In this episode you’ll discover what our original woman’s spiritual practice is and how our bodies come coded with it, the power of the female body and how you can begin to activate this uniquely feminine practice.
Sjanie: So, welcome again to this Wild Power Series. It’s a great joy for us to be sharing these chunks from our book “Wild Power”, we both feel that the starting place for this menstruality conversation is around this idea that is central to our work and has taken us a long time to come to name. And it is this idea that the menstrual cycle is a woman’s original spiritual practice. I feel like I need to take a little break when I say that. I feel quite relieved saying that.
Alexandra: It is a powerful thing to say – I feel soothed having it named and recognised like that. It has been a long time coming being able to name that. Articulate what we mean by that and this is what we will be doing in this podcast. This is a knowledge that has grown over years within me. It is as though my whole being has known this all along. And what has grown is my capacity to own to drop into that knowing more and more and to be able to fully name it. It all really goes back to the beginning. That very first bleed at the age of 14. My menarche and I remember in that moment, I feel teary, I felt this huge pride and I remember the light, it was summer – as though I was walking on air – this wonderful feeling of excitement in my being. I can see myself walking into the dispensary at boarding school to get my first set of pads. I just had this wonderful swagger in my body, I felt so grown up. I think that in that moment my spirit knew yes there is something here this is my business and in my 20s and this was in the 1970s in the dark ages of menstruality. I got into fertility awareness, awareness of the biology of the cycle I did that for contraceptive purposes. I didn’t want to be controlled by the Pill. I did go on the pill briefly and woke up to what that was doing to me. Practiced fertility awareness and was militant about it, I thought all women should do this! It was a political act. I was also very much into spiritual things but nobody of course was talking about the menstrual cycle awareness as a spiritual process. One I wrote in my diary , “the world is singing today, last night I got my period”. And there is that ecstatic state of menstruation coming through and then of course I had my great awakening at the age of 30, just before my 31st birthday when I got initiated into the work that we now teach at Red School, outrageous pain just breaking me open and it would come back month after month and I truly felt open and broken by it. I made the radical decision to follow my body and not take painkillers. I was able to do that in part because I was self employed some of the time, I had a part time job teaching and I was working as a counsellor. Fortunately my bleed was regular and I was able to tell my clients, I couldn’t work on certain days. I would travel into the pain and it was like veils falling from my eyes. This was a process that happened over time but it was revelation that kept coming through. This willingness to follow my cycle and give in at menstruation and with time and really good natural health practices and particularly diet was able to heal that pain. I began to experience ecstasy and when the pain was easing feeling love and feeling so right and knowing myself and the dropping away of shame, and all that usual crap surrounding being a woman. Here I felt right and whole and it was really beautiful. But no one was talking about this and on occasion around ovulation I could begin to doubt my own experience. But each month as I would come back to menstruation there it was again. Of course I write about this healing journey in my first book The Wild Genie. The menstrual cycle as a woman’s original spiritual practice was growing more and more in me. The knowing of it was real. I found through our connection that we came to finally really name it in a really articulate way. So this statement has come from a very profoundly deeply lived experience of my own process and of course all the women we have been working with over the years.What about your journey to find this extraordinary spiritual practice, Sjanie? How did it awaken in you? It wasn’t pain for you. And by the way a woman doesn’t have to have pain.
Sjanie: It is really apparent to me that you Alexandra paved the way certainly for me but I am sure for many women. Something about the acknowledgement of your own experience made it possible for others to recognise it in themselves.My awakening of this spiritual process began before I met you. In my early twneties I decided to take contraception because there was so little knowledge about the menstrual cycle passed down to me. I was of the understanding that it was a liability. When I first got my period and my menstrual cycle started, what that really meant was a load of responsibility. Now I was eligible for pregnancy and needed to be extra cautious. I was in some kind of danger possibly even, these were some of the ideas I was carrying. So for me contraception felt like a sensible and responsible thing to do, and I was offered the pill but it really didn’t work form me. I was then offered the contraceptive injection, which I went onto in my early 20s that shuts down the entire menstrual cycle I saw that as a bonus that I had no menstrual cycle whatsoever. And then of course when I started having issues with that and I came off contraception, that was when I got to see really from my own direct experience what this energy was that I had been suppressing. When my cycles started coming back it was a very strong experience. Like an awakening. I felt life flooding back into my body, I felt my senses awakening, I felt a just my whole interior land scape came back into relief and my emotional world turned up in a big way. It was strong and quite un-nerving at the time and it took a long time to ground into this change, to reacclimatise myself to the shift in gears that is very much a part of who we are as a woman. I really started to feel my connection to life much more fully and I began to feel more embodied more present and much more here. That was really my first sign that there is much more at work here than the biological process. Then of course meeting you and the way that you opened up the conversations that you had been having with women all over the world, I joined into that conversation and I started to see more and more clearly how this practice of awareness of my cycle brought much more meaning into my life, much more purpose. So this has come from our individual experiences and also from the conversations we have had with women all over the world, over a number of years, and it’s how we are piecing this all together.I remember the moment, it was when we were sitting in the garden at Hawkwood college while we were writing Wild Power and we were grappling to find to see if we could sum up in one sentence what we are reclaiming with this work and I remember us saying it, naming the menstrual cycle as our original spiritual practice as women. I remember that moment so well. Now looking back, honestly years and years and your research, countless conversations, many trainings, books written and in that moment suddenly, this is it, this is the piece we women can reclaim now. This is our original practice and this is our way.
Alexandra: And we can now articulate what we mean by that because for so long for me it was a sense in my being… I just knew something and it would rankle that it wasn’t acknowledged. When someone one would be teaching about spiritual practices say in a workshop my spirit would rankle and I’d feel some indignation. I was feeling as if something was being imposed on me when I had something inside of me that wasn’t being named that was equally as valid, and I used to be a little bit reactive and I would have to manage that. After all, all those other spiritual practices are fabulous, they are all great to do for all of us, men and women alike. Now I am able to clearly name our way as women and how it works us. I can feel that my whole spirit is settled a lot more even though I am still determined that this is going to be out there in the field commonly known just like all the other spiritual practices that we partake in. Cycle awareness is the key. This is a woman’s original one. I would like it to be normal and known.So, Sjanie, What do we mean? How does it work us as a spiritual practice? I am imagining there are women listening to this saying “What? This thing I put up with each month experiencing those awful symptoms or the hassle of the bleed” What do we mean, how does it work as a spiritual practise? This thing we have to put up with each month. All these crappy feelings I experience premenstrually each time. How can that be the spiritual way.
Sjanie: Yah. We have been saying the menstrual cycle is a woman’s original spiritual practice. But more specifically it is the awareness of our menstrual cycle because unnoticed and unattended to the power of the cycle really lies dormant. So it is the discipline we bring to it and the attention that we hold for our cycle and for ourselves in the change in seasons that is the practice that ignites it.
Alexandra: Discipline. A spiritual practice is a discipline that you come to on a regular basis. Whether it is meditation or prayer or ritual or whatever. And the discipline for us women is the discipline of cycle awareness isn’t it? Each day noticing where you are in the cycle what you are experiencing. And of course in our next podcast we are going to go into a lot of detail on what we mean by cycle awareness but it is just this simple practice of paying attention and beginning to accommodate your life to the cycle as something meaningful and useful rather than an irritant. That on the contrary it is this wise system that is supporting us in terms of our health and wellbeing, our creative expression and our spiritual wellbeing, our spiritual life. So it is a discipline. And I think a spiritual discipline is one that connects you to something that is larger, to the sacred, to the divine. Actually that is what cycle awareness gives us.
Sjanie: The other aspect of this, our capacity to connect with the divine and with the sacred. How we can hold onto that and be present with the sacredness through the daily grind, through the moments in our life through the difficulties and the challenges and whatever life throws at us. Our capacity to hold that level of connection is supported through the practice of cycle awareness. It is developing us to be a vehicle or a channel for or a bridge between the divine and the mundane so it is building our capacity are awareness our ability to hold
Alexandra: I love that idea of building our capacity like building the vehicle through which more and more of the divine, the sacred can come in, a channel for that is our awareness of our own cycle. I always say when you are connected to your cycle you are connected to yourself. This act of connection to yourself, your cycle, is an act of love really. And as you meet the cycle it is like the cycle comes back to you with all these lovely goodies. But it is this process of awareness that grows a psychological muscle to be able to handle more and more of this expanded consciousness.
Sjanie: The other piece of this which is that the cycle is really supporting you to grow into these new skins expanding into other states of consciousness. Really built into the pattern of the cycle. This process which is what we are going to be talking about more in future episodes what we mean by that. The cycle is growing you, maturing you, helping you to expand to hold more and more of who you are and more and more of life. It is connecting you to life and so it is giving you a profound sense of meaning and belonging What I also want to add is the process of paying attention to the cycle leads you to find the inner temple of women at menstruation. At menstruation we are able to experience these glorious expanded states of consciousness, union ecstasy. These are the goals of meditation aren’t they? And they are gifted to us on a plate we don’t have to sweat we don’t have to sit still for an hour a day. All we have to do is to keep this fidelity. In a culture that does not value the cycle so it is quite hard for us to do this but it shouldn’t be. Honour our changing rhythm. It is staggering and it is a complete outrage that women are not born into this knowledge.But anyway we are changing it.
Sjanie: It is our birthright – That beautiful pot of gold that is menstruation, the inner temple that is gifted to us naturally. Another hall mark of our spiritual practice is something that is naturally healing and that is true when we get to know the different aspects of ourselves and really to embrace who we are. An inner kindness, this capacity to be gentle to love and accept all parts, grows. We recover our wholeness. That is the inner work of the cycle and so crucial if we are wanting to really serve and bring our gifts and potential forward Cycle awareness grows the same type of energy as meditation does - an inner stillness. It’s the mindfulness practice of women. Alexandra: We are taking about all these glorious energies and we should give a few clues on how we can awaken these.
Sjanie: Lets say specifically what the thing is to do to begin to practice cycle awareness and begin to engage with the spiritual powers of the cycle. So it is really simple and we are going to be going into a lot more depth and detail about this in the next episode. Essentially this practice of menstrual cycle awareness is about noticing where you are in your cycleDay 1 is the first day of bleeding. So tracking the day you are on, and we really recommend you write it down. It is good to formalise this process to make a habit of it Some way to refer back to what you have been noticing. So write down the day you are on. The next step is to pay attention to your mood, your energy just how you are feeling that day - the way your mind is working, the dreams that you might have had the night before, anything that stands out from your day. A paragraph or a few pages. I like to pay attention throughout my day, just take little check in moments with myself. How is today’s cycle day? What am I experiencing what does it feel like? Little pit stops check ins throughout the day. At the end of my day I like to reflect back on my day and make note of what I have been experiencing. So that is the basis of cycle awareness. You can begin today. It doesn’t have to be the first day of your cycle and paying attention is very very simply.I have been having a lot of fun with this. I have started what I like to call my chart art. I have been doing this on Instagram and Facebook. It’s been so much fun. Finding a visual image that speaks somehow about the essence of what that day has been like with a few words, it has been creative and fun to do– but also it has been vivifying my experience for me in a whole different way. It is so different to writing it down. If this is something that appeals to you tag me so I can join in tracking your cycle with you. It is a really lovely thing to do to share your cycle experience with other women. I learn so much from seeing other women’s experience. Check it out at our Red School facebook page if this idea appeals to you
Alexandra: I really enjoy checking out your chart art everyday!
Sjanie: You are living vicariously now that you don’t have one.
Alexandra: I think I must be