Menopause the Wise Way
by Lara Owen ©2011
Menopause is often a confusing and troubling time. There is no green light that goes on when you have your last period, no announcement that this is the last one. No genie jumps out of your packet of tampons or pads and says: “You won’t need me anymore!” No, you have to wait a year before you find out that was indeed your last period and that fertility and the rhythm of a monthly cycle are no more. It is indeed puberty in reverse, but this time with a lot more awareness of how you feel, confusingly combined with a lot less clarity about when the significant moment has actually occurred.
Thus, many women get anxious and confused during this time, think they are ill, and don’t realize they are in the midst of a process that has its own wisdom and that is indeed moving along its merry way. All is in flux; it is not going to be like this forever. But when you haven’t slept properly for a month and you’re getting hot flashes several times an hour with increasing ferocity, it’s hard to believe that it will ever end. So, many women choose hormone replacement therapy to try to take everything back to where it used to be, a strategy that can have negative physical and psychological repercussions, as research has shown.
Instead of taking things back to where they used to be, we have to go through, to walk through the disturbance and out the other side. This takes courage, belief in one’s ability to cope, and faith in the essential wisdom of the body’s natural cycles.
The Four Gateways
In traditional Chinese medicine, there is a concept of the female life cycle called the Four Gateways. The first gateway occurs at menarche (the onset of menstruation); the second, at marriage (which to the Chinese really meant the onset of an active sex life); the third, in pregnancy; and the fourth, at menopause. During any of these gateway phases, a woman’s health is both more vulnerable and also more accessible to positive change. Her health can alter for good or ill at these times, depending on how well she cares for herself and on the quality of any medical care she receives.
Self-Care During Menopause
During menopause you are in a liminal, transitional phase, and also pregnant with your future, wise, elder self. It is a time to take very good care of yourself, to rest and go on retreat as much as possible, not exhaust your adrenal glands, clarify your life so it really works for you, and let go of occupations and relationships that drain you physically or emotionally. Most of the symptoms of menopause are actually an injunction from the body to do just this, and we harm ourselves by trying to medicate them away, especially through the use of hormones. Hot flashes, for example, will in most cases greatly diminish if you adopt a pregnant woman’s diet, with bland nourishing food, no alcohol or spices, along with early nights and an under-stimulating schedule. It sounds boring, but it really helps and after all, it’s just for a while.
Menopause is not just trying physically–it also has a huge effect on our state of mind. Hormonal changes often have deeply unsettling psychological effects. We can get depressed, suffer from anxiety, bump into our fear of mortality for the first time, or at a deeper level than before. Now that fertility is gone, we have to face and deal with our reproductive choices or fate, which can be an emotional and challenging process. So as well as taking good care of our physical body, and getting good quality medical advice, many of us also need help to navigate this passage from psychological and spiritual advisers.
The Chiron Return
Around the age of 51, we all experience the return of the planetoid Chiron to the place it was at when we were born. This is known to astrologers as the Chiron return. Curiously, the median age of menopause is also 51, and the return of Chiron to its original position at exactly the same time is a very useful piece of information about the menopausal transition.
What does the Chiron return mean? It means that during this time we experience the archetypal energy of Chiron powerfully. Chiron is an archetypal energy associated with healing and with sacrifice. When Chiron’s influence is strong, something precious must be given up in order for deep healing to occur, in order to live fully in the present.
And that’s a pretty good description of menopause. The fertile girl-woman is sacrificed and the mature woman takes her place. In the process, there is the potential for great healing to occur, the healing of longstanding physical and emotional issues. During menopause our work is to come to terms with our life experience so far. And then there is a sense of release, a new kind of freedom to be oneself, and a fresh embarkation into the next phase. When we can accept what has happened in our life to date, we are free to move forward into a new stage of life, a stage that has its own blessings and its own agenda.
Menopause is both a letting go and a shift into a new phase. It is a life passage that can be deeply healing if dealt with respectfully and gently, allowing plenty of time for rest and adjustment. Yes, you have to come to terms with the loss of your youthful, fertile self, but there is a major gain on the other side of that loss. The gain is balance and maturity.
No longer in emotional flux caused by cyclical hormones, after menopause you may well find yourself to be someone you like better, someone who is more stable emotionally, more understanding, more patient, and more kind. The biological and psychological freedom found post-menopause can also unleash creativity and allow for fuller self-actualization. Old fears and issues drop away and a sense of adventure about life can surge to the fore of your psyche. It can be a very good time to be a woman.
Lara Owen writes and researches on menstruation, work, and feminism. Based in Melbourne, she teaches and consults internationally.