Before I discovered cycle awareness, l inhabited a strange half life, trying to be someone I clearly was not. Like many women before me, I had absorbed the notion that to be taken seriously I needed to be rational, sensible, logical, factual and above all, constant. So I pushed and I struggled and I pretended to be all those things …
Until, in revolt, my beleaguered body got sick. Endometriosis had me tightly in her grip and it got to the point that I didn't feel safe to go out without a stack of pain killers, any time of the month, as the spasms would strike indiscriminately and without warning, leaving me quite literally floored and paralysed. Things were getting serious. So I took the Pill. I had operations. I changed my diet. I tried various herbal and other alternative treatments, but nothing really worked. Eventually, battered, bruised and on my knees, I crawled up on the shore of cycle awareness and couldn't believe my luck.
Here was the piece of the puzzle that I had been missing! The fading, withered up line of my life curled around into a circle and I was Whole. Yes, there were times when I could be rational, sensible, logical. But there were also times when I could be blissfully, wantonly irrational, when I could hide in the shadows rather than take centre stage, and when I could speak only from a place of intuition with no recourse to substantiated fact.
Understanding the different 'seasonal' phases of the menstrual cycle and putting them into practice helped shift things for me dramatically. Not only had I discovered my inner terrain, but I had been given a compass with which to navigate it. I learnt where my natural home in the cycle was (autumn) and what could happen if I really flowed with that (autonomy, empowerment, truth).
I also learnt where my weaknesses were (spring, summer) and how they had contributed to my health problems. It was wonderful to have permission to really ride these inner seasonal changes, to explore and dialogue with them, and to carve out my own particular expression of what it meant to be a woman as a result. But strangely, despite the progress I made in terms of self knowledge and self acceptance, and despite tracking my cycle religiously, my physical symptoms didn't get much better.
I could leave the house without pain killers and my body was less unpredictable, but endometriosis was still pulling the puppet strings of my life. Why?
Over time, I have come to realize that I was approaching cycle awareness with a Masculine, rather than Feminine sensibility. I had taken the archetypal definitions of spring, summer, autumn, winter (ie, something from the outside) and tried to weave myself out of them, but this isn't how it works. What I needed to do – what I have recently begun to do – is to define what comes from within, compare it to what comes from without and then claim myself in the divine tension that exists between the two …
I have also realised that, whilst a circle is indeed an appropriate symbol of wholeness, our lives do not express in a neatly circular manner. Even the great arc of birth to death is just that, an arc, as we do not know what comes before or after to complete the circle. The way I see it, our experience is actually made up of a series of constantly overlapping circles or cycles: the beginning of a project at work coinciding with the end of a personal relationship, for example, or the mid-phase of our menstrual cycle overlapping the end phase of the lunar cycle, with each particular crossover bringing certain conflicts and oppositions that, when met with openness (rather than resistance) help us to grow.
Since time immemorial, the image of two circles crossing to make an oval or vesica piscis, the ancient symbol of the sacred feminine, has carried great power. Generally understood to be a representation of the overlap between heaven and earth, the vesica piscis is the place where opposites come together to be reconciled. As my experience of cycle awareness has matured, I have learned to be grateful for this meeting of opposites, for it holds tremendous potential. Just as the literal, physical crossover or conjoining of male and female creates new life, welcoming paradox of any sort creates a container for the germination of something fresh and unique.
To me, the menstrual cycle is the perfect container, or crucible in which the incompatible base elements of life are thrown together and transmuted into gold. For example, as a shy, introverted woman most at home in the shadowy light of menstrual autumn, the extrovert demands of summer's spotlight can be very challenging. But of course summer cannot be avoided, so how do I find my way? Similarly, the demands of work and family often make it impossible for me to retreat in menstrual winter, so how do I care for the strong inward pull and need to rest when having to be outward and active? Seeking an answer to these seemingly unsolvable questions and being prepared to accept that there is no answer, is the business of true self discovery.
Interestingly, since I stopped trying to conform to the archetypal menstrual cycle (and indeed to the archetypal cultural definition of what it is to be female), my body and its myriad physical symptoms have started to relax. It has been a revelation to acknowledge that whilst the archetype might ask certain things of me at certain times, I may not be able to deliver. In fact, my offering might be completely at odds with what is expected. And that's ok. Because that is who I am, no more, no less Divinely Feminine as a result. Without the manifold gifts of Menstrual Cycle Awareness, of this beautiful, compassionate dance of self intimacy and self inquiry that it invites, I doubt I would have got to this place of understanding and acceptance. For that, I am deeply grateful.
To find out more about Penny and her superb work click here If you’d like to learn how to practice Menstrual Cycle Awareness and build the kind of knowing that Penny has we’d recommend you head on over to our online course Menstrual Cycle Literacy.