My first inkling that something transformative could happen at menstruation was 8 years ago while pregnant with my second son.
I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth’ and he wrote at length about the individual pain body that we each carry around with us. He discussed that we also each belong to several collective pain bodies and that as a woman I also carried the collective female pain body. This he described becomes activated at pre-menstruum and that as women we were ‘blessed’ with this body based opportunity for awakening. It was a way, he trusted, into experiencing the present moment. I felt as if I had received an awakening just by reading this acknowledgement.
When my cycle returned I began tracking and watching for my own experience of the pain body at my pre-menstruum. It became clear to me that it was very difficult to ‘be’ with and ‘walk towards’ painful emotions in the busyness of family life and work commitments. I yearned for space but had no idea how to claim this for myself. When space for me did come it was often after an emotional outburst leaving me feeling ashamed that I had claimed it for myself in this way.
I enrolled on ‘The Journey’ at Embercombe, in Devon, and at this initiatory week of deep council I had a visionary experience during a breathing practice that changed the course of my life:
I saw myself standing on the cliffs behind my home here in Cornwall and I could hear the screams of women all around the Earth in that moment. Each was being medicated to silence their powerful cries. Some were giving birth, some were speaking up, some were in menopause, some were young girls and some were old women meeting their death. I began screaming with them at the torture of being unmet. Then out of the ground all around me rose the women of my home town, women that had lived on this land long before. They were the indigenous women of Cornwall. Each was woaded with lightening bolts and moon cycles on their faces and each wore swan feathers in their hair. They walked toward me and in their outstretched arms they offered me food. It started as corn on the cob and then changed to sheaves of corn. Their unspoken message was that I must now nourish myself because without nourishment they could not speak through me. Self care is not selfish – it is essential and non-negotiable.
When I returned home I began searching for female teachers, teachers who recognised menarche, birth, menopause and death as rites of passage, teachers who offered body based ceremony, teachers who understood the motherline and teachers who could bring me their own lived experience of menstruality.
During this time of research I began the Women’s Quest Apprenticeship with Alexandra Pope. It was in our individual sessions that I noticed what was coming up for me was my own lack of ability to give myself the space and rest that I needed at menstruation. I had now been pointed towards this time as an opportunity for experiencing a deep inner meeting with oneself, an inner council. This I had ‘heard’ from several different sources but never truly experienced. I saw what was getting in the way of allowing this for myself was my own deep shame around taking care of myself and resting. Alexandra repeatedly encouraged ‘doing nothing’ leading up to and during my bleed. On the surface that sounded great, in practice it took me at least a year to find the words to allow this for myself. Firstly I had to feel that I was even worthy of looking after, secondly that I could express this to my husband and ask him to look after the children and thirdly when I got the time to explore to know what ‘doing nothing’ actually meant.
At the beginning of claiming my menstruation as my spiritual practice I would simply retreat to our bedroom. Here I would wrestle with my inner critic screaming into my ears ‘what on earth are you doing??’ Then it would come up with all the undone chores ‘There’s laundry that needs folding’, ‘You haven’t got back to that email’, ‘You could be planning for the week ahead get a pen and paper’. Next I would let myself lie down on my bed and practice a relaxation. Now I could feel my inner critic emotionally kicking me for resting during the day, and then finally, I would fall asleep.
I continued this, often self-berating, experience month after month creating my own red tent in my bedroom. I began to recognise how deeply exhausted I was and that each time all that my body yearned for was sleep.
When eventually I was able to retreat without needing to simply sleep I would be aware of my husband and the children in the house too. I found it hard to stay with myself as I began to experience the permeable and expansive states of consciousness as I bled. I moved my retreat to the futon in my husband’s office at the top of the garden. This served for a time too but there I became aware of traffic or passers by and I recognised that in order to stay with myself I needed absolute silence.
I began retreating to a friend’s wagon on a field that they own. Each month I would prepare food, snacks and drinks and drive off to be alone. Now courting the phases of surrender and renewal with dedicated commitment. Then the call to my inner temple would come and I would resent the preparation and 30 minute drive and found myself wanting something simpler. I used my bleed to find what my ideal solution could be. I knew that when I felt the unmistakable need to retreat when everything felt suddenly loud and intrusive – this was my call to my inner temple. I needed a simple solution so that I could allow my consciousness to expand and become diffuse. I knew that my body’s urge is to lie belly down upon the Earth needed to be swiftly met and if possible to listen to the birds and nature. Clarity and direction soon came flooding in, and as always it was so simple!
I ordered myself a pop up (red!!) tent that didn’t even need pegging down unless it was windy. Two red sleeping bags that I could zip together and a red fleece covered hot water bottle. They waited in my porch with ground mat and torch. When my next call to the temple came it was during our family evening meal. I explained to my husband and sons that my sacred time was approaching and that I would be leaving now to camp at the bottom of our garden. I kissed them each goodnight and walked the 20 paces to the bottom of the flowerbeds. I popped up my tent and lay belly down on the Earth with my hot water bottle on my lower back. My consciousness joined the birdsong and my body deeply melted into the Earth as I returned home and began my bleed.
As the months have passed in this very beautiful way my sons have loved to visit my sacred space (on a strictly invitation only basis!). I have noticed that in my expanded awareness and surrender from responsibility I am able to ‘be’ with them and deeply answer their questions about what happens during my bleeding time. My eldest son, now 9, has saved his pocket money and also brought his own pop up (blue!) tent now. Last month he went to the top garden with his brother in his words ‘to have their own sacred time’, my heart was proud to bursting. Even though their sacred time meant reading the beano until dark and heading out periodically to the trampoline! All the while my husband was in the house (while our third son was asleep) enjoying an evening to himself. Everyone, it seems, benefitted.
As I close it’s hard to imagine now not having my bleed as sacred time in council with my deep and holy self. I honour that part of me that resisted out of shame and fear of my own self care. I also give gratitude to my husband and to my mum for taking on my role in the family in order that I am able to retreat. I am sharing this story as Alexandra asked me to write my experience and I am reminded in doing so how much we can all learn from each other. I would love to hear, if you feel drawn, how you too carve time to enter your own inner temple at menstruation, what set of life circumstances you have to navigate in order to allow this for yourself. I honour Alexandra’s courage to remain true to her calling these past 30 years of tracking her cycle and am deeply grateful for the map home to my own.
This blog post was originally published on the Red School website here – https://redschool.net/retreating-to-the-inner-temple/