Although filled with enthusiasm and hope at restoring my long abandoned feminine self, consciously allowing myself to ‘be’ with my menstruation did not come easily to me.
My life felt so very full that when each bleed came it felt insurmountably difficult to ask for what I needed. As I entered the first stage of separation a day or two before bleeding I would find myself shutting down, angrily disconnecting from those I loved and unable to find the words to boundary myself. Naturally at this time our energies are detaching from normal life and travelling to the inner realms of self. The emotional pain that I was causing myself through my inability to protect myself and to meet my own needs became blindingly apparent. Each month I would sob and then as if cured from my amnesia my bleed would come and I would feel relieved. Month after month my ‘inner critic’ or ‘inner predator’ would hound me internally, chastising me with my mother’s voice driving me to ignore the deep sadness and loneliness that I felt inside each month, ever encouraging me to ignore all that I had long ago put into shadow. “Pull yourself together”, “No point dwelling”, “You can’t let yourself have a minute you’re a busy mother”, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about”, “Shall we have a nice cup of tea?”.
I spoke with my husband about what I was processing and what we could negotiate in order for me to allow his support in. I struggled to let go although, at first, I didn’t even recognize that I was struggling. In order for me to give myself ‘permission’ to ‘be’ with my bleed I had to let him be responsible for the care of our three small sons. It felt like an enormous amount to ask, yet it was what I did all day everyday, why was it then so hard for me to allow this for myself? Why did I feel so strongly that my role was to soldier on at any cost? Why did I feel that the only ‘allowable’ time I could take for myself was if I had completely driven myself to exhaustion, illness or by having an accident? I was forced then to recover and allow support in – but why was it so difficult to take time before any of these things had happened first?
When, at last, I allowed myself time to separate on day one of my bleed and courted the second stage of surrender to emerge – my struggle continued. I realized that I was deeply exhausted and that all my body yearned to do was sleep. I felt that I would never have enough sleep to fill my exhaustion. Month after month my practice would be to separate and to sleep. Later on when I was able to rest, do nothing and move at the pace of my body, I realized that I had never allowed this for myself before. I had only ever experienced moving at the pace of my body and deeply entering a liminal state if I was on holiday or away at a retreat – spaces where there was enough holding for me to feel safe enough to completely let go. I began to feel that I could allow myself to settle each month into the homecoming of soothing healing repair. It was what I understood the meaning of the Red Tent to be and I was now determined to create this space for myself each month. Better still I didn’t need to go anywhere, book any travel, or spend any money. I was creating my own holding and safety in the comfort of my own home – for free. I began to love and jealously guard it.
Once I had practiced the safety and holding that I needed month after month after month in order to sufficiently separate and surrender, I began to notice the porous and expansive state that heralded my first experience of the third stage of renewal. It came on the second day of bleeding and was for me similar to the feeling that I have when I wake up after a day of fasting. I felt incredible, full of energy and vitality. I was in awe that by allowing the critical, cruel and shaming voices that I had held inside of myself at pre-menstrum to be heard, I could on the opposite side of letting go, now be experiencing joyful, even ecstatic states of renewal due to surges of oxytocin. My jaw was quivering with the rushes of energy. I wanted every woman to feel this. It was a rebirthing having survived the death of my ego, it was a sense that I was learning to parent myself and begin to listen to my own needs.
Once this stage had been reached the next two stages of awakening and clarity seemed to naturally happen without too much courting. After allowing the energies of renewal to nourish me (without using them to busily ‘get on’ with life) I began to be flooded with insight and guidance about myself leading into clear steps as to what I needed to move towards in the month ahead. Each month I was shown, in flashes of memory, all the ways in which I have chosen to abandon myself, often at times of betrayal – the many times when I had decided to withhold my version of a story through shame of not living up to what I thought was expected of me. Threads of my life seemed to spiral together during every cycle. Each month I became clear of the support that I needed to seek for myself and from whom.
As my monthly practice of being with my bleed, and therefore myself, turned into years I noticed that when life sped up again and I didn’t wholey allow myself the first two stages of separation and surrender – then the third stage of renewal never came and I felt bereft. The tears would come again and I came to understand that I was grieving over a lifetime of emotional abandonment. I was now holding the responsibility for turning up for myself, and when I didn’t the pain came again. The despairing loneliness and vacuous vulnerability of a life led filled with busyness and distraction, the hallmark of our everyday culture.
Our pre-Celtic ancestors well knew these altered states as the ‘Women’s Mysteries’. When a girl reached her menarche she was celebrated and supported as a valued member of the tribe. This was honoured by creating the correct set of circumstances so that each month the men could hold and protect the females to remove themselves from their daily duties and responsibilities in order to ‘practice’ being with the altered states of consciousness that menstruation brought – the women’s monthly vision quest. Practised 13 times a year throughout her 35-40 years of bleeding it was the way that our indigenous Medicine Women were ‘taught’ throughout their menstruating years. Each month they would build up the psychological strength in the first half of their cycle and then receive the support to be with the undoing of that strength in the second half. Shawls, shields, swords, and sacred items were made to honour the wholeness that had been hard won by her along her life journey. Her medicine name was given post menopause when she was now able to serve her tribe, having first faced herself during each and every inner Winter.
Could we now as women stand on our ancestors shoulders and begin to restore the power of the Feminine by being with our inner-critic and shadow selves at pre-menstrum? Could it be that if each of us made non-negotiable time to be with our bleed each month we could access our own unique body based spiritual practice? I for one am willing to stake my life that we can.