The Path of Menopause
Menopause is free spiritual therapy, it offers everything we pray that regular meditation and the perfect therapist will deliver if we choose to engage with it. There are broadly three parts to it:
- Stripping away of our defences – Separation
- Asking us to stand in the unknown – Surrender
- Emerging tenderly back into the world – Emergence
All physical and emotional manifestations, all the stuff we fear and complain about is in the service of our re-birth as more present, authentic, happier people. But wouldn’t it be less terrifying if we knew the path we had to tread beforehand? This article will give you an idea of the journey of menopause and the medicine that will support and soothe you on your way to the Second Spring of post-menopause.
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A few years back, when I was in the Separation phase of menopause process, I wrote an article about the phases of menopause which described the map we navigate as we journey through this transition as described by Alexandra Pope of Red School. Of course, as I was in the painful place of Separation, I too was desperate for a map, as I was constantly making the profound inner enquiry “Are we nearly there yet” to myself… the article was written from that place of longing.
Over time, from holding many Medicine Circles for folk in menopause, creating new ways of holding Medicine Circles with Leora at Woman Kind and witnessing the women as they walk their Life Circles and of course my own lived experience, I feel that it’s time that I re-evaluated the phases in a more accessible way so I can share them with you and maybe save you a bit of grief on your journey.
A little note here that these phases don’t relate to physical events such as hormonal shifts or bleeding patterns, but are internal, psycho-spiritual shifts that happen in their own time. You will also find that you’ll flip between all of them from day to day, sometimes within an hour! Your journey is unique to you and there is no ‘wrong way’ no ‘getting behind’ and no slow school here, in fact, I observe that when we attempt to skip a phase (Hello Separation!!) we can find ourselves deep in it again in Second Spring.
Along with changes to your cycle; longer/shorter/lighter/heavier and any variation of the above, Separation is where the rug gets pulled out from under your feet. You might feel that you are not yourself; a happy person becomes moody, a social person needs more alone time. You start to question things in your life that have been certainties until that point, so you might lose your passion for your work, your relationship might become somewhere between rocky and intolerable.
This is the signpost for perimenopause, an autumnal process, and many of the themes from your premenstruum will be found here. Yes. That stuff. If you are still bleeding, then you are in the fortunate position to be able to practice soothing yourself in your autumn every month, getting familiar with your issues and their remedies before you come into perimenopause by practicing menstrual cycle awareness.
Our bullshit detectors are now on high alert, and can no longer be bothered with the nonsense we used to be able to patiently allow; wet towels, empty loo rolls and general domestic imbalance is JUST NOT OK AT ALL. On a side-note, imagine if our partners, work colleagues and families knew to expect this rebalancing though, that in our mid to late 40’s the oestrogenic gloves will come off and things will be addressed, possibly without much finesse, unless they’ve been sorted out beforehand. Wouldn’t that be of benefit to the earth? Relationships saved, re-training, redundancy, filling vacant roles, fewer traumatised children… or is that just my own?
Jane Hardwicke Collings of the School of Shamanic Womancraft calls this –
“The oestrogenic veil lifting”
Separation is stripping us of the ways of being that no longer serve us, it is free therapy, pointing out what needs to be healed. Knowing this, can we breathe and sit in the face of the shitstorm, knowing that it will bring us multiple gifts? The shitstorm often has elements of re-triggered emotional trauma that surfaces when we least expect it, memories of abuse show up and somatise in our pelvic bowl for instance. Burnout is common because we simply don’t have the energy to continue giving out while the transformation is underway, there is no more capacity available. This was my experience, as I crashed into my late 40’s with screaming adrenals, no sleep and the depletion from lonely, childbearing in my early 40’s without enough postnatal recovery time. Other people, one fairly close to me, in fact, have accidents that pull them into scary terrain, forcing them to confront uncomfortable places. Menopause just has an extraordinary way of requiring us to stand naked in the dark and ‘not know’.
There will be grief. The grief of children that are not in your life. Of roads un-travelled, of the loss of smooth skin and buoyancy of a young body, of lost pleasures, of time wasted and mistakes made. Sometimes there is just griefy grief because we’re griefy. It is an excellent and, I believe, extremely healthy practice to feel the grief and unpack it all in safe spaces.
Medicine for Separation
Separation demands that you get more alone time and space, in every possible way. More mental space, more time to yourself, more physical space. I needed a totally unreasonable amount of time alone, and then some more. There was no end to the amount of alone-time I craved. Alexandra talks about ‘the ‘burn the house down moment’ when the desire for space becomes so overwhelming that we contemplate torching everything. Not recommended.
Cortisol is a major hormone disruptor and if you haven’t already made an audit of what’s winding you up, do it now. If you have already made an audit of what’s winding you up, do it again! One thing is for sure, menopause repeatedly asks you to release layer after layer of outmoded ways of being.
Kindness for yourself is sweet medicine for Separation. You’ll feel that you’re going mad perhaps as you feel you’re not the person you thought you were, but if you can be kind to yourself by listening and responding to the howls of your psyche, your path will be easier. My go-to remedy for kindness in the darkest times is to imagine how I respond to a beloved friend who came with my issue. It instantly by-passes the critical voices.
The company of good women is a wonderful salve in separation. Red tents, purple tents, mates, menopause cafes, sisters, blood and adopted, groups and even social media can come to bring fellow travellers together.
No. Just no!
Say no. Say no to stuff you don’t want to do.
- Clear toxicity from your life both environmental, from food and emotional
- Observe your distress with a friendly eye
- Move in ways that please you
- Self-care = kind words, self-compassion, soothing, pleasure – whatever that means to you
In short, doing the things that give you most pleasure.
Say no to everything else.
Surrender is the point at which you accept where you are with whatever manifestations are showing up for you. Don’t get me wrong, the shitstorm is still there, but our relationship to it will change from resistance to acceptance. The shift is from ignoring the ‘problem’ to asking it, what do you need here? We start to communicate with the challenges that are knocking on our door, invite them in and give them a cup of tea. Perhaps instead of pushing yourself to complete all the tasks you used to do, you start to delegate more. Perhaps you consider the possibility of another career, because this one just isn’t sustainable.
Surrender is a wintery place, a place of dreaminess, rest, of dropping below into deeply yin places, much like your bleed. You can practice for menopause if you’re still bleeding, by being as conscious as you can around your bleed time and notice what soothes you, and also what beliefs get in the way. Understanding what stops you from letting go is so helpful for menopause.
For myself, Surrender came when I started to entertain the possibility that the pain and restriction in my hands might mean I had to stop doing Bodywork. I had been doing this work for 25 years and a big part of my identity was bound up in being a therapist and I had ‘lost my grip’ on who I was. If I wasn’t this, then who was I? My journey required that I had to absolutely let go of that role, before I could move on. To Surrender into the possibility that I did not know who I was.
Surrender is standing naked without the defenses that have served us so well over the years.
Surrender is the deep listening to our inner needs, the reconnection with our central well of goodness and trust that we are held. Menopause is a spiritual initiation that requires us to sit naked in the unknown and wait. It’s free spiritual therapy! You don’t need a system or a guru or method to fix yourself (because you’re just perfectly fine as you are) and listening to your inner satnav will show you the way; Medicine Circles are a great way to do this,
If Separation is finding out what we should do to care for ourselves, Surrender is actually doing it. We know we should slow right down and be mindful. Everyone knows that. Surrender happens when we actually slow down enough, which is usually way beyond what we think we’d like to! Or take kindness. The kindness of Separation is to go to bed a bit earlier, the kindness of Surrender is to go to bed for a weekend.
Surrender might be taking time off work and other commitments to do absolutely nothing at all. A menopause gap, a time where you put yourself first and let everything else go could be anything from an afternoon upwards.
It’s time to de-clutter on a big scale, and this means that trauma and old patterns will be surfacing again, asking to be healed. Their voices will become insistent and at this place of Surrender, you will be able to hear them speak as they ask for what they need. Needless to say, this can be extremely painful, but the quality of attentive listening you are able to bring will see you through. Another ally is the quality of presence; can you be present to the discomfort as it arises? Humans are most excellent at avoiding pain, trying to fix it and numb it, this is totally normal for us. But even staying with the discomfort a tiny bit will have surprising benefits. Tara Brach has some excellent talks on managing pain.
On a smaller scale, you will also want to de-clutter your cupboards. Go for it. There’s a reason Marie Kondo is such a hit with mid-life women.
Medicine for Surrender
The medicine for Surrender is exactly the same as the medicine for Separation, except now, you really need to do it to the max. A quick reminder:
- More space
- Less cortisol
- Good company
- Good food
- Say no.
- Sleep, if you can get it
- Rest anyway
- Clear toxicity from your environment
- Observe your distress with a kindly and wry eye
- Move in ways that please you
- Clear emotional toxicity
- Self-care = kind words, self-compassion, soothing, pleasure – whatever that means to you
Surrender is where the visible healing starts to happen because you turn inwards so your relationship to the manifestations starts to become more friendly. Maybe we even start to access more self-compassion and let ourselves off the hook? So how does this healing happen?
We need to find the ways that feel good and true for us, but they’ll generally fall into these categories:
- A regular mindful practice that is a pleasure to do (we burned the to-do list already)
- Nourishing movement
- A good structure of health professionals
- Let go of your expectations for yourself
Spend dedicated time looking inward – therapy, journaling, meditating, yoga, co-counselling, a Listening partnership, dream diaries… there’s a way for every pocket and taste.
Find and do more of what soothes your soul
Say no to even more stuff.
One of the changes made in understanding how menopause works, is to merge the Renewal, Vision and Clarity and Direction into one phase; Emergence. My experience was that I did not experience distinct flavours in my journey from Surrender into Second Spring, rather there was a gradual uplift and re-emergence that happened in a graduated way. To be honest, it kind of did my head in trying to match my inner experience with the outer map, and this held me stuck for quite sometime. I felt that the map held the reality rather than my inner rhythm and impulse. Ironic isn’t it, considering my main message of listening to my needs and inner guidence. But how human to want to know. So with this in mind, please feel free to chuck this whole article in the bin because it is a MAP, a construct only to reassure and soothe….
…your real map is inside you and that is what you must trust.
When holding Medicine Circles for menopausal folk who haven’t had much experience of menstruality both 1-2-1 and at Woman Kind, they naturally embody the sequence of Separation, Surrender and Emergence from within themselves without any prior explanation. It’s a joy to witness the lightness and ease that Second Spring brings.
From Surrender, there will come a time when new shoots emerge, new shoots of possibilities, energy or ideas. Now you’ll be so bloody relieved to feel any kind of new life that your impulse will be to run out and do something about them right? It was certainly true for me. But these early days of emergence are still extraordinarily tender times, think of the new shoots of seedlings tricked by early spring sun to be frozen by a frost that night. It is too early to go out there.
Our task as the new energy arises is to receive and contain it to nourish ourselves; if we’ve been stripped in Separation, stood naked in Surrender, then in Emergence, we can allow in the new energy to re-populate our souls. To fill ourselves up again before the new cycle begins in Second Spring.
In real life what happens is we make a practice run at ‘re-assuming’ our life, usually with our old patterns, konk out, then retreat back again; how very extremely human! To try, to fall, to go back and re-group. We get sore knees and bashed toes, but we try it out for size, and if we know to expect this phase of menopause path, we can forgive ourselves and go back to the exemplary self-care practices that we have developed over the previous years. Emergence is messy.
Medicine for Emergence
By now, you will have found the self-care and rhythms that suit you and you will be able to continue to relax into the structures that nourish and soothe you. The lists of medicine from Separation and Surrender still apply.
One of the difficulties with Second Spring is that women in their late 50’s are not so visible in the world, especially not in a powerful, authentic way. It’s important to build yourself ranks of role models you admire and look at what the qualities are that attract you. Here’s one of my lists and you are welcome to add yours to it.
In addition to these, I would add that you can now lean into the trust you have developed by knowing you have survived this process. Trust that your body speaks to you as a real and true friend, that you are supported, that when you listen to your inner needs, healing can happen, that the right path will open for you to go forward even though you don’t quite know where it will lead. Trusting that the right information, people, links and tools will arrive for you in their own time.
This is a tough one for a woman in the early 21st century. Can we allow ourselves to be filled with what nourishes us and to really allow ourselves to be as big as we can be? Growing a big shining light is what menopause is all about and we have so much conditioning to keep ourselves small and protected and safe, it takes practice. Can we allow ourselves to receive goodness and fill ourselves up, without having to give it away again?
- Can you let yourself really absorb a compliment?
- What about your lunch, can you really take care and give it the time it needs to prepare and digest?
- Can you let yourself be heard in your primary relationship?
- Can you bring your authenticity to the table in a safe place?
Then in a bigger sense…
- Can you allow the universe to fill you with awe?
- Can you allow delicious girlhood dreams to be engaged with again?
- Can you allow the waves of your very own orgasmic libido to wash through you?
- Can you be the bright shining star you were born to be? (Excuse the schmaltz)
When I wrote that other blog three years ago, I offered the vision of a
“rooting-tooting, bad-ass, mighty powerful wise one”
Ahem. I think now I actually have experience of second spring would like to rephrase that. Instead I would offer a vision of a
“tender, real, emerging human who is finding her way”
Not as snappy is it? But a heap more real because this is only a map, not the terrain, and my emergence in Second Spring has all the hallmarks of my last life-spring of maidenhood; playfulness, impatience, demanding, vulnerability, mistakes, tenderness, distractions and moodiness.
Being a teenager again
I relate very strongly to my teenage self these days and all sorts of themes and pass-times from that part of my life have re-emerged; cycling, drawing, sewing and making art all went underground for 25 years while I tried to be a grown-up, to come back as new delights to me now. The difference being that now, I do not take them for granted; life is more precious.
Finding your calling
Menopause re-births us into a new life cycle, a whole new turn through the seasons and Second Spring is just the beginning, having an expectation of engaging on a grand calling as soon as your menopause process is over, though it does sometimes happen is just not realistic for most of us.
It can be intimidating to read that we will engage with our calling and give energy to the wider consciousness as post-menopausal women, especially when we barely have energy to care for those around us. But calling need not be a BIG visible project, we can be called to make knitted birds or to sing or be present to the trees or to witness the birds, isn’t this just as sacred a calling? I come back to one of my favourite questions: What would be pleasurable now? To be a sometime happy human is calling enough. To care for our mental health is enough, as Elizabeth Gilbert says. Being a happy post-menopausal woman doing pleasurable things is also wonderful medicine for our daughters’ generation too; we’re teaching them about the possibility of transformation and growth that is waiting for them.
In second spring we are wobbly, having been stripped of our outdated ways of being, we emerge undefended, but the difference is that that’s OK, we have the wisdom to allow ourselves to wibble and wobble our way through to our life summer, our life autumn and through to the final winter of our lives, to death.
Medicine for Second Spring
You know what I’m going to say, yes, all of that stuff still applies, but hey. The whole point of menopause is to bring you into your authority so you know what it is you need now. You are the MISTRESS of boundaries and knowing what you need and able to create the structures for you to be well. My medicine for Second Spring is to feel into what I wish I had received at menarche to guide me:
- Acceptance and self-compassion
- Room to fail and get up again
- The company of brilliant friends
- A wider community of like-minded souls to journey with
- Excellent role models to look up to
- And LOTS of pleasure!
We can experience all kinds of manifestations in menopause, the difference between us is extraordinary, but whatever choices you make you have the possibility of growth and maybe even become the rooting tooting wibbly bad-ass you aspire to be.
If you’d like some gentle support through your menopause process, you can buy a set of Yoga Nidras, one for each phase, or a Medicine Circle can be helpful. You’re welcome to give me a ring and chat about it if you’d like to.
Upcoming Woman Kind events you might enjoy are:
or if you are in the fullness of your menstruating life there’s