Hot flashes. Somehow we got on the subject, standing there at the Farmers’ Market. She had recently had her first one, and until she figured out what it was, thought she was coming down with the flu. Her mother, she said, had died relatively young, so she had no one to check in with about it, about what to expect. I shared that each body was different, but that I had found the experience of going through menopause fascinating and amazing as my body changed.
My flashes started in my late forties - peri-menopausal. I figured out pretty quick that they were triggered by hot caffeine and wine, giving me the excuse I needed to finally stop pretending I liked wine. That was an inkling of what was to come, a burning away of many things my younger self thought I needed to do or be. My flashes seemed to gather deep inside my body and burst out the back of my neck, my throat chakra, demanding voice. So I wrote poetry about this wild new experience. The Sacred Element of Fire was dancing inside me in a new way, flowing through my cells and transforming them, burning away that which was no longer necessary or served me: the eggs in my ovaries, the expectations of my youth. I cackled more at myself and situations around me. It was a crackling laugh, the sound of fire transforming experiences and interactions that I might have stumbled over when younger, but now simply released as heat and even delight.
Then came the shift in my ability to use words. They say that teenage boys going through puberty have an average of seven testosterone spikes a day, inhibiting the language center of their brain. Something similar happens to menopausal women as the estrogen levels drop. Suddenly we have word shaped holes in our brain, sometimes the exact shape of our best friend’s name, or that thing you sit in at the table, that thing with a seat and a back and legs… In some ways I had already experienced this when I had a major health crash early in my forties and my cognition changed radically. But this was definitely hormonal. I felt the Sacred Element of Air now moving more freely back and forth between the right and left hemispheres of my brain, moving more freely between the careful construct of my cognition/intellect and rest of my cellular structure. I may not have been able to think my way through things as clearly as I had before, but knowledge seemed to blow through me in new ways: images, shapes, colors, and music all communicating directly from the whirling of the ancient atoms that made up my being.
Then as I moved into my fifties the hydrologic cycle of my body, which I had lived with since puberty, began to change. My periods became irregular. First there were shorter cycles, then longer, and longer, three months, then six months, then finally at thirteen dark moons I knew that particular rich red flow of blood would never happen again. My skin also began to change, the smoothness of it began to develop intricate crepe patterns, a lovely draping at my wrists and knees and elbows. The backs of my hands intrigued me with new landscapes. Creases around my eyes and mouth accentuated and magnified each smile and laugh. As The Sacred Element of Water stopped flowing from my womb and hydrating my skin, it began to flow more readily from my eyes as particular moments of grace in my intricate web of relationships seemed to slow down. Past memories floated in gentler streams, making them sweeter and more easy to simply cherish.
Then my waist began to thicken. I wrote a poem about that as well, it contained this line:
“Like the storied trunk of every beautiful tree on earth
we are in good company as we thicken with age.”
I now feel more acutely The Sacred Element of Earth that is my whole body, simultaneously so strong and yet so fragile. I feel my skeletal structure as I dance barefoot on the dirt, aware of how tender I want to be with my bones and muscles and flesh, even as I move with abandon and joy. I feel more grounded. As a witch I have always been aware of the aliveness, the sentience of all things, but now I seem to be more aware of how I am part of the Whole Earth, One Body.
In my Reclaiming Witch Tradition we honor the Four Sacred Elements: Air, Fire, Water, Earth and the Fifth Sacred Thing, Center/Spirit. This process of Menopause for me is a Center experience, a mysterious movement of Spirit. About half of our human species go through this mysterious process, each one with their own unique variation depending on genetics, cultural expectations, diet, environmental factors, life experience, and other aspects we don’t even know.
So to my friend at the Farmers’ Market, blessings on your body as you go through this process, know you are not alone in it, that you have circles of support. Blessings on all touched by this powerful Spirit process of menopause, whether it’s far in your future, or happening now, or already done, or you are simply someone who loves someone who has/will experience menopause. May those of us who have, be a resource and a blessings to all.