At my own rather grand 50th birthday party, I found myself in a total physical and spiritual breakdown, culminating in being rushed into hospital with a kidney stone. Not what I had expected. This was the gateway to my initiation into menopause.
Since my early 20s, I had been running headlong on ‘superwoman’ energy, bringing my purpose to the world to change the damaging paradigms of the past 5000 years. I had hit the wall running and it became clear lying in the hospital bed that I could not continue like this.
Over the next months, I was shown again and again those places where I was not in my deepest truth about who I am, about how to relate or simply bring myself to the world. I was being asked to surrender to a new reality and I was putting up a fight. As a teacher and healer, I could no longer work in the world, nor could I take care of the centre I had built, Earthheart, nor the people who rely on me or the dreams that I held of the future. I faced the demons of potential poverty, homelessness and a loss of meaning in my life. I questioned the existence of ‘God’. I saw a landscape ahead with no map to guide me.
I was being guided however by a force beyond the mundane that kept saying ‘Let it all go and trust that life would take care of you’. Terrified, I argued and thrashed about negotiating for an easier passage but it was not to be. I was guided to take 13 moons out of my life, let go of everything, listen deeply inside and allow a spiritual death. So I put my caravan in the woods here at Earthheart in the Welsh Border, made a hearth and a nest in the surrounding forest into which I could sink, pray, listen, feel and surrender.
During my 13 moon passage, I asked radical questions about my life. What came back was powerful, potent, illuminating, terrifying and I knew it was truth, deep truth. And that I could no longer dilute what life was trying to speak through me and the message from the Mystery.
The message was that sexuality is at the centre of the menopause initiation. Having heard all my life that when menopause hits sex is over, women ‘dry up’, lose their libido and die a slow and boring death, I was
I can say with absolute conviction that these stereotypes have not been my experience. I have found a connection to my sexuality on a totally new level.
It requires a willingness from a lover to show up in body, heart and soul, and that there is no compromise possible. If the heart is not in, I don’t want to know. Simply put, when I was younger ‘anything’ was preferable to ‘nothing’ in terms of sexual connections. But now ‘nothing’ is preferable to ‘anything’. Death and sexual energy are closely linked as they connect us to the Mystery and the Cycles of life. In this way ‘death’ is essential in order to claim this new erotic connection. We have to allow the old ways to die, so that something new in us can be birthed in connection both to how we express our sexual energy and to what that energy serves. Now my erotic energy is in service to Love, to the Mystery and to Truth.
Over these past few years, I have worked with many women who have come to the menopause work I offer saying they have gone off sex and have dried up. What soon becomes apparent in most cases – is that the
body’s intelligence is asking them to no longer compromise and when they/we were offered sex in the way THEY want, suddenly the body comes alive again. And it doesn’t end with lovers. How these women bring
themselves to the world has changed, they are speaking their unapologetic truth, and in that, they are truly changing the world.
Menopausal women are a powerhouse of erotic energy in service to spirit because oestrogen, the hormone which keeps us locked into a biological drive, drops away. Once this has gone – sexual energy and spirit unite to become an energy of transformation. Perhaps this is why the patriarchal system had to give us the idea that it would all be over at this time, so as to keep our power locked up just at a time when it was about to enter a whole another level of potency?
All kinds of things happen – women leave long term partnerships, leave their careers, no longer want to care for everyone in their family. All of it is a wake-up call for us to ask those deep and challenging questions about our own life; what is it we are truly longing for and can we claim it?
I’m back from my 13 Moons with a cauldron of offerings for this sacred passage and some significant insights as to how we can meet it as a powerful force of change in the world, simply by being who we are. As menopausal women, our light and radiance is both needed and wanted in a world where the old paradigms are crumbling and a new vision emerging.
As an Energy Medicine Coach, I’ve spent pretty much the last 25 years helping others find their way. Now, it is time for me to forge mine anew.
And my path is based upon a personal story that, up until now, I’ve hidden away in a very dark little closet…
Eight years ago, I was facing a hysterectomy following a failed procedure to cauterise the fibroid that was causing me many dire and unspeakable problems. And this op was not to be a keyhole job; I was facing the whole kit and caboodle. Not only did I not want to lose my womb; as a self-employed single parent, I simply could not afford to take time off work.
I pleaded with the consultant to offer me an alternative, but she was adamant. She said that the only chance I had of avoiding surgery was if the menopause were to suddenly appear. This, she said, would basically starve the troublesome fibroid into extinction. However, blood tests had revealed this was not going to be happening anytime soon; in fact, she guessed it would be at least five years. This consultant insisted that I couldn’t wait another few weeks, let alone a few years.
I’d spent a long time and a lot of money trying various approaches; Ayurveda, Chinese herbs, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, Healing, Health Kinesiology, Hypnotherapy and The Journey process, but nothing had made the slightest bit of difference. This – for somebody whose whole life had been spent immersed in all things holistic and alternative – was utterly demoralising. I felt like a failure and a fraud.
But there was still a little voice nagging away at me saying there was a way. I just needed to find it. A big part of me thought further research was futile, but in sheer desperation, I nevertheless burnt a lot of midnight oil trying to find something I hadn’t tried.
Eventually, I stumbled upon a little-known ancient tantric birth control technique, which was purported to stop periods. As a very well-read energy healer, I’d never come across anything like this, and frankly, I was extremely sceptical. But it was a chance… perhaps my only chance. A shot in the dark, which my logical brain told me I was stupid to try, but nevertheless, my intuitive brain won the battle and I postponed my op for a month to give it a go.
I never had another period again. Within four months, I’d gone through a ‘mini menopause’ and was out the other side. Job done. And no op.
After the many years I’d spent struggling with debilitating symptoms, I was utterly flabbergasted by what I’d achieved. And yet I nevertheless kept my story pretty much to myself. I just wasn’t ready to out myself as a post-menopausal woman in a world whose judgment I feared.
Instead, I decided that an adventure was long overdue, and I took myself off to Bali – ostensibly to write a book about my healing work. I meditated, did lots of yoga, drank fresh juices, and slowly but surely, immersed myself – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’-style – into this strange and fascinating culture. I watched sunrises and sunsets, lost a stone, grew my hair and took a young lover. And my little sabbatical just kept being extended month after month.
My young beau – a European who’d lived in Bali for over half his life – introduced me to his neighbour, who just happened to be Ketut Liyer, the real-life healer who was featured in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. He was instrumental in turning around the life of the now-famous author Liz Gilbert, whose book turned into a best-seller and a Hollywood movie which transformed Bali almost overnight into the veritable metropolis that it is today.
Ketut and I hit it off immediately. We flirted, joked and talked long into the afternoon. It culminated in me giving him energy healing. Before my eyes, this elderly man who was ravaged with dementia transformed into a coherent and lucid shaman who taught me such a lot during the week I ended up spending with him and his family.
It was, in so many ways, the time of my life but after almost five years of living between Blighty and Bali, and with my young lover having turned his attention to a lovely young Balinese girl to whom he is now married, I began to find my nomadic lifestyle somewhat lonely and rather unsettling. So I returned home to pick up the pieces of my old life.
Of course, life had moved on and so had I. I didn’t feel as if anything ‘fitted’ me anymore. It was time to shed an old skin, turn over a new leaf, and start getting real. Drawing upon the intensive healing experiences I’d watched Ketut and other Balinese shamans craft with such dazzlingly efficacy, I created The Bespoke Retreat Company to offer private, tailored healing intensives for clients seeking deep and lasting transformation.
After a year of taking all kinds of people from Burnout to Brilliant in literally a few days, I was asked to create a retreat specifically for a woman who was struggling with the menopause. She knew nothing about the energy technique that I’d used on myself all those years ago; but it had an almost instant effect upon her and has since transformed her life.
And with that, a new arm to my business – Hotstuff – was born. Contrary to the ease with which I’d sailed through it, the menopause for most women is a very big deal indeed. My retreat client had told me she was absolutely at the end of her tether. The symptoms can be seriously debilitating, and affect not only the woman herself, but her relationships with loved ones, friends and colleagues too. I’m told that doctors receive less than an hour’s training in the subject, and the commonly accepted medical model asserts it is all about hormones, which is only a part of the story. The modern menopause is bound up with a plethora of complex layers, including diet, lifestyle and the psychological implications of a society that seeks to denigrate ageing as something unacceptable. The power and devil-may-care chutzpah that come in the wake of menopause are secrets that have been hidden from women for millennia.
And yes, this does bring me well and truly out of the closet and into the open about my own story! But, this is often the case. When we’re finally on track, there is almost always a personal story underneath it. This inevitably takes us into our own vulnerabilities and invites us to be transparent because we receive our own true powers after we share ourselves fully with the world. And so here I am: Lynn Jackson, Energy Medicine Coach, Retreats expert and post-menopausal instigator of Hotstuff. It’s been a pretty circuitous route, but it all happens for a reason, and – at the age of 60 – I feel I’m finally stepping into my power.
I thank AoA for the inspiration, and hope my story will serve to inspire others.
Lynn Jackson is an energy healer and retreats guru who specialises in menopausal issues via her ‘Hotstuff’ menopause initiative. lynnjackson.co.uk & bespoke-retreats.co.uk
She is running a 12-week Menopause online course, which starts on 3rd June, and includes a group retreat in a fabulous Elizabethan manor house on 20/21 June.
The first sport I did was serving orange quarters to Amazonian Australian girls who were on the teams. As these things tend to go, the same girls didn’t just make one team; they stormed onto all of them. As a small, migrant child dispossessed of hand-eye co-ordination, I was forever doomed to be the last one left standing when the captains chose their crew. Looking back perhaps they felt the same way when I played most of the parts in Shakespeare. I don’t really think so.
Most of these kids had emerged from the womb already swimming. Besides the dread of the weekly school lesson, there was the nuclear cloud of chlorine that hovered above the pool. It was impossible not to inhale which was pretty much my major take-out until we learned privately when I hit the ancient swimmer’s age of eight and they took the chlorine down by about fifty shots.
That’s pretty much how it went in Australia in the 1970s. Unless you were any good – no let’s make that very good at something – you were excluded. By Year 10, I’d adopted the waiter’s trick of spitting on the oranges and excelling at something none of them were interested in: cross-country running. Meanwhile, they were too busy chugging ciggies as they walked the course. I should have taken note back then.
I ran for a few years after that – until knee pain sent me to a specialist who took one look and said: ‘Well, you’re not built like a runner are you? You’ve got hips. Go swimming instead.’ Determined to turn my diminutive, curvy body into something it was resisting, I persisted. Away from the gaze of school bullies, I perfected my freestyle until I moved to London where people did not do laps in swimming pools. They floated on their backs and kind of gurgled like toddlers.
And then along came strapping Sean from NZ and a love affair with weights. Trainers are like medical professionals, you are not allowed to covet them. And for about 20 years, I trained like a boy, watching with amazement as my muscles became more defined and grew. I delighted in wearing sleeveless tops and flexing my muscles at every opportunity. It was death or glory, I chose the latter, I even learnt to ski at the age of 47 having figured out that since my life was probably half-over, injury would not be so bad.
A life spent sticking to the Mediterranean diet, a good measure of genetics and things ticked along nicely until I was about 52. Up until then, I had not given the slightest consideration to the possibility that my investment in myself could go down as well as up. My first oversight.
The second was menopause. Okay, I had no control over that one but while I expected the sudden bursts of tube rage, I didn’t anticipate that every past injury and some new ones would all surface at once and suddenly instead of a fighting machine, my body would become a nagging old aunt.
I started to feel very, very tired. I now realise I should have adopted the Keith Richards fitness regime way before. With barely a couple of glasses of wine a week and the same healthy diet, the GP informed me two months ago that I was ‘highly methylated’ with dangerously high copper and stupidly low zinc. I got capsules for that. I also acquired a physio for the hip bursitis – that’s a menopause thing apparently – and Pilates Reformer classes for the neck. I briefly tried opiates but my tolerance maxed out after two days. Go figure.
I recently opined to my mum who has never been ill in 89 years but then she stuck to gardening, that I should have stuck closer to the Middle East staples of cigarettes and alcohol with minimal exercise – my cousins don’t eat. The rather delicious irony in all this is that because the pharmaceutical painkillers either don’t work or hurt my stomach, my effective painkillers these days are vodka or scotch and the odd cigarette.
Two nights ago, the osteoarthritis in my neck reached beyond a level of tolerable pain, I helped myself to a couple of vodka shots and felt good enough to dance to random You Tube tracks for four hours. I’m not sure that particular recipe will work long-term, but right now a modicum of the Keith Richards’ methodology is working just fine.
Briefly sum up who you are and what motivates you.
A big footed, down to earth beauty who is motivated by almost anything in the short term but my passion is my work in the long term.
If you have a job, what do you do for a living?
An International Arvigo® Teacher and Therapist. A bodyworker with my main focus on the abdomen and all it contains emotionally and physically. Wombs are my world.
How long have you been doing this?
Bodyworker 28 years, Arvigo® Therapist coming on 15.
What do you find most satisfying about your job?
Meeting amazing people and getting to travel as an older woman which I did not have time to do as a youngster.
Is your work primarily a means to an end ie money, or the motivating force of your life?
Very much about making money to pay my bills, modest as my lifestyle is but it is also a massive motivating force which I am immensely proud of.
When you were 8, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I have no idea…some kind of performer.
Did you get there – and if not, are you happy/sad that you didn’t?
I think I am pretty content with the way things are working out. Can’t say I have ever been that good at looking ahead but there is very much a performance aspect to teaching.
What is your dream job?
Very much the one I have.
If UK-based, are you glad, indifferent or disappointed that the official pension age is rising?
As a woman with no pension, it makes no difference to me but I actually think men and women should share the same pensionable age if only they could share the same salaries for the same jobs. Seeing as that is still not the case then it’s yet another raw deal for women in the workforce.
Today we do not expect young Western women to start their periods without education yet many women find themselves approaching Menopause with no idea of what is happening, unsure where to turn, hiding symptoms and feelings to their own detriment and to the detriment of those around them.
If we look at the baby boomers, we were the first generation of women to have clear access to our own bank accounts, birth control, divorce, university education and so much more. We are the mothers who have hopefully taught our daughters not to be ashamed of their bodies and menstruation. We are the women who have fought for rights that allow us to access sexual health services, equal pay and we still have work to do.
Now it is the time to shine the light on Menopause and equally important perimenopause. Menopause is the time when a woman has not bleed for an entire year. The peri-menopause can be anything from one or two years before this event or even as much as ten years prior to that last bleed.
Perimenopause for some women is a walk in the park but for others, it can be a roller coaster with maybe only one or two symptoms but sometimes many more.
There are at least 35 symptoms to ‘choose’ from and it is possible that you will experience at the minimum a couple. To understand what is happening to our bodies we need to be able to recognise that perimenopause is a rite of passage, it is normal and when given access to the right information we can make this a transition to celebrate.
It is only now that we are growing in numbers that we are able to challenge attitudes such as this:
A menopausal woman is ‘an unstable oestrogen starved’ woman who is responsible for ‘untold misery of alcoholism, drug addiction, divorce and broken homes’
Brooklyn GYN Robert Wilson 1966
So if this was the general attitude in the 60’s and 70’s when our mothers or Grandmothers were hitting menopause how are things changing today?
Today the wonderful news is, just like menstruation, we are starting to talk about it in mixed circles, at work, with our girlfriends, in front of our children.
No need to fan ourselves discretely, we can name it, it’s called a ‘hot flush’ and yes we are sleeping with the bedroom window open in the middle of winter and no we are not ‘fading’ or going into the ‘good night’ gently. We are wearing what we want, embracing our silver hair, we are starting new careers, we are celebrating our wisdom and most of all we are talking about that once taboo subject and making it a passage worth celebration.
However, before that can happen for all women there is still a lot of work to be done and as ‘Elders’ we have a duty to own this time and reframe it so those younger women coming behind us can have a healthy attitude to ageing and embrace the wisdom that comes with the territory.
As we menopause, our womb shrinks to an almost prepubescent size. During our menstrual years amongst the many and varied services our uterus provides, is a service of elimination. Not just of womb lining but of toxins from our body which is only one of the reasons why the quality of our bleed will change from month to month.
Once menopaused we are no longer bleeding so it makes perfect sense for the uterus to shrink down and thus leave no space for toxins to accumulate. This is part of the process of perimenopause and comes with changing hormones, changing feelings, changing body shape and changing needs.
This is a time when we may not recognise our selves and it may be equally difficult for those around us to recognise us too.
This is a time for us to retreat and spend time doing things for ourselves, to ask our selves questions we have not had space to dream of until now. This is a time to change our priorities, to create space just for our selves, just because we can.
If we allow ourselves the sacred space of retreat we will unearth what it is we need, we will dig up our old dreams, the ones that got forgotten in the rush to adulthood and responsibilities of life.
Diamonds are created in the earth by intense heat and pressure and so it is with our wombs. Intense heat and pressure, the compression of our uterus, the opportunity for change give us a diamond of our own. A bright shining light right in our centre which can be a light to shine for all those women coming behind us, a light to shine for those who can recognise it and a brilliance to illuminate our own lives each and every day.
If you would like to know more about my work you may enjoy my workshop. For more information take a look at www.hilarylewin.com, find me on Facebook or sign up on Eventbrite here – Menopause Mining For Diamonds
‘Tell me what you do in just one word?’ After 12 years in the business, it still didn’t slip off my tongue. How was it possible to sum up midlife and all its issues, in just one word? I went for a very long walk.
My love of personal development coaching had always been part of me. At junior school, I received the ‘Concientiousness Towards Others’ award two years running. I knew helping others, listening to their needs, was a huge part of me, yet as I reached my 40s, this potential had not been truly realised.
One day, sitting with my toes dangling in our private pool, and I could see into the next 20 years. Very clearly. It was not a place I wished to be. I had everything, a loving husband, a luxury lifestyle in the Mediterranean, a six bedroomed home, two wonderful boys soon to fly the nest, and my own hormones creating havoc. I wasn’t happy. None of my peers seemed to be happy either. What was it about the peri-menopause, modern day living and me? There had to be more to life.
I found inspiration in a magazine. I realized that I could take my social science degree, add to it life coaching and begin a new career. This life change has led to a glorious 15 years of exploration and connection to myself and what matters to me the most – helping others. With it comes those all-important, life-changing light bulb and goose-pimple moments. I usually know when I’ve hit the spot because my skin begins to have those telling sensations before my client has fully explained what is happening to them.
My clients tend to be midlife women, coming through peri-menopause into menopause and beyond. Often they are dealing with life issues such as divorce, loss of a loved one, empty nests, boomerang kids, ageing parents, financial worries, ill health and their own looming mortality. It can be a tough place to be. Each and everyone one of us will cope with it differently and yet we all share something in common – a problem shared is a problem halved.
Listening to another person can be draining and rewarding at the same time. Often things will come up in this conversation that apply to your own circumstances. However, keeping your own ‘story’ out of the way is key to the results. As I honed my skills throughout the years, I noticed one theme came up again and again – the need to put oneself first, to be Sensibly Selfish. Wear the oxygen mask before helping others, something many women fail to do. (Myself included at times).
Yet it wasn’t until 2015, when my own life took a dramatic turn that I saw new results in my business. My husband was offered a job working in East Africa. A contract to build a 5* hotel. We couldn’t refuse. Within the space of a month, I had put our Spanish finca for sale, decluttered 20 years worth of possessions, told our two grown kids to fend for themselves, and arrived in Zanzibar with 20 kg of luggage. My new home had just two rooms and a red tin roof, yet it was perfect in every way and very close to the most beautiful beach and azure sea.
Walking daily on the pure white sand, connecting to nature, living a simple natural life, with healthy food and exercise made me realize where my own personal life-disconnections had been. I had been stuck in the rat race, believing that possessions make you content and that striving to consume was good despite the constant feelings of disharmony I was feeling as the havoc of such a lifestyle created on the planet and myself internally.
I discovered that there is no need to live in turmoil. By simplifying my thoughts and my possessions, I had plenty of literal and metaphorical space to connect to self without causing harm to Mother Earth. It is this simple peaceful space that I offer clients in order that they can also find clarity. I help them look at their lives in a holistic manner and find their own sustainable success.
So what is my one word? Stress-Buster.
Actually, it finally ended up as four words ‘The Midlife Stress Buster’ yet my coach accepted it! Stress has had a bad rap over the years, in fact it does have a good side. Often we cannot avoid the actual midlife stressors but we can choose to cope with them differently. Sometimes we just need support to see things differently. Supporting others to find a way with their midlife tensions is what gets me jumping enthusiastically out of bed every morning.
You can find Kay Stress Busting here: www.Kay-Newton.com
I’m still on the edge, and not often there, as yet. Yesterday is only the second time I’ve had an encounter with the menopause. The first time was two years ago, when I didn’t have my ‘bloody days’ for three months in a row – after which I wrote the ‘Celebration of the Circle’ poem, published here at Advantages of Age – and the second time is now. Now is when the blood is still not coming. I’ve been waiting for my period after what I thought were typical premenstrual symptoms. It’s that strain and unnerved-ness, which ends when the period begins.
Period-experience had taught me that when blood comes, the tensions cease. It’s just that I had not been as conscious of this relationship as I am at this moment when it’s not here and I am still waiting! I have realized that it’s the blood-flow which actually brings healing to the body. The sight of the blood signals the transition from the lowest state of ‘ebb’ back to ‘flow’. So one can say that there are tides inside the body, and for a long time in a woman’s life it’s our blood-flow, which enables the flow of things – and we go with it! We all go with it, we all ‘go with the flow’, when we are at ease! So our period enables and teaches us this.
Flow, tide, ebb, flow, ebbflowebbflowebb: I think that as women, as long as we flow, we are like rivers. When we stop flowing, it might be because we have reached the sea. All rivers, as we know, flow into the sea! So we will all get there eventually.
There are tides by the sea as well, of course, and even more obviously so – tides in a river are more likely to be overlooked than they are by the sea – and it matches how we, as women, are overlooked; and also how we, as women, neglect the significance of our tides, our periods. Sign of the times, sign of the tide, precisely, it is! Period! We are Zeitgeist! We are time and space, within!
Once we flow into the sea, we merge with a greater body of water, and merge with the oceans, a taste of greater expansion. But this body of ocean is not a male or female body, it’s universal. So the ocean is both male and female (and ‘other’ too, as the sea is fluid!). More evidence that the sea is not just male is that it ‘answers’ to the moon. So it’s another aspect of us, and of us all!
A gender-politics note of caution: I do not consider this to be a ‘women and nature’ story: rather it is about ‘geography and the body’. It’s embodied psychogeography.
Psychogeography is, traditionally (though it’s at odds with ‘tradition’!) a radical/alternative/ transformative exploration of urban (and non-urban) environments. It developed around the Situationist International, highlighting the constraints of capitalism on our life-experience, space, place, time, boundaries. It’s about us and space then – landscape, and the effect that has on us: what industrial landscapes do to us, or housing, urban planning, coastal edges, and more. And in this tradition too, I have looked at my body in itself as a geographical space, and what our bodies do to us, and what that means.
I think traditional cultures often say that rivers are female, and the ocean is male – though some rivers are male too. My experience echoes the idea of women as rivers, to start with, though. This leaves more space for gender ‘fluidity’ as well. How would you write a male version of this? I am curious to hear other interpretations and experiences, with perhaps other ‘elemental’ immersions and configurations.
So my geo-spatial body experience (and my choice of elemental signification) is that I am not in the sea yet, but I have reached the river-mouth, I am still on my way to the beach, and happily taking my time, doing loops and turns rather than moving in a straight line towards the sea. But despite all of my twists and turns: the menopause is not too far off – the sea is out there! As of now, my period will most likely come back again – rolling down the river!
There’s one more thing I realized from this experience of period-intermission: the idea that the onset of the blood, as long as it comes, brings healing. It’s healing because it brings about a release of that premenstrual tension in the body, signaling that body is ready for another cycle-turning. What blood can do! And that makes me think of Christianity in an inverted way. The church uses the symbolism of blood as a means of healing, during communion. The way the church sees it, however, seems taken out of context. From my experience here it’s a woman’s blood that brings healing, not that of Jesus – unless, of course, Jesus was a woman! And that now, seems more and more inevitable to me.
The Christmas after I turned 59 was my dark night of the soul. For the first time, I honestly faced the nagging concern I’d had for so many years – I’d messed up! I’d messed up by choosing not to take my place at university all those decades ago. Fear had kept on stopping me going across the years – fear of being back in an environment where I was not in charge, fear of having to conform – so I didn’t.
I didn’t get married, didn’t have children, didn’t have a career, didn’t have a house, and didn’t create any sort of nest egg. I seemed to lurch from one inspiring project to another but wasn’t able to build any firm foundations and each crumbled one by one. I went from being immersed in a frenzy of activity to crashing and burning. At 59, my lifelong failure stared back at me unblinkingly. I thought all there is left is for me – is to go downhill and die.
Yet instead of sidestepping all of this as I normally would, I allowed it to be. I allowed the possibility of it being true. I stopped resisting, stopped denying, and just stopped. I was holed up in bed with a bad chest infection and I lay there until I was motivated to move again.
Then something unexpected happened. Unexpected as I’d learned that to create one’s own reality you had to focus on it. However, all I was focused on was this barren landscape of a life less lived! At least, that was how I saw it during those few weeks.
Out of the blue, an ex-flatmate got in touch from Peru. He offered me a job, a paid one, writing for his spiritual tour company. Within a few weeks, I was on an all expenses paid trip to experience his signature bucket list tour, which included Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, Cusco and the Amazon jungle for a week’s Ayahuasca retreat. I was rooming with another ‘elder’ woman and a seed of a thought emerged that maybe we ‘elder’ women have wisdom to offer the world. It came from some of the quiet thoughts she shared with me about the world.
Much of this magical tour was an ordeal because I was far too unfit for the Andes but it was still an incredible journey. And even though I am at my worst in hot humid environments surrounded by insects, I fell in love with the jungle. I loved the noise – the drumming rain on the roof of my roughly hewn wooden cabin on stilts, the orchestra of bull frogs and other wildlife which escalated during the frequent rain storms. And then there was the beautiful sound of the shaman singing his songs of protection in the middle of the night as I journeyed with Ayahuasca on a deep exploration of my psyche. I had a vision of my birth – me with my feet braced at the entrance to this world screaming for all I was worth ‘Noooooooooo!’. It was an opportunity to let that resistance to being alive on this planet go. About time too.
When I arrived back in the UK, I just wanted to lie face down on the grass in the rain all the time. And as the rainforest had got deeply under my skin, I found myself choosing to spend four months in an off-grid yurt in a secluded Welsh valley during the wettest winter on record in Wales! It was like living inside a drum. And as I learned the rhythm and voices of the stormy winds I knew I might never live in a house again. Emerging out the other side of this womb-like existence – where it took an hour to boil a kettle on top of the woodburner for tea, and two hours to cook a stew or heat enough water for a wash – I realised I may be a worry wart but I was also a resilient and awesome woman!
The idea that we women over 50 are wild, wonderful and wise began to root more deeply.
Having discovered that this part of Wales is my spiritual home I stayed. I found myself a small caravan to live in which shook in the wild winds and where I could hear the rain hammering on the thin aluminium roof. Joy!
An Intuitive PR course I did online around my storytelling – separate from my spiritual travel work – showed me that the people who would be most interested in what I had to share were women over 50. It was like a light bulb going on and it married so well with my increasing sense of us ‘elders’ sharing our wisdom with the world. And before you think you don’t have any – think again.
You can’t make it through 50+ years on this planet without gaining insight, understanding and your own unique perspective. I’d wager a bet on us all being far wiser than we give ourselves credit for. Somehow it’s easier in the ageist society we live in, to believe we’re not worth very much at all, particularly once we’re past menopause. After all, if we aren’t slim, young, fertile and gorgeous, we must be on the scrap heap. So speaks the masculine voice of authority through the press, through our peers and even through our own family.
Another out-of-the-blue opportunity pinged its way in to my inbox – the chance to participate in a shamanic retreat with Elen Tompkins, author of Silver Wheel – the Lost Teachings of the Deerskin Book. As I read the offer I burst into tears. And no matter how hard I tried to talk myself out of it, I knew I had to go. I had already committed to following my heart, but this was the first time I truly followed it without having any conscious sense of the reason for doing it.
A couple of months later, I was camping in a tiny tent during a massive storm under the stern gaze of a rock giant and his mate, with the deep rumbling roar of a waterfall nearby. It was a mystical place to be and perfect for eleven of us to experience thirteen shamanic ceremonies from the Elven Realm of Lemuria. I still had no conscious sense of what I was doing there except reconnecting with an ancient vow. I wondered what that could be.
A few days later, I lost my job and my landlord decided that he had better ask me to leave too. I also had a very sick cat, who was cage-bound for weeks. Did I have a Plan B? Of course not! But I do believe that when things become so chaotic, a breakthrough is just around the corner. So I stayed as calm as I could and allowed life to unfold, and for magic to happen.
Money-making suggestions started pouring in. But I haven’t been able to work purely for money for years. I have to work from inspiration and ideally a bonus is the essential cash flow. But something else happened – out of the suggestions emerged the idea of a community. A community of women over 50 who acknowledge they are truly wise elders with something of value to offer the world.
As I drove through a beautiful Welsh valley, I asked out loud what would be the name of the place where these wonderful elder women would meet? Our version of The Red Tent. At that very moment, the name The Silver Tent boomed out. I felt goose bumps race over my arms while energy shot down through my crown chakra and out through my feet. I burst into tears. Just thinking about this moment as I write is enough to make the tears flow again. I knew in that instant this was bigger than me. It was as if I had been the open-hearted goddess through which this could be birthed. My vow.
All of a sudden, I understood why my life has unfolded the way it had. I had been waiting to be 62 years old, in the right place at the right time – in order to bring this divinely inspired enterprise to fruition.
I saw this community as a crystalline structure, transparent, strong and deeply feminine. It would be a place where we would meet on and offline, learn from each other, share with each other, and discover that being wise elders is our birthright. In fact, it is in our DNA, it is what we’re designed to be. This stage of our lives, far from being a fading out is the most profound, magnificent and creative time of our lives. And above all, we’d take our wisdom out in to the world. I began to believe the Gloria Steinem quote that says ‘one day an army of gray haired woman will quietly take over the world’. Yes, yes, yes.
This was back in October 2016. Since then, almost 3000 women from all around the world have joined the Silver Tent Facebook Group. It is the most engaging and supportive group, I have personally experienced and the feedback is quite extraordinary. I was totally clear from the beginning that this was to be founded on the principles of conscious, co-creative collaboration and to be a place of non-judgemental support, nourishment and learning. What came through intuitively is that this would be the space to create a movement of women over 50 who would create this third stage of our lives imbued with meaning and celebration, as well as making a profound difference in our world.
I am in awe every day at the conversations unfolding in the group and the transformations, which occur. One woman shared her sadness and anger at her relationship ending. She allowed herself to be vulnerable. The wisdom and support from the community was way beyond what you’d expect in a FB group. Woman after woman shared their experiences and reminded her of how wonderful she is and that she didn’t need to settle for anything less than she deserves. She kept in touch with us posting her feelings along the journey -of failure and upset and of challenge – until she shared with us her excitement at enrolling in college again to learn something new. She changed her life and herself in the process and told me that her transformation was helped substantially by being a part of The Silver Tent and receiving such non-judgemental support.
Another woman poured her heart out about her ex-husband and his imminent death. As she posted, day by day taking us with her on her emotional journey, she called on our help and support, but what she didn’t realise for a long time was how much we received from her. Her growth shone through as she learned moment by moment to be more of herself through self reflection and forgiveness. She has been an incredible beacon to all of us. She has helped us understand that our most vulnerable moments can give others more than we can ever believe possible. We certainly don’t need to be perfect in order to share our wisdom.
There are many stories of how this growing global circle of women over 50 is transformational. The Facebook Group is giving people the space to be vulnerable and find support. Our online video meet-ups have taught us that even though we’re meeting in a virtual room, we actually feel as intimately connected as if we were all sitting round a blazing fire sipping mulled wine together. There is an oxytocin rush, which gives us all a wonderful level of deep nourishment. And from this, we’re developing offline meet-ups around the world as well as retreats and house parties.
One of the biggest visions of The Silver Tent is to create co-housing communities all around the world. A new Silver Tent member contacted me recently to talk about just this. She had been her mother’s carer for six years until her death about two days before we spoke. Depression had been her companion for a while and she believed there was nothing for her after this. But she came across the idea of co-housing and it brought some light back to her life. After we chatted for an hour or two about co-housing, we knew we were on the same page. She came to meet me and we are now working together to create the first community of this kind. We’re starting from scratch with no funds available so it is a fascinatingly big project, one that is changing her life… and mine!
There are so many plans to develop. Silver Sofas will be our version of AirBnB helping our women travel around the world feeling supported and safe. Our Silver Wisdom Portal along with Silver Tent Radio and TV will be where we share our wisdom within and beyond the community. Not to mention the quarterly bursary and the philanthropic foundation, which will emerge once we are more than breaking even financially. And there is always more.
It is fascinating to look back and see that the seeds of this have been within me all my life. Just like an acorn grows into an oak tree, I have at last grown in to who I have been destined to be. It is an amazing and magical adventure.
Francesca Cassini, Founder, The Silver Tent
The Silver Tent is creating a movement of post-menopausal women regaining their wild, wonderful and wise elder status to enable the re-emergence of the female elder in western society.
It does this by serving women to reconnect with their wisdom and re-ignite their dreams through an online community offering on and offline conferences, coaching and mentoring, luscious retreats and workshops, global travel experiences and peer to peer meet ups.
The current foundational team and faculty coaches/mentors are wise elder women themselves, are experts in their field, have great experience in running relevant events and in particular supporting women to recognise their value and wisdom through a number of modalities.
Blood has been such a massive part of my life for the last 37 years. Every month, from the age of 12, I’ve bled like a stuck pig. One of my best friends recently said how much she enjoyed her periods. My jaw just dropped. I’ve always hated mine violently. From the first drop. Bleeding pints, great big fat clots the size of my fists, soaking up ultra-maxi pads in one gush, spilling over the sides, through my black pants and through my dark trousers, leaving a bloody puddle leaching into my chair in the middle of a business meeting. The shame of discreetly trying to wipe it off, waiting for everyone else to leave first and hoping no-one would notice.
And the pain, don’t talk to me about period pain. That time I was 15, curled up on the bed in my first boyfriend’s bedsit, then him calling out the GP (in the days when they would do home visits) to give me a massive shot of morphine to take away the most incredible pain I’d ever experienced.The morphine felt good.
That time in my early 20s on a rural bus in Java, when I was writhing in pain on the plastic seats, silently crying big fat tears down my cheeks. I had no sanitary protection as I’d been taken by surprise. A kind Javanese lady took me off the bus and into her home to clean me up, give me painkillers, wash my clothes and let me rest before making sure I got home. A good Samaritan.
The only respite I ever got was going on the pill as a teenager for seven years.
“You’re not to use it as a play pill,” my mother scolded. Little did she know. Too little, too late.
Numerous tests showed nothing – no endometriosis, no fibroids, no this, no that.
“Dirty blood,” a Javanese reflexogist told me, prescribing a thick black liquid brew that tasted putrid. But I downed it every day, desperate to have clean, light, easy blood.
Trying to get pregnant in my mid-thirties (my mother had me at 39, I thought it would be easy – too little, too late), how I hated my blood even more. Every month obsessing over cycle lengths, daily temperature charts, and urine samples. More tests.
“You have an unusually long womb and a tight vagina,” the gynaecologist said. Dirty sod.
Then a miracle. Just as I had almost given up – a missed period and a positive test. Excitement, elation, at 37 I was going to have a baby. Not my first pregnancy, but this time I wasn’t afraid, I was older.This time much coveted. Oh, but then the blood came. Hang on, that’s not right. Is it? “Go home, don’t worry about it, everything is normal.” Three months came and went. Blood came and went. Still the baby grew. Clinging on. Heart beating somersault twists and little kicks. Until the clots started coming. As big as a fist. No, no, no. This isn’t right. This can’t be happening. Please God no.
“Your placenta is coming away – see that shadow there – a large clot of blood,” the consultant said. “Very touch and go. Go home, rest, and wait.” A death star lurking in the lining of my womb. There is no God.
My waters broke at five months – ah, what a gush that was. 48 hours later I went into labour, was whisked into the Royal Sussex, sirens blaring. My beautiful perfect, tiny Tom Thumb of a son was born on 2 May 2006. The sun was shining on a glorious bank holiday. But everything was black. My world stopped turning. For the next three years.
“Dirty blood,” said the woman at the nutritional supplement centre, “full of copper, no wonder you lost your baby.”
The cow. So tactless – so unprofessional. I was furious. Bereft. Obsessed.
Then my first husband fucked off. Sick at the sight of my dirty blood. Wanting new blood – fresh and young.
Then I hit my roaring 40s. And how I roared, and wept, and bled some more – a whole lot more – as if my whole insides were falling out. Has someone just been murdered? Has someone slit their throat?
The period pain is minimal now. Almost non-existent. My cycles are starting to dither about but my sex drive has gone through the roof – the sex-surge they call it – do keep up; all that testosterone. The hot flushes come thick and fast (always carry a fan), night sweats come and go. My short-term memory is hopeless, and I’m forever losing things. Ah, the perimenopause. Bring it on – I want it to stop. No more bleeding at long, bloody last. No more packing spare sets of clothes, wearing two pairs of black pants, no more shoving a MoonCup up myself (I care about the environment) and yet still having to wear a maxi-pad, so what’s the point? Dear MoonCup, please can you make a bucket size cup – the size of the blood red moon?
Oh, hang on a minute. When my periods stop, that will finally be it. The finality of my fertility. And I will grieve all over again. Not as intensely, but it will still happen. Lurking in the shadows, popping up on Mother’s Day (will someone please send me a frickin card?), popping up when siblings start to become grandparents, all those life stages and milestones that my second husband, friends and family celebrate as their children grow.Of course, I celebrate with them.
The joy of being an aunt, a great aunt, a fairy godmother…the magical, mysterious, marvellous elder that comes bearing gifts. The exotic elder that always plays and dances, makes up stories, dresses up, hides and seeks. They all clammer to try on my jewels and trinkets. The elder that still goes clubbing in Cardiff nightclubs and gets crowned Queen; the elder that takes a drag, and does all the things their parents can’t as the responsible adults. I am fun personified. I’ll settle for that.
“Aunty I love you.” The best thing a child could say to me, as he gives me a big fat cuddle. “I love you too darling.” So much love – a bottomless well of it.
There was a time when I had to grit my teeth and sob behind dark glasses, closed doors, and in the loo at work. Although that time has gone now, I’m still a mother, and it was still a birth – however invisible, however silent. Always there. Always loved.
Dirty blood. I’ll be glad to see the back of you.
An imagined 11-year-old
Somewhere, in a parallel Universe, there is a bold young boy playing with his vorpal sword that goes snicker-snack. His name is Vincent. He has blonde hair, and blue eyes; he’s very creative and loves to dress up. He wears feather boas, and glitter. He’s a glam rock star in the making. He loves to fly kites. He can ride a horse and swim the ocean. He loves physics, art and dance like his mother. And English literature and New Wave films, like his dad. He’s a brave young boy, playing in a field full of sunflowers.
9-15 October was National Baby Loss Awareness Week. On the Sunday, I lit a candle and danced – a wild dance, shedding skins in celebration of a short life but whose soul lives on in my imagination, making me feel more, laugh more and love more. SANDS threw me an umbilical lifeline when my world stopped. You can support them here.