Our bodies are constantly shifting, changing. Eat a piece of candy and you experience a brightening of cognition, a sugar rush. Not enough sleep and muscles are slower to respond, thinking is muddled. A teenager experiences wildly fluctuating hormones that can induce at once utter despair and elation at the touch from the object of her infatuation. A retiree notices more pain yet can contemplate eternity. While every human being experiences these changes that accompany movement through the life cycle, I wonder about one particular change medicine has labeled menopause.
When menopause is mentioned, a certain image seems to appear. It is always a woman. One thinks: hot flashes! irritability! hormone therapy! cancer! cancer! heart attack! No wonder I am tempted to freak out a bit now that I am turning 50 in 35 days! Except . . . Except one recent study suggests much of what women experience during menopause is related to her attitude concerning its onset. Another demonstrates that even the measure behavioral science has typical used to describe the psychological effects of menopause is flawed, inaccurate.
What is more, nearly all of our physical and psychological experiences are significantly impacted by how we think about them. A surfeit of research has shown that mindfulness practice positively affects cognitive health and well-being, and alleviates a range of psychic and physical pain. It modifies addiction and anxiety in all stages of life, from the youngest primary student to the frenetic teenager to the angsty mid-lifer to the delighted grandparent. And, one might notice that everyone touches these stages to some degree or another—irrespective of gender.
Yes, even men go through menopause. Men experience a decline in testosterone with aging. While the decline is slower than the hormone decline women usually experience generally between 45 and 55, it does begin around the same time, and results in lower testes function. Symptoms are also quite similar in both men and women: decreased libido, depression, fatigue, insomnia and loss of bone density. And though it will likely not be as dramatic as is often with women, men may also experience hot flashes.
I ponder these things and write about them not as part of some militant feminist manifesto. Rather, I write to process my research, and to suggest that perhaps we might practice compassion more freely because we understand that all of us undergo uncomfortable changes. At the same time, each experiences these changes uniquely. And every one of us longs to be seen—deeply and authentically seen—as who you are, who I am, presently. In this moment.
How can I be present to myself, Jesus at the core, with what I am experiencing in this moment? How can I be present to you with the same affinity?
You can read more about mindfulness and gender issues in my book.