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Monday, April 25, 2011

Chumming as a doorway to spiritual renewal - I

I was twelve then and had already heard my friends whisper (rarely talk openly) in small groups, occasionally giggling, about their ‘monthly thing’. Though I never knew what it really was, I knew this much. That it involved blood stains, was secretive, shameful, embarrassing, dirty, messy, sometimes cool (a sign of growing up), sometimes painful. But I was too shy and timid to ask anyone about it. It all remained a mystery until one day I found blood stains on my dress. I was taught how to use a pad, and told that, from then on, I’d have to do it month after month. Why it would happen every month, I didn’t know. I simply followed instructions I was given.

Over many years after that, I started seeing my “chums” (which was a euphemism for “periods”) as painful, icky, messy, bothersome and coming in the way of life: adding to the challenges of a girl with her own mind struggling to keep her sanity in a conservative society. My ‘chums’ was something I could definitely do without, I thought. But the media did try to do it share to brainwash me saying that I could stay free, remain carefree, as though nothing was really happening inside my body, and carry on with life as normal. There were pills to numb the pain from the cramps. I really believed in doing all I could to let the days pass by without letting them affect my life in any way. Sometimes, I’d think that I’d won over nature’s ways. At other times, when the symptoms persisted, I was left feeling defeated.

This madness went on for more than 20 years. Why I call it madness, you’ll know if you read on.

About five years ago, when I read all about menstruation and its connection with the moon cycle, I was fascinated! I learnt that American tribal communities had something called a ‘moon-lodge’ where the chumming women rested. Since women who lived under natural light all menstruated around the full moon day of every month, it was called so. That is where they all had retreated to during those days of the month. Women’s bodies and psychies went through changes as the moon waxed and waned every month. During their time in the moon-lodge, women were given plenty of rest and were enabled to connect to their bodies, while the men took over many of their worldly responsibilities. It was an intense physical process of renewal of the body and the spirit, sometimes accompanied by pain that helped the women connect to their bodies more deeply. When they came out after their bleeding, they came energized, with a lot of clarity and ready to channel deep wisdom. The entire community then took guidance from them to have some of their issues resolved, questions answered, decisions made and so on. Such was the power of the woman who fully acknowledged and honored her monthly chumming and used it to connect to nature.

Even in our own Indian culture, there has been the custom of celebrating when a girl attains puberty. I used to feel embarrassed about these ‘functions’ whenever they happened. I had one too! Middle and upper middle classes, and many communities have stopped doing this function in the name of being progressive. Doing these functions is considered ‘low-classy’ and ‘primitive’. Surely the spirit of doing this has degenerated from being a celebration of womanhood to something customary, or an exhibition of wealth, status, etc.

I was fascinated by this story and made more than a mental note of it. But my approach to my chums remained unaltered in any significant manner.

As part of my riding one wave of feminism into the next (angry rebellion to healing compassion), my perception of my own body, my blood, my chums slowly began to shift. I started honoring my body’s need to rest during those days and attended to my cramps in ways other than pilling. But it was still largely a bodily healing that I focused on. Slowly but surely, feelings of shame, dirtiness, etc. started giving way to a sense of sacredness.

About a year ago, I came across two powerful writings about this by Lara Owens and by Eckhart Tolle. Apart from all that I’d already known by then, Lara Owens had elaborated on the PMS a lot. The modern culture has made a disorder out of this important part of a woman’s monthly cycle by naming it a syndrome telling you ‘something’s wrong with you!’ Just like how pregnant women are called ‘patients’ in hospitals as though pregnancy was a disease!

Lara talked about how all women go through PMS, and how it is a heightened emotional state. A state where the woman’s negativity, fears, anger, resentment get heightened and come in the face, so that she can deal with and heal through them coming out renewed spiritually as well. Eckhart Tolle calls it the 'activation of the collective female pain body'.

PMS is a highly vulnerable and hence a potentially stressful state. Lara Owens said that women should ideally stop doing everything at this time, sit with their emotions and work through them. PMS and the time during chums are golden opportunities for the woman to go inwards. It is a time when getting into a meditative state is easy for her. When honored, it opens a beautiful doorway to healing, inner peace and wisdom.

Now, what has it all meant to me?

Read the sequels here.

Chumming as a doorway to spiritual renewal - II

Chumming as a doorway to spiritual renewal - III


The Mad Jammer said...

I chanced upon your blog, and found this post a great read!

Shriyalicious said...

:) A very nice perspective to something I used to personally feel - an irritating painful ordeal to us woman!

harshita wadhya said...

Wow! I just came across this blog post and felt great after reading it.. always felt these things and it feels validated from outside now. hope to read more on this.

poosha said...

As logical as it seems, the part about not feeling guilty or dirty or all the negative emotions associated with chumming, what are the practical implications of actually 'ideally stop doing everything at this time, sit with their emotions and work through them'? What do you do if you're working? Take 5 days off? How about household responsibilities? Could one stop taking care of one's child cos she was chumming?

Anonymous said...

A collective community would make this kind of monthly retreat possible. Today the practice survives as a forced untouchability. But, some say, this is the only time the woman gets rest. Sad, but perhaps true for women who don't have the right to decide when to work and rest without accepting their status as pollutant during menses.

May I also suggest Greeting Aunt Flo - a reflective essay prompted by my discovery of the cup.

Sangeetha Sriram said...

Aravinda, I have read your essay on the topic actually many years ago when it was published. I agree that the monthly retreat in many households is forced untouchability. And I am not even looking at it as "the only time" to rest. I see it as "the time not to work". Basically, I am not disagreeing with you. Incidentally, I was just thinking today about writing my sequel to this post, and I see your comment on it. Hope to read your views on my next post on this. :)

Chithra Ramachandran said...

I should first makemy mother in law read this.I still remember those early days after my marriage,chums used be a nightmare and hated the most.was treated like untouchable and slept on floor