'One does not discover new lands
without consenting to lose sight of the shore
for a very long time.’
All too often our passage through menopause is reduced to a narrow band of physical symptoms that have to be managed. Whilst physical symptoms are certainly a noticeable part of this process of change, the focus on a purely medicalised perspective says little about where the journey leads to and what lies on the other side of it. What if the menopause was more than an unpleasant time of hormonal change that we have to endure and survive?
Whether we decide to go on HRT or not, whether we use herbal supplements, brave it without relief or belong to the lucky few that don’t experience any discomfort, we risk missing an opening into an expanded sense of self if we only focus on managing our physical discomfort. There is a lot more public attention on the negative aspects of menopause than on the positive potential this transformation process offers to all women all over the world. Our hormonal reconfiguration is accompanied by a psychological transformation and maturation process. Menopause challenges us to acknowledge the signs of ageing, reminds us that we will not be young forever and that our time is limited. It asks for a deeper knowing of who we are, what choices we have taken in life and who we want to become after we have left our fertile years behind. It is a call for us to listen deeper into the longing of our soul.
Our comfort-loving human nature usually does not choose freely to learn the deeper lessons of life. We often need a crisis to force us to leave the safety of the known behind. Richard Rohr (2012) talks about ‘necessary suffering’ in order to be willing to surrender to the unknown, Weller (2015) talks about the 'necessary wound' and C.G. Jung writes: ‘There is no coming to consciousness without pain... One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’
During the long drawn out time of menopausal change, women have an in-built process that offers to unfold us, unrefine us and uncivilise us for a while. The lack of sleep, erratic and sometimes dark moods, anger and fear are all part of an unravelling process that allows us a glimpse into our wider, wilder and less socialised female potential. If we risk this soul journey and don't reduce it to a mere physical inconvenience, we may find long forgotten aspects of ourselves that have been unwanted and discarded. New growth in our souls and our lives will occur. The re-wilding of our lives, the retrieving of power that we disowned and the process of creating a welcome space for a fuller version of ourselves is a form of soul activism. It does not only serve our own sense of being more fully alive, but is much needed in a world that has suppressed the full range of female expression for so long.
As Sharon Blackie (2016) points out in her book ‘If women rose rooted', ‘looking at our own lives (and) at the fate of the planet - it is clear that we are all standing on an edge, whether we mean to or not… if we want to live we must stand there consciously, aware of the troubled times and the endangered planet, and then of our own volition step out across this first threshold.’ (p.93)
We all long for a life free from suffering and yet suffering is an inevitable part of life. The question is not whether or not we will encounter suffering, the question is what meaning we ascribe to it. Do we follow our desire to fix things, to patch the pieces together and to guard this vulnerable heart with vigilance, or do we build up our muscle of the heart in order for it to grow and expand? We often only hear the deeper call of our life when we break or are ready to break. However terrified we are, something in us also knows that if we resist the journey, if we insist on staying rooted in the known, something important in us will die before our body does. We forget and we go numb.
Traditional rites of passage are meant to present ordeals in order to strengthen the individual and to prepare her for the responsibilities that lie ahead. In a culture obsessed with youthfulness, many women cling to their fading youth and risk missing the call for maturation. We resist ageing because it goes against ingrained cultural ideals of what narrow aspects are valued in our female nature. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with youthful looks and a youthful spirit. However, a denial of the ageing process risks preventing the birth of something powerful and important in us.
The world needs women who step into the fullness of their feminine power, women who raise their voice and take up their rightful place in the community. Like in any journey, we may get lost, miss a turning or get stuck. We may need support at times to find the way that we have lost. But before we get too caught up in that, we first have to commit to the journey itself. We have to commit to our unique and precious life, rather than the old stories we have cloaked ourselves in. We must be willing to let the old die in order for the new to emerge. We must consent to detach from who we have become before we can step into the call of what we need to be. Menopause is not the only path, but it is an opening that is given to all of us. Let’s not waste it.
The Red thread offers support, companionship and a safe space to unfold to all women who are on the journey and don't want to walk alone.