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Sharing the Journey of Menopause: Elder-Women Essential to Community
~ Debby Wyman Ball
I recently saw a news clip about two well-known
women who are addressing and speaking about
menopause and how the medical community
relates to women in these years. For years, since
my own menopause and post menopause
experience, I have felt, and voiced to a few friends,
that a community of elder-women who have traversed
the path of menopause would be so helpful,
and perhaps much needed, for women who are in the midst of, or soon to embark upon, their own journey. However, I hold different ideas and thoughts about re-establishing, embracing and growing communities of women to share and guide rather than so much the medical community such as these two celebrity women, though I understand the idea and worth of addressing the mindset of the medical community. My thinking follows a different line of how our current colonized mindset contributes to a difficult transition for way too many women, on many levels, ie. medical, psychological, socially acceptable, ageist thinking, emotional, etc. I thought of how my experience through menopause, and now post-menopause years, was so different and much easier and a more positive experience than almost every woman of western indoctrination and systemic ageism that I spoke with.
Perhaps my own experience through the journey of menopause was possibly touched and helped by my relation with elder women of other cultures and tradition through their teachings and wise words over the years. Many spoke of how their culture view the stages of life of women, from childhood through puberty, childbearing years and the transition to menopause. These elder-women spoke of how the traditions and relationships with their elders before them taught to embrace the different stages and changes, and reflect upon the energy and power of women through each stage. Through the guidance and gentle teachings over the years, I gained a sense and affirmation, that our colonized culture bombards us with a youth orientation and a disdain for age, especially aging women. Our commercially driven consumer mindset indoctrination instills the message over and over that aging is only beset with illness and pain and that we must buy this or that to feel better. It also assaults our senses by instilling the message that aged people have no real use, no value. It tells us that once we have begun menopause, we WILL be besieged with the perils of menopause and MUST be on some medication or hormone replacement. I don't dispute that in some cases these things can help, but, unfortunately, we are conditioned to believe this is the only way it will happen and that aging and menopause are life events to dread.
I have heard the words of elder-women, with different cultural knowledge and understandings passed down through the ages to them, of the respect for women walking through menopause, as they are considered to possess an energy and strength that is part of that transition. Also, I heard the stories told of the place of honor that women who have achieved post-menopause hold as they now have an energy and strength, born of wisdom and having traversed a most powerful woman-journey. My own journey through menopause was very easy, I walked in with an understanding, thanks to my teachers over the years, that this was a special time in my life and to feel it, with all its raw energy and power. I had the strong emotions and emotional roller coasters from time to time. I worked to allow them to stay with me, inform me, lead me through the transitioning self to who I was continuing to grow into and accepting my changing self, not always easily or in a welcome fashion but accepted just the same. Those wonderful elder-women had planted seeds of wisdom, understanding and the ability and potential to view this journey with a different perspective than the colonized western perspective that had been conditioned and imposed on me over the years. I had my moments of resistance, those emotions sometimes threw me off-kilter at times, but the words of my elder-women stayed with me and I could allow myself to feel the energy working through me. Once I had moved into post-menopause, I was in awe of how my transition had been and how I felt coming into this stage of life with the feeling of growth, strength and wonder.
I often wonder how much different our collective woman experience on the journey to and through menopause might be if we could let go of, move beyond the current western mindset and open to the wisdom and teachings of other cultures that honor, revere and embrace the divine journey of women in all stages of life and most especially the wisdom and energy-strong years of the menopause and post menopause journey. I still feel that a community of women who have traversed the journey , especially those with a variety of understandings from their own diverse cultural perspectives and honored traditions, is so important for those about to begin the journey. A community of elder-women, as well as all elders, is so important for the healthy growth of all stages of a community. The wisdom of elders is not something to be tossed aside as non-viable. It is time to help communities understand and learn from and bring forward the voice and role of elders, who have traversed journey's that build wisdom, that develop strength and have gathered an understanding of the energy of each stage of human life. It is time to embrace the community of wise elders as much needed guides for us all.