On International Women’s Day, Let’s Bring Real Change
At January’s Women’s March, millions of people stood up globally to demand change, to demand respect and truly equal rights for the women of the world. On International Women’s Day on Wednesday, March 8th, women will make themselves heard again (one proposal is to join an International Women’s Strike – A Day Without A Woman).
The International Women’s Day website notes that progress in the achievement of women ‘has slowed in many places across the world’. Of course. Because we make our demands of a system that is fundamentally patriarchal in nature and whose influence is harmfully present in our lives in ways we are no longer even consciously aware of, right down to the energetic level. Tinkering at the edges will always leave us frustrated and true change will only come when an authentic feminine power emerges strongly enough to balance the male-dominated way of the world.
Without the emergence of this power, we women are either just all words or (as has so often been the case over recent decades of women’s liberation) we find ourselves insisting we are no different from men and simply imitating the prevailing linear, dog-eats-dog model of power in the name of female empowerment.
Either way, change is slow – and we so urgently need change. We urgently need to heal and balance the masculine and feminine (Yang and Yin) forces within us. Not just for our own well-being as women nor just to turn around the slide towards the politics of hate, embodied by Trump, but to save Planet Earth herself. For, as natural beings, we humans are part of the natural world, so when our energy is out of balance, nature is out of balance too. Caring for the environment starts with us.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is BeBoldForChange. For real and lasting change, we need a quiet revolution that will only come as women – and the many men who also desire such change – discover within themselves what this feminine power looks and feels like and how to move beyond self-doubt to step boldly forward into it.
So what does Feminine power look like?
I think this is where many people get stuck or go astray. The best way I know to understand the essence of pure feminine (and masculine) power is to follow the lead of Chinese Daoists and to observe the forces of nature.
In Daoist terms, the universe’s feminine Yin force is softer, gentler and more fluidly, changeably cyclical than its direct and forceful masculine Yang partner. Yin is the aspect of darkness, of contracting inward, of returning to source, of reconnection to essential truth, of reflection, of intuition, of restorative stillness, of acceptance, while Yang is the aspect of light, governing outward expansion, activity, intellect, ambition and unapologetic expression of one’s truth.
Yin is Water to Yang’s Fire. But do not be fooled by Water’s easy-going flow – it is the most powerful force in nature. Not only does its patient and meandering but constant flow towards its destination (the ocean) gradually wear away even the biggest boulders in its way, but it can harness powerful and terrifying might from its deep, dark, untamed depths.
I’m not suggesting a world based on a dominant feminine Yin model – that would be equally imbalanced. To be well and to access our true power (as men and women), we need these universal forces to balance each other within us.
True power is the overflowing of our own truth into the world, not the imposition of ourselves upon others.
To achieve this balance, we need to truly acknowledge the value in our lives and in society of these more feminine qualities, without which our masculine energy becomes unrooted and distorted – leading to aggression, violence and the authoritarian imposition of power. Sound familiar?
How does this distorted Yang dominance harm us?
The influence of the historical rise of the patriarchy as men asserted themselves as the dominant ruling force has seeped into every nook and cranny of our lives, affecting us all right down to the energetic level.
We live in a world where most of us are taught from the youngest age to honour the universe’s masculine principle over its feminine principle. We are taught to value activity over rest, speed over slowness, ambition over acceptance, strength over weakness, (the warped Yang appearance of) success over failure and a linear, push-on-through, competitive, intense lifestyle over a cyclical way of being that moves between activity and rest in line with our own energetic rhythms.
This imbalance harms us all, but women have born the brunt, both because it is our essential energy that has been disrespected, denied and suppressed and because of the numerous gender-specific practical implications of this.
Not only have women’s rights suffered, but – more damaging still – we ourselves have been brain-washed to believe that our female way of being is somehow wrong: our cyclical rhythms (present in all natural beings, but highlighted for us by the monthly turning of our menstrual cycle) make us less reliable and less productive than men; our natural bodily function (and precious symbol of our well-being, creativity and fertility) of menstruation is shameful and our blood should be hidden away.
I could go on and on. Our female disempowerment runs at a deep energetic level, causing women to be held back by a feeling of low self-worth and self-doubt that does not start with them.
How can we reclaim our power?
Above all, by recognising and embracing our cyclical feminine nature as the source of our power, not as a sign of our weakness (which comes from denying this nature). And then insisting that others do the same.
So this is where it is not enough to just to demand more rights for women by protesting or striking. The hard work starts internally with each and every one of us tearing down the centuries-old conditioning that – despite our best intentions and for reasons we cannot fathom – holds us back from stepping into the fullness of our truly feminine power and allows the patriarchy to continue to thrive.
So I urge you this International Women’s Day to take the bold step of stopping accepting the untruth that women’s changing hormones, moods and energy levels through our menstrual cycles create productivity problems and make us less than reliable or worthy. Stop feeling that you have to pretend (to yourself and others) that you are not actually experiencing those fluctuations or crippling symptoms (and please do not drug them into linear submission with the Pill), so that you can push on through to achieve your ambitions in a competitive workplace. Stop feeling that even your recreation must involve intense activity and that enjoying times of doing nothing and nurturing yourself is lazy.
This lifestyle model utterly denies our female reality and, as I know all too well, does us great physical and emotional damage. I spent my 20s suppressing my cycle with the Pill and ignoring my body’s desperate efforts to tell me when it was time to be active and when it was time rest, so I could push on with my busy city life running my own company.
I became a woman so disconnected from herself as a cyclical being that – at what should have been the peak of my reproductive power – my monthly menstrual cycle stopped for two years. I was also super-stressed, exhausted and irritable, with lank hair, poor teeth, a sore lower back and various other physical niggles. And my experience of life lost its joy and its vibrant and ever-changing colour and slipped into a rather dull, samey black and white.
Imagine this world …
If any of the above sounds familiar to you, please imagine a world where our embodied feminine changeability was actually recognised and honoured as valuable, where our regular cyclical need for some days of quiet internality, reflection, daydreaming, stillness and deep rest were recognised as the source of – not the obstacle to – our creativity and productivity.
To live in such a way is simply to heed the wisdom of the natural world, where Autumn’s drawing in and Winter’s restorative stillness are the source of Spring and Summer’s juicy growth and vibrant flourishing. Plants would wither and die if they tried to maintain their Summer fullness year-round.
As so it is for us. By ignoring our own cyclical rhythms and trying to live a linear life, we dry up our creativity and ultimately become exhausted and ill. When we start to honour our energetic ebb and flow, we tap into the enormous creative power of our cycles. Each time we deeply rest, we reconnect to the very source of our energy and creativity, so, when we re-emerge, we can blossom outwards, bestowing the fullness of our gifts upon the world.
What would it be like to live in such a world?
For one, I am sure there would far less menstrual, fertility or menopausal distress and far less general ill-health and emotional suffering among women, who in many cases are experiencing the fallout of the imbalance of a suppressed Yin energy and distorted Yang energy within.
And, with our female reality honoured, we could heal the wound born by all women and fall back in love with ourselves as women. We could feel ourselves to be essentially good, right, worthy and gifted and therefore capable of living lives of full and vibrant colour, expressing our own truth unapologetically in the world. In a word, we would feel truly and authentically Empowered.
By healing and empowering women around the world, this process will do what no amount of protesting to the patriarchy will achieve – it will bring a gentle but irrepressible revolution that will naturally, gradually and unstoppably right the imbalance between the masculine and feminine forces of the universe, of Mother Earth and of society.
Change starts with us women, so commit to it this International Women’s Day. Read on for my step by step guide to changing your relationship with your cyclical self.
Practical tips for embracing your feminine essence:
1) Commit yourself to bringing real change this International Women’s Day
Do join the ‘A Day Without A Woman’ strike on March 8th if that is appropriate for you (and on that day off, feel free to come to join my nourishing and empowering women’s Yoga session, followed by tea and a chat about these ideas – see below for details). But remember that real change starts with you, at home, with the rejection of the untruths about our cyclical female reality.
2) Tune into your own cycles, be they menstrual or energetic
Become intimately familiar with your own ebb and flow, noting each day (perhaps in a journal or on a chart) how your energy levels and moods shift and your physical/mental/emotional/spiritual experience changes, including any particular sensations or symptoms. Do this for at least a few months and start to become aware of any patterns that emerge. If you are watching your energetic, rather than menstrual, cycle, follow an approximately monthly rhythm and initially choose any day as your Day 1 (later you can perhaps tweak that to align with the day when your energy is lowest, quietest, most internal).
3) Start to honour those cycles in the way you live your life
If you listen in, you’ll notice that your body lets you know when it is time to push forward in your life (ie to be more Yang, active, ambitious) and when it is time to step back (to be more Yin, to daydream, rest and recharge). When we ignore our need to draw inwards or rest, we get stressed, short-tempered, clumsy, light-headed, drained and in pain etc; and when we ignore the signs to get moving, we feel stuck, frustrated, angry etc. So start to dance with your rhythm, making some nurturing, quiet time for yourself on the days when your energy is lowest. I know this can be hard in a busy life of work and/or motherhood. But start small. Within the context of your life and job, at the very least be gentler with, less demanding of and more forgiving of yourself on those low-energy days; and, when your energy is high, push forward with the fullness of your ambition and force! As you start to see the benefits, I hope you will quickly find ways to build times of really resting and just-being into the days when your body is calling you in. You could certainly cancel the high-energy workout and learn to say no to social engagements when all you really want to do is to move gently or curl up in a warm place and you could start trying to plan high-energy work and meetings according to your cyclical flow. Sometimes it will be impossible to get your work and energy rhythms coinciding perfectly. On those days, still find some time to tune in, to let your body know you are listening and ask it to bear with you. And when you then find yourself getting stressed etc, you’ll know why this is, so be kind and accepting rather than beating yourself up.
4) Feel how your cycles are a gift, not a burden
It may feel strange at first not to live your life in a habitual linear way, pretending that you, your energy, mood, creativity and productivity are the same each day. And it may well initially bring up feelings of guilt, inadequacy and laziness on the days when you are taking it easy. But stick with it and – as your times of not-doing start to reconnect you into a place of deep knowing within you – discover in this experiential way that your cycles truly are of value, that they truly are the source of your power. You may even find your menstrual (or other) symptoms lessen as you respect your body’s needs.
5) Demand that those around you honour your cyclical nature
Once you have started to rediscover yourself as a cyclical being, be brave and gently insist that your family, your boss and your colleagues give you the space you need to fully ebb and flow. As harsh as it may sound, if your job or lifestyle really allows absolutely no space for you to live the reality of your feminine cycles, perhaps something needs to change.
6) Spread the word!
Educate other women that their cycles are the source of their female power and not a sign of their female unworthiness.
7) Learn more
Sign up here for my NurtureWorks newsletter. I’ll be sending monthly insights on embracing our natural cycles and reclaiming our feminine power (my next one will offer a framework for using the Chinese Five Elements to make sense our rhythmic flow). Or come along to one of my Yoga classes, Qigong classes or Women’s Circles in Cambridge.
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If you’d like to celebrate International Women’s Day with me and talk about some of these ideas, do come along to my special FREE nourishing and empowering Yoga for Women session, followed by tea, cake (contributions welcome) and chatting. All welcome, no experience needed.
Free Women’s Yoga (plus Tea & Chat) on International Women’s Day
Wednesday, March 8th at the Signal Box Community Centre, Cambridge
Yoga – 9.15am-10.45am
Tea and a chat – 10.45am-12 noon
(You can come to one or both)