Menopause Metamorphosis ~
by Susun S. Weed
"Menopause is a metamorphosis, like a caterpillar
becoming a butterfly. The caterpillar needs a cocoon, and so do
you. One of the most important things you can do during menopause
is to take time for you. Go into your cave, go into your cocoon,
go into your room and shut the door."
These are words I have said, and sung, over and over.
Words whose truth rings in the hearts of so many women who hear
me speak. Words that prompted one (famous) female MD to throw her
arms around me and exclaim "I thought I hated my patients.
Now I know I just need a year off!" But words whose full meaning
took some time to get through to me.
The idea of taking time off during menopause is an
extension of a moontime mystery teaching: A woman benefits herself
and her community if she takes a day off during her menstrual flow,
to go within and tend to herself. By taking care of herself, a woman
has more to give to others. But even more importantly, when she
gives herself this time, she may sense the presence of her "spirit
band" (angels) -- those who are too faint to be noticed when
one is focused on the hubbub of everyday life.
During menstruation, and during the menopausal years,
say my Native teachers, the "veil between the worlds"
is thin and easily parted. Our abilities and senses are heightened
and we are open to guidance, inspiration, illumination -- but only
if we give ourselves quiet time alone, free of responsibilities.
I believe in this idea so strongly that I actually
pay my apprentices to take one day off during their monthly flow.
But it was exceptionally difficult for me to give myself the same
time off. After all, I had to keep appointments that had been made
months in advance and involved dozens to hundreds of people. I can't
agree to be the keynote presenter at the National Institutes of
Health conference on Women and Botanical Medicine and then tell
them after I get there that I have to have the day off because I'm
bleeding, can I?
So, even though I knew that my menopause would be
more severe if I remained in the public eye, I again found myself
unable to say "No." And for once I was sorry to be right.
The first summer of my menopause was exceptionally
hot, and it seemed to trigger hot flash after hot flash. At one
big conference, I was so hot they finally put me to bed on a cot
in the climate-controlled (air-conditioned!) herb storage building
while everyone else braved it in tents. I awoke not totally refreshed
(I woke those days four and five times a night), but not melted
either, and smelling decidedly fragrant.
And then there was the class that walked off and left
me. It was another hot summer day. My memory of most of those insufferably
hot menopausal summer days is mercifully blank -- or, perhaps more
to the point, welded into a recollection of one ongoing unrestrained
surge of molten energy blanketing me from belly to crown. But this
particular day is vivid in my mind's eye.
It was a staggeringly hot day. It was so hot that
I decided after lunch to take my class of about twenty women to
the river which runs through the back of my land. First, everyone
had time for a little break to tend to necessities; then we were
to meet at a certain place at a certain time to stroll to the river
and look at plants along the way.
At the appointed hour, I showed up at the appointed
place. By ones and twos, the students gathered. One asked me if
I had a remedy for her headache. I asked her to get a glass of water
and went into the house to get the herb she needed: skullcap. (How
aptly named it is!) When I returned, in moments it seemed, no one
was there except for the woman with the headache. I put ten drops
of skullcap tincture in her glass of water, and asked where everyone
was. "On their way to the river," she replied, much to
my surprise, chagrin, and dismay. They had walked off and left me
with no students to teach.
It took me some minutes to work through my feelings
of abandonment, and more still to work through my sense of loss.
But when I did, I could see that my students had given me the gift
of the afternoon off. They somehow understood -- I finally understood
-- that I needed time alone, time away from responsibility and leadership.
And if I didn't have the sense to go into my cocoon, the Universe
was willing to see to it that I was placed there by circumstance.
Ten years later, I look back and smile: remembering
those sultry menopausal nights and steamy hot flash days. If I had
it to do over again, I would squash my qualms about global warming
and buy an air-conditioner as soon as those first strong hot flashes
hit. And I would pull every string I could so that I could take
as much time as possible off during my menopause metamorphosis.