Friday, April 27, 2012

the menopause across cultures

Looking at the menopause across cultures is very enlightening.

The Japanese call it "konenki", literally translated, ko means “renewal and regeneration,” nen means “year” or “years,” and ki means “season” or “energy.”

While translated into English as “menopause,” konenki connotes a much lengthier, gradual transition where the end of periods is just one contributing feature.

If we compare the Japanese term with our own, the cultural differences are obvious.

Menopause comes from Greek roots: men meaning “month” and pausis meaning to “stop” or “cease,” which gives no greater meaning to this life stage than the fact that our monthly bleeding stops.

This word reflects the Western idea of the menopause as something abrupt that’s eventually going to happen to us. It's a descriptive, clinical word that doesn't do any justice to the complexity of the changes that occur in our lives, and fails to point out that with change come opportunities.

Because using a Japanese word sounds a bit preposterous in an English language blog, i will still refer to this time of renewal and regeneration of our feminine energy as "menopause", but my idea of it owes a lot more to the Japanese term :-)

At the onset of the perimenopause (when periods become different and less predictable, and our FSH levels shoot up) our bodies and minds are already preparing for a new, more introspective phase of our lives.

At this stage we should start to shed superficial layers of our identity and look out for those deeper layers of our being, as raw and as sensitive as they may still be when they come to the surface.

Our new identity needs to be cultivated with patience and acceptance. Trying to deny change, patching up the old layers in the vain attempt to hold on to a worn out identity is a very common and understandable behaviour in the face of the unknown, albeit one that creates more problems than solves them.

Some women may be tempted to hold on to their fertility by having a child through egg donation, a few may try plastic surgery, others become addicted to exercise, many more just succumb to depression.

Most of us feel confused, out of balance, no longer "ourselves". We scan the Internet looking for an explanation to our puzzling symptoms. We still get our periods, we can't be menopausal, can we?

Technically not, but the Time of Change and Renewal has already started.

A common belief among traditional shamanic cultures is that women must enter menopause to access their shamanic and healing powers. Since menstrual blood is viewed as evidence of the power to create life in the womb, when women no longer bleed, they cross the threshold into “wise womanhood”: their creative power needs a different outlet. Only at this point they become priestesses and healers — the spiritual leaders of their communities.

If only menopausal women were as revered in our modern society! We worship youth and beauty but don't even know how to recognize and tap wisdom.

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