Finding My Way Into Conscious Menstruation- Taya Mâ Shere
These past twenty years, menstrual-honoring practice has saved my life, and it has been at the crux of my spiritual practice. It hasn’t come simply or easily. One out of every four weeks I bawl at the drop of a hat and am an emotional rollercoaster. I am hyper-reactive and am quite difficult to be around. During that week, I make decisions, I make art, I make messes and I make repairs. The intensity that inhabits me is not comfortable but it IS magic. Each cycle, I learn to wave the wand with greater precision, to add ingredients to the cauldron that stoke a more optimal alchemy, to add the incantations that hold a resonance that is most real and generative.
My journey toward loving my blood began amidst an abstract quest for spiritual meaning. Searching for God in graduate school, I journeyed to lush land in northeast Brazil, slept in a hammock under a mango tree, swam in the nearby river, and shared communal meals. I danced and drummed around a bonfire. One morning, I awoke to menstrual blood along the inside of my thighs. I hadn’t expected my period and was deep in the wild, a daylong walk from the nearest convenience store. I was mostly fluent in Portuguese but didn’t know how to say “menstruation,” or ask for pads or tampons. Even if I’d known, I was too embarrassed to ask for help. I had no idea what to do.
And then came the question that would change my life: How did my ancestors catch their blood? Immediately, I saw in my mind’s eye an ancient woman bleeding on to the earth. My eyes widened, my heart pulsed and I felt a deep wave of surprise, awe and knowing. My foremothers bled onto the earth. And so I did just that.
I wandered naked in the grass with menstrual blood dripping down my legs. I sprawled on the ground and offered my blood to the earth.
Until this moment, I had never wondered how my foremothers’ tended their menstrual blood. I had never been curious if they used rags or leaves, if they felt pride, pain or shame. By necessity, bleeding in this wilderness, I came to a new understanding of my body and my blood, of the lineages of bleeding ones before me. I gazed at the moon, feeling her pull on my body and spirit. In this wild, I found Goddess. I felt the power of my blood, the power of the sacred in my body and in the earth and of the cycles and the moon. And I never looked back.
Yet, when I left the wilderness and returned to the U.S., I found myself inside of a deep dissonance. My new awareness was tested when I returned to grad school and the productivity-centered, disembodied, intellectual institution of my Ivy League university. While finishing my studies, I made a deep commitment to a bleeding sabbath practice. During my menstrual days, I skipped class and stayed in bed, wrapped in burgundy sheets. I ate red foods. I only read books written by women. I let myself grieve and release anything from the past month, and envision what was to come. I made art and wrote poems. I stopped “pushing through” cramps to go to school or work, or to be social. When I listened to, rather than overriding, my body, I experienced a softening in the pain of bleeding. I came to see my cramps as a helpful warning sign to slow down and rest. I stopped taking medicine to mask the pain. I was explicit with friends that I would need to cancel plans if my moontime came. I committed to countering the blood shaming I encountered within and around me. This practice transformed my physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. I celebrated when people around me were bleeding, in joy and appreciation, bringing them chocolate. I wanted to open another possibility for them.
Conscious menstruation includes healing the patriarchy that has been embedded in our bodies. As we turn attention to our embodied experience, we are called to repair a split between body and the sacred. Because of systemic oppressions across place and time, and the forced and chosen diaspora of many of our people, many of the stories and lived experiences of bleeding ones who have come before us have been lost.
When I let myself simply listen to the experience and needs of my bleeding body, rather than overriding them, I remember and envision a time in which we bleeding ones were and are seen as powerful, in a state of liminality between the worlds. A time in which menstruation is understood as opening access to realms beyond this one, and to direct experience of the sacred in our bodies. In which menstruation is valued as a portal to dream and receive visions for our communities. In which our power is not demonized but is honored at sacred and guiding wisdom. A time in which we honor ourselves and each other. I deeply desire and am committed to embodying and creating anew this sacred reverence for bleeding here and now. In my own body, in my communities, in this world.
Taya Mâ Shere
Taya Mâ Shere is the co-founder of Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute, co-author of The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership (Ben Yehuda Press, 2015), and Siddur HaKohanot: A Hebrew Priestess Prayerbook and a senior teacher and practitioner of Ancestral Lineage Healing. She is Assistant Professor of Organic Multireligious Ritual at Starr King School for the Ministry, where she trains emergent clergy across faith traditions. She is a senior teacher and practitioner of Ancestral Lineage Healing, a practitioner of Somatic Experiencing, and for over twenty years, Shere has led workshops on conscious menstruation. Her article, “Your Blood is a Blessing,” was published in God In Your Body (Jay Michaelson, Jewish Lights, 2006) and The Hebrew Priestess. Taya has tended menstrual-honoring spaces at music festivals and large spiritual events, and has supported many hundreds of bleeding ones in reclaiming menstruation as a sacred practice. She has been bleeding for over thirty years, and distinctly remembers feeling mortified when her parents took her out for dinner to celebrate her first period. Conscious menstruation is at the heart of her spiritual practice.