Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Human Cycles

In the world around us we can see the operation of all kinds of cycles, events that follow a repeating sequence of connected activity. The changing of the seasons is one example, the movement of water from liquid to vapor to liquid again is another, and so are the cycles of day and night and the changing phases of the moon. Some people believe in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth, but since that is not so easily demonstrated, it has to remain a theory for most other people.

There are two significant characteristics of a cycle that are of interest here. One is the repetition of experiences, and the other is the uniqueness of those repetitions.

Year after year, in temperate climates, we can experience the sequence of spring, summer, fall and winter. But every season is different every year whether in different locations or the same ones, and in spite of the arbitrary dates of the solstices and equinoxes, every season starts and ends according to the whims of Nature. In the animal world we can observe cycles of migration, of hibernation, and physical changes of skin and fur and color. Yet, even though the same animals are involved, each experience in the sequence is always different, both for individual animals and for different animals of the same group.

There are cycles in the lives of human beings, too, some dramatic and some more subtle.
Probably the most dramatic and influential of these cycles for women is the menstrual cycle, because it involves not only physical changes, but emotional and mental changes as well. And those personal changes may have dramatic effects on other people, as well.

In my experience and study of many cultures around the world I've found that this powerful cycle does not affect all women in the same way. While the same basic physical changes occur, emotional and mental reactions to those changes can vary tremendously. These reactions, of course, then affect the physical reactions to the basic changes. While the experience of individual women in the same culture can vary greatly, the modern, Western assumption that the period of menses is always a time of great stress is simply not a reality in some other cultures. Cultural attitudes about it can have a very strong effect on the personal experience. In some cultures the period is treated with shame and fear, in others as a mere inconvenience, and in others as a time of culminating female power.

Physical changes, even the most natural ones, always create a certain amount of stress, because it is a natural response of the body to resist change. The degree of stress that an individual woman experiences during menses, however, depends partly on her attitudes about it, and partly on the amount of stress she is currently experiencing from other sources. The more stress she is under for whatever reason when menses occurs, the more strongly her body will react to it.

The more or less monthly cycle of menses happens within a larger cycle that doesn't have a specific name. This one starts with the onset of menses at puberty and repeats itself with the onset of menopause. Although very different in detail, both are part of a human cycle of physical change.
The start of menstruation, called menarche, normally occurs between the ages of 8 to 16 (12 is just an average). Menopause is said to occur between the ages of 45 to 55, with individual differences, of course. Some women experience what is called "perimenopause" for several years before the major changes of menopause appear, and this is when "hot flashes" may start. Although "hot flashes" are associated with menopause also, not all women have them. Since many men may not know what these are, I'll explain that they are "episodes of flushing with a sensation of heat that may or may not include sweating, and are often accompanied by palpitations and sometimes followed by chills...Hot flashes are most common during the first 3 years after menopause...and...50% to 90% of postmenopausal women experience hot flashes (source:" These figures were based on studies of Australian women over a period of seven years, so the figures might be different for other countries and cultures.

What is of interest for us at this point of the article is that the hot flash symptoms of menopause are identical to symptoms brought about by other forms of stress. At various times in my life, even as a young man, I have had the same types of symptoms, the most alike being when I was suffering from bouts of malaria. And I only suffered from those bouts of malaria when I was also under a great deal of stress from other sources. The inevitable conclusion, based on my ideas about stress, naturally, is that the symptoms of menopause, and all other symptoms of cyclic change, are due to a natural resistance to those changes compounded by an excessively high level of stress tension from other causes.

Since this is an article on human cycles, we can assume that men have cycles that are similar to those of women. Male puberty is an obvious place to start, since it begins at roughly the same age period as does that of women. Although the cyclic changes that follow are not nearly as obvious as those that women have, from personal experience and conversations with many other males I can vouch for the fact that men definitely do have cyclic periods of sexual arousal that differ in period and intensity for different men. And there is a growing body of scientific evidence that men experience a close equivalent of menopause, called "andropause" or "viropause," between the ages of 40 to 55 (with exceptions). Here are some of the typical symptoms that have come out of studies (source:
Hot flashes and sleep disturbances
Fatigue, loss of a sense of well being
Joint aches and stiffness of hands
Irritability and anger
Reduced libido
Reduced potency
Changes in hair growth and skin quality
If it sounds similar to what women go through, it's because the relationship between the testes, testosterone, the brain and the pituitary gland is the same as the relationship between the ovaries, estrogen, the brain, and the pituitary gland. And, exactly as with women, the intensity of the symptoms corresponds to the ongoing level of stress tension that each individual is experiencing.

The conclusions are three:
1. Men and women have very similar cycles of life changes.
2. The more you do to relieve stress tension of any kind, throughout your life, the less troublesome these natural life changes will be.
3. If you are already in your menopause/andropause phase, the more you do to relieve stress tension of any kind NOW, the less troublesome these natural life changes will be.

Here is a related Hawaiian proverb: 

Pi'i ka nalu, he'e ka nalu, ke nalu nei ka moana
Waves rise, waves recede, the ocean is full of waves
(this contains a play on the word nalu, which means "wave" and "to ponder something." Therefore, another translation could be "Thoughts come, thoughts go, there are many things to think about")

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