Alexandra Pope is co-founder of the Red School and co-author of Wild Power. Alexandra and her co-founder and co-author Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer are passionate about educating and empowering women on the psychological and spiritual forces that are held within the menstrual cycle process and the menopause.
Menopause: the great awakener: Red School is launching their live on-line menopause course in late October 2020.
Sue: It’s such a pleasure to talk with you about your extraordinary work helping women to empower themselves through their menstrual cycle. How did you start doing this?
Alexandra: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by the menstrual cycle. I intuitively knew there was much more to it than just monthly bleeds. I spent many years in Australia exploring and developing a new way of connecting to the menstrual cycle. This really kicked off when I returned to the UK in 2008 and set up the Red School with Sjanie. Right from the start there was an incredible response to what we were offering. Women were – and still are – so hungry to know about the inner most workings of their body.
Sue: What is the main message that lies at the heart of the Red School?
Alexandra: Our message focuses on explaining what happens during the arc from menarche to menopause. We speak about the menstrual cycle as an initiatory path, of what it means to grow up into a mature woman who is able and willing to move into menopause with full awareness.
When we step onto the path of menarche at our first bleed, something starts to wake up in that moment. We are called to know who we are, and how to hold the charge of being alive as ourselves in the world. It’s an exquisite process that is built on each menstrual cycle so when we arrive at the door of menopause – which I describe as the final gateway or chapter – we are ready to step up to be of service to something much greater than ourselves.
Sue: I love this, but for women who are not aware or who have never been aware of what’s happening to their body, it may sound a bit weird or certainly daunting.
Alexandra: Yes, some women do find this a difficult concept to start with. However, when they understand how they are undergoing a profound journey which takes them from an ego centric ‘Me’ consciousness into consciousness which understands, ‘What I do, I do to world.’ things change. Our work is about teaching them to consciously ride their own arc so they can step up to becoming the leaders that the world now requires women to be.
Sue: So, what you are saying is that when we become aware that our menstrual cycle is far more than a just biological thing that happens to us, something far deeper goes on which profoundly connects us to who we really are.
Alexandra: Yes, absolutely! It’s about coming into relationship with our cycle and trusting it. We call it menstrual cycle awareness – trusting the process of the cycle in all its changing moods and energies and really valuing that.
When we do this, we learn to live cyclically, which means recognising that there is a natural time to rest, and a time to act. A time to speak out, and a time to hold back. This is what happens when we learn to live in concert with our own rhythms of life. It connects us with something so much greater than just ourselves.
Sue: For me, living consciously for a better world is about become much more in connection with something greater than us. But most of us have lost this.
Alexandra: That is exactly what the menstrual cycle is all about it. It is making us permeable not just to the layers of ourselves but also to the rhythms of the world. When we connect with this, we develop a psychological and spiritual muscle, if you like, to hold who we are while at the same time, finding out what is required of us to be of service to the planet.
There are millions of ways we can make a difference. Our menstrual cycle opens us up to our calling – and our calling is always about the world. It’s not about us! These callings can be momentous. In fact, usually when this calling speaks to us our immediate reactions is, ‘No! No way! Try someone else, I’m not interested!’ I have seen this over and over again, but the calling keeps coming back until we pay attention. I look at this work as my own calling.
Sue: So, the calling you have is about helping women to step out of the box, which has been our conditioning, into empowering us to our highest potential.
Alexandra: Yes, absolutely – through our menstrual cycle journey.
Sue: What happens when women first come to your workshops? It is a huge shock for them or have they, in fact, known this all along deep down inside?
Alexandra: Unquestionably it’s a relief for most women. We get emails all the time from women who have read our book saying, ‘You have just helped me to understand the last thirty or forty years of my life.’
When you restore the intelligence of the menstrual cycle, it puts everything into perspective because we are all cyclical beings in all sorts of ways. Cycles create the foundations for life – and this knowledge is embedded in us. When we come back into sync with our own cycle, suddenly there’s a magic to life again because we are coherent with ourselves. This coherence soothes our entire being and particularly our nervous system. We begin to work with the actual energies of our body rather than being driven by the energy of our brains.
This leads to a much healthier lifestyle and also builds inner kindness. Self-esteem arises when we know who we are and suddenly we feel a sense of authority, authenticity and agency. This is pure gold.
Sue: I believe that we are all driven to make meaning, and to find our place in the world. We all need to know we have a place, and that we are needed. It is wonderful that women can access this organically through synchronising with our menstrual cycle.
Alexandra: Yes, when we become of aware of our menstrual cycle, we understand our innate desire to slow down and say, ‘No’ to the world. Women need this time of space and surrender because this is when we are able to open up to our inner spaciousness or altered state of consciousness so we can hear our calling. It’s an incredible affirmation about who we are and what we are about.
Sue: How do you feel our rapidly changing society is able to hold this new feminine paradigm? I am curious about how it’s been received. In fact, does society want this?
Alexandra: During the past five years, something has flipped. It began with the front cover of the March 2015 issue of Newsweek (US edition) which had this massive headline: ‘There Will Be Blood. Get Over It!’ The main article was dedicated to menstruation, to period stigma and its effect on the economy, schools and the environment. It was amazing! Since then things have really taken off. I regard the early work of Red School as pioneering but there are now loads of books, podcasts, workshops, websites and radio programmes about menstruation and women’s power. Young women are just getting it! It’s a no brainer for them because it’s also political.
Sue: What do you mean by that?
Alexandra: I see it as their form of activism. It’s empowering for them to take charge of their lives. We meet so many exciting young women who are waking up to this and don’t have the same kind of shame that older generations carry. It was the dark ages when I started out with this work thirty-seven years ago. It was utter wilfulness and determination that got me through. Nothing could stop me. But it’s a relief not to have to fight so hard these days.
Sue: I am curious about the impact this having on women’s relationships. I am all for women taking their power – I think it’s fantastic – but I can imagine some men feeling very confused about it all.
Alexandra: Actually, we often get men saying they feel relieved when their partner explains what this is all about. They want to be friends and allies with women but get so confused around the menstrual cycle and what their partner is bringing into their relationship and family life. For these men, it’s an enormous relief because they feel as if they finally have the instruction manual! So much more harmony can come into a relationship when we are not fighting the cycle. There’s an opening to greater intimacy and depth because of that.
In fact, we have just had a very exciting podcast conversation with two very cool New York men for their community. It was our first podcast with men, and it was an utter joy. It’s called A Man’s Guide to the Menstrual Cycle. They really engaged with us and wanted to communicate our work to their listeners.
Sue: Do you think that this inner coherence changes things sexually as well?
Alexandra: Absolutely! A woman’s sexuality changes through the menstrual cycle. If men don’t understand this, they think their partner is blowing hot and cold; one minute she’s up for it, now she doesn’t want to be even looked at. Men start to take this personally. But it’s not about that. It’s about where her energies are in the moment, and what her needs may be during this time. Understanding this creates a much more textured relationship – an easier, less fraught one too.
Sue: I can really see that if there isn’t this depth of understanding about the menstruation cycle, we can become victim to the needs our partner. And, this can create a huge rift in relationship. In my experience, the same goes for the menopause.
Alexandra: YES! I call the menopause the ultimate awakener. It is shocking how it awakens us. When I arrived at the menopause, I suddenly realised that I had let myself be conned for years even though I had been a fierce feminist all my life.
Sue: What do you mean by that?
Alexandra: I began to recognise all the subtle ways patriarchy had snuck into me – how I had diminished myself.
Sue: While I was interviewing women for Sex, Meaning and the Menopause ten years ago, I was shocked at how unprepared most of them were. But I wonder how much this has changed. I continue to meet lots of fifty-year-old women who haven’t got a clue about what’s happening to them.
Alexandra: The reason why so many women are undone by the menopause is because they haven’t been prepared for it through the process of the menstrual cycle. Menopause is the final chapter! But if we’ve missed all the preceding chapters, of course we’re going to be confused.
When we have been practising cycle awareness for a few years, we have this psychological and spiritual instruction manual encoded into our being. When I arrived at the menopause, I knew I was ready for something else even though I was dealing with all the other stuff that you have to get your brain around – invisibility, physical ageing, etc. But it was okay to acknowledge that I wasn’t young anymore and I was ready to leave that club to join another club.
Sue: I was completely unprepared for it, which is what compelled me to write the book. I felt I had become a victim to the menopause because I had no idea what it was doing to my body. I think a lot of women from older generations have this feeling that they are victimised by it.
Alexandra: This makes complete sense to me. And, this is why I think it’s essential to restore menstrual cycle knowledge so women aren’t victims to it when it comes around. Menopause is the birth of the deep holy, cosmic self-view: the birth of who we are in a really profound way.
Sue: I can see how everything leads up to this. However, it’s difficult when many of us reach the menopause with partners who end up believing there’s something wrong with us or we have an illness that needs to be fixed with HRT.
Alexandra: Yes, this does need to be addressed, which is why Sjanie and I are developing a menopause programme and this is the subject of our next book. I regard consciously preparing for the menopause as a form of leadership training for women. I know this is a big statement. But when we can deal with all the psychological breakdowns we go through to reconstitute and reform who we are with awareness, inner discipline and care, we no longer abandon ourselves. Rather, we come out feeling truly alive and in possession of an inner authority of what it means to stand up for life.
This leadership can take many forms. It could be, for example, on a big world stage or as some kind of activist, or in much more subtle ways such as servicing our local community or nurturing our family and grandchildren. It’s all about going beyond ourselves in some way.
Sue: Yes, going beyond the label of being an ‘old woman’ with not very much to offer anymore!
Alexandra: We have to dump these labels. Personally, I believe post-menopause women should go into politics with a small ‘p’. I am highly political in what I do because I want to make a difference. I want to see lots more women doing the same. Looking back, I can see that all the skills I now use have developed from years working as a teacher and psychotherapist. I needed to learn life skills which is what teaching gave me, and I needed to do my healing in order to do the work I now do. It feels like there has been an entire orchestration at work, bringing all the different elements of my life together so when I finally arrived at the menopause, I was able to say, ‘Oh, right! Yes! Now I am ready. I have all the pieces of the puzzle to really step out.’
Sue: It is miraculous when you look back to see how all the piece of the puzzle end up fitting together! It is so needed. Like all of us, I am deeply disturbed by the changes that the planet is going through, and the healing that’s required. But I don’t think this can happen until men and women stand shoulder to shoulder, both respectful of each other’s power and working together in unison.
Alexandra: I agree! My desire through the Red School is for men to really understand and respect the feminine way, but not to be diminished by it either. I believe an alchemy will come to bear when the war is over between men and women. This new alchemy will truly transfigure things. I want to see this in my lifetime. However, I realise it has a long arc as well. Therefore, I am naming it as thus. Let it be so.
Alexandra Pope, www.redschool.net