The Energetics of Midlife – Burning in the Fire
“In each moment the fire rages, it will burn away a hundred veils.
And carry you a thousand steps toward your goal.” -Rumi
March 8th is a busy day this year! It’s always International Women’s Day, celebrated as an actual holiday in some parts of the world. It’s also the March full moon this year, which means it’s Magha Puja Day (or ‘Sangha Day’) in many Buddhist countries – a day to celebrate spiritual community. In Tibetan communities it’s the annual Butter Lamp Festival Day, when sculptures are made out of yak butter to celebrate miracles attributed to the Buddha. And then we also have a solar storm today, which depending on who you talk to, is either a major, or completely inconsequential, event.
It also happens to be my 45th birthday, which is not being celebrated widely in any part of the world, but has prompted some interest in my own household. My five-year old daughter asked me very matter-of-factly, “Does this mean you are going to die soon?” Her twin brother just sighed and said “It takes a loooooong time to count to 45.” Their 7-year old sister, our resident spin doctor, prepared a breakfast presentation on why my birthday was a great time to get a pet turtle.
I decided that how I would really like to spend my birthday is finally writing a post on the energy shifts of midlife, including perimenopause, which has been on my blog to-do list for some time. And there’s one word for summing up the energetics of midlife, at least within the spiritual traditions that discuss it – FIRE. As in holy fire, sacred fire, kundalini, transformative light, and the burning away of obstacles and any debris. Also hot flashes of course, which I have yet to experience, but are all part of the energetic fun.
From an energetic perspective, midlife shifts occur throughout our forties. Biologically, perimenopuase for women is the 8-10 years prior to menopause, and the current average age for menopause is 51. Throughout most of our 40s then, our body (and energy body!) are experiencing shifts in preparation for menopause, regardless of whether we experience any physical symptoms. Our hormones are shifting, and usually we experience at least some cycle irregularity during this time.
Energetically, this irregularity extends to the cycles of our subtle body. From adolescence through our thirties, our subtle body follows a predictable pattern of centrifugal and centripetal action corresponding to our menstrual cycle. In the 2 weeks or so leading up to ovulation, our subtle body shifts towards a more outward, expressive, emanating mode – what some call the ‘intention’ phase of our cycle. In the following 2 weeks or so leading into menstruation, this reverses, and our energy gradually becomes more inward-focused, absorbent, and receptive – sometimes called the ‘intuitive’ phase.
If you are attuned to your chakras, or any other subtle body mapping, you can clearly feel this shifting at the level of each energy center. It adds a whole new dimension to PMS, because you can begin to see how some of the symptoms normally associated with it are partly due to an increased energetic sensitivity. This is the root of many feminine spiritual traditions that consider menses a time for seclusion – not because we are ‘unclean’ but because we are highly sensitive and in fact can use this time to seek answers, receive visions, and facilitate transformation.
During perimenopause, this predictable cycle is thrown into flux. Instead, we can go through months of feeling hyper-sensitive to our energetic surroundings (a long intuitive phase), followed by months of feeling super-productive and expressive (a long intentional phase.) Relationships and boundaries that we thought we had all figured out suddenly don’t seem to be working anymore. Ditto for our identity, which is often already getting hammered by the fact that our children are getting older, society models physical attractiveness on 20-somethings, and a growing awareness that we are in fact (as my 5-year old daughter so nonchalantly reminded me) mortal.
This is more than enough to make our 40s a tumultuous time, full of potential to either crash and burn or grow beyond our wildest dreams (or more likely, a little of both.) However, there is another interesting thing that our 40s are associated with, and this is a natural rising of the kundalini energy, particularly the red kundalini from our root up through each of our chakras as it attempts to push through any blocks it encounters. This is what we are trying to facilitate in chakra meditation practices, and it can also happen spontaneously at any time, but many energy workers believe that it occurs for almost everyone to some degree during their 40s.
I first came across this teaching many years ago in Barbara Hand Clow’s Liquid Light of Sex: Kundalini, Astrology and Key Life Transitions although I later found support for it in Tantric teachings as well (‘liquid light of sex’ is a phrase sometimes used to refer to the kundalini, although I prefer ‘liquid light of creation’, as sexual energy is really just one expression of it.) I don’t want to get too bogged down in the astrological details, but basically the phase we usually refer to as midlife is astrologically defined by two key transits:
Our Uranus Opposition: This usually happens around 41/42, although it can impact us for up to a year before and a year after this. Uranus is sometimes called the ‘awakener’, and it is linked to the kundalini energy. Traditionally, the Uranus opposition is a time of deep questioning of all conditioned or accepted beliefs. It can also be a time of deep triggering, as the kundalini energy receives a ‘boost’, and if we have set a trajectory of spiritual growth, this will trigger literally any block we have at any chakric level. This means all fears, insecurities, or resentments will come boiling to the surface, and there is a tremendous opportunity to face and release these once and for all. The other choice is to dig our feet in and cement ourselves even deeper within these limiting patterns, which in many cases will close the door on any major personal growth for the rest of this lifetime.
Our Chiron Return: Around 51/52, we experience our Chiron Return, although this also varies slightly according to our individual chart and extends for some time before and after. Chiron is associated with healing, and particularly with spiritual healing – releasing karmic wounds, or if you prefer ‘learning the lessons’, that are our primary themes for this lifetime. If we enter this phase aware and ready to let go of all our baggage, we head into the last decades of our life as true ‘wise women/men.’ On an energy body level, if we have spent our forties allowing the kundalini to work its way up through all our chakras, triggering and clearing as it moves, we enter our Chiron Return ready to be completely transformed into a being of light. Although enlightenment is possible at any time, this period in particular is pregnant with this potential. And no matter what, it is a time when we can shift into transmitting light through us, becoming an instrument for it in the world, at a level we can only imagine prior to this. In other words, as our physical body ages, our energy body comes to the forefront, and we increasingly live, and interact, from it.
Heady stuff. What it means is that our 40s are potentially a time for a complete energetic rebirthing. Of course, when we are in it, living our daily lives, it is hard to see how to integrate that understanding. Everything is shifting in and around us – our bodies, our careers, our families, our view of the world. I think the best thing we can do, and what mystics throughout the ages have advised us to do is to stay in the fire. As Rumi puts it in another great passage of his:
“If your knowledge of fire has been turned to certainty by words alone,then seek to be cooked by the fire itself.
Don’t abide in borrowed certainty.
There is no real certainty until you burn; if you wish for this, sit down in the fire.”
In other words, let all you have assumed to be true, burn, and awaken to a new kind of knowledge. Let all that is uncomfortable come to the surface. Expend no more energy in trying to hide your shadows, from yourself or others. Face them – this is the fire. Express your dreams, don’t let them wallow. Cook in the fire, and be transformed.
If the intention to do this is true in you, the kundalini will bring it all to the surface for you, as it seeks to move deeper into each chakra. This will remake you, clearing what you no longer need, and planting the seeds for new potential, as a fire does for the woods. If you are a woman, and thus going through perimenopause at the same time, your body is literally remaking itself too. Of course, you don’t want to actually burn out, so sometimes you need to slow down the process, and that’s OK. This is where self-care comes in, and spiritual practice, and energy healing work if you need it.
So that’s midlife! Pretty exciting no? Feel free to share your own stories and insights in the comments. From inside the fire, that’s all for now:-) Namaste-