April 26, 2017

Menstruation: From Resentment to Holy Ritual.

I think writing about periods is weird and embarrassing.

I’m a feminist to the core, but I avoided publicly discussing this topic for a long time.

However, I realized there is something profound about the menstrual cycle that should be honored and shared. We become the most present in our bodies—and aware of our true feelings—during this time.

Women often have an overtly negative attitude toward menstruation. We have affectionate names for it, like “red flood” or “that time of the month.” Our cycles are often deeply uncomfortable and painful. We also have mood swings, where at times our loved ones may need to duck for cover.

However, through two major experiences in my young life, I have come to understand that our menstrual cycles hold greater wisdom and opportunities to grow than we may realize.

My first shift in my relationship with my period arose from a mild eating disorder I had around the age of 16. The reasons behind my disorder are too numerous to delve into here, but the end result was that my body became dangerously thin.

During the six months that my disorder lasted, I spiraled so deeply into a mindset of obsession that it didn’t even occur to me that I was inflicting serious harm to my body and possibly my soul. I think my body decided that I needed a wake-up call, because the same time that I reached the scary “ideal weight” of my disorder, my period stopped.

This came as a huge shock to me, because until that point I was utterly convinced that I was somehow the healthiest person on the planet. Yet I could not casually brush off the fact that my period stopping was a bad sign.

Slowly, I began to consider that there was nothing positive about my eating obsession, that in fact, I needed to get help. So one month later when my best friends staged an intervention, I simply cried with relief.

I didn’t realize it then, but my eating obsession was the symptom of profound alienation I was experiencing from my body and authentic self at the time.

One year went by, and I successfully reached a healthy weight with a renewed sense of self-love and care to show for it. Despite this, my period still hadn’t started again, and I was extremely worried. What if it never came back? What if the harm was irreversible?

Without knowing why, I began speaking to my body daily like a benevolent angel mother. I would whisper constantly, “My dear body, it’s safe now. I promise I won’t ever do that to you again. My period, please start again. I’m sorry. I’m whole now. I love you.”

I know my body heard me, because soon I was miraculously greeted again by that familiar, uncomfortable feeling in my lower abdomen. I nearly threw a party.

This experience made me realize that our periods are a sign of vitality and our “beingness” as women. They are a sign of connection and even friendship with our bodies. We love to hate our periods, but they are a blessing in disguise. And not because they mean we can have children, though that is of course lovely. They are a blessing because they signal our unity and harmony with our inner nature.

However, it took another profound experience for me to see that our menstrual cycles can be used as a time of holy ritual for women.

It was around the same time of my period returning that I listened for the first time to Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

Something that stood out for me when listening to the series was Estés’ brief discussion on women’s menstrual cycles. She speaks about how women in ancient times used to venture together into the woods during their cycles. There seemed to be an instinctual understanding in these societies that women have a real connection to the natural rhythms of the earth—just think about the fact that our cycles often follow those of the moon.

However, Estés—a Jungian psychologist—also shares an understanding of the psychic nature of our menstrual cycles. In her words, she describes our cycles as a time where we “feel that veil between the conscious and unconscious mind thinning, so that we feel so deeply and so intensely.”

Listening to this at the age of 17, I don’t think I really understood the power of what Estés was saying. But for some reason now, at the age of 20, something has just clicked into place.

I was in the middle of my last cycle, feeling extremely sensitive. On any other day, I may have rolled my eyes, branding myself as the typical weepy woman on her period. Yet, this time, instead of disregarding my heightened feelings, I decided to take a deep breath and notice them. I was quiet and tuned into my field of emotions, gently asking what it wanted me to know.

In that moment, I tapped into a part of my life and found major understanding. I became aware of how incredibly vulnerable I was feeling about it.

If I had performed this process outside of my cycle, I suspect the answer would have eluded me as my “brave-face- syndrome” squashed it into my subconscious. However, in this case the feelings—clear and powerful—had risen into my body and given me a piece of real clarity.

It was this experience that led me to understand that our menstrual cycles are a magnificent opportunity for greater intimacy with our true feelings. Indeed, our emotions are heightened and often explosive, so we should be careful not to act on the insights we gain until after our cycles have ended.

Nevertheless, our menstrual cycles are a time to become curious about the deep, hidden parts of ourselves and our experiences. During this time, we are often able to see through the barriers we place in the way of our authentic wisdom. It’s funny that we are often debilitated by our period pains, because despite the pain, they also provide us with the space to sit with ourselves.

So perhaps when it’s “that time of the month” next, we will bless our cycle and take up its invitation to become diviners of our deepest natures.


Author: Anthea van den Bergh
Image: Juan Chien-Han/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Molly Johnson/Editor: Callie Rushton

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