Modern Western culture despises aging. Aging women are held in particular contempt. Menopause is meant to be something embarrassing and uncomfortable. The pharma industry peddles hormones and other drugs meant to mask our symptoms. Few women see menopause as something to even talk about, let alone celebrate. But some women are reclaiming the dignity and transformation of menopause as a passage to power. Author and herbalist Susun Weed portrays menopause as a spiritual awakening. She likens the fierce waves of heat traveling upward to our brains to the Eastern concept of a Kundalini awakening that ultimately leads to enlightenment and spiritual liberation. Whether or not you agree with this, you will not make it through menopause without some kind of radical change taking place inside you.
I’ve experienced menopause as an initiation by fire. Having chosen not to have children, menopause has proved the most intense and radical embodied experience and transformation I’ve undergone since menarche and puberty. When a hot flash seizes me, I can no longer continue my train of monkey-mind thinking or be an efficient worker bee of global capitalism. All my old ingrained thought patterns are interrupted and come to a halt as I’m forced to focus on the embodied experience of burning up from within. What if this internal fire is literally burning through old ways of thinking and being that no longer serve me? Maybe we’re supposed to be rattled and disturbed so we can change. It’s even called The Change. So many tired old patterns are falling away from me, because I can’t keep up with them anymore. There’s this profound deepening. A sense of what truly matters.
I resist change so much. I long to remain in the comfortable old rut of the familiar, but menopause makes that impossible. It’s a take-no-prisoners wake up call to the reality of passing time and impermanence. It forces me to reexamine my values, where I truly want to spend the remaining time I have on earth. I’ve always been spiritual, but menopause has deepened my commitment to daily spiritual practice. It’s also taught me to embrace my own fierceness. To say what I mean and mean what I say. Menopausal women might find themselves losing the superficial prettiness of youth. We can no longer pass as objectified eye candy in male-stream culture. With our wrinkles and gray hair, we become something scary but also powerful. Crones and witches. We truly do become wise women if we answer the spiritual call of menopause. If we resist the lure of male-stream medicine to brainwash us into reframing this profound transformation and path of power into a disease that must be treated with hormones and face lifts. While some women benefit from hormone therapy and allopathic medicine, I’m against the generic medicalization of the natural processes in women’s lives.
Pregnant women give birth to new souls. Menopausal women give birth to their wiser selves. Like motherhood, menopause sidelines us on the relentless march towards capitalist achievement and forces us to reexamine our true priorities. We live in a 24/7 culture that expects us to be switched on and working at maximum efficiency every day of the year, as if the cycles of the seasons, sun, and moon didn’t exist. Menopause is an invitation to live in harmony with the tides and seasons of our lives. To claim our time and attention and take our lives back.
If older women truly knew how fierce and powerful we were, we could change the world.
Readers might also want to check out my essay: “Life Begins at 42: Saint Hildegard’s Guide to Becoming a Midlife Powerfrau.”
Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her most recent novel Ecstasy is about the composer Alma Schindler Mahler. If you enjoyed this article, sign up for Mary’s newsletter or visit her website.