For some, going through the changes that come with menopause can be a daunting journey that at times seems endless. To better understand the journey, I’d like to suggest using the framework developed by Steve Donahue in his book, “Shifting Sands: A Guidebook for Crossing the Deserts of Change.” Donahue suggests that the description that is often used to discuss travelling through life –climbing a mountain – is focused more on achievement. “But much of life is not at all about achievement, success, or goals. Life is often about being lost, finding ourselves, getting stuck, getting unstuck, following a mirage, and then finding our way for a while until we get lost again,” Donahue writes. “Much of life is like a desert, not a mountain.”
The writer suggests that six rules are essential when travelling through a desert:
- Follow a compass, not a map. Since deserts are continually shifting, maps don’t work. The same is true with going through menopause. You’re not sure when it started, how long it will last, and what changes will come about. By following a compass, you know what direction you want to go and you then can be proactive in your actions. For instance, knowing that your bones may be weakened through the process, you can commit to lifting weights at the gym.
- Stop at every oasis. This rule calls for rest and rejuvenation, reflection and connection. That means making and then taking regular downtime. Find time to play and visit. I managed to accomplish this yesterday with a trip to the dog park. A bit of fresh air, a happy dog romping around, and a chance to chat with several friends made this opportunity into a good oasis!
- When you’re stuck, deflate. “Getting stuck is a precious opportunity to change and go deeper into life,” Donahue writes. “If we never got stuck, we might never realize where we are.” To get unstuck, he recommends that you stop pushing, which allows you to admit to yourself that your plan no longer works. In addition, letting the air out of your ego can help you get unstuck. I’ve heard of some women who talk about being stuck at this point in their lives, yet I’d suggest this period is a great time to take a break and really reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go in your life.
- Travel alone together. Donahue notes that no one can make another person’s journey. However, it is possible to travel with others while being fully aware of your own journey and your own needs. That’s a great way to think about your relationships with family members who may not understand the changes you are experiencing. Additionally, look for ways to create a supportive network of friends who can help you on your journey.
- Step away from your campfire. Donahue suggests stepping away from what you’re used to in order to see what’s possible. One way is to spend time with what Donahue calls “a nomad” – the person who knows how to live in the desert. Some “nomads” include mentors, generalists (who may not have the same experiences you have, but have had many life experiences), and professionals (who are trained to guide people through change). For example, you may want to seek out a woman who already has gone through menopause to learn more about what to expect. Or you may consider your doctor to be a professional nomad who helps guide you through the change process.
- Don’t stop at false borders. Donahue suggests that there are psychic lines of barbed wire that we don’t let ourselves cross. “Borders in life are significant turning points, moments of truth, opportunities for quantum inner growth and healing,” he said. For some women, the false border may be turning 50 or having an empty nest for the first time. Don’t let yourself be stopped at these borders; instead, figure out your next step in life and move on.
Going through menopause is a great time to open up to new views on how to live life. The trip through the physical and emotional changes may be difficult, but thinking of the journey as one of going through a desert may provide new clues of how to emerge happy and healthy when you arrive in the next stage of life.
Published On: February 10, 2010