Not all, but many women menstruate. The menstrual cycle is a contentious areas for feminists. Even men who aspire to be a feminist tend to find it difficult to deal with it. Inappropriate jokes ensue, and completely ignoring the issue is also a popular option.
My journey along a feminist path and toward the Sacred Feminine necessarily included working with my menstrual cycle. In this, Women’s Wisdom and the Menstrual Cycles articles and Womb Blessings by Miranda Gray have been most helpful.
In Western Buddhism, one of the most revered and widely-taught practices is the four applications of mindfulness (body, feelings, mind, and mind objects – these terms have very specific meanings in Buddhism). I argue that mindfulness of the body should include, for women, mindfulness of menstrual cycle. Once the need for such teaching is recognised, similar exercises may arise for men, to acknowledge hormone-based fluctuations in their bodies, for example, men’s response to hormonal changes in their female partners’ bodies, to do with pregnancy and giving birth (documented) and with menstrual cycle itself.
Western Buddhist practitioners are encouraged to stay with their bodies, feelings, mind and mind objects, without trying to control or change them. The Buddha went to details as instructing monks to be mindful at all times, including when they urinate and defecate. The full list is found here.
And yet, there is no specific teaching for women to be aware of our menstrual bleeding.
I know from experience that I am not only affected by my menstrual cycle at the time of the actual bleeding. Every day for me is not just a calendar date, it is also a very particular stage in a 28-30 day cycle. One day it is the day before ovulation, so I have just had a busy week, and I am possibly getting a bit more introverted, and tomorrow I will feel some minor pain from ovulation. Another day could be the first day of the last week before bleeding. I might wake up tense, alert, with a vague feeling that something is wrong. Then I remember I am entering the what Gray calls the Enchantress stage.
Miranda Gray described menstrual cycle in terms of four distinct stages. And it is usually The Enchantress stage that women are most prosecuted for: literally in the past and present women are killed for being witches. Alternatively, women are ridiculed and discriminated against in the capitalist patriarchal society. The patriarchal view is that menstruating women are dangerous, unstable, unreliable and untrustworthy, because every cycle they enter a stage they can’t control, when women seem to be aggressive, moody, unreasonable, destructive. Patriarchal adherents can deal with the bleeding phase – the Hag, as Miranda Gray calls it – because women tend to lack in energy and just suffer quietly on a couch during it.
But it is the Enchantress Stage that really scares some men. And some women. Women can get self-demeaning and distrustful of themselves due to the fact that the menstrual cycle appears to be a problem, rather than a blessing, to them. The reason for this is that patriarchal society wants women and men to see menstrual cycle as a problem, so that women are seen as inferior, as “broken”, “freak” men. Not as stable, not as efficient, not as logical, not as productive. These considerations become especially important in a capitalist society, in which all people are “valued” and rewarded only as much as they contribute to enriching the top 1 percent of capitalists. In a capitalist society, the sacredness of life is obliterated, and giving birth is seen as an inconvenience. The abhorrent way in which Mothers are treated in the US has been discussed on FAR.
However, this is an area is where Buddhist practice and the Goddess spirituality can work together. Buddhism offers excellent teachings on being mindful, of letting be, of letting go of control. If only this was taught in Western Buddhist centres to women in relation to menstruation. Miranda Gray offers a framework that is rooted in mythology and Goddess spirituality. With an addition of Buddhist meditation, it would be an integrated path to body and spiritual, and subsequently, social liberation for women.
Enchantress is not bad. She is not crazy. She is not stupid. She is preparing the way for rebirth. She is the one who is getting rid of everything that is dead, outdated, rotting, damaging. She is Mother Kali. She is autumn. Without autumn, there is no winter. Winter in menstrual cycle is bleeding – the time of no thought, the time of ultimate letting go and submerging into the waters of the Goddess in Her womb. This is also very similar to many Buddhist teachings.
Without winter, there is no spring (Virgin phase in menstrual cycle): there is no energy, no new sprouts, no growth. Without spring, there is no summer (Mother stage, ovulation): no fruition, no completion, no abundance, love and caring.
In my own experience, the infamous (in a patriarchal society) Enchantress phase is the time of honesty. Enchantress cannot put up with the injustices that I as a woman experience in my life – or that other men and women experience. The Enchantress does not take crap. She is wild, and she is unstoppable. She is the hand of justice.
During the Enchantress stage, I am not distracted by the energy swelling up inside me and compelling me to do, to act, to organise. I am not concentrated on being fertile, as at the time of ovulation – the Mother stage, when I want to be one with the world, to care and to nurture. And I am not listening attentively to the voice of the Dark Goddess as blood comes out of my womb. So, all the crap that I have taken in the previous cycle, due to lack of time, not wanting to bother, or just feeling sorry for the perpetrator – it all resurfaces, and the Goddess tells me: “In letting patriarchy put you down, you put me down.”
Oxana Poberejnaia was an Officer of the University of Manchester Buddhist Society while studying for a PhD in Government, and has been involved in organising the Manchester Buddhist Convention, now in its 9th year. Oxana is now exploring the Sacred Feminine through marking seasonal festivals, working with her menstrual cycle, frame drumming and shamanic journeying, while keeping the practice of Buddhist meditation. Oxana is an artist and an author. Her works can be found on her blog.