The Wisdom of Midlife Women
"Menopause is failure, estrogen-deficiency," scream the magazines.
Osteoporosis! Heart disease! Hormone replacement of some kind – whether synthetic or bio-identical – for at least some length of time, is seen as necessary for physical and mental health. Menopause is a problem; it must be treated - or so we are led to believe.
The Wise Woman tradition has a different view of menopause. We see menopause as normal, healthy, and sacred, not just for women, but for society as a whole. We understand menopause as a time for intense introspection and personal growth. And we value postmenopausal women, for they are critical to the health of the grandchildren, and to the preservation of culture.
"Menopause is mystery. Menopause is power," whisper the women.
Menopause is a survival advantage, not a problem."[It is not only] . . . among the biological traits essential for making us human. [It also] may explain why we took over the planet (2)."
In the Wise Woman tradition, problems are doorways of transformation. We create health by nourishing each individual, aware of their relationships to family/community/Earth.
"Among many non-Western groups, the older [post-menopausal] woman enjoys increased status in the family and greater freedom in society at large. Menopause and the cessation of childbearing become positive events in a woman's life. . . ." (3)
The energy aspects of menopause are not well known, but important if we are to understand what is happening to us during menopause. There are many similarities between menopausal symptoms and the spiritual goal of enlightenment, which is also known as "awakening the kundalini."
"Kundalini [is] the root [of] all spiritual experiences. . ." (4). Kundalini is a special kind of energy: hot, fast, powerful, and large. It exists within the earth, within all life, and within each person. Psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung called it anima. Kundalini is generally envisioned as a serpent resting at the base of the spine, but women's mystery stories remind us that, in women, kundalini lives in the uterus – or in the lower pelvis if the uterus is taken by hysterectomy. (5)
Both puberty and menopause cause a woman's kundalini to move about in the body. When kundalini moves from its resting place it is difficult to control and often causes a great number of symptoms. The movement of kundalini is most often felt as a surge of super-heated energy going up the body. It fires through the nerves; it dilates blood vessels; it fuels itself with hormones. And it changes the functioning of our nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems.
Before puberty, kundalini stays outside the body, moving us in the flow of life, but not moving inside us. As puberty commences, a two-valved energy "gate" (imaginary opening) in the "root chakra" (lower pelvis) opens, allowing kundalini to move up from the earth and into the root chakra. For little boys, this triggers the maturation of the testes; in little girls, the maturation of the ovaries and the beginning of menstruation.
For women, kundalini builds up day by day until it is released with menstruation. For as much as ten days before bleeding commences, the growing kundalini can intensify emotions and sensations, expose powerful feelings, trigger creative outpourings, and generate a house-cleaning frenzy. If pregnancy occurs, kundalini is not released; it grows throughout pregnancy and used for, and released in, birth.
At menopause, one "valve" of the root chakra gate closes. One valve remains open and allows kundalini to enter; but the closed one prevents it from leaving. Kundalini builds up in the pelvic tissues – just as it does premenstrually. If this intense energy collects in the uterus for longer than usual, cramps and flooding accompany the delayed menses. If menstruation does not occur, the excess kundalini can dry out the vagina, erode the integrity of the hips, contribute to bladder weakness, and depress sexual desire.
If the kundalini is guided – by intention or by hot flashes – to move up the spine, then it confers enlightenment, not incontinence. It moves from the root to the crown, causing the head to glow with energy. Christian iconography depicts this as a halo. Aboriginal rock art shows the hair standing on end. Women call it the Crone's Crowning.
As the kundalini rises, it passes through six more chakras (energy gates), triggering symptoms along the way: menstrual pain, bloating, indigestion, heart palpitations, thyroid malfunctions, headaches, memory loss, emotional swings, sleep disturbance, bone loss, libido changes, and more. As our chakras are activated by kundalini's hot flashes, everything we have stored in our energy centers spills out for our examination.
There are plentiful herbal remedies for all these symptoms. Motherwort tincture can ease cramps, PMS, and palpitations. Nettle infusion can eliminate bloating, improve energy levels, and deepen sleep. Dandelion root vinegar can ease indigestion, moderate hot flashes, and cheer us up. Eating seaweed can help us maintain a healthy thyroid, smooth skin, and shiny hair. Skullcap tincture can relieve headaches and help us rest. Ginkgo tincture and comfrey leaf infusion can improve short-term memory.
Let us not forget, however, that these remedies are only dealing with the symptoms of kundalini rising. The goal of our bodies is enlightenment. We are becoming wise old women. When we understand that our menopausal symptoms are actually making us wiser, that kundalini is streaming up the spine to get to our brain, then we have a story that empowers us. Then we can feel more at ease, no matter how intense our symptoms. Instead of feeling victimized by our bodies and trying to control (uncontrollable) kundalini, we become free to use our symptoms to pinpoint emotional and physical areas that need attention and nourishment, and to claim our growing wisdom.
"The joy of menopause is the world's best-kept secret. . . . in order to claim that joy a woman must be willing to pass beyond the monsters who guard its gate. As you stand at the brink of it, it can appear that only darkness, danger and decay lie beyond. [But] . . . as thousands of women from all cultures throughout history have whispered to each other, it is the most exciting passage a woman ever makes." (1)
Spending quiet time alone in nature, meditating, or listening to soothing music can help smooth the way for the flow of kundalini. For those who want to do more, specific exercises, such as those offered by energy-worker Barbara Brennan (6) or those found in my book New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, help us ride the increased energy flow and learn to use it to help ourselves and others. Hatha yoga (physical exercise), pranayama (breath exercise), and tai chi (energy exercise) can help too. Menopause is complete when kundalini has cleared the chakras and can move freely up the spine and out the crown.
It follows that women who have few menopausal symptoms have weak kundalini. Paradoxical as it seems, the more hot flashes a midlife woman has, the stronger and healthier she is. Modern medicine offers support for this view: women who have the "easiest" menopause are four times more likely to die of a heart attack in their sixties! Viva la hot flashes!
Women's mystery stories tell us that both puberty and menopause require the giving up of a known state-of-being. Self-perceptions must yield to undeniable emotional and physical changes. Everything seems out of control. The hair on the body changes. Fat fills in breasts, hips, buttocks, and thighs; curves replace angles. Our deepest beliefs may come into question.
Menopause, like puberty, upsets us. We don't feel ready for the responsibilities of our new power. Just as the girl becomes the fertile woman at puberty, but feels too young to be a mother, the fertile woman becomes the grandmother after menopause but may not feel she is yet ready to be a wise old crone. Simple ceremonies – like a ceremony of Crowning the Crone – can help us claim our midlife powers.
To the Wise Woman, midlife and menopause are not merely the cessation of menses, wrinkles and grey hair, but the birth of a new woman. The "mother" body/mind is acted on by tremendous endocrine changes to become the "crone" body/mind. This is a total transformation on all levels, like the metamorphosis of caterpillar to butterfly. We are growing wings of wisdom, even if we have to melt into green slime to do so.
Instead of treatments that seek to eliminate menopausal changes, the Wise Woman tradition offers stories, ceremonies, and herbs that nourish our changes. Hot flashes become rushes of kundalini energy; depression becomes a healthy need for solitude during change; menopause itself is understood to create health and longevity. As a woman in her mid-sixties, I can reassure you younger midlife women that beyond the chaos of menopause, beyond the "frumpy fifties," awaits the "scintillating sixties: postmenopausal zest, increased energy, wisdom, and a new sense of self . Midlife is the time to build the woman you wish to be for the rest of your life.
"After kundalini awakes it becomes impossible to continue believing that external reality is the sole reality." (3) No wonder old women are honored and feared throughout the world. (7)
For more on menopause, see my best-selling book: New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, available at www.wisewomanbookshop.com
You can visit me at www.susunweed.com
Endnotes: The Wisdom of Midlife Women
1. Leslie Kenton, Passage to Power: The Natural Menopause Revolution, London: Ebury Press, 1995.
2. Natalie Angier, "Is Menopause a Key to Survival? The Grandmother Hypothesis," The New York Times, 18 August 1997.
3. Sadja Greenwood MD, Menopause Naturally, San Francisco: Volcano, 1984.
4. Robert Svoboda, Kundalini Aghora II, Albuquerque NM: Brotherhood of Life, 1993.
5. Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, New York NY: Harper Row, 1989.
6. Barbara Brennan, Hands of Light, a Guide to Healing Through the Human Energy Field, New York NY: Bantam, 1987.
7. Walker B. The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom, and Power. San Francisco, CA: Harper; 1986.