A Powerful Rite of Passage for Women
As a woman we go through several distinct phases of life. From our first menses to the end of that fertile period of our life. Perimenopause is the transition phase prior to menopause or the ending of a woman’s menses. I looked forward to a time when my body would become softer, relinquishing the passions of youth. The urge to procreate and that sexual hormonal drive can cause much confusion in a woman’s life. After many years single parenting four busy boys I was ready. More than ready to release that sense of responsibility of child rearing and move to a gentler phase of life. I felt blessed to have a wonderful relationship with a spiritual depth based on friendship and acceptance. Life was feeling full.
The Wise Woman
I was ready to embody greater wisdom and hopefully a much more relaxed lifestyle. Much of my private life of motherhood and the fertile years were spent single parenting my four sons. This brought with it many joys along with big life lessons and many challenges. All of which ultimately had brought me to a place of peace and acceptance with much gratitude.
Around the age of 50 comes a very important “rite of passage’ for all women, which is marked by the slowing down of and finally a cessation of her menses. It is called Menopause. Menopause is not a dirty word that needs to conjure up images of mood swings, hot flashes and sweaty nights. We don’t need to lose our sense femininity or womanhood. Our libido will naturally decline but this can be a gentle transition.
If we have an attachment to sexuality and libido it can seem scary and may bring many mixed feelings for a woman. Her partner may also feel these changes. But it’s not all bad, for a woman it can herald not only an end to her bleeding cycle and fertility years but an awakening to deep wisdom. At worse Menopause can be difficult, painful and emotionally traumatic. At best a melting into a period of deep contentment, wisdom and acceptance. A joyful time which may bring new freedoms, grandchildren and deeper relationships.
Why is Menopause So Dreaded
Why is menopause like the beginning of a woman’s menses not celebrated in our society? As with every rite of passage these bodily changes are a gateways to a new phases of her life. Each of these times of life can be enriching, empowering and bring abundant blessings in so many different ways. If we can embrace change, and awe at our body, each new phase of life will enrich us so finally we may claim the real wisdom of the crone or wise woman in our later years.
Blood Rites of Every Woman
Let us look at the preceding rites often called blood rites, to further understand how profound it is for a woman to reach this point when she can finally let go into being…
Our first rite as a woman is the shedding of the first blood and the blossoming of womanhood. In ancient tribes this was a time of celebration. The girl was honoured, adorned and given a feast to celebrate her womanhood. I am happy to say after years of western sexual suppression and denial of this hidden aspect of a woman’s life, this trend is having a rebirth. A celebration it should be, coming into womanhood or becoming a young fertile woman is very special indeed. She should be honoured as the goddess she is. As her body changes, her breasts swell and body becomes shapely ripe with the promise of birthing a child someday. Some cultures believe that the fertile woman bleeds for the family as a monthly cleansing. And, is a reminder that her womb is ripening with the promise of new life and the continuing of the family lineage.
Loss of Virginity
The second rite of passage for a woman is the loss of her virginity, when she bleeds after having the experience of love making for the very first time. In many traditions this may have happened in the bridal bed, and was highly prized, respected and honoured. With greater sexual acceptance and freedom and less religious guilt attached to premarital sex this tradition has been dropped in the western world. The fact remains however, for all women, the loss of her virginity is a very significant experience. Her rite of passage in life as a sexually active woman. And hopefully a joyful, comfortable and loving one.This leads her into the exploration of sexual pleasure with her partner and the exploration of relationship in an intimate way. Sadly this is not always a loving and happy experience. And many lose their virginity is painful, confusing ways. This can be influenced by drugs, alcohol, peer group pressure or at worst rape. And this can leave the imprint of trauma which may affect future relationships.
A woman’s third transition occurs when she births a child, and the joyful blood associated with new life and motherhood. This is generally a time for celebration in every culture. Riding the of pain of transition experienced prior to the birth of her first child prepares a woman by awakening in her consciousness qualities of surrender, determination, endurance, and flexibility necessary for her coming motherhood. Birth can also be a reminder that, with the awakening of joy, pain can easily be forgotten.
Not all women choose to or have the opportunity to bear children, however this in no way makes her less of a woman, her natural intuition, creativity and deep feelings often being expressed in other areas of her life.
Cessation of Blood
Her final womanly rite of passage is the cessation of blood, when her menses slow and finally stop, beginning with peri-menopause, then final cessation or menopause. This is followed by post menopause, a time of new beginnings and adjustments to this phase of life. With the changing production of hormones, women once again have personal, psychological, spiritual and physical adjustments to make. just as they did during puberty, with pregnancy and breastfeeding and now again during this final gateway. This can bring many mixed feelings for a woman, and sadly this last rite, when she may finally relax her external responsibilities and focus on herself, is often not only uncelebrated, it may be traumatic.
For some, the unstable and changing hormone status will bring uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes and insomnia, bringing emotional instability to her changing body. Often due to some of the physical effects of hormonal changes, symptoms such as lowered libido and vaginal dryness can create relationship issues and insecurity. The good news is, all of this can be dealt with and overcome by adopting a healthy lifestyle, using herbs, essential oils and potions, together with a deeper understanding and honouring of her beautiful and complex body.
Grief of Loss of Fertility
For some women the fact that they are no longer fertile can bring a form of grief or feelings of loss. They may not have birthed a desired child. They may feel it is the door of a wonderful phase of their life closing. Yet every door that closes a new one opens. And the gifts of this new period are many.
Intimate Relationships in Menopause
Perhaps for some women, the most challenging aspect is her changing intimate relationship during this passage of time. If she is not in a deeply open and honest and spiritual relationship she may feel misunderstood. Her changing body may bring with it deeply buried feelings and a need for more gentle intimacy. Her emotions may be fluctuating and this could bring changes in her libido. Now is a time when she is again on the bridge of change and would be grateful for understanding and support. Support from other women as well as her partner and lover.
There is good news on this front. It is possible to experience deeply fulfilling love making in this phase of our lives. And without the need for contraception being a great relief for many. Talking and sharing our feelings and needs can be important.
The Wise Woman Emerging
In ancient cultures menopausal women are entering the doorway to become the wise ones, the grandmothers, the hag or the crone (not my favourite terms I must say), the elders of the tribe or community. They have experienced the innocence of childhood, the sweetness and passion of youth, the following fertile years of motherhood and sensuality and passion of sex in relationship.
The wise woman bleeds no longer for her family and can relax back into herself, meditate and share her creativity and wisdom in new and different ways with the community. Fear not, becoming an elder does not have to mean old, decrepit, or lacking in vitality – the wisdom born of years can be very alive, very creative, and dynamic in a more gentle and wholesome way.
Time for Spiritual Life
Traditionally she now has time to slow down, becoming a foundation stone of strength and wisdom for her larger family and community. By now most women have found their path in life, and are content to find a new sense of balance with their changed energies. If she finds herself alone at this time, she may really appreciate support of loving friends, extended family and nature.
Giving Back – Service
In the west it is at this time in life women now may have time for service to the community working for charity or sharing their knowledge and gifts more freely with the community. This gives a tremendous sense of self-worth to many people, and the much needed help, and hands of service to many wonderful charities serving the communities here and abroad.
In India in ancient times the wise ones retire from family life to the forest to live out their days with a simple life in an Ashram or hermitage spending their time close to nature and their personal sense of the sacred in prayer and meditation.
The Grandmother & Storyteller
Becoming a grandmother or aunty is another important role in assisting and sharing and caring for the young ones. Now grandmother/elder, she has or should have earned the respect of the younger ones. She can become the story teller, the confidant, the one who listens and does not judge as she has walked the path and made her mistakes, learned from them (hopefully), explored her passion, her body, her sex and the sacredness of birth and motherhood and the coming of wisdom.
Societal Fear of Aging
Sadly though, this is not always the picture in modern society. Transition times for women do bring insecurity issues up particularly around self-love, self-acceptance and what beauty really means to us. Somehow the MIND believes wrinkles only look good in photographic depictions of tribal people of unknown character, not ourselves. Wrinkles are considered quite unfashionable unfortunately. I personally prefer to call them character lines. However the Feminine ego is proud and the body beautiful does not seem to embrace our ‘womanly character lines’. Desperate to hold onto the passion and sex appeal of youth at all costs, many of us get caught up striving to beat the illusive enemy of time, with beauty treatments, nips, tucks, colour, make-up, hormone replacement, Botox, mature age IVF and surgery.
Media certainly does not encourage graceful ageing and paints even our older women figureheads with android like faces without blemish or a stray grey hair, often heavy with make-up and in perfect stance instead of embracing mature natural beauty.
I have always admired Meryl Streep as a woman of substance who does just this.
The Desiderata, an ancient poem gives perfect Counsel, ‘Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth”. As an elder or grey hair we are beautiful, in fact many may say we are more beautiful, more authentic, more appealing than ever before. I feel this.
Now having entered these sacred years of the wise one myself, with a few grey hairs, I feel my energy relaxing, and I now choose more time doing the things I really love: music, travel, meditation, my writing, gentle yoga, gardening and contemplation on the mysteries of the universe.
Gift of the Present
Life is short, each moment seems a precious gift or present.I find I am more conscious in choosing the people I spend that time with. My family and husband have become more precious to me as has my time alone and in nature. I cherish my early morning time spent with my personal sadhana (personal spiritual practice) of Yoga and Meditation and that early morning chai with my beloved.
Very wise words and such a comprehensive documentation of the life of a woman. I enjoyed it very much, just like I enjoy(mostly) being over 50.
Dear Soraya your words are like dark chocolate melting on my tongue. Thank you. I really recognized my self but still have to be remind – now is the time to SLOW DOWN. I am over 60 but inside still a young girl and that I will continue to be even if I also is more wise today. LOVE you!!!
An inspiring and thoughtful article Soraya! A milestone for women which can bring blessings or feelings of loss. Embracing the changes can be empowering. Gentle exercise, meditation and eating a healthy diet help symptoms associated with menopause. Think of hot flashes as power surges! Blessings, Deborah