One of my greatest journeys as a woman has been learning about my own body and its cycles. As a young woman my menstrual cycle was quite literally pain-full and at times debilitating. I had no positive feelings about it AT ALL. I was prepared physically for its arrival (thanks Mum), yet had no appreciation for, or understanding of, how magical this inner cycle was!
It was inconvenient and made me feel physically sick. My mother took me to the doctor and I was prescribed the oral contraceptive pill to ‘get it under control’. It seemed great… I knew exactly when it would arrive like clockwork and it was short and sweet. I felt in control, but was I?
In reality I was now more disconnected that ever before from my cycle (and therefore my body) and a manmade pharmaceutical drug was now in control of my inner hormonal landscape. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t care or give it a second thought. That would definitely change.
While I was overseas (I lived and travelled overseas for 5 years) I ran out of my supply of the OCP and I had my first real experience of, myself as a woman. I was 31 years old. The first thing I noticed was a massive increase in my sex drive and energy levels.
We are what we think
When I returned to Australia I was still at times experiencing painful and nauseating menstruation, however, now I was studying kinesiology so I was surrounded by information and opportunity to begin addressing this on a more holistic level. What was going on with my body??
My first healing session gave me insight into how my embodied experience of being a woman (i.e. my menstrual cycle) was inextricably connected to my perception of being a woman.
My (our) beliefs of what it means to be a woman in the world shape my (our) experience of being a woman on ALL levels – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. This may sound obvious to you, but at the time, for me, it was a complete revelation and this is when things started to change.
My beliefs about being a woman, before doing any of this work, were mostly fear based. There is so much I could say here but for now let’s call it intergenerational and cultural conditioning that women are literally worth less; weak, ‘hysterical’, over-sensitive/emotional, dangerous, in competition with each other, powerless, preyed upon, unsafe, etc. and that the menstrual cycle and birth are messy, ugly, and inconvenient; something that needs to be medicated and controlled.
In addition, that our value as women was measured by our physical appearance and how ‘fertile’ we were therefore, ageing is definitely something also to be feared. The consumer value of this is huge! How much money (energy and time) is spent on ‘beauty’ (I use this word not in its true sense, but in the sense that women ‘should’ appear a certain way to feel worthy) and staying ‘young’?
Unfortunately these beliefs are passed down (mostly unconsciously) from generation to generation. We literally teach our daughters; ‘be careful, it’s not safe for you in the world’, ‘you can’t trust your own body’, ‘don’t be too much’ (too loud, too pretty, too emotional, too successful; don’t make others uncomfortable!) and that they have to be ‘clever’ to be safe and successful which can translate to being manipulative, mistrusting and over-controlling. We learn not to trust the feminine both internally and externally.
For me this resulted in tumultuous relationships with girls and then women. I didn’t trust them. I felt in constant competition with them, being forever judged, compared and critiqued both internally and externally. This was validated by my lived experience with other girls at school and later women. It was awful and it used up a lot of energy that I could definitely put to better use!
I also mistrusted my own body. I resented my menstrual cycle and had no appreciation of the potential magic and connection to all of life that it offered me. I was highly critical and even ashamed of my body, overly focused on how it appeared to others rather than appreciating it, and understanding that it was the gateway for me to experience joy and pleasure in my life.
Luckily I was able to begin to reclaim my body as my own and, as my teacher Jane Hardwicke-Collings would say, learning about The Women’s Mysteries.
The Women’s Mysteries
Around this time I read a book called “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. This was my first taste of menarche (a woman’s first blood) being celebrated as an initiation into woman hood. Imagine that, a celebration?!? This was a huge leap from the fear and shame that I had grown up with around the menstrual cycle (as well as birth and menopause).
This was just the beginning.
It was at Seven Sisters Festival (which has been an ongoing anchor for me in this work since I began attending annually in 2013) that I heard many women speak about female empowerment, menstruation, menopause, birth, contraception, connection, creativity, and the cycles (plus so much more!).
One woman’s voice was a constant for me over those first few years and that was Jane Hardwicke-Collings, founder of the School of Shamanic Womancraft. Here was a menopausal woman; mother, grandmother, (past) home birth midwife (and ongoing advocate), women’s mysteries teacher, and (in her words) agent of The Goddess, living a full and rich life, and, consistently showing up to speak about all aspects of being a woman, including bleeding, birth (in ALL its forms), menopause and even abortion in a grounded, safe and inclusive way. I felt so inspired!
In December of 2016 I began a Four Seasons Journey with the School of Shamanic Womancraft and my learning, and growth, since has been phenomenal. I can honestly say that I have learned more about my Self, being a woman, the cycles (inner and outer), my red thread (mother’s lineage), holding space, listening, the wounded & healed feminine, ceremony, ritual, and Shamanic practices here than in any other place.
One of the most fundamental aspects of this journey was sitting ‘in circle’ with other women. When we sit in circle with each other we are gifted with, and gifting, the opportunity to be heard without judgement, interpretation, interruption, or questioning. This simple act of speaking and listening with our hearts to the voices of our sisters is possibly one of the greatest gifts towards our own healing journey. More about that later!
Consequently, two of my passions are now working with women; to help them heal and re-connect to their own cycles, and facilitating/participating in women’s circles!
Self-reflection journaling questions:
- What is your birth story? – we all carry a ‘birth imprint’ from our birth experience which can help to inform us about our way of being in the world
- What was your experience of menarche (your first period)? – This may also include what your mother/sister/aunties/cousins taught you beforehand, and what was shared amongst your friends.
- What is your current experience of menstruation and your menstrual cycle?
- What has been your experience of birthing? – This may include the choice to not have children, IVF, fertility treatment pathways, miscarriage, abortion, etc.
- What are your negative beliefs around your body? – Also reflect on what you may have witnessed in your mother’s (or other close family members) opinions of their body or comments about other women or your body.
- What are your positive beliefs around your body? – Also reflect on what you may have witnessed in your mother’s (or other close family members) opinions of their body or comments about other women or your body.
Blog by Natasha Colchester, Kinesiologist