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The Spiral path can feel unattainable in its ambiguity, out of reach with its mystical riddles, feel too grand and big and epic for one human being to take on. This is where the faithful guide of your menstrual cycle can come to your aid. It’s a midwife to your body and soul, and within it, it contains all processes of birth, death and rebirth. It contains seasons of decay, growth, fulfilment and loss. Your menstrual cycle offers you an opportunity every cycle to step through the threshold of the 13th step into the unknown. When approached with a conscious attitude, you can approach even the most intimidating mountains with the knowledge that cycle by cycle, you can take one step at a time.
Our Cultural Loss of Understanding
There is an exciting revolution underfoot in the Women’s Health space. More and more women are waking up to the immense gifts of the menstrual cycle. Perhaps a part of the almost urgent clarion call is the fact that for so long the menstrual cycle has been considered taboo. A physiological nuisance that can be silenced when you’re not trying to have a baby.
This is a symptom of the deeper and more long-running phenomenon of separation from the Feminine. As a culture, we don’t revere the darkness, the chaos, the void of the Feminine. It is the solar, active, striving, actualising and succeeding energy of the Masculine that is given cultural accolades. We need both the Masculine and Feminine aspects in equal measure.
The fingerprints of patriarchy are everywhere in women’s health.
Premenstrual tension is often dismissed as a temporary hormonal imbalance that makes women unreasonable. All emotions experienced at this time is a type of histrionic madness that is best to dismiss.
Menstruation is best to ignore; there’s no need to change your demanding work schedule or workout routine to accommodate it.
Young women are not typically taught the whole story of what is unfolding in their bodies through the immense transition of puberty. They’re not taught that they learn from their body when they can and cannot get pregnant. They are not taught their changing moods, energy and creativity throughout their cycle is a gift to receive and learn from.
If there are issues of any kind related directly to or indirectly to the cycle, the most common therapeutic strategy in a medical doctor’s toolkit is the hormonal contraceptive pill. Most women are either told (or osmotically absorb from the cultural lexicon) that the pill creates a “pregnancy like state in your body” or that it “balances your hormones and periods”. They are not taught that the pill actually creates a menopausal like state in the body. That it shuts down ovulation and that the landscape of the mucus-secreting glands in the cervix are irreversibly changed. It’s not usual for women as young as fifteen to be put on this medication, before their cycles have been given a chance to establish themselves.
This then can set off a domino effect in a woman’s reproductive life. Unfortunately, this story is a common one.
A woman may still be on the oral contraceptive pill for ten to twenty years until she is ready to have a baby. If she doesn’t conceive within twelve months of unprotected sex, she will then be referred to an IVF clinic. This then dominos into birth, which is increasingly becoming more strictly medically managed. Induction, C-section births and episiotomies increasingly becoming the norm, not the exception. Births must follow a timed progression, a clinical algorithm determined by the policy of the hospital.
And then the final hormonal transition, peri-menopause, is treated with the same attitude: hormone replacement therapy or hysterectomies. It is not treated as a significant moment in a woman’s life that is a tremendous rite of passage.
All of these common events in a woman’s life demonstrates just how separated from the Feminine we have become, and that culturally there is little to no trust in nature.
A Portrait of the Successful Modern Woman
In the 21st century, we’re living in a time of great opportunity, gender equality is the best it’s been in centuries. This brings with it unique challenges that women are facing collectively together. The pace, the pressure, the expectations are almost that of insanity. I see it in my practice every day; I also experience the pull of it personally. The pressure to be all things to all people and to be professionally flourishing at the same time is a myth that we need to collectively let go of.
When we’re ambitious, strive for and meet success in our endeavours, we’re greatly praised. Those women are very successful. They’ve done very well for themselves. They’re change agents. They’re thought, leaders. They demonstrate resilience, tenacity and can do just as good, if not a better job than men at their jobs.
In my clinical practice, I see just how many women are attempting the struggle. They’re either very successful at their jobs, and feel the pressure to be having children and slowing down. If they’ve got kids, they find it very difficult to see their new role as valuable and important when the culture around them doesn’t. The pressure to return to work is to keep advancing their career is great. And for the women for are both working and have children, the feeling of not being able to either role “perfectly” is a very real struggle.
When the Call to Heal Arrives
It’s not uncommon, amidst this fast-paced terrain, to awaken to a feeling of spiritual aridity or physical disease. I want to be very clear, this is not to be seen as something you have “failed at”. We’re multi-dimensional, complex beings capable of a vast number of contradictions.
There are moments along the path where we encounter disease, dysfunction, feeling stuck, experiencing a sense of life feeling limited. At these moments, or other moments we may feel like we’ve betrayed ourself or fallen out of integrity with our souls.
The dregs, dysfunctions and disordered parts many manifests as symptoms; inflammation, pain, neuroses, allergies, addictions, aches, habits, secrets, holding patterns, anxiety, uncontrollable moods, all manner of menstrual cycle disorders. They feel like irritating, seemingly pointless annoyances. Of they feel like betrayals of your body.
In one way or another, they all represent a resistance to change and a cause of suffering. The story may stay here for a long time. You may find ways to suppress or medicate the symptoms that make your life feel manageable. They’re reduced to a level where you’re able to ignore them and keep moving on.
Other times the suffering may get worse to the point of being unbearable. It’s often experienced as an impasse or an impossible dilemma that’s disabling your ability to fully participate in your life. Viewed in one way, this may seem like a grave misfortune or a tragic turn in events. Something is about to die, it has to, and everything we know about death is scary.
But seen in a spiral way, the suffering leads us to a very holy, very powerful place. The wound reveals the cure, and the suffering turns into a valuable invitation that leads us directly to where the pathway to healing is. The dark gate. The thirteenth step.
Descend to the Dark Gate: The Place of Death & Rebirth
Chaos & Surrender
It’s important to note that this holy, deep internal process never feels easy. We will go through many transformations in our lifetime, and there will always be an element of chaos involved. Sometimes it may feel like your entire world is being turned upside down and inside out. Other times it may feel like more grounded chaos. But either way, the chaos is required as the activating ingredient.
The dark gate will appear to you in pivotal moments in your life. They may be healing crises, or it may be that you’ve been at your growing edge for many seasons, and it’s time for a phase shift. When you step into the void of the unknown, you’ll be met with the shattering force of chaos to the ego. It’s normal for fear to grip you in these moments. All the structures that have been keeping you safe are being asked to surrender so that they can be changed into something new.
If you have unhealed traumas, this process can be particularly difficult and can stall the process. Traumas, by their definition, keep you in an emotional holding pattern. The mammalian and lizard brains (limbic and amygdala) will sound red alerts. You will feel uncomfortable at best, it may even be deeply challenging.
At this point, if it feels as though you’re completely immobilised, seeking the help of a therapist, psychologist or counsellor can be incredibly helpful. They can help guide you through this terrain so that you can make it through the dark gate to new land. We can spend a lifetime and the gate, in the same holding pattern until our bodies return to dust. Support and learning the skills to move through this terrain and learning the deep act of faith and trust that it can’t hurt you is a skill that will serve you greatly throughout your life.
The chaos of change cannot be planned or predicted. The entire transformation process itself happens independently of your conscious mind, will, ambition, or intellect. This is why we need to learn the mysterious ways of the subconscious, of the yin territory or the Feminine. Your mindset and understanding of this process will either allow you to support the arising of this new possibility or block it.
The Reframe: “Make it Stop” to “This Is It”
This feels deeply uncomfortable. But if we can shift our perspective, a door will appear in the wall.
Make it Stop Inner-Dialogue:
I feel like I’m losing sight of who I am. I want this to stop, for everything to go back to how it was. I want life to be nice and normal and calm again. This suffering is unbearable, I just want it to end.
This is It Inner-Dialogue:
I know that I need to honour the chaos, for it is dissolving the old, it’s showing me the limits of my old beliefs, it’s arriving in my life because my time for a metamorphosis has arrived. There is no way out but through. I have trust that my body, heart and soul know the way. I have faith that there is an exquisitely designed blueprint that I’m being rebuilt from. I surrender to allow my inner light/God to lead.
This is simple reframe gives you the gift of realising it is possible to ride the storm instead of being consumed by it.
The Alchemical Metamorphosis
There are many examples of myth and symbolism that demonstrate this process.
The Alchemist’s quest in turning lead into gold.
The rising phoenix from a pile of ashes.
The golden flower of awakening in Taoism.
Perhaps the best way to understanding it is through the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to butterfly. The process does not simply involve a caterpillar snuggling into a cocoon, taking a nap while it grows wings in peace then one day popping out as a butterfly.
The actual biological process is far more complex and a somewhat beautiful, brutal process. The caterpillar builds its cocoon and dissolves into liquid completely surrendered. There are cells inside the caterpillar called imaginal cells. These cells direct the processes involved in using the blueprint (the DNA) to reconfigure the caterpillar into the butterfly. A fascinating part of this process is that the caterpillar’s immune system will begin to attack the imaginal cells to prevent the evolution from occurring. When the metamorphosis is successful, the imaginal cells have persevered past the immune system’s attack.
This is as an apt metaphor because when you’re going through your own personal metamorphosis, there is an in-between phase that feels like messy mush. Where you don’t quite know where why you’re going to go, how this is all going to be able to come back together. And throughout the process, you’ll likely experience resistance (the immune systems attacking the imaginal cells) old patterns, beliefs and perceived limitations will all arise. They will try to prevent the new (the imaginal cells) to carry out the transformation. But if you allow yourself to surrender, the transformation will have the space to complete.
Skills Needed for the In-Between
It’s so easy to try and restore yourself with a logic similar to the one you’ve been running on, and ultimately the one that got you into this position in the first place. The depths of Yin ask us to do nothing but stay out of the way and allow the reconfiguration to happen. This can be surprisingly hard to do.
This is when faith in a force greater than ourselves and wisdom to know that trying to stop it or speed it up are both fruitless. Rather cultivating an attitude of patience and trust that the chaos will pass, and the void has treasure for you.
We typically encounter larger and longer chapters like this throughout our lives, and this is where menstrual cycle awareness is so useful in that it serves as a training ground. If you’ve been practising surrendering during your inner winter (menstruation) and have experienced the rejuvenation that comes from letting go and resting (and experiencing that the whole world didn’t fall apart around you), it’s easier to apply that skill set for these moments of the in-between.
Keep your life simple, take one day at a time and concern yourself only with bringing your full presence to the process. When awareness is present, old structures of fears, beliefs and insecurities can be seen for what they really are: your ego just trying to keep you safe. When navigating the complexity of your human defences, practise coming back to centre, it’s best to keep your lifestyle as simple as possible so you can stay grounded.
Cultivate a practice where you can consciously create a space for qualities beyond the ego to enter: Learn mindfulness meditation or centring prayer. Start with 5 minutes twice a day and work your way up to 20 minutes twice a day. We can only put ourselves where transformation can happen, after that, there is nothing more to do than hold steady and wait. With the energy of mindfulness, we can calm things down, understand them in new ways and reconcile conflicting elements and paradoxes inside us. Mindfulness allows us to see and access the peace, joy and happiness that are already present with you.
I see it’s already present within us slumbering in dormancy until ready to awaken.
Make Your Home Cosy
Make your home cosy and comfortable: eat regular, replenishing meals, get plenty of sleep and move your body in soothing ways.
Reassess your social and work-related commitments: what can you say no to give yourself the much-needed space to allow this transformation to occur.
Embrace the rich, healing dark.
When you find yourself get caught up in pain or focusing on the suffering, bring yourself back to presence and reframe your experience. Where there are pain and suffering, there is an opportunity for creativity, growth and healing. Walk deeper into the darkness with nothing but the light of faith to guide you.
Illuminating the Darkness: The Golden Flower
The Taoists have a rich healing tradition of embracing an alchemical attitude to suffering. Their ways of understanding the inter-being of body, mind and soul are comprehensive. In the west, we talk about the thirteenth step, and many healing texts reference the importance of the void and the catalysing force of chaos, but it lacks detail and nuance. While what happens in the void is difficult to describe and is intrinsically ineffable, the Taoists use lyrical language and poetry to point our imagination in the right direction.
A Classic Taoist text, The Golden Flower, is devote to this. Their version of the thirteenth step is going on “The Far Journey”. A journey to a place you have not gone before. And to find the treasure, a reversal of light occurs:
The Yin leads Yang.
The Masculine follows the Feminine.
Act on stillness, hold back on the energy to act.
It was only on the third or fourth reading of this principle over many years have I been able to fully understand what this riddle has meant. When its meaning settled in my heart, I remember both laughing at myself and also crying. Healing is a reconciliation with the Feminine. It is the invitation to descend and rest in the rich, healing dark where your only job is to hold yourself steady and surrender your will, mind, ego and ambition, and allow a new possibility to emerge from reorganised fragmented parts into a stronger, more complex new reality. This is the Golden Flower of illumination.
The Far Journey: Some Healing Tenants to Follow
When ideas understandings perceptions, mindsets habits no longer allow us to solve our problems causes problems to perpetuate suffering, means that we are unable to live harmoniously with ourselves and others. It means that we’ve outgrown the skin were in. It’s time to shatter it and allow it to be rearranged in a new way. This, of course, will bring up a lot of fear, it will be scary, frightening overwhelming, but if you can trust in it and follow this mystery.
Learn the laws and ways of nature, follow the vital force and trust in the healing power of nature.
Be gentle, provide your body with what it needs and remove the obstacles. Don’t block, don’t rush, or push the river.
There is so much your conscious mind cannot understand; trust that you are divine creatures who are no less magnificent than the trees rivers, mountains and stars.
Welcome and embrace it all: the good, the bad, the ugly. The wound reveals the cure.
Your capacity to make peace with others, and with the world depends on your capacity to make peace with yourself.
Amid the chaos, face the darkness, trust that new light will emerge, have faith that it will always be okay without having to know with certainty.
Therefore, consciously surrender the impulse to rush in and act. Allow yourself to be present. Hold the tension and the new possibility will emerge from below.
By becoming aware of your inner experience throughout your cycle, you will begin to see a map that was invisible before. Your curiosity will be attuned to catch the cues that ask you to tend and befriend what is going on within instead of reacting with dread, fear, shame or embarrassment that instinctively makes you want to numb, hide and forget. When this awareness is unveiled, welcomed and nourished, a shift occurs, and you’re able to develop a deeper relationship between your body and your mind. You’re able to align your will to the service of the wisdom of your heart. You learn to seek refuge and stillness in the depths of chaos instead of being overwhelmed by it.
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