In this episode we dive into the detail of how to live the feminine spiritual practice – your path to power – on a day to day basis, and the magic that unfurls from that.
Alexandra – In our last episode, we spoke about the woman’s original spiritual practice and it is the menstrual cycle, or rather, awareness of your menstrual cycle. The act of awareness awakens this spiritual practice in you. Now in this episode, we’re going to go into considerable detail of what it means to be aware of your cycle and how to live that awareness in the world. And as you do that, you really bring your whole spiritual practice alive within you, but also within your life itself: you’re applying it to your life as well. So we’ll begin by recapping on what we call ‘the basics’.
There are 4 steps to what we call your Feminine power, to an empowered self. Would you like to go through that Sjanie, the very basic first steps?
Sjanie – Yes – The first step of Menstrual Cycle Awareness is what we spoke of in the first episode, which is just the very simple act of knowing where you are in your cycle and charting that, so Day 1 is the first day of bleeding. You would keep track of which day you’re on and then simply make note of that, and it’s a really good idea to write it down, as we said before. Along with knowing where you are in your cycle, you’re paying attention to how you feel on any given day, so just noticing what your mood is like, what your energy levels are like, the way your mind is working, the kinds of dreams that you’ve had the night before, anything that really stands out for you during the day. So it’s quite a good thing to do at the end of the day, to sit and look back on your day and pay attention to how it was for you. And of course throughout the day you might be tracking something, you might be noticing something. I like to take a few pit stops during my day and just notice ‘how am I today? What is this day of my menstrual cycle like?’ and then I clock it, and at the end of the day I might write it down and put into words what I’ve noticed. So that’s step 1 of charting your cycle and that is our basic mindfulness practice as women. It is our way of staying connected to ourself, staying present with how we are on any given moment on any given day in our cycle. And of course that is changing, day by day – as our cycle changes, we change, so it’s really tracking those changes as they happen, staying on the pulse of yourself and how you are. So that’s step 1, Charting Your Cycle.
Alexandra – I love that phrase, ‘staying on the pulse of yourself and seeing what unfolds’ – that’s perfect, thank you Sjanie. Well now we’ve got step 1 under our belt, we’re going to go into step 2 of Menstrual Cycle Awareness. When you’ve been doing step 1 over a month or two, you’re going to start to see a pattern to your cycle that you will see played out month after month, generally speaking, unless you’re under enormous stress and we call this your Rhythm of Power. You’re going to notice how your energy changes through the month and how your mood changes and in step 2, you’re going to synch your cycle to your schedule, or rather, synch your schedule to your cycle. In other words, when you are looking at your diary, booking things in, you’re going to think about where you are in your cycle at any one moment and organize your schedule around what you know about your cycle. So you may know that in the summer of your cycle that you can take on Goliaths, you can do a million things at once and you just want to party, party, party – you’ll go out and celebrate with your friends, whatever: that’s the time to book in all your social events. You may notice that in the latter half of your cycle, you turn into a bit of a grouch and you don’t want to connect with anybody. Well then you’re not going to schedule some big event there like going out with your friends. So you’ll really be strategic in how you use your cycle and really capitalize on its energies. So for instance, if you have to do something that’s very important for you, you might think about where you schedule it – if you have a choice. Now we don’t always have choice, but where we do have choice about what goes into our schedule, use it wisely. Is there anything you’d like to add to that Sjanie?
Sjanie – Yes, well it’s great how you describe it because it really makes clear to me that this first step of charting your cycle is our way of accumulating knowledge about ourselves, it’s a way of really getting to know who we are, the different sides of ourselves and when different capacities and powers that we hold really come to the fore. And getting to know those strengths then, as you talk about the scheduling, is you find ways to capitalize on those powers and to really make use of them when they are in their full flowering. You gave some good examples there and actually, the thing I was thinking of, which is something I’m always bearing in mind because I genuinely do schedule my life according to my cycle, one of the things for me is, if a lot of things are happening at a certain time in the month and I check my calendar and I realize I’m around, say, the ovulatory time of my cycle, or the spring / summer time, I will quite happily say yes to a very busy schedule, I’ll quite happily rush from one thing to another, or cram a little bit of this in with a little bit of that, whereas in the time leading up to my period, I will say no to so many more things, and I like to keep much more spaciousness in my diary, much more empty time, I like to not have to rush from one thing to another … So that’s really how I plan, just according to my energy, but then also there are other times when I will purposely arrange to do a particular activity because I know that I will flourish at it then, I know I’ll really shine at it then. I mean a good one for me, for example, when we were writing our book, ‘Wild Power’, I would as much as possible save the editing of the book for when I was in the premenstrum, because then I really have the capacity to see things very clearly, I’m incredibly discerning, I can see what’s working and what’s not and it’s all so much easier for me to do that kind of work at that time. So that’s an example of me really working to my strengths in that season, and so where I could, that’s what I would arrange to do.
So that’s step 2, synching your activities and your schedule and your plans in accordance with both the shifts in energy, but also the different strengths and powers that you have.
Alexandra – I’d love to get in there and just add something Sjanie, it just reminded me when your were talking: Be mindful of who is in charge of your diary. If you’re in the summer of your cycle and you’re looking at your diary, everything is possible, but you must not let the superwoman in you be in charge of the diary, that’s why it’s really crucial to know where you are in your cycle, because She will say yes to everything!
Sjanie – That is so right. It’s a classic error, isn’t it, to say yes to stuff in the summer of your cycle and then have to fulfil on that promise when it’s autumn or winter and you really don’t want to be doing it. It’s such a classic error and one to really be cautious of.
Alexandra – Another thing came to mind for me, which is that when you know where you are in your cycle, it can help you make a decision about whether you can do something or not. I’m actually thinking of a time when I was just before bleeding and I was invited to go on to a radio programme in Australia to talk about my first book, and she said to me, ‘well what about on Monday?’ And I knew on the Monday I was going to be the day before bleeding and I just said to her ‘no, I’m busy …’ And to myself, I’m going ‘busy doing nothing!’ (Laughter) And then she said, ‘well what about Wednesday or Thursday?’ and I said ‘Perfect’, because I knew I would be bleeding (my cycle was always regular), and once I was bleeding, I was fine, I felt very grounded and centred. So when you really know your cycle, you can make decisions about things – where you have choice, of course – quite effortlessly.
Sjanie – That’s a brilliant example! It also reminds me that before I started charting my cycle, things seemed a lot more random and I would notice myself really feeling like not doing something, but I had no way of knowing that in advance, it seemed unpredictable and random. Whereas now I can pretty much accurately predict whether or not I’m going to want to go to that party or not, depending on where I am in my cycle. So it’s really helpful. I won’t commit to things that I know I won’t be able to follow through on. It gives me such a lovely sense of ease because, like you said, I can make decisions with a little more certainty, which is just a lovely feeling.
So let’s talk about the third step in this practice of Menstrual Cycle Awareness, which is to do with cooperating with the energies of your cycle. So again, this is very connected to that first step, everything rests on the first step, which is Charting Your Cycle and getting to know your pattern, your rhythm, your strengths, your vulnerabilities, really learning what your tendencies are at each time in the cycle and what your needs are. And this third step really is about cooperating with those tendencies. And honestly, this is easier said than done! I find myself challenged by this step often, because it’s so habitual to expect ourselves to be a certain way at a certain time. And then to actually recognise we just don’t feel that way and just to trust that and value it and go with it. For example, in the days leading up to my bleed I feel really tired and lazy and slow and quite disinterested in things. Now if I wasn’t charting my cycle and paying attention, I would probably be giving myself a hard time about that and wondering what’s wrong with me, especially if I had some kind of deadline or something I should be doing, I’d be feeling like I ‘ought’ to be moving fast or ‘ought’ to be more interested etc. But actually learning to really trust that energy, trust the power and trust that my cycle knows what it is doing, that it’s leading me somewhere …
Alexandra – And trusting the flow Sjanie, trusting to go slower and not bullying yourself into being something that you are not in that moment. Because as you say, we have this idea that we have to be at peak performance every day, like athletes, and no one is at peak performance every day, absolutely no one is. So to actually trust those days when you wake up feeling like you do, to trust that slowness and disinterest and actually follow that as best you can. And we had to work with that tension, didn’t we? For both of us, because even though I don’t have a menstrual cycle any more my moods and energies change with each day. But when we were working on ‘Wild Power’, particularly when you were coming into your bleed …. We had this deadline, didn’t we? And we did damn well, we were able to allow you, to give you that space to go more slowly, or to work from your dreaminess, and I would pick up the slack that day, because of course on another day, I might be a bit chilled and a little slow, and you would pick up the slack. And we actually did cooperate really well under immense pressure. So it is actually doable under pressure, even if it’s only 1% …
Sjanie – Even if it’s only 1%. And I think that comes from us really trusting the cycle process and this is what Menstrual Cycle Awareness brings, it helps you to really see how necessary and vital these various stages and these different powers are and they are all needed, because each one gives rise to the next, there’s a natural order in the cycle that’s working through you and that order is a perfectly balanced ecology, that order is an intelligent, coherent whole that needs to fulfil itself at each and every point and I guess that we, through practicing Cycle Awareness – as you will – have come to trust that and when it comes to the book I really learned that if I can slow down, if I can take time, if I can step back, when my cycle shifts gears and I come out through the other side of menstruation, my capacity to engage with the book was so much stronger and my vitality was much greater and my enthusiasm and my interest and I came back twice as ready than if I had pushed on through, soldiered on through and overridden something. I probably would have felt like more of a shell and had less capacity through the rest of the month, so this is one of the benefits that comes from practicing Cycle Awareness and really learning to cooperate with the energies. As you start to trust them, you start to trust that each one needs its time, that each one needs its place and that each one is valuable in and of itself.
Alexandra – This also brings to mind that a very core part of cycle work is self care: this is actually our number 1 self care tool and as we’re talking about this third step of cooperating with your cycle, you’re cooperating with yourself and it is a form of self care. This rhythm of activity and rest is so profound, it is the pattern in any cycle in life and you articulated that so beautifully when you talked about the ecology of the cycle, that each part is needed, the down time is needed so you can have the up time, it all works as an integrated whole. And I can remember sometimes when we did have to push through your bleed, when you only had a little time off, when you really needed 2-3 days off and you only got half a day or barely that and how that really affected you, you came out just a bit jarred and fractured and your energy wasn’t so good and we just had to push on through and you weren’t a happy bunny, it wasn’t great …
Sjanie – There was a pay off, completely.
Alexandra – So this is profoundly about self care, cooperating with the rhythm of your cycle is a self care practice that delivers HUGE dividends. Your nervous system is going to feel so much more soothed and calm, your energy levels are going to be better, you’re going to be replenishing them more and you’re going to feel just much more in yourself, more grounded and together, and efficient, effective in what you’re doing in life, instead of feeling ‘what’s wrong with me? When you’re dreamy and don’t want to focus, when you start to go with those apparently dreamy, slow times and cooperate with them, what you find is 1) something else opens up, and we’ll come to that in a moment, and 2) you feel overall much smoother in your whole system.
Sjanie – Mmm, that is so lovely, it’s balm to my soul just listening to you and really that has been my experience of it, this deepening trust of myself and my own experience and feeling the rightness of it and also enjoying the benefit that comes from trusting that – it is incredibly rich. That’s really beautiful Alexandra. So shall we speak of the final stage? Which in a way is more of an art and something that requires practice and time …
Alexandra – This is ‘big school’ Cycle Awareness, because I think up until this point in the first 3 steps, I think of the cycle awareness work as being quite a private affair, I mean you might have shared it with your partner or your friends or whatever, but it is still very much a private thing and in this final step, I think there’s an element of going public a little bit. It isn’t about declaring ‘I’m menstruating’ but it is about standing for the powers or experiences that you’re having in the moment and I think a classic example for me would be … well, I haven’t described what the step is first, before I give the example! But really, this step is, how to bring the powers of the cycle at any particular moment into the situation that you’re in, instead of overriding yourself and trying to be something you’re not or just managing or coping with your experience of menstruation, you are going to go ‘who I am today is really necessary for the world and what I am doing in the world’. So for example, you’re menstruating, and perhaps you feel very private, inner, but you have to front up and do something very public in the world. For example you have to front up at a meeting, or in my example earlier about being on the radio, talking on national radio (this was in Australia), and I used to feel incredibly grounded and authoritative when I bled and I chose my words carefully and there was a spaciousness about how I spoke and I could really tap into something much bigger, it wasn’t about my ego any more and that’s an incredible power to bring through, so instead of thinking ‘oh, I’m menstruating and I just want to curl up’ and I don’t know if you’re like me at all, but I used to feel quite daggy when I was menstruating, I didn’t want to dress up, I just wanted to go around in daggy old track pants or something and just be in my own little private bubble, so the idea of getting dressed up and going out always had a bit of an edge, but if you can get over that edge and really move at the pace of your body and to bring the authority of that intelligence that you’re working with, that power that you’re working with into the situation you’re in. And it may mean, if you’re at menstruation, just moving more slowly to manage those expansive powers. As long as you’re not in pain, that’s actually quite doable.
Sjanie – Hmm, that’s a lovely example. So this is the final step, which we sometimes call ‘The Art of Menstruality’ and it’s really trusting the intelligence and power of the cycle, trusting the rightness of it in your life circumstance and in whatever situation you find yourself in, even if it seems contradictory or even if it seems inappropriate or even if it seems somehow wrong, really moving a little deeper than that and trusting that it has value, great value. So that’s the fourth and final step. So all of this that we’ve been describing, this practice of Menstrual Cycle Awareness, is your core tool for being on the Feminine path, for following the process of your menstrual cycle and for allowing the powers, the spiritual powers of the menstrual cycle to really be activated. In a way, what we’re speaking about is you learning to love your cycle, or at least, we say in the book ‘broker and easy truce’
Alexandra – Or broker an uneasy truth!
Sjanie – (Laughter) Yes, broker and uneasy truce! Because that’s the first step and once you begin to edge towards that truce perhaps you can start to sense that there is a lot of support that comes through your cycle if you can cooperate with it and respect it. And I know this is not an easy task, as it has not been valued in the way that we are describing and many of the powers of the cycle have not been valued and in fact have been named as being weaknesses, so we’re undoing a whole lot of cultural stuff and a whole bunch of ideas that have been put upon us. So it is work and it is deep work, but ultimately the rewards are incredibly rich. I think before we complete this episode Alexandra, we should answer the question that is probably on some of your lips, which is what to do if your cycle is irregular? Or, indeed what to do if your cycle has stopped. There is something that you can do, so let’s address that one.
Alexandra – Hmm, this one comes up a lot and it’s very important. We always say to women who have an irregular cycle, chart the cycle you have. And remember the Big Red Rule we spoke of earlier about really valuing your own cycle experience. So you simply follow the charting instructions, but your cycle is going to be its own original shape. It might be a very short or a very long cycle, or it may vary from month to month, but just keep faith with that. Your rhythm of power, your pattern of the cycle may not be as clear as other people who have a regular cycle, but firstly, paying attention to your cycle, lovingly, respecting it as it is, may allow you to start noticing a pattern of sorts within that. I also sometimes feel that attention itself can be regulating, maybe as you pay attention some sort of regulation starts, that the cycle becomes more regular. So simply chart the cycle you have. And of course there are many other resources you can turn to help begin to regulate the cycle more, but just follow the cycle that you have. Now if you have no cycle at all, and that can happen perhaps because you’ve been on the Pill and come off it and you’re still waiting for your cycle to return, I would suggest you chart via the moon, so new moon is Day 1 of the cycle, and you just do exactly the same thing we have been describing but you’re charting following the phases of the moon and this will give you a sense of some kind of rhythm. Equally, if you’re a post menopausal woman listening to this, you might enjoy doing that as well if you feel you want to explore these cyclical ideas.
Sjanie – We really encourage you to get going right away, start today, there’s no need to wait until the first day of your cycle or to wait until the new moon, start right away, start today and begin charting and do let us know how you get on.