When I first learnt about the map of the cycles nearly a decade ago, in my early forties, I was simultaneously wowed and incensed—why had it taken me this long to find out about them?! And oh my, such useful, practical information! It was this mixture of anger and awe, along with my experience of working up close with women and their bodies (as a birth attendant and dance facilitator) that led me to take a deeper dive and attend various trainings, over the years, to fill in the gaps.
The four seasons are the inspiration for the mapping, with the traditional year long cycle of winter, spring, summer and autumn forming the template which can either be contracted into a month or expanded out, over a whole life time. So, the lunar/monthly cycle, has its own spring (week one), summer (week two), autumn (week three) and winter (week 4) while the expanded map on the other hand—the life cycle—lasts for a whole lifetime but still has four seasons too. So, to give you an example, a menopausal woman is in the autumn of her life, while menarche (the first period) heralds the beginning of the spring life cycle. Each season has its own transformative opportunities, along with the inherent challenges and rewards that any change brings. Often, it’s the transition from one life season to the next that is the hardest.
I was so enamoured with this mapping that I became a life cycles educator, teaching women and girls of all ages about the cycles and how to use them to tune into their inherent body wisdom as well as navigate the territory of their life phase.
One of the all-day programs I teach is a Celebration Day for Girls (CDG), where the focus is on laying the foundation stones for a healthy, grounded experience of the changes of puberty and the onset of menstruation. I cherish the transformation that happens between the start of the session and morning tea; the girls invariably come in with hunched shoulders and shared looks of, ‘I’m only here cos Mum made me’, but by mid-morning, they’re happily lolling around the circle, engrossed in the craft activity and listening intently. By lunchtime they’re so comfortable with the idea of their changing bodies and menstruation, they don’t even notice how unselfconsciously they’re fiddling with the menstrual products. After a shared lunch and storytelling session with the mums, the girls leave with a strong sense of connection to their bodies and to the women who have shared their stories.
Spring and autumn sit opposite each other on the wheel of the life cycle map and interestingly, perimenopausal women share some common challenges with pubescent girls. Dr Christiane Northrup, in her book, “The Wisdom of Menopause” writes:
“Externally and internally, this period is a mirror image of adolescence, a time when our bodies and brains were also going through major hormonal shifts that gave us the energy to attempt to individuate from our families and become the person we were meant to be.”
The perimenopausal women I work with relish hearing about the cartography of the life seasons and how and why the autumn of their life cycle is an opportunity to re-wire their whole lives—not just their brains and chemical messengers—and finish the job they started back in the spring/first adolescence of their life cycle. Unlike the young women who are a work in progress or still ‘under construction’, trying to work out who they are and where they fit in, the older women’s metaphorical houses are already built. But often, the wiring needs an overhaul; many find that the yearnings of their newer, more colourful selves don’t fit so well with the demands of the society they live in. But if they decide to navigate these changes consciously, rather than pretend they’re not happening, they emerge the other side of menopause with a new sense of self and a deeper trust in their inherent knowing and strength.
A cyclical way of living and being is not the story of our culture, unfortunately. We are not taught to listen to our bodies or that our lives follow a seasonal pattern, each chapter with its own value. The elders of our culture are a good example; those in the winter of their lives have so much inner wisdom and knowledge to offer, yet how often do we give them a chance to share this? The overriding message is that a woman’s true worth lies on the outside, with her youth, her looks and her shape.
What about her inner worth?
Finding out about and working with the cycles is an empowering way to shine some light into the shadows, to look at what’s going on inwardly as well as become more connected with the body; with what’s happening physiologically, emotionally and mentally. It’s also an opportunity to explore the lay of the land—the peaks and valleys which each life cycle presents.
Interestingly, it’s only since doing this work that I’ve become aware of the cold, hard face of taboo. Prior to this, I was too entrenched in a linear mindset to even notice it. My generation of women, and men for that matter, were taught to adhere to a culturally sanctioned unconsciousness about women’s bodies. For many young women this still plays out—their menstrual cycle is a nuisance, at best, and a gross inconvenience that’s preferably ‘deleted’, at worst. For older women too, with a linear mindset, there can be a tendency to underestimate their worth, now that they’ve passed their ‘prime’.
For many years, I couldn’t see beyond the discomfort of acknowledging that a body bleeds once a month. In fact, the thought of even talking about menstruation, let alone teaching about it, made me squirm. These days I either laugh or sigh, when I catch myself feeling like the menstrual equivalent of the Avon Lady, knocking on doors, extolling the virtue of my wares. And other times, usually after facilitating, when girls or women are walking out the door with a newfound sense of self, I feel like I’m making a difference.