Birthings, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality

Of Red Tents & The Art of Nourishment

artist: Holly Sierra
artist: Holly Sierra

Disclaimer:  Within this post I refer to my spirituality. I appreciate and understand that this may not be your form of spirituality and it is not my intention to convert you to my Belief. It is my intention, however, to illustrate that Wellness not only refers to physical, mental, emotional, social, and environmental health, but must, by necessity, include our spiritual health. Spirituality defines meaning in our life, and gives us the ability to find our purpose. A life lived with purpose enhances wellness.

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Have you ever noticed how some things that happen in your life are so momentous that they just demand you stop what you’re doing, drop everything, and have a good, hard, and long look inward? And then, through this process, they demand that you grow.

About four months ago, I went a little mad. Well, maybe not just a little mad, maybe a lot, and in all likelihood I’ve been mad for a while and it just suddenly became blatantly obvious.  I had a full blown nervous breakdown which resulted in my body literally shutting down and collapsing. The rational, well trained observant me should have seen it coming a long way off, and it probably did, but the other incessant voices of Guilt, Self-loathing, Shamefulness, and You’re Just Not Good Enough crowded it out. I had lost the identity of my authentic self, I had forgotten my passions, and let my gifts waste away, and I lived with this lead-weight repression induced by various individual and organizational sources for decades ‘till the stress of carrying it all, as well as the stress of trying to keep my head above the waters of semi-functional motherhood, finally won.

Well, that was fun. This breakdown obviously caused a whole lot of problems in and of itself but something wonderful did come out of it. Something that demanded growth. I began to remember my authentic self and my own identity. I began to remember my passions, and my gifts, and thus with the prompting of some authentic friends who urged me to look after myself and NOT feel guilty about it, I began to nourish myself again, and fan these once dying embers into the Pheonix bearing fire that ignites every soul destined to live it’s purpose. And out of this the confidence to be me has grown, and Artemisia Visionary Wellness is born.

I’ve always gravitated toward women’s wellness. Ever since I was a child the mystique that is womanhood has always fascinated me. I began a dialogue with God from my 9th birthday because I really wanted to get my period so I could ‘be a woman’ (yes, I was an oddly curious child, and yes, my prayer was answered and I got my period at 9 ½. Yay!).    My recent experience then begged the question; How often do we women feel guilty about taking the time to look after ourselves? How often, particularly as mothers, do we feel selfish for taking the time to look after ourselves, to truly nourish and nurture ourselves?  As I looked around and observed the women in the circles in which I move, and as I remembered the women I had worked with, I realized that this feeling is more common than we could have ever thought.
In the two years of leading up to the breakdown, I lived in a difficult situation without much privacy, nor a kitchen of my own. I began to obsess over food and being able to create healthy yet decadent whole food with which I could feed my family and my friends. I fermented kefir, krauts, and yoghurt in the minimal, fridgeless, space that I had like a crazy person. I foraged and wild crafted food and medicine from my wild yet suffocating surrounds, and I wrote a book about it because the recipes I came up with under this adversity were pretty awesome, and I did find that creating healthy food for my loved ones was a kind of nourishment for me in itself. In hindsight, my subconscious was screaming at me for nourishment of a different kind.
Wellness, or wellbeing, isn’t just about the food, or the physical health. It also encompasses mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental health. Acknowledging our needs and supporting them in all of these aspects is conducive to being wholly well.

So, what to do, as women, when we feel like we’re in over our head, our bodies are shutting down or producing pain or growths in protest, and we suddenly realize that we are a weary beaten shadow of the glorious vision that we once had for ourselves?

Not long after the breakdown and the events and health scares that followed I began to acknowledge my intuition again and I got a really strong feeling that we need to start by simply accepting that we are women. We therefore need to start working with what we’ve got. And what we’ve got are the hormones that remind us, monthly, seasonally, that we are female. Because let’s face it, thanks to a society (that we’ve helped build) which has largely degraded us, objectified us, and raped us of our inherent birthright to be who we are, and to mother our children, some of us have forgotten our inherently authentic awesomeness.

Many traditional and so-called primitive cultures practiced the separation of women during that time of the month and after childbirth. It’s unclear at which exact moment in the story of womanhood this practice came into being, but it is also spoken of in Torah in a very clear and defined manner. Over the course of time and through the eyes of the patriarchs, this taboo has become synonymous with something sinful, yet if we look at it deeply, if we feel into the original meaning behind the practice, it becomes more about compassion than anything else. The law of separation during the monthly cycle and after childbirth becomes more a law of protection, and therefore a law of nurturing, and of nourishment.

In the last 18 or so years that I’ve been studying and working in the field of natural health, both general and maternity related, the alarming increase in female hormone related disorders has become painfully apparent. Breast cancer has increased exponentially, fibroids, cysts, endometriosis, infertility, and other female specific conditions have also been steadily on the increase, and while we can relate these to other endocrine glands and system malfunction in the body, does it not strike you as interesting that the target organs are all related to nourishment in some way or another? Whether it’s providing milk or housing a growing foetus, the breasts and the uterus are organs of nourishment. Our own bodies are screaming at us to pay attention. It moves me deeply to see how disconnected we are when it comes to matters that only we as women can feel. It sickens me that we live in a society that encourages us to see our physical femininity as inconvenient or nonexistent. I see this in commercials on TV for feminine hygiene products, I see this in the push to take birth control pills, HRT, and other drugs to alter the female reproductive cycle – sometimes irreversibly, and I see this is in the fear-based industry that has become the maternity machine.

And so I wonder, what would happen, if we, as women, took the time each month, took the time after birthing our children, to step out of the world for a brief moment, and we taught our daughters to do the same? What if we took that time each month to turn inward, to nourish ourselves and nurture ourselves, to truly feel and respond to our own physical and emotional and spiritual needs, and not feel guilty about it? What would happen indeed? Would we see a slow but steady decrease in these disorders from one generation to the next? Would we see hormones balance, and coping mechanisms improve? Would we see men have a greater respect for women, or perhaps more importantly, would we have a greater respect for ourselves? The voice of experience tells me that we would, but who would be willing to make this a habit, a custom that becomes embedded in our family traditions, and our culture at large?

For some of you this concept isn’t new. You may already practice it in your own way. For most, it may appear radical and impractical. I know what you’re thinking. I can read you as well as you’re reading this post. How do we do this? How do we separate ourselves for seven days every month, how do we separate ourselves for forty or seventy days after childbirth? Especially in a culture that chooses to ignore this need? Especially when we have heaped upon us responsibilities that we really can’t leave?

I realize that in this day and age, we aren’t living in a tribal type society so we don’t often have close-knit support networks, and more often than not many women work the full work week outside the home. Some of us even work 24/7 in the home. Yet we still need to take this time out, simply because each month, as we bleed, our body is telling us to do so. Even if not for the physical rest, but at least for the emotional rest. So I’m thinking of ways in which we can apply this practice in this modern age, and at least separate ourselves emotionally, when we physically can’t remove ourselves from our jobs, homes, and responsibilities for a week or so out of every month. Feel free to brain storm and come up with your own ideas. These are mine;

  • Resist the urge to take on extra responsibilities over that time, including the organization or scheduling of events. If you simply can’t get out of it, delegate or find someone to share the burden of responsibility with. If possible minimize the responsibilities that you have and promise that you’ll make up for it after your time of separation has completed.
  • Take the time to read an uplifting book.
  • Create and delight in foods that you find particularly nourishing for the whole time. Sometimes a diet based solely on chocolate for a few days is good for the soul.
  • Take the time to go for a walk in nature, connect with the creation and realise that you are a part of that.
  • Take the time to have a long soak in a nice warm bath, or shower, every day.
  • Connect with close women friends whom you love and respect and admire. Encourage and inspire one another.
  • Do things that make you feel good about yourself and uplift you and bring you joy.
  • If you are married, establish with your husband that this is something you are now going to be doing for yourself every month, and ask him to think of ways that he can support you. Perhaps he can cook dinner that week, or just stay out of your way.
  • If you have children, ask your husband or partner, or if you are a single parent ask family or friends,   to help you shoulder the burden of responsibility for your children at this time of month.
  • Perhaps, if funds are favourable you could treat yourself and take a break somewhere for that time to reset and rejuvenate.
  • Listen to uplifting or soulful music.
  • Keep a journal. Record your dreams, your thoughts, feelings, passions, and anything else that your soul wishes to express.
  • If you are partnered, separate yourself by sleeping in a different bed for that time. I’m sure you’ll make up for it when the week is over 😉
  • Use cloth. It will really connect you with your body and give you a new appreciation for things. It will also help you slow your life down.
  • Use the time to make an appointment with a naturopath or a practitioner experienced with women’s health and ask them to help you optimize your diet and lifestyle practices for optimal hormonal health.
  • Get to know your body and how it functions. Get to know the ins and outs of the delicate female hormonal balance.

So, think of ways that you can nourish yourself during this time. Do something different each month. The list might look different for you. For me, I find nourishment in creating decadent but healthy foods, and then sharing it with loved ones (although at that time of month, I much prefer to just eat it myself). I find nourishment in writing, and reading words that speak to my soul, and I find nourishment in communing with the natural world. I need to do these things more often. I need to step out of this world every month and smell the cosmic roses.