As I get older and my daughter gets older, I see the importance of passing down what history I have left to her of connections to our bodies. History or her story, it is the body’s story that has etched its markings in time, markings that can only briefly be shadowed by hormonal birth control or other pharmaceuticals. The memory is still there, for the body has an amazing memory both cellular and instinctual. The paths of how the brain has been formed over time shapes generation after generation and through this pathway is one way that we can actually discover what many women believe we have lost. We can actually find the hints and connections of the past like piecing together a mystery one clue at a time.
As a culture at large, we have ignored and relegated menstruation to advertisements for tampons or pads or jokes about PMS. But what do we have to gift future generations that highlight the power of women, young and old, throughout the life cycle and throughout their menstrual cycle? I feel, as in birth, that the bodies of women have cycled for thousands of years. Women have walked the path knowing their power at that time in the month, knowing where and how to re(source) as well as how to support other women on this road. The footsteps of the path have been worn so that the prints are still tangible but unseen. Throughout different cultures there have been groups of women who taught other women or girls this information. Some of them such as the College of Hera and in medieval society were secret, others especially in indigenous cultures were revered. So, how can we backtrack to finding the secrets of our inner world and its relationship to our outer world? Finding pieces to a puzzle can be difficult if we don’t know what the puzzle looks like. However, ideas I have of how to piece together lost information of women’s power include: looking at metaphors of nature that reflect changes that we already know occur in the body and extend them to ourselves, looking to old myths and folk stories for the hidden knowledge of all the parts that make us whole, documenting our own experiences inside our body as feeling, sentient beings curious about what is going on around them, and creating practical and empowering models for embodying empowerment.
The relationship with the earth and moon leads us into discovering ourselves through the world around us and through metaphor. It is through cycles that we can learn much about our body. Recently I was mentoring a class on the menstrual cycle and the title of the class was “Living the Seasons.” This in itself seemed a great metaphor for cyclic activity and although it wasn’t always consistent with menstruation and the body, it definitely played out most of the time. Winter became menstruation. Fall became the proliferative phase. Summer became the ovulatory phase. Spring became the follicular phase. Of course, the seasons, we have all experienced those, even while living in San Diego! But through some mindfulness about our experience with the seasons, let us think about what menstruation and winter have in common. For instance, temperatures go down. Leaves, if they haven’t fallen already, fall. The nourishment for what is living comes from deep within the earth absorbing through their roots. The animals hibernate. The inner world is incubating. This is not unlike the emotions and the physical traits during menstruation when the body sheds the uterine lining; the uterus empties itself and becomes barren. At the same time, this part of the cycle is essential for the seasons to come. It is essential for renewal. Emotionally a woman can look deep to see how she incubates her inner world. She can look to see where her roots are established and what is already there to nurture deep inside. The earth can then begin the rebuilding of spring just like the uterus begins to prepare a bed for new life. Estrogen acts almost like sunlight in its anti-depressive effects. The woman usually feels more social and interactive. Soon summer comes and flowers are blooming and going to seed. It is a time of heightened arousal, a time of fertility. Soon comes fall and the flowers die and leaves begin to change color. This is a time ruled by progesterone, a natural sedative. And yet, if implantation does not occur in a woman, she continues on to breaking down her hormones so her body can return to winter. The leaves have dried up and have fallen; emotionally this might be a time of retreat. We can go through similar scenarios using lunar cycles which are quite appropriate due to the fact women’s cycles on average last 28 days and have traditionally correlated with the moon. Life cycles can also be used as well. For every month outside of pregnancy, the woman experiences renewal, possibility, recession, and death. Natural cycles in the world around us hold potential for us to piece together more clues to our empowerment puzzle.
Old myths, stories and folklore also use the cycles of nature and creativity as templates, but they also have different ideas and connections to offer. Jungian analysis of the story moves beyond the direct narrative. One can see the individual psyche in Jungian analysis as being multiple characters in the story. That means that in “Little Red Riding Hood”, the young girl is part of you, the wolf is part of you, and the grandmother is part of you. Together these components make a whole psyche. The development of these parts of you interacts in relationships with meaning. Many stories including “Little Red Riding Hood”, which derived from “Little Red Cap”, have been changed along the way and have many variations due to generational interpretation. At the same time, clues to the initial lesson or intention of the story still exist. Looking throughout different cultures, stories have deep meaning. Through stories, the psyche is more likely to learn and be less defensive. Stories use metaphor and archetypes that our brain recognizes and opens to in a different way than a lecture or didactic lesson. Other stories that have to do with creative cycles of life include the story of Demeter and Persephone, Innana, and even La Loba. Although La Loba does not seem like a life cycle, it does describe the transitional journey out of the labyrinth from winter to that of the wildness of summer and rebirthing the wild feminine. There are so many others that I have still to discover. This is where we turn to the keeper’s of the stories and cultures with live oral traditions for connection.
Documenting our own experiences is also key to piecing together history. History is living in how our body and our neural networks have developed. History is alive in the changes that occur in our body monthly and over a lifetime. Documenting the individual also provides the unique perspective on variations of people/s and environments. The Wise Wound encouraged journaling of a menstrual mandala for daily recordings of cyclic changes. Even just a diary of moods and tendencies could yield hints of patterns in one’s own life, and it is through curiosity and intimacy of this information that women could choose to use it to get to know how and when they can achieve a sense of power in the day to day. During one’s cycle, we already know that mood, memory, sex drive, temperature, mental focus, energy, dreams, carbon dioxide concentration, ability to absorb food and nutrients, cervical color, cervical position, cervical size, vaginal discharge, adrenal function, water retention, breast changes, platelet counts, pain thresholds, blood sugar, pH, visual and auditory acuity, and psychic activity vary. This list doesn’t even include the many variations of emotional tendencies and instincts a woman may feel throughout her cycle. Dreams in themselves can link one to their unconscious life and yield clues to learning about aspects of the self that may not be so obvious. In work by Robert Bosnak, dreams and memory can be interchangeable in how they are recalled and elicited. Dream work may be one other piece of the puzzle that links us unconsciously to empowerment. Journaling or just becoming aware of oneself throughout this process not only adds to information for this puzzle to be whole, but it also contributes to the collective consciousness in terms of variations and trends.
Finally, creating practical models of empowerment from a young age through puberty and adulthood can be part of a work in progress. There are two types of models that seem important as far as structures or containers (and I’m open to many more). First, using models of the cycle or of the journey can link today to the past. For instance, the labyrinth encompasses both the cycle and the journey and embodies the physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual experiences of an individual Having used the labyrinth in Birthing from Within classes, I’ve found it to be a powerful tool for familial and personal transformation. It also lends itself to mindfulness which mentors the individual in self-awareness. It is a transition that can only be completed upon reflection and integration of the new situation or new self. Once one walks the labyrinth to the center, they must also walk or ascend the labyrinth to exit and rebuild their transformed self. The second type of model that seems important for self-discovery and piecing together information is through community interaction. Community models could include celebrations of rites of passage/s, acknowledgement and celebration of changes, and grassroots community or collective forums for exchanging experiences. At the same time, I envision groups of mothers and daughters sharing their journeys with one another acknowledging, celebrating and finding their power within. Such sharing also builds communication and promotes awareness of other possibilities and experiences.
So what are the benefits to all of this? Why does it even matter? As we move through life, a person usually chooses to communicate in ways that are reinforced by others around them. In western culture, much of the reinforcement is reflected in interactions with a commercial culture that is heavily inundated with media. Yet, many women do not feel supported by this model, and statistics show increasing levels of depression. Modern medicine attempts to “normalize” women with drugs and / or psychotherapy. While this approach may give a woman what she needs to get on her feet, in general, prevention and support can go a long way to better health especially if it supports the whole woman. Yet, even in this model we are looking towards solving problems for women, when in fact, solutions and proactive connections exist within. When someone is guided to access or pay attention to themselves and to be present with their body in the moment, it has found that not only can someone rewire the brain through mindfulness, but they can find new methods of coping and even better, flourishing.
If someone is interested in attending a rites of passage circle with their daughter ages 11-14, we are currently gathering names for the San Diego area. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. Ideas and suggestions are welcome.
Works Cited and references that I find interesting and influential for future workshops, circles and discussions
Cameron, Anne. Daughters of Copper Woman. Harbour Publishing Ltd., Madiera Park, Canada, 2002.
England, Pam. Birthing From Within. Partera Press, Albuquerque: 1998.
Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. ” The Creative Fire”. Sounds True, Boulder, 1991.
Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run With the Wolves. Ballentine Books, New York, 2003.
Gardiner, Colette. Nourishing the Menstrual Cycle with Herbs, Nutrition and Ritual. Blue Iris Botanicals, Eugene, 1997.
Sturges, Cassandra George. “Unleash the Power of Your Menstrual Cycle,” Ezinearticles.com, 2010.
Wechsler, Taking Charge of Your Fertility: the definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control and Pregnancy Achievement. Harper Collins, New York: 1995.