menopause

Perimenopause: A Spiritual Threshold

July, 2019

The special powers and sensibilities of women (especially menstrual powers) are central to the Wise Woman tradition. Men in the Wise Woman tradition find the wise woman within themselves and become her. In the Wise Woman tradition, we nourish. We do not fix or cure or balance…health/wholeness/holiness comes through nourishment. Healing occurs in the ground of woman power, in the ground of heart-centered compassion…Nourishment encourages expansion and growth. Nourishment includes. Nourishment supports each being as unique, holy, individual. Nourishing our problems encourages love for all parts of ourselves.

-Susan S. Weed from “Healing Wise”

(Haida Gwaii Beachcombing Collage by Jennifer Engracio)

Recently, I was talking to a friend who is also at the threshold of perimenopause about the changes she is experiencing as a woman at this age. Neither of us have ever been forty-four before, after all! And it turns out that we are feeling similarly at this point in our development even though we lead quite different lives in many ways. Ellen Besso’s article on menopause being a time for women to go inside in order to heal deeper emotional wounds makes sense to me. I feel my psyche is mature enough now to go there–that I can finally parent myself compassionately through the pieces I discover: pretty and ugly. Recently, I’ve been able to unearth the root cause of many issues that plagued me my whole life. And I have faith that my body will continue to heal as that process completes itself with the support of homeopathic medicines, practicing living aloha, and ceremony. I also feel that there is a deeper level of spiritual fulfillment that I am starting to venture into. I don’t know what this is going to look like and I am curious about how all of this is unfolding.

When these psychological shifts started happening along with the physiological ones, I didn’t put the two together. I initially thought I was losing my zest for life or that there was something wrong with my dreaming and manifesting skills that I’d always been able to lean on. What I see now is that there is a really profound change happening in all of my energy bodies requiring me to rest and introspect more. Gone are the days of rushing through life to get as many things done as possible. I find myself reflecting on what I’ve accomplished in my life so far. Morbid thoughts come and go: If I died tomorrow, would the legacy I leave behind be enough? Somewhere along the way, part of life has become about achieving things as a way to validate my existence somehow. As if taking up space isn’t alright unless I am contributing in ways that the mainstream culture approves of. These thoughts are fleeting though. These false beliefs are what I am letting go of as they arise in my consciousness. This is the transcendence that is presently taking place.

I’ve been going on the long walk to the beach most mornings here on Haida Gwaii in Northwestern Canada. It is late spring and nature is alive and blooming. Most mornings, I walk through the bird sanctuary, the dark and cool rainforest and its ethereal cemetery until I get spat out onto the big open ocean. I breathe in the salty air and thank the Goddess I am here in all this beauty. It is all I can do to keep taking it all in, allowing its magic to fill every cell of my body. This morning, I rode a bike so I could spend more time on the beach looking for agates, shells and beach glass. I haven’t ridden a bike around the ‘hood like that since I was in elementary school; this made my inner kid indescribably happy. I bumped up and down the trails giggling to myself as I went. Ironically, even though I work with children, there are things I forgot about slowing down to kids’ pace–like the details and moments I notice when I am not on a mission to get somewhere. I spend my days wandering and beachcombing for treasures that maybe only I will find beautiful. But then, when I was a kid, I didn’t care if other folks thought these finds had value. I am going back to a time when all there was was me and Spirit. Back then, I was conscious of what was happening in the now and nothing else. I can sense something being rejuvenated inside myself even while I don’t know exactly what it is. And I don’t feel I need to know. I know it’s all as it should be.

This is the first time I’ve given myself a “victory vacation” where I am celebrating all of the accomplishments and challenges I’ve transitioned through in my life. And there have been a lot of them! My inner landscape has completely changed. I am in a space where nothing new has emerged to place my focused energy on. I am in the dreaming of creation. Little wisps of inspiration and interest come my way, yet something has yet to really take hold. Strangely, I am not panicking about this like I would have done in my thirties. My ego keeps telling me I should be worried, but I am really not and this is liberating. I feel more present lately–like I did when I was a kid. Susun S. Weed describes this further in her incredible book “Healing Wise”:

In the Wise Woman tradition, all health…begins with a return to the void. To…become whole, we turn again around the spiral of our life…The void is woman power: simultaneously dynamic and relaxed; empty yet completely full, satiated yet always consuming; creative, abundant, insatiable, unfillable, unquenchable, wild, having nothing to receive, knowing everything is already present, completely calm. Here in the void lives the Crone.

If I had a wish for women my age, it would be to surrender to this process. Fear of the unknown is natural, however, I hope we can remember to celebrate all of the things we’ve accomplished and overcome in our lives and to “nourish” our current challenges. It’s good to acknowledge the enormity of this with all of the responsibilities pulling on women in the world! I recommend that women take time for reflection so they can really be in this new psychological and spiritual landscape they find themselves in as they prepare to enter their crone years. I’ve found solace and insight speaking to fellow sisters who are going through this stage of life and I really encourage you to do the same if you are in the same boat with us! I have a feeling an exciting and edgy new journey is beginning…for all of us if we can find the courage to welcome the elder we are becoming.

Resources:

icle: The Change: Medical Problem or Spiritual Passage? By Ellen Besso

https://www.life.ca/naturallife/0608/spiritual_menopause.htm

Book: “Healing Wise (Wise Woman )” by Susun S. Weed

“Haida Gwaii Beachcombing” collage by Jennifer Engrácio

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About the Author:

Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.

Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:

The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”

Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’s Shamanic Journey into Healing

Dreaming of Cupcakes: A Food Addict’S Shamanic Journey into Healing on Amazon

WiseWoman Traditions

June, 2010

Menopause is Enlightenment

The energy aspects of menopause are of special interest to me. As a long-time student of yoga, I was struck by the many similarities between menopausal symptoms and the well-known esoteric goal of “awakening of the kundalini.” Though the ideas presented in this section may seem strange or difficult to comprehend, they contain powerful messages about menopause which lie at the heart of the Wise Woman approach.

“Kundalini [is] the root [of] all spiritual experiences …”1 Kundalini is a special kind of energy known in many cultures, including Tibetan, Indian, Sumerian, Chinese, Irish, Aztec, and Greek. Kundalini is said to be hot, fast, powerful, and large. It exists within the earth, within all life, and within each person. Psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung called kundalini anima. Kundalini is usually represented as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine, but women’s mystery stories locate it in the uterus – or the area where the uterus was, if a hysterectomy has occurred. During both puberty and menopause, a woman’s kundalini is difficult to control and may cause a great number of symptoms.

East Indian yogis spend lifetimes learning to activate, or wake up, their kundalini. This is also called “achieving enlightenment.” When they succeed, a surge of super-heated energy goes up the spine, throughout the nerves, dilating blood vessels, and fueling itself with hormones. As kundalini continues to travel up the spine, it changes the functioning of the endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Not just in yogis, but in any woman who allows herself to become aware of it. Menopause is a kind of enlightenment. Hot flashes are kundalini training sessions.

To understand the awakening of kundalini during menopause, it is necessary to look at its effects on us throughout our lives. Before puberty, kundalini is primarily outside the body. As puberty commences, a two-valved energy “gate” (imaginary opening) in the “root chakra” opens, and kundalini circulates up from the earth and into the root chakra. This allows kundalini to build up in the uterus and pelvic tissues until it is released, usually during menstruation. As much as ten days before bleeding commences, the stored kundalini can intensify emotions and sensations, expose powerful feelings, trigger creative outpourings, and generate a house-cleaning frenzy. If pregnancy occurs, kundalini is retained for the duration of the pregnancy and is used in the act of birth.

At menopause, one “valve” of the gate closes. The open valve allows kundalini to enter; the closed one prevents it from leaving. Now kundalini, unable to return to earth, builds up in the pelvic tissues leading some women to say that menopause is PMS that never stops. If this intense energy collects in the uterus for too many weeks, cramps and flooding may accompany the delayed menses. If it sits in the pelvis for many years, it can dry out the vagina, erode the integrity of the hips, contribute to bladder weakness, and depress sexual desire.

But if the kundalini is guided (by thought or by hot flashes, for instance) up the spine, then it confers enlightenment, not incontinence. But not all at once. As the kundalini rises, it must pass through six more energy gates/chakras. At each gate, symptoms relating to the chakra may occur. As may shamanic abilities that could cause the menopausal woman (or her family and friends) to think that she is going crazy. She has never been more sane. “After kundalini awakes it becomes impossible to continue believing that external reality is the sole reality.”2 No wonder old women are honored and feared throughout the world!3 If the energy centers triggered by kundalini are resistant to being activated, symptoms may get worse instead of remising. Menstrual pain, bloating, indigestion, heart palpitations, thyroid malfunctions, headaches, and memory loss are all associated with resistance to the passage of kundalini.

When menopausal symptoms are understood as energy movement (or lack of it), women feel more at ease. Instead of feeling victimized by her body, the menopausal woman can use her symptoms as a way to pinpoint areas that need special nourishment. Quiet time alone in nature, or sitting in a comfortable chair listening to soothing music allows thoughts and feelings to arise and opens the way for the flow of kundalini. Specific exercises, such as those offered by energy-worker Barbara Brennan4, can also be used to help ease into the increased energy flow. When at last kundalini moves freely up the spine and out the crown, symptoms subside, and overall energy increases.

Handling powerful kundalini energies is easier when the nervous system is strong. Nourishing herbs such as oatstraw infusion, tincture of motherwort, cronewort (mugwort) vinegar, and the many varieties of seaweed, are excellent green allies. Hatha yoga (physical exercise), pranayama (breath exercise), and tai chi (energy exercise) help too.

WiseWoman Traditions

November, 2009

Menopause Naturally

Wise Woman Ways: Pre-menopausal Years

The actual age at which menopausal Change begins varies considerably from woman to woman; the norm is 45, with a normal range of 35 to 55. During these pre-menopausal years, menstrual periods may become noticeably different (closer together, farther apart, scantier, more profuse). Night sweats or hot flashes come, if at all, only occasionally and are usually blamed on too many blankets or a rich meal.

  • Nourish and tonify your entire hormonal system. Menopausal changes occur not only in the ovaries, but also in the adrenal, thyroid, pancreas, pineal, and pituitary glands. herbal allies are remarkably safe and effective glandular nourishers.
  • Increase the number and amount of calcium-rich foods you consume. No single effort will repay you more richly. High levels of calcium in the diet protect you from osteoporosis, heart disease, and emotional swings. Green leafy vegetables (herbs and weeds) are exceptional sources of calcium.
  • Maintain regular menses. Non-ovulatory menstrual cycles, common during the pre-menopausal years, lack a progesterone surge. Lack of progesterone contributes enormously to loss of bone mass, and vaginal atrophy. herbal allies can support progesterone production.
  • Find some regular physical activity to fall in love with. Even gentle exercise, done regularly, helps maintain peak bone mass, strengthens the cardiovascular system, and insures deep sleep.
  • Gain up to a pound a year for ten years. Thin women have more hot flashes and an altogether more difficult menopause than heavier women. Fat cells produce estrone, a kind of estrogen. (If you won’t let yourself gain ten pounds, at least stop trying to lose weight. Dieting decreases bone mass and weakens the heart.)
  • Plan your Crone’s Time Away. The initial step of your initiation is isolation. As menopausal Change picks up speed at the end of the pre-menopausal years, many women find themselves desperate to be alone. Planning now can help make it a reality when you need it. Like an extended visit to the moonlodge (a sacred space where menstruating women can be away from daily life), Crone’s Time Away is time when the menopausal woman is freed from all social responsibility and encouraged to tend solely to herself. An extended vacation, sabbatical or Crone’s Year Away is ideal, but you can stay home and still take Crone’s Time Away.

Wise Woman Ways: Menopausal Climax Years


The menopausal climax years include the year or two before and a year or more after your very last menstruation. The average age of a woman in the midst of her Change is 51. But women come to their menopausal climax in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, as well. Some achieve menopause by surgical means, some by way of chemotherapy or radiation, and some just naturally arrive early. (Menopausal climax before the age of 40 is considered “premature.”)

During this 2-5 year climax period, the bones refuse to take in calcium and bone scans will show growing osteoporosis; flashes, flushes, and night sweats may be frequent; palpitations, emotional sensitivity, and sleeplessness are common. Depending on the individual woman and her circumstances, other physical and emotional changes may come with the Change, or she may experience next to nothing.

  • Take time for solitude. Although many women feel enormous satisfaction in tending and nourishing others, as our reproductive years come to a close, it is appropriate to turn away from care-taking. Hot flashes, sleeplessness, moodiness, and the like are easier to recognize as allies of wholeness when you are free to follow your own needs without concern for others. Take one day to be totally by yourself, or a Crone’s Year Away, or anything in between.
  • Experiment with eggs, meat, and butter in your diet. Some women find these foods, especially if from organic sources, decrease menopausal symptoms. Some practitioners insist they increase menopausal distress, especially when from commercial sources.
  • Relax and enjoy your hot flashes. Ride them like waves, feel them in your spine, ski the edges of your flushes, honor the volcanic heat of your core. Like labor pains, hot flashes are the outward sign of metamorphosis. Like labor pains, they are worse when resisted. herbal allies help those with unrelenting flashes relax and enjoy, too.
  • Spend time with a journal. Buy a blank book and write in it, draw in it, paste articles in it. Visions and dreams are particularly vivid and intense in the menopausal climax years; keep your journal handy so you can record them. Your emotional energies are readily available during the menopausal climax years; draw them in your book. Memories abound during these years; cherish them in your journal. Write your autobiography.
  • Plan your Crone’s Crowning. As months pass and the moon waxes and wanes without drawing forth your menses, you pass through the second stage of initiation, death. Your identity as Mother dies. Let yourself break all the rules. Be someone totally different than you thought you could be.

Wise Woman Ways: Post-Menopausal Climax Years

The post-menopausal years symbolically begin on the 14th new moon after your final menstruation. (And continue, of course, for the rest of your life.) Hot flashes, aching joints, heart disease, incontinence, vaginal atrophy, and broken hips may diminish the quality and quantity of these years. Use of Wise Woman ways in the post-menopausal years can halt and reverse osteoporosis (the bones accept calcium once again), keep estrogen- and progesterone-sensitive tissues in the vagina and bladder from weakening and drying out, and maintain a healthy, vigorous heart and circulatory system.

  • Eat vegetables, fruits, and grains instead of meat. Eating meat and meat fat weakens your bones as well as your heart, promotes cancer, and may contribute to post-menopausal hot flashes.
  • Move, dance, walk, stretch, go, inquire, keep active. The essence of vitality is change. Now that you’ve been through the Change, don’t stop, keep changing. Break the rules and the taboos. Become an expert on pelvic floor exercises. Take up belly dancing. Pump iron. Wear purple.
  • Write a legal will. And revise it every ten years. Face your own death. Plan for your own death. This completes the second stage of your initiation.
  • Nourish yourself with every bite. Aging increases our needs for many nutrients while reducing our digestive ability. Make every bite count toward optimum vitality and step up digestive efficiency by using dandelion root tincture before meals. Discover new ways to serve yourself calcium-rich foods at every meal. Use herbal vinegars regularly. Gradually replace bone-depleting white flour products (bread, pasta, pretzels) with fiber-rich whole grains and whole grain products. Drink vitamin- and mineral-rich herbal infusions instead of mineral-depleting coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Try yogurt and fresh fruit instead of ice cream for stronger bones and fewer vaginal infections.
  • Plan your Crone’s Ceremony of Commitment to Her Community. Any time after your second Saturn return (age 57-61), you are ready for the third stage of your menopausal initiation: rebirth. You are She-Who-Holds-the-Wise-Blood-Inside. You are newly crowned, newly born, baby Crone. After isolation, after death, you rejoin the community. In your isolation, you revisioned yourself. By giving death to yourself as Mother, you claimed all of yourself. It is time to share that vision, to name yourself publicly, Crone, woman of wholeness.

“I am the Crone. I feel my way along paths following the energy and warmth that others have placed here. Trusting the dark, I am guided not by light, but by the flowing movements I sense. I am like the water that follows, without sight or foreknowledge, the ancient river’s channel.”

My Native American teachers tell me that we are in the midst of earth changes that will culminate around the year 2013. They say the earth changes will bring heat, and floods, and upheaval on an enormous scale. I am struck by the fact that 50 million women will have achieved menopause by 2013. Since we, as women, are one with the earth, is our massive, collective Change Her Change as well? Can we moderate her hot flashes? Give her ease from flooding? Soothe her emotional uproar? Emerge transformed together after our changes? How will we do it? With drugs, against the problems? With nature, blessed by all we are given? Will it matter to the Earth, Gaia, what choices I make in my menopause? What stories I tell myself? What I tell other women?

Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material in this article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.