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Cycle Awareness

Words by Isobel Ripley
Artwork by Emma Franks

How can menstrual cycle awareness provide a blueprint for imagining a world beyond the ecological crisis?

Humankind cannot be separated from nature. We are nature. As we navigate the climate crisis, we must disentangle ourselves from the colonial idea that removes humans from nature. That man must conquer nature in order to be civilised is a figment that justifies the human-centric colonisation of the planet, the plundering of natural resources and the oppression of all who are perceived to be “closer to nature” than man. Or, in other words, “in need of taming”.

Menstrual cycles embody a wildness that our western culture has tried to distance us from. The cycle of growing, blossoming, dying and shedding that is the foundation of our fertility is so deeply connected to untameable power that we have been conditioned to distrust it. The practice of menstrual cycle awareness offers an alternative way of being in which our embedded cyclical code informs every aspect of the way we live including decision making, self-care, use of energy, sexuality, boundaries and service to others. Coded within the menstrual cycle are the keys to creating a relationship with our natural resources that is sustainable and procreational, helping us to avoid burnout and ill health. It is a philosophy for life.

Within the menstrual cycle there are four distinct phases - the inner seasons - that reflect the different energies and powers of nature’s spring, summer, autumn and winter. This presents a tangible, physical example of how our fertile creative power as a species mirrors the cyclicity of our environment. To put it simply, it highlights how the ability for a creative cycle to be sustained over time without devastation to its environment (for example the body, the soil, climate and ecosystems) depends upon a balance of a phase of action with a phase of rest. When we feel how vital that balance is within our bodies, we see with renewed clarity the fallacy of attempting to override these cycles in nature.

“Discovered” by women such as menstrual health experts Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer, founders of Red School and co-authors of the book Wild Power: Discover the Magic of the Menstrual Cycle and Awaken The Feminine Path to Power, cycle awareness offers a blueprint to a different way of being in this world, listening with deep self-empathy and respect to physical, emotional and spiritual feedback. This is a threat to a society built on a desire to deny and conquer our own nature. And so menstruation has been consistently shamed, hidden and disrespected in all patriarchal societies across the world.

Cycle awareness is about fertility, in the most expansive sense of the word. Regardless of whether we want to (or are able to) have children or not, fertility matters. Being “fertile” represents a wider creative potential, and each spiral through the menstrual cycle offers an opportunity for a person to get closer to their most authentic self. This self, many are surprised to discover, is innately whole and perfectly formed. Such a discovery is a threat to a capitalist patriarchy that relies on people competing with one another to achieve a standard of beauty, happiness, wealth or “success”. Designed to feel just in reach but ultimately unachievable, this scarcity myth - that we are inherently lacking - creates a culture of fear and conditions an urgency in people that denies the slower pace of nature. Natural cycles are replaced by toxic ones: the urgency to “succeed” causes people to strive, produce and consume more, exhausting our natural resources and opening up another market for “quick fixing” that depletion. The powerful discovery of one’s innate wholeness offers an alternative lens through which to see oneself and all beings as of equal value.

We are currently witness to a significant movement of menstruators tuning in to their natural cycles and practicing cycle awareness. These practices offer a different side effect; a reclamation of wild cyclical power that has been overwhelmingly disrespected by patriarchal and capitalist society. After living within the culture of menstrual shame and denial, reclaiming this power is radical.

Following the cycles within your body has an impact on the way you live your life. You find a deeper relationship to the energies of the external seasons, and discover you can no longer override calls from your body or spirit as you may have done before. Cycle awareness places you wholly outside of the dominant and unsustainable culture that requires constant linear progression and unchecked growth.

Dissolving cultural menstrual shame, and reclaiming our natural cyclical rhythm holds a key to dismantling the continuation of power structures that deny our connection with nature and alienate us from our inherent worth. Yet for these rewilding practices within our bodies to be truly radical for our species and planet, they must be mindful not to perpetuate the gender binary. While we remain stuck, playing into the hierarchy of nature versus culture, and woman versus man, no real change is being made. Menstrual cycles outside of gender binary are a threat to patriarchy’s obsession with inherent biological difference and its insistence on the “natural” dominance of one sex over the other.

As US feminist Audre Lorde famously said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Therefore menstrual cycle practice must centre decolonisation, meaning it must avoid gender essentialism and hierarchy of worth. It must centre those who have been most systematically estranged from their fertile power: queer, Indigenous, working class people, and people of colour. When practiced in this way, it is key to restoring us all to an equal, reciprocal and vital relationship with nature and our role as protectors of fertility in our bodies and our land. We are guardians of the world, we have equal stake in creating, protecting and proudly passing it on to those who come after us.

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