I used to scream at my family, curse my condition and pop four Advil. Then I decided I needed more. Somehow all the aggravation had to be worthy of closer consideration.
Most major life cycle passages are joined with a ritual. The passage into adolescence is paired with a bat-mitzvah or confirmation, graduation from high school with a ceremony and a party, and marriage is launched with a wedding celebration. But there is one important passage that takes place underground.
I have been in the peri-menopausal passage for years now and the only ritual I have been invited to is one of cultural degradation or self-ridicule. So I made up my own. I do it in my head. Yes folks, we have imaginations, and it turns out that an imaginary ritual can be almost as rich as a real one.
A ritual is a ceremonial act that is structured to provide entry into something new and emerging. The goal of a ceremonial ritual is to invite contemplation, exploration and transformation. We want to emerge from rituals changed in some way. We enter this change armed with new awareness, support and authority. Most rituals have a beginning, middle and end and progress in a story format.
The passage of menopause is a transformational one. In fact, it is often said that women in the passage are going through the “change.” The problem is, we don’t speculate or even imagine what this change could be.
Hopefully our rituals of the mind will offer clues.
When my meno pain starts, when I feel so irritated that I could smash my fist through protector glass at the pharmacist to get my prescription for Ativan, or the heat fires up my innards so much that the sweat drenches my clothing, or my body is hijacked by relentless muscle and nerve pain (and there is more, so much more), I go into the ritual of my mind.
My ritual has three parts and it goes like this:
The Beginning: The walk into my inner self.
First, and always first, I put on the crimson robe.
From there I enter the cave. The cave is dark and murky but filled with hundreds of brilliantly flickering candles. Sometimes Carmina Burama is playing. Other times it is Gloria Gaynor. I have a menopausal ceremonial tunes-shuffle in my mind. I have always loved the combination of reverence and bad girl as my soundtrack.
During my procession I walk with sureness and an attitude of importance. My head is up and my core is breathing. I imagine breathing energy into my interior self. I walk my walk.
The Middle: The visit.
I see ahead of me the table. It sits in a little sunny grove. There is a flowered tablecloth. I smell strong coffee and anisette. Around the table sit my grandmothers. The Italian one is dipping biscotti in her coffee and gesturing broadly with her other hand. The English grandmother is knitting. They both smile when they see me. Their eyes sparkle with recognition and love. They cheer and clap and put their strong arms out reaching for me. I sit and they pour me coffee. They ask me how I am doing. They listen intently when I tell them little details of my life. I touch each of their veined hands and feel the warmth come through to me. I tell a joke. They tip their heads back in laughter.
Suddenly our table starts to levitate and we all three ascend on a little ride going up and up and around. I feel relaxed and enjoy the ride. Then my Grammies start to fade and I find myself descending onto the path home. There is a full moon shining its glow onto me.
I feel at once connected and magnificently unique, a surge of purpose: be yourself and connect to the bigger picture.
The End: The walk back
I hear the drumbeat and I know it is time to head back. I walk back with a sense of clarity and peace. I feel the connection to my grandmothers and to the all women who have come before me. It fills me with joy and love.
My menopausal passage, every ache and pain and drop of sweat, has more significance now. The “change” is serving me. It is beckoning me to become fierce and reawakens the divine within me. Not only can I tolerate the aggravating symptoms of menopause, but they are now endowed with meaning. The symptoms connect me to my legacy, and link my bodily to the wonders of nature.
When we attach meaning, via a ceremonial action, to the difficult transitions that we encounter in life we are enriched by them. All of us face many losses and challenges that are unavoidable. But when we honor the difficulties with dignity and significance, we ascend. Through ritual we claim our place among the mysteries of live and the universe.
I will miss this ritual in my mind when I fully transition, but I look forward to what lies ahead.