IMG_1197Shortly before getting engaged I shaved my head. I’m talking bold & bald, yall. Not one of those cute pixie hair-cuts. This was a shorn-to-skin put-a-soldier-to-shame kind of bald. It was an admittedly zany ritual act and the culmination of a whole bunch of other strange decisions I made on the path to getting married…most of them embarrassing…all of them crucial.

But first, let us begin at the beginning, at that startling first moment of soul-mating. Ever heard that  quote about dating: “Run as fast as you can towards God and if someone keeps up, introduce yourself”… That was exactly how Hillel and I met.

It was the end of a magical Friday night meal high up in the hills of Berkeley, CA. A group of us set out on foot for the long trek downhill towards home. The road was crazy-steep and soft-curving and flight-inviting – the kind of slope that is really much better experienced as a run. So I turned to the group and proposed, “Why walk when we can fly?! Who wants to run down the hill with me?” And off I dashed…like the strange bird that I was.

Sure enough, I heard a pair of feet pounding the pavement right behind me…and finally overtaking me. It was Hillel. We stopped half-way down the hill, and I breathlessly asked, “So, who are you exactly and what do you want to do with your life?” He smiled sheepishly & replied, “I’m Hillel and I want to be a Rabbi…” Oh Lord…that was it. That sweet sheepish grin, the shared spiritual idealism, the willingness to fly. The deal was sealed right then and there.

I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, I’m moving apartments on Wednesday. I hope this guy calls and asks me out on Sunday so that we can have our first date already Monday, our 2nd long and poignant phone conversation on Tuesday, and by Wednesday he can help me move!” I literally had a mental vision of my weekly calendar. Romantic, huh?

Unfortunately he waited ’til Tuesday to call. (Didn’t want to seem too eager, I suppose.) So I shlepped my boxes alone.  But the point is, I knew this was gonna be the guy. I already had him all mentally penciled in to the calendar of the-rest-of-my-life.

It was completely obvious to me…and yet also paradoxically un-obvious as well. I needed to be REALLY sure! I spent the next twelve months engaged in an intensive process of clarification, full of fretting and second-guessing. Spoke ad-nauseam to my friends, my  therapist, not to mention an astrologer, a psychic, and palm reader or two.

You must understand, I’m the kind of gal who takes her processing seriously. I viewed this path to the chuppah as a serious spiritual trek. I need to be thorough, active, diligent. I did a 3 day silent-fast for clarity at a Zen Center in the mountains. I did a shamanic vision-quest in the forest. I prayed and chanted, dream-journal’ed and medicine-journeyed.

Heck, I even broke up with the guy…all for the sake of clarity!  I was like, “Hillel, I know that you’re the one…but I just need to date every other guy on Jdate before I’m ready for that! You have to reframe this break-up as a step towards marriage, not away from it!” When he started dating someone else I  affectionately referred to her as “my boyfriend’s girlfriend”. I was still committed, just needed a few more months of self-exploration!

Finally, the most dramatic act of all, the culmination of this grand process of clarification, was the shaving of my head.

The idea occurred to me while I was sitting in a Sukkah. I had just recited the central blessing of the holiday, “Blessed are you G!d who commands us to sit in the sukkah – lai’SHAVE b’sukah.” A sucker for a good pun, I heard not just ‘to sit’ in the sukkah but ‘to shave’ in the Sukkah.

The ritual vision hit like lightning. It was the exact ceremonial act I needed to finally arrive at my readiness to get married! You see, I had this long highlighted pretty-girl hair thing going on. I decided to liberate myself from those locks of hair…to move away from the pretty, the high-lighted, the single & trivial, and into the shorn ‘seriousness’ of commitment.  This act symbolized my cutting off of flirtations & distractions….the cutting off of every other possible path, to focus in on this one path, this one man.

I got my closest girlfriends together to do this ritual shearing right there in the sukkah. Hillel and I started dating again that very week, bald-head and all…A year later, most poetically, we had our Sheva-Brachot wedding celebrations in the shade & symbolism of the sukkah.

*Mazal tov! Process over, journey complete, right? We had made it to the chuppah! The rest is happy-ever-after. Except for the fact that sometimes marriage feels more like happy-never-after. Relationships have as many ups and down as the Berkeley hills. The whole notion that my work was done was utterly absurd. Truth was, my work was just beginning.

Why was it that I diligently threw myself into so many intention-full acts of self-exploration in the dating process but then expected all that work to be finished once I crossed the wedding-night finish line. I realized that in this running towards G!d there is no finish line. The race continues. Now I was just God-jogging with my husband. And it was hilly terrain.

Now more than ever I needed to be viewing my relationship as a spiritual trek. Now more than ever I needed ritualized acts of growth, improvement, clarification, movement.  And I’m not just talking about a yearly night-out anniversary. I mean, I had gone bald for the sake of working on our relationship – and now, I was just sitting back on automatic pilot!?

The truth is, and don’t tell anyone, but this is my secret motive for creating this couple’s workshop that my husband and I lead.  We don’t lead the workshop because we have all the ideal marriage. We lead the workshop because we need the workshop! Having this framework for growth – this weekly crucible for improvement – keeps us on our marital toes.

There are so many crazy things people do to get married, so much self-work that we invest in on our path to the wedding. We must continue to do these intentional acts, zany acts, rigorous acts…especially once were married – in order to stay married.

So I close with 2 pieces of advice – mostly to myself:

Tip #1: Don’t just sit there – do something! Keep dating. Must. go. out. weekly. Go to brunch. Go to a couple’s seminar (I know of a really great one). Go to Paris, or a romantic trip to the grocery store…..It doesn’t really matter where, just GO.

And then, there’s tip #2: Don’t just do something – sit there. Sit with each other, face to face time, also weekly. I’m a sucker for exercises, so here is an easy fun & profound couple’s check in you can do while you’re sitting there. It’s based on the Kabbalistic framing of the 4 Worlds – Arba Olamot. It’s a life-saver for my husband and myself. (I’ve pasted it below, check it out!)

*Friends, the point of marriage is not an arrival at a static happy-ever-after.  Marriage is not the finish line of your spiritual trek. Now you have a serious jogging partner who will push, prod & inspire you along the way. Keep on doing, keep on dating. For when you view your relationship as a spiritual journey, it will take you farther than you ever imagined!

***And by the way, all of this is just to say, come join us for our couple’s workshop starting this week. In SKYPE from anywhere or in person in Nachlaot: https://www.facebook.com/events/608866849183214/

Happy jogging!!!

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4 Worlds Couple’s Check-In:

1. Physical (Asiya): Express appreciation.  – What is something your spouse has done that you appreciate. Be as specific as you can. (exp: I really appreciated it when you took care of the kids this afternoon so I could finish up writing that article about relationships.)  Each person shares at least 1, though the more the better.

2. Emotional (Yetzira): Share 1 positive feeling and 1 not-so-positive feeling. (Note: Use the formula of “I feel x — and insert an emotion there. It’s not “I feel that you suck”, but rather “I feel sad when you do x….”)  The partner listening should reflect back what they are hearing. Don’t respond with your own feelings at this point, just mirror what you have heard. You get your turn next and your partner reflects.

3. Intellectual (Beriah) : The Riddle – “I am curious about…” Take an issue that you see your spouse working on…This can be an issue that has been bothering you. Approach it with an air of curiosity and a spirit of cooperation. “I wonder why you do this?”. Hold it lightly and with curiosity. Explore together.

4.Spiritual (Atzilut): Aspirations. State your highest aspirations for yourself as a couple – a vision that binds & inspires us.