shown that feeling shame about menstruation has far-reaching and detrimental effects. But how might women's return to comfort with menstruation promote well-being in other areas of their lives? At Wemoon we have found that deciding to take the leap through our own menstrual 'taboos' and choosing to use cloth pads has been a powerful step towards healing our wounds around menstruation, reconnecting with our body and reclaiming more of our innate feminine wisdom.

Relaxing into the feminine flow
The switch from tampons to pads allows you to actually feel the flow of your menstrual blood. Tovi Browning describes her experience of "moving on from 'liberated' stuckness to freedom of flow". At first that feeling of the warm fluid intermittently flowing from her body created "a feeling of panic, a sense of loss of control". But as she began to relax beneath that illusion "the sensations were sensual, surrendered, warm, wet and self-loving, an ancient woman's laughter as she views a fraught and controlled yet powerless world while concurrently experiencing a quiet, empowering loss of control."7 Learning to welcome that unpredictable flow is a powerful step in relaxing into the rich well of feminine understanding, that becomes heightened during our bleeding time.

Releasing and renewing
The switch from disposable to reusable pads connects you one step further with your menstrual process as you are asked not only to feel your menstrual flow but to handle it while soaking and washing your pads. We have found that handling our reactions to handling our menstrual blood has inevitably brought us closer to acceptance and appreciation of the miracle that our body performs every month. The more we recognise and wonder at the rhythmic renewal, release and renewal that happens within us, the more we become willing to nurture ourselves, to trust our cyclical nature and to open to the intuitive flashes and the creative inner world that our bleeding time reveals.

Return to wisdom
Many women have found that as the emotional pain around menstruation heals, the painful physical symptoms also ease. Could it be that our bodies have been simply reflecting to us their discomfort at our attitudes to their normal, natural and life affirming capacity? Could they have been trying to flush out and remove those literal blocks to our feminine understanding? We can speculate—but one thing we do know is that now, more than ever, the world is sadly lacking in the loving compassion that feminine wisdom brings. We believe that any steps that we can take to support women to heal their relationship with the feminine and to reclaim the power of their innate body knowing, are steps that are truly worth taking.

References

1. The Wise Wound: Menstruation & Everywoman (1978)Penelope Shuttle & Peter Redgrove

2. The Women's History of the World by Rosalind Miles

3. NY Times - Women's Health Special

4. Cycles of shame: menstrual shame, body shame, and sexual decision-making, Journal of Sex Research, Nov 2005 by Deborah Schooler, L. Monique Ward, Ann Merriweather, Allison S. Caruthers

5. Honoring Menstruation: A Time of Self Renewal by Lara Owen

6. Circle of Stones by Judith Duerk

7. Femophobia by Tovi Browning


Tips for making the switch