Rethinking menopause: HeartSprings aims to celebrate pivotal change in a woman’s lifeJan Nelson says she wants to “highlight and uplift” menopause. Excuse me? Did she say she wanted to “highlight and uplift” menopause, something that women typically want to downplay, ignore and/or run from as if it were a wild, life-devouring boar?
By: J. Shane Mercer, INFORUM
Jan Nelson says she wants to “highlight and uplift” menopause.
Excuse me? Did she say she wanted to “highlight and uplift” menopause, something that women typically want to downplay, ignore and/or run from as if it were a wild, life-devouring boar?
But HeartSprings, a Christian ministry in Fargo of which Nelson is executive director, recently hosted “Menopause: The Great Awakening.” The April 11 event’s goal was to support women and reframe the experience of going through menopause. Nelson goes so far as to see it as something to celebrate.
It’s a stance our culture often doesn’t mirror.
WebMD says menopause is a term “commonly used to describe any of the changes a woman experiences either just before or after she stops menstruating, marking the end of her reproductive period.” Hot flashes and night sweats are among the dreaded symptoms, but those symptoms (or “signs,” as Nelson prefers) weren’t the focus of the event, which took a psycho-spiritual approach.
Denise Morris, whose background is in social work, spoke at “The Great Awakening,” and she says some cultures see menopause as a transition into a “time of wisdom and grace, and so they tend to see it as a really beautiful passage.”
Women may come to be seen as having a greater healing power in some cultures, she says. There are, in fact, native communities in which a woman can only become a shaman after going through menopause.
The Chinese use the image of a “second spring” for menopause while others see it as a “swan time” as a woman moves into a period of beauty and grace, Morris says.
Helen Beth Kuhens, a retired pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a certified spiritual director, says “menopause becomes a kind of marker for midlife.”
Kuhens discussed midlife spirituality at the event, and she describes it as a time when, in a sense, “the old maps no longer work.” The old paradigms are upset, so to speak.
“What is right for us at one time will not be right for us for another,” Kuhens says.
Working through that process can be difficult.
“At adolescence we have to find a way to differentiate ourselves from our parents,” she says. “And at midlife we have to find a way to differentiate ourselves from culture. We ask, ‘What are the deeper truths?’ ”
As she sees it, midlife is a time when “we are called to give birth to ourselves.”
That self is one “not boxed in and limited by what the culture says it must be.”
And, in Kuhens’ view, there is much to be gained in the midlife struggle.
“A wider vision, being at home in one’s own being and in the world,” she says. “Wisdom is to be gained. And wisdom is a great, great gift.”
Nelson said she wanted the women at the event to learn to “celebrate this life transition” and change the often-negative view of menopause to one of a “celebration of wisdom and power.”
A big part of the genesis for the event is Nelson’s own experience.
“I’m entering menopause,” Nelson said, laughing. “I wanted to find a way to celebrate, and, the thing is, there’s nobody else around to help me do that.”
She doesn’t see our culture supporting women as they go through this time the way other cultures do, so she says women have to individually celebrate it.
Nelson said 11 women attended “The Great Awakening,” and she plans to do a similar event in January.
But the more positive spin that Nelson puts on menopause isn’t intended to be overly optimistic. She notes that there is loss during menopause. There’s the idea of “leaving behind a younger woman, a woman who could procreate.”
Nelson draws parallels between menopause and the grieving process. And, like grief, menopause is something that can’t be bypassed but has to be traversed.
“But we can choose how we go through,” she says.
“I truly believe a woman going through the process with full awareness can come out on the other side with a loving heart and be truly a powerhouse of compassion for her family, community and the world.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734