“Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time… Write yourself. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.” — Helene Cixous
Today’s blog is inspired by the women’s only Tantra weekend-workshop I attended on 25/26/27 February, yesterday’s special International Women’s Day edition of The Observer Magazine which was guest edited by musician Annie Lennox, and a Facebook note by my friend Kristyn ‘Blue’ Simmons about menstruation, self-pleasuring, and other such ‘taboo’ topics. (In fact, all this week’s blogs are dedicated to the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day tomorrow — 8 March 2011.)
As per the article I wrote about my Tantra weekend workshop, I can’t divulge specifics of what took place; suffice to say, it was life-changing. How so? Well, for starters, the first level workshop I did (there are five levels altogether) requires you consciously reconnect with your body from the neck down. So contrary to the ignorant comment someone left on my Manchester Confidential article about it being to do with ‘exhibitionism’ in the name of self-discovery, it’s not. Tantra is not just about sex. If that man had been privy to the palpable, heart-wrenching degree of guilt, fear, and shame in the room that weekend, he’d have (hopefully) choked on his uninformed words. As Caroline Aldred, author of Divine Sex: The Tantric & Taoist Arts of Conscious Loving so eloquently puts it, “Tantra is about accepting yourself as you are, not fighting with yourself, and not resisting your natural instincts.”
And it’s not just women who carry such conscious/unconscious levels of guilt, fear, and shame — men, too, harbour just as many bodily insecurities. That conversation, however, is for another day. In fact, on further reflection, this article is also inspired by the many women who, after having read my book, have emailed me asking for advice on their menstrual cycles. Not adolescents. Mature, grown women in their late twenties, thirties, forties, and even fifties.
What most saddens me is that, in this day and age, we’re still in the dark when it comes to our moon/periods/menses. It’s something to ‘get on with’; after all you’re a woman — ‘deal with it’. Just last weekend I was talking with my boyfriend’s son who recently became a father himself (to a girl) and will soon qualify as a doctor in medicine. We were discussing the contraceptive pill and our mutual dislike of it. (He was also telling me about the startling and sudden rise in pelvic- and ovarian-related disease and disorders — but, again, that’s for another day.) I was on the Pill from age 17 through 31 so speak from experience when I say I don’t necessarily believe it’s provided an ‘advance’ in birth control; if anything, it’s served to further disconnect women from their bodies and from learning about their natural cycle. Allow me to elaborate.
My menstrual cycle was disruptive, heavy and, to my younger self, nothing but a bloody inconvenience (if you’ll pardon the unintended pun). The Pill offered a convenient way to wrestle both my acne and moon into submission, regain some semblance of control. You see, when I was an adolescent, no-one introduced me to this woman’s body which arrived unannounced and overnight. I was never consciously initiated into the mysteries of womanhood as was once done in ancient societies and many tribal cultures today. It was all dealt with at an abstracted, theoretical level: a book on the reproductive system, a somewhat embarrassed explanation of tampons and sanitary towels and we were sent on our way — and this from a girls’ only secondary school back in the late eighties/early nineties.
I remember clearly my feelings about going on the Pill (conflicted) and my feelings about coming off the Pill (relieved). I recall sitting on the beach during my stay in Goa, India, in February 2008 and watching Nature’s daily cycle — the waxing and waning of the moon, the tides wash in and out, the rise and fall of the sun — and realising I wanted to be a part of all that; gradually realising, I was a part of all that.
The Pill suppressed, thwarted, and subverted my natural cycle and bodily rhythms, blocked my conscious engagement with my body. Yes, I knew it would be difficult — that I would be subject to debilitating pains and a heavy flow — but I would rather that than spend the rest of my life disassociated from this body which asks for nothing more than my love, tenderness, and conscious acceptance. This body which wishes to be a part of my life, a celebration of who I am. This body which, despite what our consumeristic culture would have us believe, is exactly as it should be, has done nothing ‘wrong’, and doesn’t need ‘correcting’.
And so, for almost fourteen years, I unconsciously swallowed synthetic hormones in an attempt to bend my body’s cycles and rhythms to my will. When I promised my body on the beach in Goa that day, that I would never again swallow another synthetic hormone, a long-held heavy weight lifted. I felt liberated, free. More importantly, my body felt listened to. That day marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life, a reconnection with my body from the neck down. A conscious recognition and reconnection with myself ‘down there’. But it was only the beginning.
Little did I know that, three years later, I would build on that relationship in the Tantra workshop. You see, if you’re taking any kind of synthetic hormone in order to ‘regulate’ your cycle you have to wonder what happens to the natural energy which is suppressed. The Pill is still only fifty years young. We have no idea of its long-term effects, the consequences on our health. One thing I discuss at length in my book is that Nature (both psychologically and biologically) will not be ignored, side-stepped with technological advances, or suppressed, shoved in a corner, and forgotten about. Our bodies constantly speak our mind, whether we believe that or not.
So it’s been humbling and inspiring to hear from women who, after reading my book, have stopped taking the Pill. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was when women who live in a modern, ‘developed’ country such as the U.K. asked me how and where I learnt about my cycle: how did I know when I was fertile or not? Simple things such as when was the first day of their cycle? (The first day you bleed.) But, to my mind, this is where the magic begins. This is where you get to watch Nature move through your body. This is where you realise you are a part of Nature.
As I practise Natural Family Planning (I don’t want children) I mark my cycle on a wall calendar at home so my boyfriend can also see it. I split it into ‘red’, ‘amber’, and ‘green’. Red is the days I’m bleeding (days 1 through 6). Amber are the days I’m most fertile and need to use contraceptive protection such as condoms or pursue other sexual activities (days 6 through 19). Green is the last week of my cycle when the unfertilised egg is making its long journey to perdition and unprotected sex with my partner is a-okay (days 20 through 26).
Please note, however, that Natural Family Planning does not protect against sexually transmitted infections/diseases. So if you’re in a new relationship with someone whose sexual health you’re not sure of, you have every right to ask them to be tested (and vice versa) before committing to any act of sexual intimacy. Always, always, always practise safe sex and use condoms. Preferably fair trade ones.
The important thing to remember is I tracked my cycle for a full year before I began practising Natural Family Planning so my fertility awareness is damn good. My cycle, on average, is 26/27 days long. Occasionally, such as in February, it surprises me when I came on four days early. But for the most part, it’s pretty regular.
There are numerous resources for women to utilise should they wish to rid their bodies of synthetic hormones and go au naturel such as this super handy NHS (When Can I Get Pregnant?) website. One of my other favourite websites from where you can buy such wonderful things as Yoni Cushions and Moon Cycle Malas is Moon Times.*
Can you imagine a society where women wore Moon Cycle Malas in outer, conscious recognition of their menses? No longer would it be our ‘dirty little secret’; rather, it would be a radical, progressive, and massively healing step forward for women both in our culture and the world over.
(*Since writing this blog, I’ve been told about a woman called Kay Dayton who’s based in the UK and runs workshops under the banner of ‘Red Spiral’ exploring the menstrual cycle using a mandala as a visual focus. For further details, visit her website at Red Spiral.)
Thea is author of the inspiring memoir Running into Myself. Buy a copy from Amazon UK, Amazon US or, better still, order a limited edition signed copy direct from her publisher here (also ships worldwide).
“Thea’s personal journey is utterly compelling. I couldn’t put her book down. Thea manages to make Greek mythology not only understandable, interesting, and relevant to our lives today, but shows how it can be utilised as a tool for self development. She introduces ideas and ways of thinking that broaden your mind, and lights the way for others to follow.”