1984 was a big year for me. I was 12 and read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which got me obsessing with every little thing happening in my body, and I got my period. Then came Forever and soon after boys had my puberty hormones all a flutter and a whole other awareness of my body took over. However during the last few decades I became gradually disconnected from my physical body. It’s been unconscious and unintentional but unless I was sick, looking to lose a few pounds, or tracking my cycle to gauge my fertility, I never really considered how integral my body was to my wellbeing. It sounds crazy typing it out now, as of course I’m aware I exist in a body, but I saw it as a vehicle of existence, if you know what I mean: fundamental sure, but in a functional capacity.
Then in the last few years, as I entered the peri-menopausal phase of my life, there’s been a significant shift in my consciousness. Maybe it was the essential oils, maybe it’s just what age does (acknowledging our mortality sure as hell makes you think about things differently!) but my health has become a major priority and with that, an awareness of my body. Not just as a means of existence, but paramount to my existence. It’s been a domino effect really, with one thing leading synchronistically onto another, to where I find myself now: an aromatherapist and wellness advocate with an insatiable thirst for, and continually growing, understanding of how deeply interconnected our mind, body and spirituality is, and the importance of those relationships.
The journey to menopause takes us through a liminal phase and, from the moment we enter peri-menopause (usually around 40 onwards for most women), we stand at a threshold with the opportunity to reflect on our past experiences and the stories we tell ourselves. We are offered the chance to let go of ideas that no longer serve us and transform our struggles into personal wisdom. This is not something we merely think about, but can be visceral experiences that occurs as hot flushes and migraines, or cause insomnia and feelings of intense emotions; a (not always welcomed) gift from our bodies to commune with our inner self. This is a portal to transform what we have allowed to define us into a deeper wisdom and understanding of life, of our life.
I’m currently studying Aromatherapy and Medicine of the Soul with Cathy Skipper and Florian Birkmayer which is based around the Jungian concept of alchemy where fire (calcinatio) is traditionally considered the first of seven stages of alchemy. It seems apt then that one of the most common physical symptoms experienced by women during the menopause is what is known as hot flushes.
“The calcinatio represents being burned up or consumed by the fires of one’s unmet desires, blocked instincts, passions and rages, in other words, one’s own personal hell. If this intense effect can be endured, it can have a refining and consolidating effect, for it is also associated with the flames of the funeral pyre, which signify transformation. Once the process of calcinatio has finished, there is a feeling of something having been burnt off, the tension has been released.”
- Sharon Martion, The Alchemy of Anger
In addition to hot flushes, the calcination stage can also be experienced on an emotional level through intense rage and anger: “fiery” emotions that need to be released in order to be transformed. In fact one of the first signs of peri-menopause could be increased irritability, a little signal that the heat is being turned up. It’s important to acknowledge these signals, to claim the anger and release the experiences that have rendered us feeling powerless and and allow the fire of transformation to burn.
We often hear how the menopausal journey is one that takes women by surprise, however alongside the physical discomforts, it’s the psychological breakdown that seems to be the hardest to accept. After all, it’s scary when the way we’ve lived and experienced the world is suddenly no longer working, and the urge to make things “normal” again by trying to ignore and push the difficult emotions away is fierce; but if we allow ourselves to cultivate an awareness of the emotions we are feeling and let them become our teacher, we can grow through them.
That is how the name Ruby Phoenix came to be, for it’s how I envision the journey through menopause: first we must surrender; to our body, to our mind and to ourselves. We must admit and release our yearnings, our grief, our truth, and face ourselves with naked and raw honesty. We must allow our old ways of thinking and being, burn. Then, when we no longer bleed, we can transform into a ruby red phoenix and rise anew.