Friday, May 25, 2007

Finding the joy of menopause

“Lie back, and the sea will hold you”
First Lesson, Philip Booth

Yes, I want to tell you, there is emotional turmoil. Yes, there is pain and a descent into darkness. Yes, you may feel like you’re lost in a dark tunnel with no way out some of the time. The rest of the time, you dance and laugh at parties with a glass of merlot or cook something fast and easy for your kids like tacos. You come home from work tired and decide to read a book after supper, but instead you fall asleep at 8:30, wake up sleepless at 3:00 a.m drenched in sweat.

Two years ago, I was turning into bug soup. I didn't know it, but inside my chrysalis, all my ragged edges, horns and spotted caterpillar shape, the multiple legs and little prickly bits were melting, turning into bug soup. All I knew is that I felt mush-muscled. Only God knew what shape I would take or how my wings would form, which colours scintillate brightly. Some wild blue turquoise, yellowy green, or maybe something completely different than the rose or fuchsia I imagined.

I felt tired, not only physically, but mentally tired of resisting this quiet destiny. No flames, flammèches or fireworks; it was low-key and subterranean, a lying low until strength could be gathered for flight. The peri-menopause is the period before the coming cessation of bleeding, not wholly begun yet because I was still bleeding profusely every 28 days, except for one month missed. This was the chrysalis phase, an in-between transition—I was not yet transformed, not of one world-- the young energetic past--nor of the other (mellow, old and wise) but on a shuttlebus between the two states. Perhaps 49 is not the end of energy and youthful vigour (although in the sorry shape I was in, both hips and shoulders aching, it felt like it).

Yes, the tears come easily, and even a little something wrong upsets you. But what I want to talk about is the joy that follows, the big joy, not just a little joy, that comes finally after the dust settles, or after you come blinking up out of the tunnel, into the place where you don’t recognize yourself. Once you come up into the clear mountain air, a small ray of sunshine appears, then a whole bright day ahead.

Where did I find my joy? In discovering I was ready to serve – not like before, not to forget myself, to give all my power away, to be a good girl and get kudos or to please others, but opening to being a fully satisfied, complete woman, a woman with power, ready to use that power for a greater good than my own personal fame or wealth. In discovering I have wings, and in learning how to spread them – not to fly away – necessarily, but to rise above the pettiness, jealousy and drudgery of my own mind, to find the purity, clarity, and peace of heart within. Oh, my wings are real; they are white and muscular. But they shine invisibly, growing out from my heart center.

Where did I lose my joy? In making myself small, too small to see. In resentment, and fear of speaking out, fear of owning my truth, fear of what my neighbour thinks of me, fear of challenging my fear. I can feel it hunched a little in my neck and shoulders, still, but it’s leaving, being cleared away by the work I am doing and the grace of god/s. I am an ordinary woman with extraordinary powers. The power to love, the power to inspire by my actions, the power to forgive myself for being human and making mistakes.

Where do I find my joy? In sharing the wealth: in hearing your stories, and in sharing mine. In making it brand new, each new day.

My life story is fairly ordinary: I was a child, I learned to love; I loved people who hurt me, but I have also met a caring, gentle man and have two children with him. On my woman's journey I have bled once a month since I was fifteen, and now at 51, I have finished. I have been in the liminal space, in between young and old, but I am still in the middle years. From here, I can look backwards and forwards, but my pleasure is to stay right here, right now, in the present. And breathe, once more, into the closer, immediate present.

So in the middle of feeling stuck in the chrysalis, I came to the Writer’s Spa in Taos, at the center of the Tao, the mountain that is sacred and has no name. Its subject attracted me: creativity, and the word “spa”. To be pampered as a writer, to belong to a tribe of women trying to express their creative selves, to find healing and answers as to why I am so stuck with all my projects. There was no lack of creative ideas, but I felt as if I had no power to move ahead, or push forward, in fact, I was a bit tired of pushing myself. I’ve been in transitional phase of birthing perhaps – no apparent movement or downward pushing yet, yet….the cervix slowly dilating, and pushing out is the next step. It will take all my strong courage.

So it’s been a few days in Taos, the fourth day – each night facing fears, exorcising demons, shivering under my covers after bad dreams – of plaster walls caving in and water damage to my house, forgetting my kids at the dentists; all kinds of stuff creeps in when the coyotes are howling after midnight and you can’t sleep. Or while driving towards a huge black cloud covering the whole hemisphere and streaked with bolts of lightning…almost hitting our car as we sped along a single lane highway on the way to the hot springs.

Then one day I had a nurturing, healing massage that helped open up the shoulder and neck muscles and release the fear I’d been holding. I had a coaching session where I discovered I wanted to be a popular or self-help writer, and work with ordinary people, not a literary wunderkind. My face lit up as I found it, my joy of speaking in my own voice to other women instead of competing with the intellectuals of the lit world. And that is where I really found my joy, in the openness to not knowing, in the void I need to relax into. Finding fearlessness in rappelling down the mountain inch by inch, landing on a safe ledge to stand on, then finding there is water down below and I can float on an air mattress, and let the sea support me.

Ah that is where my joy is, in being supported by the universal ocean. The trust I am learning to feel inside. That is worth gold; that feeds and nurtures me.

Rappel away, menopausal ladies. Let the sea hold you.

(written last summer in Taos; apparently found today because I needed to remind myself!)

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