Connecting with your body in the Wise Woman Tradition
In the Wise Woman Tradition, we embrace the sacred in our bodies. We acknowledge that women’s wisdom is accessed through our bodies, both through our intuition/inner knowing and through our transformative physical experiences, from menstruation to pregnancy and birth to menopause.
In our culture today, the separation of mind, body and spirit is deeply ingrained. We are encouraged to transcend our bodies to become more spiritual; to connect with a “higher self” that is said to be superior to our physical existence.
As we move past the illusion of separation and duality, we re-integrate ourselves, becoming more fully present with the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our being.
We begin to feel whole again.
You don’t have to be good.
You don’t have to crawl on your knees
In the desert for a hundred miles, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
Love what it loves.
~Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
Take a nap
Tuning into the sensations of our bodies is one of the first steps in re-establishing a connection with ourselves and, surprisingly, it is generally discouraged. As we pay attention to our bodies’ signals, one of the first things many women notice is a feeling of fatigue and low energy.
Rather than ignoring or covering that feeling with stimulants such as coffee, caffeine and constant stimulation, the Wise Woman Tradition focuses on giving our bodies the rest that we need so that long-term health and healing can truly emerge. Over time, using caffeine and other stimulants actually decreases our baseline energy levels and contributes to adrenal exhaustion, which is endemic in women today.
Women typically need more sleep than men, yet most women receive far less than we need, due to the multiple demands on our time and energy. Naps are now known to have a huge array of benefits, from improving memory and elevating mood, to reducing stress and lowering blood pressure.
Lying down for even 15 minutes with a cloth over your eyes allows your body to reach a state of relaxation and your brainwaves to shift into beta mode. During sleep, we release human growth hormone, which contributes to your body’s ability to nourish and strengthen itself. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this rest allows you to move back into your day replenished, refreshed and restored.
Menstruating women–take a moon day
When we regularly stuff our “negative” emotions—not allowing ourselves to feel the full range of our experience—they are often stored in our bodies in a raw, unprocessed state. As women, we are blessed to have a hormonal system that supports the release of these pent-up emotions on a monthly basis through our menstruating years. In our culture, however, menstruation is often thought of as “the curse”, since it brings with it certain discomforts.
In the Wise Woman Tradition, the pain many women experience with their moon time can be seen as a way that our bodies are calling us back to the moon lodge. In many ancient cultures around the world, there existed traditions of women gathering in moon lodges or “red tents” during their bleeding times.
“The information received as the menses, begins in the clearest human picture from within the womb of the Great Mystery of the unknown and our future. Among our dreaming peoples, the most prophetic dreams and visions were brought to the people through the Moon Lodge. In other words, the most useful information that can come to us comes from each of you women who use your moon time well”
~Brooke Medicine Eagle, Buffalo Woman Comes Singing
Before the prevalence of electric light, when the pineal gland was more affected by the light and dark of the moon than it is today, women often bled simultaneously at the dark of the moon.
Today, our cycles fall in all different parts of the month, and may or may not line up with our close sisters, and we often do not have red tents to take refuge in.
Even without these supports, however, we have the opportunity to create our own red tent experience by taking a moon day: a day alone, tending only ourselves.
Our bodies may be crying out for this tending through the pain or intense emotions we experience during our bleeding cycles.
“PMS should actually stand for Pre-Menstrual Strength, because that is what it really is: our female power turned in on itself because patriarchal culture fails to nurture and honor women’s reality and women’s gifts.”
~Lara Owen, Her Blood is Gold: Celebrating the Power of Menstruation
Like many women, I used to have such severe menstrual pain that I was forced to retreat into bed, with the curtains drawn. What we’ve found is that when we make space for ourselves in the candlelit bath or in a dark bedroom, we are giving our bodies what she is calling for without her needing to create so much distress in order to receive it.
So, what do we do on a moon day?
We nourish ourselves, such as:
- take a bath
- cook for you
- rest in bed
- lay outdoors
- walk in the woods
By proactively taking that time to nourish, rest and restore ourselves, many women find that, over the course of a year, the menstrual pain and distress are greatly diminished.
Menopausal women – take a crone's year away
Menopause offers a similar—and usually more intense—opportunity for accessing a lifetime of grief or emotional pain, and this can be overwhelming. Hence, wise women recognize that menopause is an extremely important time for self-nurturing. Not just for a day, but for a year.
In a culture that glorifies youth and devalues the wisdom years, there’s a lot of reclaiming to do. In ancient times, the term “crone” was one of reverence for elder women. So we start there.
If you are no longer menstruating, you may consider Susun Weed’s recommendation in Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way, to take a “crone’s year away.” This is a time to focus intensively on nourishing yourself and taking care of yourself after decades of focus and attention on others.
The crone’s year away can be in the peak menopausal years, when hot flashes, physical irregularities, and mood swings storm through, or it can be later.
Engaging in a cultural or spiritual pilgrimage or finally stepping back from your career to explore passions you have set aside can help you to re-align with your internal energy and prepare you for the next phase of your life.
You are the expert on your body
The healthcare industry tends to take a “heroic” approach to wellness and healing, with the doctor as the central authority figure who will rescue us from our disease.
It’s important to realize that although there are valuable diagnostic and treatment tools in Western medicine’s body of knowledge, it is simply one resource of information and diagnosis. Among many other resources, including Eastern medicine, energy healing and somatic work that address emotional-physical connections.
The most important knowledge of all is your immediate and intuitive understanding of your own body—after all, you live in it and have the most intimate experience of it. Learning to listen to your body, acknowledge the signals it gives to you and articulate them clearly are the most valuable tools available in terms of your health and healing.
Educating ourselves and trusting our own understanding of our bodies allows us to engage our health care providers in a more empowered, cooperative and synergistic manner.
We need not blindly follow doctors’ orders; there are other perspectives and possibilities. All healers are working from the point-of-view of their particular body of knowledge, so their guidance is always filtered through a particular lens. It is up to you to decide which advice is in accord with your own experience of your body.
If your doctor’s recommendations resonate for you and you consciously choose to act on them, move forward. If not, don’t feel obligated and certainly don’t allow the healthcare system to dictate to you.
I have at times chosen not to follow doctor’s orders; I made my choice as respectfully as possible, and at times even signed a waiver saying I was taking responsibility for this decision.
Through remaining in our own power and developing a partnership with our health care providers—one in which they are resources and allies—the best outcomes are often possible.
Surround yourself with images of real women
As a teenager, I absorbed the unrealistic, media-driven message that, in order to be beautiful, a woman must be stick figure thin, with a flat belly. Like most young women these days, I struggled with my relationship with my body and with food. I even developed an eating disorder for some years.
You know what I’m talking about—nearly all the women I know have experienced an adversarial relationship with their bodies and their appearance.
Modern society cultivates a sense of inadequacy in women, barraging us with images of emaciated, photoshopped models and subliminal advertising messages: we are not enough as we are . . . we would be happier and more loved if we buy the products that will change us.
The cost to our self-worth and to our relationship with our bodies and our nourishment is enormous.
So, how to shift to loving our bodies? One of the most powerful steps can be to surround ourselves with images of real women with female-affirming beauty—images that counter the messages of our society, that reflect your individual beauty. In your home, your workspace, your car—display goddess images of female forms; photos of friends, loved ones and of yourself.
Bring in images that resonate with what you love and help your mind to internalize positive messages about your body, yourself and womankind.
Turning loving attention to ourselves, with an awareness of what is being done to us by the media, helps brainwashing become less powerful. Although it’s an uphill battle, heeding misogynist messages is a choice that we can reject—knowing that we are, in fact, perfectly enough, just as we are.
Imagine a woman in love with her own body.
A woman who believes her body is enough, just as it is.
Who celebrates its rhythms and cycles as an exquisite resource.
Imagine a woman who honors the body of the Goddess in her changing body.
A woman who celebrates the accumulation of her years and her wisdom.
Who refuses to use her life-energy disguising the changes in her body and life.
~Patricia Lynn Reilly, Imagine a Woman
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