Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstruation, Consciously?

April 17th, 2013 by Ashley Ross

In Heather Dillaway’s re:Cycling post of March 28, “The Physical Body and the Lived Body”, she invited a conversation about the importance of understanding the “lived bodily experience” when we examine menstruation. She suggests that “we cannot comprehend menstruation until we separate the physical body from the lived body”. Her inquiry reflects the dilemma many of us face when we attempt to enter the female experience through our cognition. Inevitably we rely on what we’ve heard repetitively and from many sources; what we’ve been taught, cajoled, shamed, brainwashed, and had whispered to us. In this way our experience has been formed from the outside in. This is what Dillaway delightfully (albeit cognitively) calls the “governmentality” of (our) bodies – that is, all the rules that surround bodies, all the norms that suggest exactly how our bodies should be and behave”.

If we agree reframing and embodying our own experience is called for, the logical question is no longer WHAT is our lived experience (that would still keep us in our heads) but HOW do we experience our bodies to discover our experience from the inside out? What are we called to do, or perhaps more relevantly, to BE, to develop the ability to fine-tune our inner attention, to deepen our listening and to familiarize ourselves with the terrain of our interiority?

How we chose to do this — how we each bypass the machinations, the loops, the highly developed editing abilities of our minds, the habituation of needing more, more, more information — is as personal and varied as the individuality of each inner landscape. However, I would like to suggest the following three components as a place to start:

Photo by Ashley Ross

“Going inward” only can happen when we slow down. This is a timeless realm, where attention will only settle on our experience, like a butterfly on a flower, when the air is still.

We also need to bring our curiosity to the unknown. We won’t free ourselves from the tyranny of imposed meaning until we are willing to enter into our experience and be willing to not know what we will find. Not even think we might know. Simply not expect to know.

We also need to build up the courage, the resources, the terra firma, the self-esteem, nay, the self-respect to go in and gently, lovingly touch those uncomfortable, painful, and often vulnerable parts of ourselves. These wary parts might even back away from us at first, but in truth, have been waiting for us to arrive for a long time. As the poet Mary Oliver says, “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.

These three mindfulness-based practices are at the foundation of a conscious embodiment of our menstruation, hormones and peri/menopause. They offer a way into our experience that allows understanding to bubble up from the experience itself. If we can BE in our bodies, if we can sit quietly and notice who we are when we menstruate, when we ovulate, and the tempo of our own monthly cycle, in this way we permit ourselves the experience of knowing ourselves from the inside out.

Who knows, something unexpected and remarkable might happen. By bringing consciousness into our experience, it might shift the experience itself…

2 responses to “Menstruation, Consciously?”

  1. HeatherD says:

    Great post, Ashley. A couple of things: first, I can’t take credit for the “governmentality” concept – that is straight from work by Bryan Turner and Michel Foucault – so I want to make sure readers know that concept was not mine. Also, it’s interesting, disability scholars say that the lived body is more important and meaningful than the physical body because it’s not the physical that keeps us from things, it is rather the experience and meanings of that physical body that determine our lives. But, are you arguing the opposite, that the physical IS the most important and that we should try to strip away the lived experience? Is that possible? A very thought-provoking post.

  2. Ashley Ross says:

    Thank you, Heather. And for the clarification
    I think the question I sit with is whether it’s possible to separate the lived body from the physical body. While our bodies are the form of our incarnate selves, they are also the instrument through which we experience. Through my work (and my experience in my own body) I’ve noticed that it’s when we are not conscious of the nuances of our relationship with this instrument that we fall prey to the “tyranny of meaning”, to quote Jon Eisman.
    So, yes, I am suggesting that understanding the connection to the physical is critical to understanding the lived experience, but no, I am not suggesting the lived experience should be stripped away. Perhaps I am suggesting it’s sequential instead.

Readers should note that statements published in Menstruation Matters are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.