Red

December 25, 2008

This week, after two years absence, my menstrual flow returned.

Having such a long time without it gave me time to reflect on menstruation as a process and an event, and I now welcome it back with joy.

Before I fell pregnant, menstruation was all such an inconvenience to me at best, and draining, painful and uncomfortable at worst. I saw it as a hassle, something to be managed, a burden. It was embarrassing and a bit disgusting.

The universe has thrown at me many lessons concerning my body and my femininity since falling pregnant. Many of them, I can apply as wisdom to my flow (I use the word flow, as it sounds creative, positive and abundant).

I have learnt that nothing that happens in a woman’s (and indeed a man’s) body is anything less than miraculous, and charged with divinity.

I have learnt to not only trust in my body, but celebrate it, revel in it, and am constantly in awe of it.

I have learnt that “being” is as important in life as “doing”, and that self renewal is a vitally important task we all need to embrace more, for the health of ourselves, and of our global community.

My knowledge has been crystallised that we are, as women and as humans, simply animals, another part of the endlessly beautiful, diverse and divine family of Mother Earth. And I have learnt, given the space and time needed, our bodies and souls carry out their path in an equally divine and beautiful way.

I learnt the impact that modernisation and the need to “manage” natural bodily processes can have a traumatising effect on the self, and that through these attitudes, we can find ourselves far from where nature intended us to be.

I learnt to trust in my body, intuition and wisdom, if only in hindsight.

So as my flow returns, so do I return to it. And by return to it, I mean in a sense of returning to the wisdom and beauty in it that other and past cultures have held for it, for I regret to say I personally have never held reverence for it as a process, except in a purely biological, reproductive way.

And as wonderful as the gifts of biological ability and reproduction are, there are psychosocial aspects to menstruation as well, and these are not embraced, or even acknowledged in our culture.

Menstruation allows us to reconnect with the collectivity of the planet. Michelle Royce, in her book Moon Rites, states: “The moon’s constant journey through the heavens is most closely linked with the cycles of menstruation. It echoes the swelling belly of a pregnant woman and the cycle of nature itself, as seeds as planted, growing to fruitfulness, then withering and decaying, leaving new seeds in the dark soil to be reborn. As women were the first observable givers of life, and experienced lunar tides within their bodies, it is not surprising that the moon was generally seen as female.”

I think I have written previously about life being all about rhythm. This monthly cycle- of physicality, thoughts and feelings, and the vibrancy or darkness of soul- is one more deep, thrumming rhythm in the beautiful cacophony of life.

Royce goes on to say: “For the whole month, you may be caught up in your busy life of work, study or family duties. Once a month, however, your body gives a signal that it is time to take a few moments to consider yourself, your dreams, hopes and goals. You may choose this time to focus on cleansing yourself of negative thoughts and feelings, to create or celebrate something, or simply reflect on the past month.”

In some cultures, menstruating women stayed in areas apart from the rest of the tribe- the “red tent” concept- as menstruation was seen as such a potent and vital time, not just for the individual woman, but for the whole community. With respect given to the woman and the menstrual flow as a time of wisdom, she was able to tap into this universal consciousness and had dreams and insights that benefited the whole tribe and assisted and directed it’s path.

I just adore this idea, and it resonates with me as true wisdom and womanliness. I have attempted to incorporate these attitudes into my daily life during my flow- allowing more quiet time for reflection, meditating, and enjoying some solitude when I can.

I am also delighted (but perhaps not surprised) to find the “symptoms” of menstruation to be so much gentler now. Whilst I was almost incapacitated with pain before pregnancy, I have experienced little pain at all, and that which I have experienced, I have paused, sat with it, and been a part of the pain, rather than fighting it. I believe my attitudinal changes, and returning what I believe to be an attitude more in line with the universal intention, has helped make the physicality of it gentle and soft.

When thinking up this post in my head, I had considered writing a disclaimer at the top along the lines of “Stop! Do not read if you find womanly functions cringe worthy!” I chose not to, as that would have been going against the intention of the post. So if you have read this far, thank you. I hope it has brought you wisdom, or that you have wisdom you can share by commenting. Menstruation is just one more thing we could celebrate and share as community, and I would invite you do do this when you are next blessed with your flow.

(Michelle Royce’s book Moon Rites is published by Moon Diary Products-bbok celebrating her, and can be purchased at http://www.moondiary.com.au/sacred-rites-book.html )

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I have been mostly satisfied with the Rudd Labour Government so far in their term. The long overdue signing of the Kyoto Protocol (even if it is arbitrary and non-binding) and the Apology to the Stolen Generations made me feel proud to be an Australian, which sadly, I often didn’t during the Howard years.

This week, though, Kevin Rudd has shown his leadership- and his action- to be lacking. Hugely lacking, in a way that will impact us all.

Rudd has announced a weak target of 5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 as part of the action taken to protect our environment. According to Christine Milne, National Spokesperson for the Greens, “Scientists agree that developed countries need to reduce their emissions by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020 to avoid catastrophic climate change. Australia’s high per capita emissions and our relatively cheap emissions reduction potential means we need to be at the top of that range, not doing less than everyone else.”

Ray Nias, Australian Director of WWF said :”It commits Australia to long-term dangerous climate change [and] it will make Australia’s ability to negotiate global agreements very, very difficult.” The consequences of the weak targets are likely to include the death of the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu and the Murray Darling River system in our grand children’s generation.

The 5% target, which may increase to a maximum of 15% if the world signs up to an effective climate pact, are a global embarrassment. However, with Australia’s position as a high polluter, and lack of appropriate action in this area, the chances of an “effective climate pact” are weakened as well.

John Conner, CEO of the Climate Institute, stated ”We’re ripping the heart out of momentum for a strong global deal.”

The plan, in addition to targets not substantial enough to avert environmental catastrophe, has many other flaws.

The emissions target is based on 1990 figures, and therefore nearly twenty years out of date.

The plan favours big business that impact heavily on the country’s emissions levels. Milne says “Only three per cent of funds will actually go to reducing emissions. Half of all the money raised by auctioning permits will go to big polluters. Not a single cent will be spent on helping householders reduce their energy use and emissions.”

Furthermore, individuals and small organisations trying to make a positive impact on climate change are undermined in the plan. The less emissions from individual households- say by putting up a solar panel- simply mean more permits are available in the system to others, including the major polluters.

Of the $12 billion dollar package, $10 billion will go to compensation and free permits to the business sector. Additionally, emissions from the logging industry will not be included, and neither will petrol for the first three years of the scheme and agriculture for the first five years.

To me, the package seems ludicrous. If it wasn’t so dire, I would find the ineptness of it all amusing. It appears, in our consumerist culture, that the planet is just another disposable item.

Learning and Growing

December 4, 2008

First and foremost, I believe learning and growing is not only a life long process, but also one of our most (if not the most) important psychosocial tasks we will undertake. To grow, to develop, is human. I have an image in my mind of the seed of a fig tree, slowly enveloping and enmeshing itself into the world around it, becoming the world around it, until it is something of beauty and strength. Our life paths are much like that.

Given the weight I place on learning therefore, it is not surprising that Bodhi’s education is something I have given much consideration to. Education is not something that will be limited to the thirteen or so years he will attend school (if he chooses too), but will be a part of everything he does, especially in his vital childhood years. So it was important to Zai and myself to find a framework in which Bodhi can develop to his full potential, whilst still having a strong sense of individuality and self.

Initially I did consider opting out of the education system altogether. Like any institution, schooling can place more emphasis on arbitrary outcomes and limited focus, rather than the individual needs and path of the incarnating child. I certainly felt dissatisfied with my experience with the public schooling system. At times I felt pigeon-holed into a two dimension version of myself- labelled as “a nerd”, the “star pupil” and the person to “bludge answers off” due to my ability to retain information deemed important. This had two main outcomes- firstly, I felt driven to achieve more and more and to never get less than excellent marks, as my worth as a person in school was judged my ability to sustain good marks. The second outcome was that it stifled my creative and potentially lively mind to question not only the education system but the whole world, and have a far wider and deeper learning journey. I was just too busy trying to meet (sometimes totally irrelevant) academic outcomes (I had long ago given up on the sporting side of school as it didn’t serve to sustain the two dimensional cutout of myself).

And so, for a while, we considered home schooling and unschooling approaches. I was able to look past the usual criticisms of these approaches: for example, that  are socially well adjusted (I think that some homeschooled children would fare better than those from schools where antisocial and behavioural problems are big issues- being surrounded by more people does not necessarily mean better social skills); or that homeschooled children cannot go on university (I have many friends who have). I had confidence in my ability to homeschool and let Bodhi direct his own learning.

My mother supplemented my own learning with home schooling during my primary school years, and it has helped me come to my belief that education is not, and should not, be solely the responsibility of the schooling system.

However, my heart was always with Steiner for Bodhi’s schooling. Even if I did home school, it would be with a Steiner approach.

Having made the decision to move to Bellingen last month, I rang the Chrysalis School for Steiner Education last week. I made the call so early, as I have had friends who have been on the waiting list for another Steiner school for a while, and also as I want Bodhi to experience the full scope of Steiner education from early childhood (he attends a lovely playgroup annexed by the Manning River Steiner School currently) onwards.

The Chrysalis School is tucked away in the Bellingen Hinterland, surrounded by communities and forest. What a perfect, beautiful setting to learn in! I love the name of the school, the images of being cocooned in the experience of discovering the world and the deeper self is so evocative for me. It offers pre-kindy (“little kindy”) to Year 8 and architecturally, is such a gorgeous and earthy place. It has a lot of good energy.

As phone calls go, I was immensely satisfied with the way the call went. The staff member spent quite a long time with me, talking me through the approach of that particular school. I didn’t feel processed at all, I felt important as the custodian of my child’s education, and I felt respected (something I did not always experience during my own schooling).

I sat out on the verandah next to the hibiscus bush, chatting about my dissatisfactions with the public school system and what drew me to Steiner. It was a sunny spring morning and I felt a strong sense of peace and journey in the moment.

Early this week we received the Chrysalis School prospectus in the mail. It was like recieving a present I was eager to open, and it just so happened that I had to drive for half an hour to pick up Mum before I could sit down and immerse myself in it.

Zai and I are now assured of our decision. Having this extra material, presently so positively and beautifully, cemented our view of Steiner and the Chrysalis School in particular as the most ideal partner in Bodhi’s growth and learning with us, and most importantly, Bodhi himself.

What draws me to the approach? The idea that resonates most with me is the education of the whole child, not just the parts of the child that are academic, or play a limited number of sports. There are many, many facets to an individual that can be elicited and nurtured during a lifetime, and the Steiner philosophy respects this and acts as a responsible custodian to that concept. A far greater emphasis is given to creativity in this ideology, and from my previous posts it is obvious that this is important to me. Community and personal responsibility are valued.

Also valued is individuality. School does not pace the child, the child had far more freedom to explore life at his or her own pace, and academic concepts are not introduced before the child is ready to understand them. In this way, education is not forcefed. Instead, children are allowed to be respected as children and not as adults-to-be. They can fully embrace the wonder of being, and being a child.

Another vitally important facet of the approach is the role of nature. I personally often feel disconnected with nature, due to the norms of modern society, and I feel loss and grief in this (I also endevour to reconcile myself with nature whenever I can). In Steiner, nature is part of everything and is inherent in many of the processes and procedures. For example, at playgroup, we knead and bake bread every morning, acknowledging the process that has brought us the bread mix; the environment is gentle, with wooden chairs, pastel coloured decorations and no electronic media or toys; and the toys are made from natural materials (something I am in the process of emulating at home).

Knowing my little boy so much, I know how much he will flourish and grow in such an environment. He already is, being involved in playgroup and the Steiner philosohpies we have brought into our home life. It is this symbiosis of home and school- called, above all, “learning” that I look forwardly to joyously sharing with Bodhi, Zai, our future children, and the Manning River and Chrysalis School communities over the coming years.