It comes without warning. You feel it perhaps in your hands first, or sometimes it starts in the back of your skull. It then radiates through your entire body. It’s a raging inferno from within. You strip yourself of any loose garment to let some cool air touch your skin. You get a taste of what hellfire feels like. Your own body has created it.
You’re having a hot flash.
It’s a part of life for most women in their late 40s or early 50s. Your body’s reproductive system has decided it’s time to close up shop.
I experienced this for the first time a few months ago, just as the pandemic arrived. I honestly thought I had COVID-19, and I raced to get my thermometer. But once the thermometer had beeped and told me my temperature was normal, the heat subsided.
At first, I panicked. I wondered, “Good Lord, how long does this last?” It was usually a minute or so. I knew because I timed it on my stopwatch. After several instances of this, I realized that it was “my time.”
Then the panic broadened as I thought, “I will never have children.” I remembered all the women from the Bible who had grown old and barren. They were scorned because they no longer served a purpose in society. Great.
But then I decided to think about them differently. Buddhism teaches about the nature of suffering and how the mind can escalate suffering if you let it. Recognizing that hot flashes are a part of my life now, I decided to welcome them — sort of.
My hot flashes are my teaching of mindfulness. Whatever I’m doing or feeling at the moment, a hot flash emerges like a mindfulness bell — a steaming hot mindfulness bell. It pulls me right back into the moment and I just notice where I’m feeling the heat. I even think about how the heat can be refining me — anything to steer me away from panic.
Knowing that hot flashes don’t last long, I also consider them to be a teaching in impermanence. I might experience this suffering at a given moment, but I recognize that the moment will pass. Other suffering in my life will pass, too. I don’t add to the experience of the hot flash by imbuing it with my thoughts about old age or my yearning to be young again. I just allow the heat to infuse my body, then allow it to dissipate when it will.
I also know that with each suffering of a hot flash, I am in community with other women who are experiencing the same thing. I am grateful for the many experiences that have brought me wisdom at this age. Each hot flash connects me with all wise women through time, and I envision the heat imparting their wisdom to me.
Sure, I might adopt a different attitude a year from now. Perhaps they might become longer or more frequent next year. But for now, this mindset brings a little more awareness and peace not only with my hot flashes, but also the rest of my day.