International Women’s Day 2019 – Celebrating women and our internal connection to nature’s cycles
I am delighted to be celebrating International Women’s Day on 8th March 2019! I will be going up to London on March 9th to the WOW (Women of the World) festival to spend the day with men and women, to be part of a global movement that believes a gender equal world is possible and desirable through empowering women and girls.
Particularly excited to listen to Naomi Klein, a renowned activist and writer, who in 2016 was awarded Australia’s prestigious Sydney Peace Prize, for ‘inspiring us to stand up locally, nationally and internationally to demand a new agenda for sharing the planet that respects human rights and equality, and for reminding us of the power of authentic democracy to achieve transformative change and justice.’
While we act politically, there are private aspects of being a woman, that is rarely talked about as women: our menstruation and bodily hair! If you squirm at the mention of this, you are not alone, with shame about our bodies and monthly periods.
As Dr. Christiane Northrup says in her book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom “Nothing in our society – with the exception of violence and fear – has been more effective in keeping women “in their place”, than the degradation of the menstrual cycle.” Shame, stigma and misinformation surrounding menstruation are contributing to serious human rights concerns for women and girls (UNFPA Report), underscoring the ways period shame and misinformation undermine the well-being of women and girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage, exclusion, violence, poverty and untreated health problems.
A recent survey found that 73 percent of women across the world hide their periods from others, and 68 percent are afraid to talk about their periods with men. Then there is the cost of sanitary products which prevents young women from attending school because they are unable to afford menstrual products. They miss school every month because they cannot face the shame and fear of going to school using socks stuffed with tissues, old torn T-shirts or newspaper. In these families, menstrual products are an unattainable luxury. Read more here.
These things do matter for half the population.
There are many cultures who view menarche (the first period) as an initiation into womanhood, where a girl gets to be honoured by a coming-of-age ceremony or ritual. There are increasingly women who are reclaiming this natural cycle for themselves and their children.
At Circle of Life Rediscovery Camps for young women and other programmes, we always make sure there are healthy conversations and sharing about our feelings towards our bodies and menstruation, listening to different women’s experience of sex, babies, monthly bleeding, relationships and celebrating the inner wisdom that we have access too.
“To see your cycle as the enemy can set you up for more suffering. But working with and within it’s rhythmic imperatives can be your foundational path to healing.” (Wild Power 2017).
There are many ways of understanding how connected we are to nature and our relationship as women to natural cycles. It is very easy in the modern, externally focused world to forget that our well-being comes from knowing our internal landscapes, and how the external and internal influence each other.
Indeed, we so focused in the next moment, that most of us are also entirely unaware of Earth and moon’s influence on us! The earth rotates every 24 hours at 1000 miles per hour, the moon rotates around the earth, all the while spinning around the sun. We are entirely linked to the forces of life that are always moving and changing.
Linking the small and large perspective with the larger forces were and are often explained through show a map in the form of a wheel or circle. All the while, we know that we can only see a small part of ‘reality’. The most common maps place the earth & humans on the earth in the centre, where from our perspective the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. The influence of the sun on life is fundamental, without which life as we know it could have never evolved or exist. (Find out about our Nature Pedagogy workshop April).
It is less common however to notice that our everyday life is also influenced by the moon cycle. We are 70% water after all. This is particularly true for women, as their internal landscape and emotions are mapped closely to the moon. It is easy to forget that half the population from puberty has their ‘periods’ every month. Practitioners working with adolescent young people supporting healthy emotional and physical development are not educated to know how this internal cycle and understanding of our bodies is central to our mental and physical well-being.
Much of my work is with people with mental health difficulties. Findings based on the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) shows that brighter and poorer young women are particularly vulnerable to mental health difficulties showing a sharp increase of girls under age of 18 admitted to hospital in England (2015 -2016) because they had self-harmed after cutting (285%), poisoning (42%), hanging themselves (331%). “Some people say that physical pain is easier to tolerate than emotional pain.” (Dr Nihara Krause, consultant psychologist).
Our menstrual cycles really affect how we as women feel and following our cycles can hugely help us to harness the different qualities through the month. Empowering young women (and young men) to have the language and understanding of what is occurring physically and emotionally, provides a larger context and framework for what they are experiencing.
Most cycles, like the moon, are 28 days, and our bodies have internalised this rhythm. Like the phases of the moon, we have phases in our cycles: ovulation and menstruation. This is associated with the waxing moon reaching fullness in tune with ovulation and fertility (during the constructive phase) and the waning moon and dark moon (during the deconstructive phase) coinciding with menstruation and being a time of retreat and inner vision.
Menstruation is the night of the cycle, which as in story telling represents a state of consciousness “when we are closer to ourselves, closer to essential ideas and feelings that do not register so much during the daylight hours” (Estes 1998, p.329). Estes, Clarissa Pinkola Women Who Run With The Wolves (Rider 1998).
As an introduction, the following moon wheel enables us to see how our internal cycle links to the qualities of the seasons and phases of the moon. We can use this to apply how we may feel during a day, month or season. Whilst the sun and moon appear to move from East to West from our human perspective, in actual fact the earth, moon and even the sun (albeit at different speeds) are moving anti-clockwise from West to East!
MOON WHEEL DIAGRAM – Your Inner Seasons
Your menstrual cycle awareness, ‘the act of knowing and valuing your unique cyclical pattern of energy and mood throughout the menstrual month, paying attention to where you are in your cycle at any one time, respecting your feelings and energy levels, working with and within the changing energies, leveraging this as a life management and facilitation tool’ (see A Pope & S. Wurlitzer, Red School) is a key part of knowing ourselves. When used well this awareness and knowledge lead us to an increase in health and well-being.
I am now peri-menopausal and moving towards my menopause. I know that understanding my internal seasons and moving into this new phase is also part of a natural continuum and stepping into another experience. I am certainly not alone, and have many wise women’s support ahead of me.
“Women are the archetypal anchors for the power of the feminine, and when we reclaim our feminine power – by restoring our ways and practices – we integrate the power of the feminine into our lives and back onto the planet” (ibid).
Tell your story so the story doesn’t tell you.
(Note: Some of you may have noticed I didn’t talk about stigma around body hair – I don’t think our society or this blog is yet ready for that.)
Happy International Women’s Day.
Marina Robb – Director, Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC.
Transforming education, health and family through nature.
Circle of Life Rediscovery provides exciting and highly beneficial nature-centred learning and therapeutic experiences for young people, adults, and families in Sussex woodlands, along with innovative continuing professional development for the health, well being and teaching professionals who are supporting them.
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