Generativity: The Psychospiritual Opportunity at Midlife
The third age, for many women, comes with a proximate biological marker: the end of menstruation. Our hormones and cycles may change suddenly, or gradually over a multi-year period, until eventually monthly bleeding stops completely. The average age in the west for this final menstruation is 52, but it can range from the early 40s to the mid 60s. "Post-menopause" is a boring name for the time after the bleeding stops- it’s a boring word for one of the most creatively vital parts of our life (this is why I call it ‘the free period’, instead).
For many of us, menopause coincides with empty nesting or the end of active child-rearing, and often includes a midlife assessment of our path. It’s usually, although not always in an economically upside down world, connected to some degree of savings and material comfort. It’s often a period of less psycho-emotional drama: we’ve been through many financial and political cycles, wars, disasters- often on repeat- such that the poisonous alarmism of the culture no longer agitates us as much. By this time of life, we have a certain resilience: there’s been loss and heartbreak, skill building, experience. We’ve often done a lot of inner work or therapy. If we have been taking responsibility for our quality of life, by this time, we know a lot about ourselves.
Yet, as we say goodbye to the bleeding and integrate what we’ve learned from the bearing years, it’s a chance to look again: what do I want for my third age? What adaptations to my early life am I still holding onto that are no longer helpful?
This is a time to cross another threshold, like the one from girlhood to puberty (adolescence), or the process we go through when we become a mother (matrescence), now we are moving from matron to wisdom keeper (sapiescence). The psycho-emotional maturation comes at a time when many cellular structures and body parts are wearing down, so there’s a certain irony in it. Thus the phrase “youth is wasted on the young” although I know many very wise innocents of all ages- it’s not a comparative thing- older people are not necessarily wiser than young people! It’s that we are wiser than we each once were. Sapiescence is personal.
While we are launching children and empty nesting (or learning to live in a new adult relationship with those who continue to live at home, itself is a tender navigation). We are often riding the waves of caring for our own parents, or losing them, which puts us in direct confrontation with our own eventual death.
Throughout all of these tasks of midlife, there is an invitation to get ever more in touch with your own deep creative well, what the human development specialist Erikson called our “generativity”, how you tap into source, how you create and learn, how you replenish and care for your being.
Envisioning yourself in the decades after menopause is valuable, even for younger women, who often have anxieties about aging. Can you see yourself in your mind's eye in your own vibrant maturity? Getting a clear download on what that might look like can amplify our peace and pleasure right now, and lessen the fear of what’s to come, if there is any. Personally, I have found the free period to be the best part of life in a female body, so far anyway. And I can tell you that was not something I expected at 35.
A thoughtful and intentional ceremony can aid in an easeful flow through the physical and cultural changes that come in midlife, and be like a graduation into a new time of creativity. The pagans and unitarians have long done this- it's called a "croning" ceremony, but that term is so loaded- it has connotations of some fairy tale kind of bad witch. In these more expansive spiritual traditions, croning is a stepping into the fullness of what you've learned and been gifted with thus far, seeing where you still are growing, and being recognized in your community as a wisdom keeper. In the Unitarian tradition, the “croning” rite of passage can be called when a woman has either reached the age of 50, gone through menopause, become a grandmother or has “decided, for a reason deemed right by the woman herself, that it is now appropriate to claim this status.”
When we visibly practice this ritual, it’s not only for ourselves: we are reclaiming reverence and status for the wise woman and the elder in the culture at large. If this is interesting to you, we have published a third age ritual, excerpted from our upcoming book, Reverence.
Wishing pleasure through all of the cycles of life.
Christine Marie Mason
Founder, Rosebud Woman