A Kind of Blessing
Understanding the Power of Menstruation by Alexandra Pope © 2002
The stress sensitive barometer in women, the menstrual cycle is an exquisite system for sensing both physical and psychological wellbeing. Menstruation is an initiatory moment. Women can potentially open to a highly charged altered state, giving them access to a singular kind of power - the power of self awareness, deep feeling, knowingness, intuition. A power that matures over time with each cycle.
Most women might find it strange to talk of the menstrual cycle and menstruation as useful and powerful beyond its baby making function. This is not surprising. Too long we have been tyrannised around our bodies. To get anywhere professionally we've had to deny the life of our uteruses and silence our emotional authority for fear it would be labelled as 'losing it' or 'not rational', in other words not intelligent. The word 'hysteria' comes from the Greek for womb, hustera. Our wombs were seen as unstable organs, making us unstable. Whilst medical science has moved on from those fifteenth century notions, in today's atmosphere there still lingers a feeling that women are essentially unpredictable and unreliable beings because of the menstrual cycle.
No wonder women have needed to tread carefully when drawing from an authority that was not of the intellect. An authority coming instead from a knowingness, from the fullness of our senses and sensual nature. It is only in recent years that emotions have gained some currency. Emotional intelligence is a frequently used phrase today now that Science (male) has come up with the "hard" evidence making Emotions (female) respectable!
To begin to open again to the fullness of the experience available to us at menstruation may take time. It is important firstly to recognise cycles are the very basis of life, the means by which nature and humans regenerate. To go against them is a recipe for disaster. Listening to them adds a richness and connection to life. Women who medicate their menstrual cycle through the use of the Pill are in danger not only of harming their physical health, but also of cauterising the depths of their inner nature. Something will never feel complete.
The tendencies in the ovulatory phase of the cycle are more outer focussed, linear, left brain, feeling fairly clear (no messy emotion) and productive, with plenty of energy for others.
As we move into the menstrual phase of the cycle women tend to become more inner focussed. The transition to this inner state is often signalled by feelings of irritability, anger, overwhelm, greater dreaminess and vagueness. The people around us often feel more like an irritant. Opposites are amplified. For example you may experience feeling driven one moment and then flip into it's opposite, becoming drifty and dreamy the next. A feeling of purposefulness may fall away to be replaced by a questioning about one's life. This can also take the form of criticism of self and others, or simply depression. Equally there are moments of spaciousness and even peacefulness (if you're not too busy), passionate feeling, heightened intuition, psychic ability and strong dreaming. The single most dominant characteristic of this phase is sensitivity. We become more permeable both to our own depths and also to the world.
Ironically the power of menstruation comes from the one thing we usually condemn in ourselves at this time: this very sensitivity. It is a wonderful opening to feeling and spirit. If we can travel through this opening with greater acceptance, we'll experience over time an illumination and knowingness that will suffuse the whole of our life. Our deep feelings are an awesome intelligence, a form of knowing, sometimes prescient, that goes beyond surface realities. Without our capacity for depth of feeling, and, yes, it includes all the so called "negative" ones, life would lack meaning and intimacy, ecstasy and joy .
The sensitivity extends the acreage of our souls, encourages us to examine and challenge ourselves and the world we live in. If the task feels too great, the sensitivity of menstruation too overwhelming, we should neither condemn ourselves nor menstruation. That would be like shooting the messenger. Instead we must learn to value and harness the power that comes from our greater openness. Take a stand for more womanly ways of knowing that can track feeling, listen to gut instinct, notice synchronicities, catch the intuitive flashes and recognise the connections between all things. Intellect is immeasurably matured by such skills of knowing.
There is much that is numbing, deadening and flattening about life in our post industrial high-tech world. The speed alone at which most of us live and the subsequent fatigue that engenders wears down the senses and spirit. Menstruation is a return to the body and a subsequent revitalising of those senses. Inevitably there may be some disturbance as we 're-enter' and reawaken metaphorical and literal nerve endings. I feel much of the premenstrual anger and frustration is an indignation of the soul at the amount of soullessness that exists today, even in spiritual quarters. The life of our sensual, ecstatic bodies is being too easily eroded from all sides. Without the livingness of our 'bodies': the vitality of our senses, the pleasure of our complex and rich feelings, we lose our humanity.
In the native American tradition it is said that a women redreams the world when she bleeds. The revitalizing of all her senses allows her to 'see' the world again with fresh eyes. She is privileged in that moment with an extraordinary intimacy, with the particularity of things, as though she were feeling with her whole being. A moment of epiphany, spaciousness and vision are hers.
The intensity of menstruation is going to vary from woman to woman depending upon our individual temperaments and willingness to court the life of our bodies. We will all have are own personal take. Whilst the qualities I describe are to some extent a given, that is they arise unbidden, your task is to give space to them. Don't imagine you can continue on the same as before...doing, doing, doing. Stillness, silence and solitude as well as your care and love for yourself are the allies in this process. For some of you it may be more of a quiet, subtle process for others it may be incredibly intense. Many of our menstrual symptoms are the shadow side of not understanding the forces we are wrestling with at this time. Those who suffer menstrually carry the dispossessed 'voices' of menstruation for all of us.
Through the monthly cycling of her body, a woman has the opportunity to cultivate internal authority. A Native American saying states that at menarche a woman enters her power, through her menstruating years she practices it and at menopause she becomes it. True power comes from our capacity to travel in both inner and outer worlds, to experience emotional and spiritual depths along with our intellectual rigour. This is true for both women and men. Women are blessed with an inner process, the menstrual cycle, that reminds us of and supports these capacities. This is a wonderful gift. A kind of blessing.
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You can find more on Alexandra Pope and her breakthrough work on menstruation, womanhood and feminine wisdom at www.wildgenie.com.