by Jennifer Lawrence
I’ve tracked my menstrual cycle for years, first as a tool to achieve pregnancy, then to heal from postpartum depression. After several years of tracking physical and emotional “symptoms” I heard the call to drop deeper into the practice of cycle awareness for personal growth. One of the first books I discovered on the topic was Alexandra Pope’s “The Woman’s Quest.” I was blown away that someone was articulating so clearly the forming thoughts living on the edge of my awareness. Needless to say, I was hooked.
One of the tools that became invaluable was my progressive journal – each cycle day had its own page on which I would record my experience for several cycles. Seeing this cycle’s day three compared to previous day threes helped to illuminate patterns, bring awareness to helpful (and unhelpful) habits, and to minimize uncomfortable symptoms. My tracking, however, was starting to look a bit redundant. Sure, I was overwhelmed; yes, I was tired; there’s that anxiety again. I felt stuck and my tracking reflected that. What I needed was a way to deepen my relationship to the themes that were presenting themselves.
Heeding the Call
A colleague announced on Instagram that she was once again participating in The 100 Day Project (#the100DayProject) by @elleluna. The goal is simple – create something new for 100 days and post a picture. I commented how that seemed impossibly hard since I “never” follow-through on “anything.” (Hmmmm… themes of overwhelm, exhaustion, fear of failure? Sounded way too much like what my tracking had been showing me lately…)
For some reason the call to create just wouldn’t go away and after the project was well under way I was hit by inspiration. I would create a daily mandala drawing to reflect my experience of my cycle that day. I started immediately and felt an immediate sense of satisfaction.
Mandalas – The Perfect Container
Why mandalas as opposed to visual journaling? It’s all about the circle – a perfect container for holding the vast universe of one’s experience. It’s empty center is the perfect invitation to explore an image or two, without the pressure to fill a whole page. And for this busy mama too much opened-ended white space feels like just another to-do. My little circles, on the other hand, offer a clear sense of doing “just enough,” something I rarely experience in my mama life.
And, like each day of our menstrual cycle, each mandala holds both that day’s experience as well as a narrative of the complete cycle. With each ending comes a beginning in one continuous circle.
Carl Jung, an avid mandala creator, wrote, “I sketched every morning in a notebook a small circular drawing, a mandala, which seemed to correspond to my inner situation at the time. With the help of these drawings I could observe my psychic transformations from day to day…My mandalas were cryptograms…in which I saw the self—that is, my whole being—actively at work.” (1965: 195-196).
A Shifting Practice
I continued with the progressive journal format, using a simple notebook which would allow me to easily create a daily record and to also look back at previous mandalas. I set the intention to work quickly, making marks and using the colors that called out to be created, regardless of what showed up. A stream of conscious practice really, allowing me to touch into the moment, record it, and to move on with the rest of my day.
In the beginning I would usually have a word in mind, a summary of that day’s theme. Most often I would try to represent this word visually. I ended up creating a lot of overwhelmed/tired/anxious pictures, not surprisingly. The mandala practice, however, created a lovely opportunity for me to discover the shades of each of these states, the quality of movement or stagnation, the progression as each day moved into the next. I learned that my crossover days (Wurlitzer & Pope, 2017) can be very emotional but with some planning ahead I can bring awareness to this energy and hold it with more gentleness.
Somewhere along the way my practice shifted away from starting with a word. My womb called out to be heard on a deeper level and started to generate her own imagery. A few deep breaths and bringing my attention to my womb space allowed a whole new visual vocabulary to unfold. Maybe that overwhelm that I was learning to relate to was actually an uncomfortable longing to reunite with my power source. The language of my womb is always powerful, focused, full of clarity and also deeply mysterious.
How to Create Your Own Menstrual Mandala Journal
- Decide how big of a mandala feels manageable for a daily practice. Too small you might not feel like you have enough room to express yourself; too big you might be discouraged or overwhelmed. Don’t think about it too hard, just find a bowl or plate that feels like the right size. Use it to trace your mandala outline each day. I’ve settled on a 4 inch mandala, which is big enough to hold the amount of imagery that usually wants to be seen and is a do-able size for what this busy mama can actually commit to each day.
- Grab a journal that is big enough for your mandala. I like the idea of having a dedicated journal for the practice but again, do what makes sense. Here’s what I use. My journal is small enough that I can leave it open to that day’s mandala while not taking up too much space.
- Choose your medium – oil pastels, colored pencils, collage, watercolors – whatever you are drawn to and that will be easy enough for you to use as part of a daily practice. I prefer oil pastels as they are fluid enough for working intuitively and quickly, while being easy enough to control that I can simply create without worrying too much about technique. Plus they are portable and super easy to clean up. Make sure the paper in your journal will work with the medium (or media) you prefer working with. If you like wetter media you might want to use a mixed media sketchbook instead of a journal.
- Decide a time for your daily practice. Don’t leave it up to chance.
- One way to start your daily mandala is to allow a word to come to mind, one that describes the aspect of your day that needs to be seen. Use lines, shapes and colors (or collage images or words) to give that word shape. Just like more traditional cycle tracking feel free to reflect on physical, emotional, relational, or mental aspects of your day. Mandalas are an excellent container for exploring dream imagery!
- If you are ready for or being called towards a more body-based practice, take a few breaths to get centered and connect with the part of your body that holds the imagery that needs to be witnessed that day. For me this has consistently been my womb space. I usually allow an image to arise and then start working. You might find that you simple need to bring your awareness to your body and that awareness will guide your image creation.
- I like to finish my reflection by labeling my drawing. This helps to bring the wisdom of the image into my conscious awareness. I usually work with a two-page layout so I have plenty of room in case I need to do some more in depth exploration.
- If you feel called to do so, share your image. I have learned so much about myself and felt so validated by the responses I’ve gotten through shared imagery. It’s a lovely reminder that we’re more alike than we are different.
- Don’t be afraid to shift things if you need to! This is a creative practice and you get to make it what you want. Want to create bigger mandalas? Get a bigger journal! Feeling drawn to working on one piece over time, as opposed to a daily mandala? Go for it! There are as many ways to approach this practice as there are women. Share some of your ideas in the comments below.
References & Resources
Jung, C.G. (1965). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Ed. Aniela Jaffe. Trans. Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Random House.
Pope, A. (2015). A Woman’s Quest. London: New Generation Publishing
Wurlitzer, S.H. & Pope, A. (2017). Wild Power: Discover the Magic to Your Menstrual Cycle and Awaken the Feminine Path to Power. London: Hay House
Jennifer Trinkle Lawrence, LPC, ATR is a mama and a wife, a creator, and a passionate cycle tracker. She will help you get to know your personal rhythms, the natural ebb and flow of your hormones, and embrace all of the creative and restorative power of your feminine cycle. You can connect with her at mandalasformamas.com, on Instagram @mandalasformamas, and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.