Tag Archives: human nature

Bleeding Nuisance

Of course I’m breaking a bit of a taboo by even mentioning this, but yes. I’m bleeding. Last time I put up a blog post someone who claimed to be Pagan piled in to say that bleeding is private and to suggest I shouldn’t be talking about it. I’ve been told off for being honest with my son from an early age about menstruation. (The net result is a well adjusted young man with a non-squeamish and compassionate attitude to the process, so sue me!) I’ve seen graffiti scrawled onto Mooncup adverts about how gross a moon cup must be. There, on our screens ‘sanitary products’ demonstrate their ability to soak up a blue chemical. No, we must not talk about blood. Unless it’s spurting in some violent arc in a movie scene.

I shall persist in being a bleeding nuisance on this topic, and I have no qualms about offending people. Not only is bleeding natural for a lot of us, it’s essential to the on-going existence of humanity. No blood, no babies. Rejecting the blood is one of the many ways in which our culture tries to deny what is animal about us. The human animal bleeds, shits, farts and pisses. Every time we try to pretend that isn’t so, we deny that we are a part of nature. We are messy, visceral beings. Our natural bodies produce smells which we teach each other to hide with chemicals. As though smelling of fakeness, of laboratory product is more attractive than smelling of skin and sweat.

Menstruation effects women in all kinds of ways, but we are wary of talking about it. PMT, the sometimes (but not always) debilitating effects of cramps have been used against us for far too long. We are told these things make us unstable, unreliable, unsuitable for that working world of men and power and importance. We lie. We hide it. We deny one of the most basic aspects of our femininity in our (theoretically) breeding years so that no one will treat us as inferior. Frankly, that sucks. I bleed. Frequently I hurt, often it makes me cry. It does another thing, too. It makes me honest. Most of the month I might be able to tolerate the bullshit, the stupid, the useless and put a brave face on. Bleeding makes me intolerant of all that stuff. It’s not a crazy time, and in my past it was often the one fleeting bit of sanity when I could be honest with myself about what was wrong. Somehow, the hormones give me permission to cry and generally I find that hard.

How much easier would life be if the blood wasn’t embarrassing or shameful? How much difference would it make if acknowledging the cycle did not run the risk of inviting neo-Victorian attitudes? What would it be like to live in a culture where being female was not something you had to hide and apologise for on a monthly basis? But no, we have to put on a brave face and keep going as normal. I honestly think that if men had something comparable going on as well, the collective attitude would be totally different. Instead, bleeding is ‘unclean’, it needs sanitising with sanitary products. We aren’t supposed to talk about it, because it’s ‘gross’ we’re just supposed to pretend it isn’t happening and carry on as normal.

I’ve encountered men, (plural) for whom vaginal sex during menstruation is distasteful, and others who find partners aren’t interested when bleeding, but who expect to get laid anyway, and think rear entry should be on offer to tide them over. That this whole attitude casts the female body as so much orifice for gratification, doesn’t seem to matter to them. And here’s a thing, think about it. Blood is distasteful, but bottoms…. Hmm. What interesting double standards we have as a species! I’m very glad to say I don’t have that kind of stupid in my life any more, beyond the occasional, infuriating anecdote.

Bleeding. Proud to bleed. Grateful to be able to bleed, to be fertile, and female and alive. Unashamedly a bleeding nuisance.

The nature of fear

Often, worrying is the least helpful thing a person can do. Just chewing on the anxiety and letting it wrap those icy, crippling fingers round your heart on a regular basis, will make you sick. But when life is full of things that scare you, when you’re waiting for the next unpayable bill, the next round of bad news from the medics, the next court date, the next phone call from the police, or your stalker, or whatever it is, letting go of worry is hard. It’s there as soon as you wake up in the morning. It’s there when you sleep, too, shaping up into nightmares, and it’s there when you can’t sleep. Being exhausted doesn’t help, of course.

Sometimes, anxiety can become so intense that everything starts to feel impossible. The fear of punishment makes it hard to act. And, for someone who does not live in fear, this can be hard to imagine. If you’ve been knocked down enough times it is easy to imagine the next blow. The experience of cruelty, unfairness, perhaps even abuse that is inherent in a system, teaches you to be afraid. The fear of not being taken seriously, as well, being laughed at, or told off for being hypersensitive, over reacting. And so the fear begets fear, until you’re mired in it and do not know how to move. At least, it can.

Once upon a time, hedgehogs (a cute, prickly mammal, for those of you outside the UK) used to respond to predators by rolling up into balls. They handled cars the same way. They died as a consequence. These days, hedgehogs know to run away from cars. Sometimes rolling into a tight little ball and putting the prickles on the outside is not the answer to fear and danger.

Nature gives us all kinds of models for responding to danger – both real, and imagined. It is discernibly natural to jump at unfamiliar noises, to associate one bad thing with something that maybe wasn’t connected but happened to be there at the time, and to be nervous of the unfamiliar. Animals do this all the time. My cat is very good at reminding me that there’s nothing weak, or unnatural about how I experience fear. Every rescue dog I meet has the same story to tell. The one who had become afraid of hats. The one who mistrusted all men. We learn to fear through association. And like the rescue dogs, given time, love, support, we can also unlearn, build trust, regain hope. One of the worst things about anxiety is its capacity to make you feel like a freak.

Humans are not, generally speaking, all that good at recognising what is natural in humans. We tend to stigmatise it. Bleeding, sweating, crying, shitting, lusting, raging, hurting, fearing, these are all socially stigmatised. Which makes it that bit harder to vent, to express, to seek support. To get help for the fear, you have to admit that the fear exists, and in doing so you have to deal with the layer of fear that is all about how people will react to your confession.

Fear begets fear, and taking those first steps to tackle it is really hard. But, the sooner you catch it, the sooner you can get it under control and the less badly it affects you. Fear is like any other disease that can spread in your body. The longer it runs unchallenged, the more it eats into you. Think of it as you would a virus, or a cancer.

If you do not live with fear, then this can be peculiar stuff to try and make sense of. For those who are not riddled with it as a sickness, fear seems like a fleeting thing. Nerves. Edginess. Somewhere close to excitement. Perhaps bad enough to make you throw up before you go on stage, but fundamentally transient in nature. It’s hard to imagine that which falls beyond our own experience. But, understanding intellectually is really useful. Because about the least helpful thing you can say to a fearful person is that they are silly and should pull themselves together and get over it. Such words force silence on the ill one. And they add to the fear. Those layers of fearing ridicule are paralysing too. Warm words, words of encouragement and support, are gifts. Having the compassion to say ‘I’ll do this with you’. ‘You can do this.’ You don’t have to do this’. ‘Maybe just try a bit of it,’ open the prison doors and give anxious people a chance.

And, if you haven’t been there, just pray that you don’t. But a significant percentage of us will suffer from anxiety illnesses and/or depression during our lives. This is probably part of the natural, human condition too. Nothing will really prepare you for it, but the person who knows something about the mechanics and possibilities will be less shocked when it happens to them, more able to get help, and perhaps less likely to fall so far and so fast, or to hit the bottom of a dark hole with quite the same crippling force.

Questing for inspiration

I talked a few blogs back about the difference between the raw material of inspiration, and the connections and sense of flow – the awen – which turns that raw material into something new. I’m reading Darryl Reamey at the moment, who talks about how the habituations of seeing or experiencing something makes it normal, and we cease to experience wonder. When all is normal and mundane to us, we are unlikely to feel inspired by it. This is, I think, one reason a great many people see inspiration as mysterious. Real life, everyday life is not inspiring. It is normal, humdrum, familiar.

There are many things that coax us towards not thinking. Repetitive patters of living, the brain blanket of media, the material cocoons we voluntarily wrap about ourselves the better to sleepwalk through everything. We expend a lot of energy, collectively, making the world safe and predictable. Then we settle down into the assumption that we know what we’ve got, and can stop bothering with that nasty business of thinking about things.

Every morning, the sun rises, bringing light back after the hours of darkness. And every morning the birds sing their response – levels of enthusiasm depending a lot on the weather conditions. Every day features small miracles and wonders. If you are going through life assuming it to be banal and predictable, you won’t even see them. We learn not to look, not to think, not to wonder and not to feel. We take each other for granted, along with the sunrise.

Predictability and freedom from thinking creates a kind of comfort. It’s an easy sort of life, but ultimately not all that satisfying. Rather than tackle the underlying issues, it’s easier to drown that discomfort in alcohol, or bury it under hours of television, or computer games, or whatever your current poison happens to be. We’ve spent millions of years evolving to be thinking, feeling, creative creatures. Our ancestors depended a great deal on their brains and ingenuity. We are squishy things with lousy teeth, no claws, no natural armour, no camouflage, and barely the capacity to remain warm. We’ve evolved to think, but somewhere in our more recent history, we got into the habit of not thinking. It doesn’t suit us.

Not thinking helps to keep us docile and biddable. Therefore encouraging people not to think is in the interests of anyone who wishes to control others. Thinking, if you make a habit of it, will turn you into a radical and a revolutionary with very little help from anyone else. All it takes is casting of the habit of banality, and the assumption of familiarity. We hear a tragedy on the news. The news is full of tragedies. We shrug. Someone points out that our postal voting system would shame a banana republic. We think corruption is normal and inevitable, so we do nothing. The government takes away a few more rights and essential resources, but we’ve been told we are powerless, so we lie down and take it. Umm….

Inspiration is not just about recognising all that is wrong in the world and finding the courage to do something about it. Inspiration is the experience of opening your eyes all over again, like a child, a puppy, any new creature that still knows how to be surprised. Finding inspiration is easy as soon as you throw off the shackles of taking things for granted. All around you, there is life. Right in front of you, there is something beautiful. It may be small. It may be a dust mote caught in a sunbeam. But it is there, and as soon as you start looking, you will see it. Casting off assumption about relationship and seeing what is good, and what needs more care and attention, brings inspiration into how we live.

I look at the patterns of cloud across the sky. I listen to the birds. Today, the rain was wild, and that was intoxicating. Now I revel in experiencing warmth and comfort, safely out of the rain. I have no idea what this afternoon will bring. Inspiration is part of my everyday life in no small part because I know how to be surprised. There is far less mystery in inspiration than people imagine, and far more mystery in all of life than many people would dream of.

The hardworking people

Apparently David Cameron was on Radio 4 this morning telling the UK how much he cares about ‘the hardworking people’. At first glance, that seems fine, but it stands a poke. First, as soon as you say something like this, you are probably also saying (especially if you’re a Tory), by implication that there are people who are not hardworking and you aren’t in favour of them. You are also saying that hardworking is the only measure of a person. Let’s take that further.

A hardworking person is putting in long hours, pretty much by definition. They probably live to work, rather than working to live. But there’s no call to quality here, only to look busy. A hardworking person may have meticulously re-ordered the stationary cupboard today. They might spend hours diligently folding socks in the best possible way. They might spend several extra hours in the office every day, appearing to be very busy, afraid they will lose their job if they don’t appear to be working long hours, and working hard, but not actually doing anything useful. What they will be doing is reducing their own quality of life, having a terrible work-life balance, and neglecting other aspects of being human.

Hard work and long hours happily contributes to a process of making things we neither need nor can afford and then convincing each other to pay for them anyway. This is one of the things that underpins the inherent instability and unsustainability of our culture. Working long, hard hours contributes to the rising epidemic of stress, anxiety and depression related illness, which in turn costs a lot of working hours every year and a lot of time spent on doctors and drugs. That is not a win in any sense. Long, hard hours at work undermine family life, means parents have less chance to be involved in bringing up their own children, and puts an obscene amount of pressure on our planet. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently the pattern our Prime Minister is cheering about. Never mind that most of his overpaid, over-privileged, under-worked friends have probably never done the kinds of things we’re talking about here.

As a Druid, I care about nature. I see human beings as part of nature, and I see what is natural continually being overruled by this pressure to be good little producers, forever busy selling and consuming. Why are we so obsessed with creating and wasting far more than any of us need? Because idiots stand up in public and suggest there is a moral high ground to working yourself to death for the sake of ten more sales of a thing that is destined to sit in a garage and gather dust, or go into the bin barely used. Of course the more caught up we are in frantically working longer and harder to be good little citizens, the less time we have to think about moral and ethical issues, the less energy we have for questioning governments. What a strange coincidence!

Let’s not cheer over people working twelve hour days, and six and seven day weeks. Let’s gently encourage them to live, and facilitate their doing so. Let’s not demand the quickest, cheapest, least humane option at every turn.

I could work really hard today. I could write thousands and thousands of words until my hands are in agony and my mind is in meltdown. I might even be able to sell it to someone. And then I would have contributed to the great pile of ill-conceived, throw away reading material in the world. Whoopee. Forgive me if I don’t think that’s clever. Or I can move slowly, take the time to think. Which project is most important and relevant? Which topic most needs airing? Where can I say something profound, or something that will improve peoples’ days by making them smile?

From a purely economic perspective, ten thousand words of any pap I can think of, will not make me the next Neil Gaiman, or the next JK Rowling. Quality matters. Better to work lightly and get things right than expend a lot of energy flapping, flailing and messing things up. You can work very hard and end up with total rubbish. You can also work smart, at the right speed, with care and integrity. Maybe it doesn’t look as though quite as much is getting done, but getting it right the first time should mean going home early, not three hours of overtime. We’re too collectively focused on the idea that time is money, and that working – any work, no matter what it achieves or ruins – is morally superior to no work. Remember the guys checking train lines for dangerous faults, overpressured, with not enough time to do the job? Someone died as a consequence of people being asked to work too hard, and being unable to do the job as a consequence. This is not the right way to do things.

In nature, most things do only what is needful. The rest of the time, they rest, play, sunbathe, groom, sing, socialise. Humans are not very natural. I’m not advocating an ethic of total laziness here, I work, and I work most days, but I do not believe in work for the sake of it, and I do not think anyone should be martyring themselves for the cult of overtime and the gods of GDP.

Human Nature

One of the popular reasons, historical and contemporary for trying to keep women out of positions of power, is that our cycles of bleeding and pregnancy make us crazy. One of the ongoing consequences is that most women will do everything they can to hide the fact that they menstruate so that no one thinks less of them. Of course some cultures have had different attitudes, treating it as unclean, maybe even segregating women for the duration. Now, for some of us, going off to the red tent for a while may be appealing, but for women who have brief, light periods, that can seem a pointless infringement of liberty.

My fantasy is to live in a world where it is normal to respect the cycles of the seasons and the natural cycles of our own bodies. A world in which needing to work from home for a couple of days because you’re cramping a lot would be fine. A world in which there is no shame in saying that you are bleeding and need some space, quiet, chocolate or whatever. And to have that be true for everyone else too, for the challenges of teenage growing to be better accepted, where we are more open to the trials of menopause, aging and whatever it is that blokes do and I don’t know about…

I’m back to the issue of the ways in which to be socially acceptable, we are expected to hide our animal selves.

Bleeding is messy, however you deal with it. Often it hurts, for me. My breasts swell up, as does my stomach. My back aches, and it usually last about five days. For several days before I bleed, I am usually maudlin. I don’t get the angry effects some women experience, but that may be because my bloke is respectful and supportive, so I have less to get mad about. When it isn’t ok to be, or feel any of the things your body is doing, the rage can come more readily. When I bleed, my emotions are closer to the surface and I find it harder to convince myself not to take seriously things that I feel strongly. Problems in my life become more visible, and I’ve learned to take the blood-wisdom seriously rather than try to tune it out.

I am a mammal, and once a month, the inherent naturalness of my body becomes visible to me. But bleeding, and talking about bleeding are still social taboos. But here’s a curious thing, because what else do we currently, and historically tend to find distasteful, or obscene? Urination and defecation are right at the top of the list. There are so many social complexities around eating, too – especially for women. How much should you eat, and of what? Gluttony is an old sin, being overweight is a modern one. Appetite is so often offensive. We’ve got fewer taboos around sex and the discussion of it than we used to, but that doesn’t say much. It’s still really hard to talk about rape and abuse or to talk about kink, polyamoury, or anything else much outside the het-romance standard. Breathing is ok. Nothing obscene about breathing. Birth and death we try and keep away from other people. Natural body smells have to be masked with weird chemical ones. I could go on…

The more I think about this, the more it troubles me. Our most basic and natural functions are the ones we are under most social pressure to disguise and deny. We are animals. We have animal bodies that do all the things other animal bodies do. Pretending they don’t is just silly. Pretending that we don’t have urges and appetites, pushing them under so they come at us in sudden lunges, does not make us better human beings, only more confused ones.

There are few things I find more attractive than the scent of my bloke’s sweat. Chemical smells make me feel queasy. I love body hair. I have always loved the feeling of tiredness that comes after physical exertion, be that work, or sex. I bleed. I also cry, sometimes so much that snot leaks out of my nose. I am a creature. I shit, and eat, but not usually at the same time. I need fresh air and exercise on a daily basis. I need to roll in the grass and rub against trees and have my feet bare. We write ourselves manuals for looking after other creatures who live in our houses (or boats), reminding ourselves what sort of habitats they need. I need epic views, or I get miserable. We don’t pay much attention to the habitats and natures of our own animal selves. Most of what we do to ourselves is entirely about suppressing what is animal, what is natural and wants to run wild. But then, you can’t work in an office all day or stack shelves for hours at a time if you are wild. I know, I’ve done enough of this kind of thing along the way.

But if we did allow ourselves to be natural, perhaps we’d see those little office cubicles as being as cruel, and undesirable as battery farms. Perhaps we’d look at people with long, miserable working days and find this as vile as making wild animals perform in circuses. If we took human nature seriously, we’d want to do some pretty radical things as a consequence. I want to break into offices, like animal rights activists of old, and let all the people out. But, like anything that has grown used to a cage, most of them would probably be too confused and alarmed to run for it. Still, I like the image.