I recently learned of an incredible woman who lives on a nearby island and holds retreats to guide and initiate women into their menopausal journey using a spiritual perspective. Her name is Bronwyn Simons and she is the founder of Sacred Menopause, which offers online programs and live retreats for women in menopause and beyond. She also writes a fabulous blog that is sure to inspire, uplift, and get your creative juices flowing. I feel that Bronwyn and I are aligned in our fervent belief that menopause needs to be reframed as a life-changing and spiritually transformational journey in women’s lives. Instead of being afraid, we need to fully embrace this hard-won rite of passage from which we can learn, grow, and burst forth into our mature fabulous selves, beyond who we were in our child-bearing years, into what Jane Fonda, in her wonderful memoir, My Life So Far, calls our “third act”.
And now, some wise words on menopause from Bronwyn Simons:
How do you regard your menopause? Do you regard it as a sacred event, a passage to be honoured alongside our other blood mysteries of menarche and childbirth? Certainly nothing in our culture inspires us to view menopause as sacred or beautiful. I admit that, when I was a younger woman, I thought of menopause as a far distant future event that was vaguely unpleasant and medical, in ways that I didn’t understand but didn’t care to contemplate.
I feel sad for my younger self, sad that I didn’t understand enough to look forward with pride to this, our third and final blood mystery, this sacred initiation into wisdom that is menopause. I feel hopeful that we can change this for our younger sisters today, so they might look forward to this passage as something transformative and beautiful.
A good start would be for us all to stop thinking of menopause as an illness. It is no more an illness than are menarche and pregnancy.
But as with menarche and pregnancy, we go through physical changes with menopause, some of them dramatic, uncomfortable, painful, challenging. It’s no wonder we sometimes get caught up in thinking of menopause as nothing but a long series of embarrassing symptoms. But without minimizing the physical challenges we sometimes face, I want to emphasize that the physical is only one aspect of this journey. And the symptoms we experience are not symptoms of a disease. They are indicators of a transition from one state to another.
When I say we are becoming Wise Women, I’m not just saying words to comfort you. I’m stating a biological and spiritual reality: menopause CHANGES us. It ushers us into our new role in life, which is to be an elder: someone whose skills, awareness, knowledge, intuition, and power are ramping up in order to be of use to the community as a whole. Menopause is a process of initiation, full of all the trials and challenges of the archetypal heroine’s journey. We are journeying from the familiar territory of intensely bonded family life, fertility, one-on-one caregiving or creative engagement with career, into the wide-open unfamiliar country of elder-hood, where our wisdom and energies are meant to be of benefit to society as a whole, and our emotional and spiritual self widens her embrace and broadens her perspective on the world.
Our bodily changes are a reflection of these energetic changes. To be an elder, to be a competent and wise leader not only for our family, but also for our community as a whole, we need to shed some of the demands of the reproductive years. This is what our body is doing, and it’s a beautiful metaphor for the ways we may be re-focusing our energies in other areas of life, too.
We are doing something I term “shape shifting”! Our bodies are renewing and changing focus, just as we may be experiencing renewal and change in our emotional and spiritual lives.
We are shape shifting. We are not ill. We are transforming.
To embrace this transformation, we need to lean into the wisdom of our bodies and into the embrace of nature. Throughout our lives, our bodies have been sexualized, objectified, and our female experiences diminished, derided, or medicalized until we have lost the sense of our innate beauty, and of the natural wisdom of our bodies.
How can we begin to retrieve this wisdom, especially in the midst of a physically and emotionally challenging passage like menopause? The truth is, we must create a sacred menopause for ourselves, and for each other.
Honouring the sacred in our lives begins with honouring our wellness and ourselves. How do YOU connect with the sacred in your daily life? Do you care for yourself, body mind and spirit, in a deeply nurturing way? Do you make taking great care of yourself your first priority? Do you know that you deserve to experience comfort, good health, and pleasure every day, and do you provide those things for yourself unfailingly? Sadly, if you are like most women, you don’t.
The “symptoms” of menopause can be seen as a wake-up call to tend to our own neglected physical and emotional wellbeing. Suddenly our spirits are no longer willing to take the back seat – we are being called to radical self-care. We may have developed habits of self-neglect simply because life is so demanding – work, marriage, children, aging parents, community – there are so many demands on our time and energy, and it’s easy to put our own needs last. The initiatory journey of menopause, with the exhaustion and forced attention to the body it often brings, calls us back to ourselves. It asks us to put ourselves – our wellbeing, pleasure, opinions, desires, and wellness first – perhaps for the first time in our lives.
What’s really on the line here is our wellbeing for the rest of our lives. If we want to enter our Wise Woman years empowered, strong, healthy, and joyful, we can no longer afford to hold onto our habits of self-neglect. How will you answer the call? Where do you wish the initiatory journey of menopause to take you?