I have a love/hate relationship with my period. I love it because my uterus is downright miraculous and menstruation is its required maintenance. I hate it because tampons give me a headache and PMS gives me a bad attitude.
Have you ever read The Red Tent? It’s the story of Jacob and his multitude of wives; the red tent is the annex where Biblical village women would go when they were OTR, though back then it would be more appropriate to say OTH (On The Hay). Our female ancestors menstruated simultaneously and would leave their men and boys in the competent hands of young girls who hadn’t yet started monthly bleeding and old women who’d survived the transition out of the cycle. So basically, once a month, young women enjoyed a whole week spinning stories and teaching each other feminine skills in a cozy tent without men demanding seconds of mutton stew or begging for blow jobs. Honestly, I think it sounds kind of awesome. I’m seriously considering erecting a red tent in my backyard.
The only reason I hesitate to bunk with a bunch of menstruating modern chicks is that most of us are crazy. We women are generally so out of touch with natural body rhythms that when the crazies set in we can’t see that it’s all just hormonal hocus-pocus. We pick fights with friends, feel offended by co-workers, convince ourselves that our children are purposely not flushing their poops to spite us. We weep and we lash out and we oversleep, all the while believing whole-heartedly that this is who we are. But here’s the newsflash: We are not psychos. We have PMS. And we are so totally disconnected that we accept PMS as our normal state of being.
Several years ago I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of NOW. (Most likely anyone hanging out on this website has read it, so I won’t recap.) Back in 2011 I responded to his study on the pain body with a rant on one of my blogs:
During his description of how to manage the pain body, Tolle strolls a bit through the forbidden forest: PMS. He actually calls it “menses,” causing me to choke on my pink lemonade. Menses? Who says that?
Whenever a man talks about PMS or periods, I reactively roll my eyes, and Tolle is no exception. But to my surprise, he is onto something profound. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, he says, there is “an opportunity for the most powerful spiritual practice, and a rapid transmutation of all past pain becomes possible.” He invites us hormonal bitches to observe the painful and emotional waves of PMS rather than be pulled down and drown by them. A fast track to enlightenment via the feminine aisle? Well, shit. I gotta try this.
My first problem appears to be that when I’m behaving like a raving lunatic I don’t connect it to hormones. For two weeks of every month, Aunt Flo moves in with her crappy attitude, her heavy suitcases, and her complaints about my cooking; she tosses and turns in my bed, she tries to tell me how to manage my relationships, she pigs out on my chocolate cookies. Half my adult life, I’ve shared a home with this cranky old rag…
Screeeeeeeeccchhhh! Hold up! There it is. The shift in perception. I’ll reiterate because this is big: Half of my adult life (2 weeks each month) operates under Aunt Flo’s grueling regime. I’m not the freak. She is! Awakening to this fact was the first step in keeping Flo contained in her guest suite so I could move around my home in peace.
So this is it, ladies. The big how-to in reclaiming your body, your emotions, your awareness: Observe your behavior in the 7-10 days before your period begins. Each time you are short with your boyfriend or hypercritical of your mother-in-law, each time you feel insecure about a relationship or explosively frustrated with your kids, take a breath and observe. Watch as if you’re hovering over yourself like a sweet Midol angel. Don’t judge the behavior. Just notice who’s doing the talking in your head. Is the voice loving? If the voice is not loving, it’s not you. It’s that curmudgeon Aunt Flo, otherwise known as your pain body.
These observations may quiet your pain body immediately. But it’s possible that longer term observation will be required. It depends how attached you are to your pain. We get used to having the pain around, we accept the pain as normal, the pain becomes our story, we convince ourselves that life is pain. But this simply isn’t so.
Meditation is the absolute best catalyst in detaching from habitual beliefs. And there are some pretty fantastic side effects. When I meditate, I better maintain composure, especially when I’m PMSing (yes, I use PMS as an action verb). I still get pissed and crazy and squeezy, but not for very long. The feelings become more like a motorcycle gang joyriding past my house on a quiet Sunday. The ground rumbles, my heart pumps faster, the engine noise fills every square inch of space around me; but within a few minutes, the last biker is out of sight, the engines are barely audible, and my heartbeat resumes its rhythmic thump-bump.
Another side effect is physical healing. A consistent meditation practice will do this: diminish cramps, diarrhea, cramps, headaches, cramps, cramps, and cramps. When we meditate we are simply more aware. We are more thoughtful about the food we eat, the cocktails we drink, and the lifestyle choices we make. When we meditate we create opportunities for our bodies to heal. When we are peaceful in our minds, we are peaceful in our bodies. All of our inner bits are connected, after all.
Meditation isn’t complicated. There’s really nothing to it. Just sit down, close your eyes, and breathe. Try to feel your heart beating. Try to sense the flow of blood under your skin. When your mind starts to wander and chit-chat with Aunt Flo, watch it without judgment, then ask it nicely to be quiet so you can focus on your breath and your heartbeat. Sit for 90 seconds if that’s all you can do. The next time you sit it’ll be easier. You might make it to two minutes. The next time three and so forth.
Go ahead and experiment. Try it and see if it works. You are your own best teacher. The proof will be in your period.
Please share this with the PMSy women in your life. (Did you know PMS is an adjective, too?)
From mine to yours,