Sacred Space Marriage

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The Journey of Passover, by Hanna Perlberger

As a kid, I never questioned this whole thing about the matzoh – that when we left Egypt so quickly we didn’t have time for the dough to rise (which is only 18 minutes by the way).  But I wonder about it now.  I’m trying to picture the scene of three million people leaving a country on foot.  No one made leavened bread before they left?   As the call was sounded to leave, everyone was in the process of preparing dough at that moment – and then had to cook it unleavened?   We took the wealth of Egypt with us, we took tambourines, the bones of Joseph.  We dug up the trees that Abraham had planted hundreds of years ago.  How did we have to time to manage that, but not let the dough rise?   Something just doesn’t add up for me.

After asking around, (OK, so I asked just one rabbi who smiled and shrugged), I gave up on getting the answer, because I decided there wasn’t much of a question.  We took what they needed – nothing more and nothing less.  It was simple, really.  We took matzoh, we took gold silver and wood to build the tabernacle, tambourines to celebrate, Joseph’s bones to bury in Israel, etc., because that is what we needed for our spiritual and material mission.

Despite the saying that we should simply let go of our baggage, imagine how you would feel if you arrived at the baggage claim of the airport and your baggage was lost?  You’d be upset – right?  The point is not just to let go of your baggage, but to make sure that you have packed well, that you are taking what you need and not forgetting what’s important.  When we left Egypt, we had baggage, alright, but we had packed well.

Ask yourself – what in your life are you carrying around that you don’t need anymore or that doesn’t fit who you are now?  What are you forgetting or reluctant to take on that does fit you now, or maybe the person you are becoming?   There is only so much room, so much time, and so many resources.  What are you giving the space of your life to?  What are you trading the limited time of your life for?

Another aspect of the hasty departure is the issue of timing.  Our tradition states that we were at the 49th level of spiritual impurity – if we stayed any longer, we would have reached the 50th level, from which we could not have been redeemed.  So, besides taking what we needed for the journey, we could not delay and we could not be indecisive.  The Jews who didn’t want to leave Egypt (the majority of them, incredibly) had died during the plague of darkness.

We aren’t often presented with choices that have fatal consequences like that.  But we often struggle with decisions and get paralyzed and stay in abusive relationships, dead-end jobs, lead unfulfilled lives, etc.  We smell spring in the air – and don’t want to leave the warm cave.  We want to be caterpillars forever.  We hear the urgent whisper inside us – the same voice that tells the blade of grass to grow – and we tune it out.  We may be physically alive but are we spiritually dead?

So the lesson of Passover for me is twofold.  First, I need to know when it’s time to go, time to move on, time to expand my horizons, time to embrace a new reality, and to make peace with uncertainty.  And secondly, I need to know what to take with me on my journey, namely, what set of beliefs and thoughts should I leave behind and what set of beliefs and thoughts will serve me best as I walk out of the narrow confines of Egypt and into my vast unfolding date with holiness?   When our sages say that we should remember the leaving of Egypt every day in our prayers, maybe this is why – so that we can decide every day when to step out of what’s not working for us, how to walk towards holiness and what to take for the trip.

Hanna Perlberger, J.D., B.C.C.

Sacred Space Marriage (Solutions for Soul-mates)


Tai Chi Walking on Yom Kippur, by Hanna Perlberger

Inexplicably, I fell in love with boxing.  I switched to boxing after I got injured during my love affair with kempo karate.  Now, I am in physical therapy for a boxing injury, so in the manner of loving the one you’re with, or at least the one that doesn’t require cortisone shots and physical therapy, I am learning Tai Chi.  And this relationship may actually last.

I’ve only had a few classes so far, but I am learning the art of “Tai Chi walking”.

An apt description of how a person normally walks is that walking is a form of “controlled falling”.  The weight is forward, and the leg comes out at an angle to prevent the body from falling.

In contrast, in Tai Chi walking, the person is not leaning forward; the weight and body are centered, and when the leg comes out, only the heel touches.  There is no weight in that leg.  The heel is testing the waters.  Is this ground safe?  Is it good?  Is this where I want to go?  Do I want to commit to this action?  And when the decision to take that step is made, only then does the body commit and although weight is transferred to the extended leg, the body stays centered and straight.  Then, there is a yielding, what I describe as an internal “yes”, a shift back and then another step forward.  People doing Tai Chi walking often keep their arms clasped behind their backs because their weight is always centered and there is no danger of falling.

So, really, who cares?  What’s the difference?  We have obviously mastered the art of “controlled falling” or every step would land us on the ground.   So here’s the difference – and a lesson to be learned – it’s about intention, space, and balance.  It’s about accepting the reality of what is and then making a choice.  It’s about letting things be as they are – the surface of the ground, the situation, the person, and then deciding the action to which you want to commit, and doing it with grace and ease, almost looking as if you are barely moving as people seem to go flying around you, and as they rush towards you, you allow their energy to go on by, pull them along if necessary, and sometimes introduce them to your best friend – the floor.  But I get ahead of myself.  Back to walking.

On Yom Kippur, we ask forgiveness for the sins which we commit with “our legs which run to do evil”.   It’s an odd image.  Running towards the forbidden?  Seriously?  Running?  Do you have any idea how much damage I can do sitting at my desk?  Or is the idea that when I do something I know I shouldn’t do, what’s my pace?  Do I dawdle, do I take my time, procrastinate, consider my options, or am I “on it”, like, three cups of double espresso “on it”?  Am I in a state of controlled falling?  Am I falling?

In contrast, the idea of Tai Chi walking embodies the space of presence.  If you can go from the normal state to where your thoughts and your actions are separated by a line, to where they are separated by a space, a moment, a pause, for you to consider your next action, your next move, the next things you say, you will be giving yourself – and everyone around you – a tremendous gift, the gift of emotional mastery.

Now I’m not suggesting that you live life in slow motion.  That would not be practical.  While certain serious actions should take a lot of time to weigh the consequences, I am thinking of a slight pause, here.  You know, every time we breathe in or out, there is a very slight pause which occurs at the end of the in-breath and the end of the out-breath.  There is this slight pause of no air, of stillness, as the lungs prepare to reverse course.  When I teach breathing techniques to my clients, I try to get them to focus on this pause, to direct their attention there, because when you are in the space of the pause, it is very difficult to be anywhere else.   That’s the kind of space I mean.

So, if we gave ourselves the gift of this pause, this space, if we tested the ground, made certain we had sure footing, were certain we wanted to commit to this path, then, and only then, would we – in a balanced and centered way – shift our weight to our outstretched leg to put our full intention into that step.  If we did that, how could we ever run to do evil?    How could we stumble into error?  How could we ever fall?  And by yielding, by first having an “internal yes” before we then react with intention – we can act with such internal power and choice instead of being triggered and acting from unconscious habit.

If all I accomplish by staying with Tai Chi is avoiding my orthopedic doctor’s office for a while, that alone would be good.  But I see so much more that will help me have balance, control, intention, and help me achieve emotional mastery, so that my legs will keep me walking, with the gift of one sure foot after another, towards the light.

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How to Get to Mars – a Rosh Hashanah Metaphor, by Hanna Perlberger

First, click on this link immediately and watch this jaw dropping video.  Then, read the rest of this blog. No cheating.

I saw this video this morning, two days before going into Rosh Hashanah. I watched the rocket go through many changes, metamorphoses. Each time, the rocket uses what it needs to get to that stage of the journey, and then sheds what is no longer useful to it. Each time it gets smaller and more focused.

Once each propellant system was done, it was immediately discarded. If this didn’t happen, if there would have been a malfunction, if it didn’t release its excess baggage at each precise moment, not only would the rocket not have been able to go to the next stage of the journey, the excess weight would probably have sent it crashing back to the earth.

The rocket does what it has to in order to get to its goal, constantly adapting to each phase of its journey. The success of the mission is by no means certain, however. All the scientists can do is design this rocket to get into a trajectory to reach Mars. Once that happens, they wait. And wait. Its journey is no longer controllable by man. It has been positioned for success, but there is no guarantee of outcome.

As the rocket (now a tiny fraction of its size) approaches, new uncertainties arise – will it survive the crash? Will it be able to transmit a signal? Will it work?

The important thing to remember is that nothing on the rocket was extraneous. It was all by design. Our outdated and untrue beliefs about ourselves – and others – may seem out of our control, or certainly not by design. But that isn’t so – at the heart of all of it, it is an intention to protect. Often, coping mechanism or survival skills we take on that serve us in one instance, cause dysfunction in another setting or stage of our lives. If we dig deeply, we can get to the root of the belief or behavior, and understand that its original purpose was really trying to serve, trying to protect. So we can honor and thank that belief, that behavior, for serving us, and then let it go.

As I go into Rosh Hashanah and I think of the choices I want to make that will have me show up in the world differently, I have to look behind me, as well. What am I dragging into this new year that doesn’t work for me, that is weighing me down, that can cause me to crash, that will prevent me from moving ahead on my journey? What resentments or false beliefs about myself am I holding onto, that don’t serve the mission of my life?

Like the rocket to Mars, there are no guarantees. That’s the fate and mystery of life. But, unless we put ourselves in the trajectory of the path we want to go on, unless we equip ourselves for each phase, for sure we will never ever get there.

The rocket had a mission – Mission to Mars. All human beings have a mission. What’s yours?

Bad Body Double Trouble, by Hanna Perlberger


View image detail

 “Say hi there, to my bad body double.  My bad, bad, bad body double.
She’s trouble, I can’t shake her. And I hate her, I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.”

My heart rate was up – way up.  I was sweating so profusely you could wring out my clothes and the face staring back at me in the mirror was approaching beet red and breathing   heavily.   What sounds a little bit like a heart attack, though, was actually me having a fabulous time at an aerobics class I was trying out, after not having exercised for over a year. This wasn’t your run of the mill aerobics class – this was an “aerobic affirmations” class, which is what I call jumping-around-like-crazy to a rhythmic call and response of statements of strength, commitment, purpose, and self-love and acceptance.  “Yes I am committed – to live the life I love – I want – It want it –I really really want it.  I believe – I will succeed.”  Folded hands to head, we say, “I accept responsibility for my thoughts”.  Folded hands to heart.  “I accept responsibility for my emotions”.  Folded hands pointed to the floor.  “I accept responsibility for my actions.”  “Every day-  in a very true way- I co-create my reality”.    Now the jumping around part comes and lasts for an hour.

At the end of class, the instructor murmured words of loving and accepting our bodies “as we are – right here – right now – where we stand in this moment”.  My friend, whom I had brought to the gym with me for support and to call 911 if needed during the class, lightly slapped my arm and quipped, “Look at them.  Look at these bodies.  What’s not to love?”  Scanning the room, I had to agree.  While there were some exceptions, I easily had 20 years and 40 pounds on most of them.  “Right”, I laughingly agreed.   “Perfect bodies – what’s so hard to love about that?”  OK, I know that even people who seem “perfect” and oh-so-easy-to- love on the outside don’t necessarily feel that way on the inside, but I was in no mood for emotional generosity and honesty.   Looking in the mirror, I thought, “How am I supposed to love THAT?  How can I be OK with THAT?”  Yes, I know what I want and “I really really want it”, but I’m not good at loving the present package, being OK with “what is” right now and my relationship with the gap between “what is” and “what I want” is not filled with self love and acceptance, but self loathing.

So I look in the mirror, and the Voice starts, you know that inner critic, that secret self-talk so vile and contemptuous and filled with so much hatred and ridicule, that if we spoke to others that way, we would have no friends, no spouse, and our children would be taken away from us.  We get so used to the Voice, it’s like a constant loop and it’s usually below our level of awareness, so that while we feel the negativity and shameful meaning of the message, we are not consciously aware of creating it or even allowing it to play in our head.   But even if we did, we actually think the Voice has a role to play in helping us become better.  We think that NOT hating ourselves, or at least some aspect of ourselves, is a weakness, because we are afraid that if we love ourselves, if we can get to being OK with ourselves, we will never change, and that’s simply intolerable.

So, let me ask you this – who have you changed through hatred or contempt?  What positive shift have you caused to occur – or what unwanted situation have you caused not to occur – by dint of your negativity, by shaming yourself or someone else?   You can threaten, you can manipulate, you can coerce, but can you authentically or permanently change anyone that way?  Has it ever worked on you?   Accept this fact as absolute truth from on high – the Voice is not our friend, it is not meant to make us better people, it will never promote connection or wellbeing and it will never help us achieve or manifest anything positive or loving.   It will only do the opposite and it is good at what it does, so good, in fact, that it has fooled your brain into thinking that you want this, that you want to hear these words in your head, and in a way, the Voice is right.  It’s like a google search (or is google like the brain since the brain came first)?  Anyway, just as a computer “knows” what is important because of the number of times you have made the same search so that it takes you to these sites quickly at the mere typing of only a few letters, so does the brain instantly load the self-hating shamed-based inner messages.  Our brains think these thoughts are important to us, because we have flagged and tagged them.  But the brain goes further and it links together similar thoughts and thought patterns so that whole clusters of brain activity are activated at one time.   In the words of Dr. Rick Hanson, “neurons that wire together, fire together.”

So we have to create a new Voice, new pathways, new connections, we have to optimize healthy sites in the search engine operations of our brains.   And paradoxically, that’s actually the beginning of the healthy change process, one that’s transformative, expansive, and real.   Step One.

One of the exercises I did in my wellness coach training was called “The Internal Welcome”.  The object was to “expand our internal space to include others in unconditional acceptance”.   Our assignment was to go a public place and sit for 20 minutes while noticing and observing people, without judgment, silently greeting each person with the phrase “I welcome you as you are”, or any variation that we preferred, such as, “I greet the divine light within you”.  The point was to stay in the space of acceptance and silent connection or empathy, if possible, with each person we saw, forging new neural pathways of benevolent reaction.   Being an unrepentant multi-tasker, I decided to do this experiment not in a chair, but on my feet, while food shopping at the supermarket.  Very quickly, I realized that I had upped the game by not merely sitting in a chair and watching the flow.   When you are observing, the challenge is to accept and welcome what someone “is”.  When you are walking in their midst, however, you have to accept and welcome what someone “does” – like, blocking the isle, obliviously talking on his cell phone, or asking the cashier to check and recheck and check for the 3rd time whether the sales price really and truly rang up on that bag of candy and could she see it again on the receipt, please.  (Breathe. Just breathe.  Now back to the loving place.)  Most of the people were like passing shopping carts in the night and I didn’t bump up against them anyway.  Being in the space of internal welcome freed me from the inner dialog that may have otherwise sounded like this: “I can’t believe you are buying that, because if I were buying that, I would at least have the decency to hide it under the case of artisanal water in my cart.”  Staying present in that place of welcome let me be free of all that and I realized that using mental energy on so much junky thinking was like being at a traffic light, putting my car in park and just gunning the gas.  At best, it was a waste of energy with nowhere to go.   At worst, it could be so viciously mean.   It felt much better to let it all pass in a state of peaceful co-existence, in neutral, engine humming.  I am not suggesting that we go through our lives passively – quite the contrary.  But start out from this place of centeredness, get your bearings, and then ask yourself this question – is this situation really calling for me to act?  And if so, what kind of action?   What will be the consequence of my action?  What will I be manifesting or standing for, in the very next thing that I do, or fail to do, in this moment?

In the case of the guy blocking the isle, there were several possibilities, such as bumping his cart (not cool), or getting his attention, trying to get around him, or just turning down the isle instead of going straight.  What I did was take a breath, because in the space of a breath, he moved on.  How foolish would it have been to be fuming over a delay that really lasted the space of a breath?  What about the case of the confused octogenarian clutching her coin purse and receipt at checkout?  Nope. No possibility to make that situation change.  But again, I took a breath and then a few more, I stood in respectful silence, and she moved on.  Next time, I may add a silent blessing.  Next time, I may ask if I can be of any assistance.

So, back to myself in the mirror.   Can I look at myself and internally welcome what I see without judgment, to recognize and greet the essence of my own divinity?   Can I give myself a silent blessing?  Can I offer myself any assistance?  Am I being called to action?  And if so, what kind of action and what is my motivation?  I know what it feels like to want to change because I am horrified at the number on the scale, and wishing now I could just be the weight I was that freaked me out years ago.  Who knew that last decade’s bummer would be this decade’s wishful target?   Who is this person looking at me in the mirror anyway?  I think of the lyrics to “Bad Body Double” by Imogen Heap, that the image she sees in the mirror with dimply thighs and grey hair looks like her, but is not her. It’s her “bad body double”, who won’t leave her side, even for a moment, and so she sings she’s “got bad body double trouble”.

From what I can tell, there at least five of us in this aerobics class who I bet have bad body double trouble.  Ladies, this is for you.   Wait, on second thought, this is for everyone.   Even if the messages are different (and I bet they are more similar than you would think), who doesn’t have some version of the Voice, that inner critic, that inner sabotaging mother-you know what.  Take a deep breath.  Lose the Voice.  Lose it by noticing it and by disinviting it from the space in your head because it keeps you locked in the feeling of shame and shame will never be the vehicle to make you better, whole, happy, healthy, thin, or anything.  Paradoxically, the only way to authentically change anything about yourself is to start from a place of acceptance, curiosity, self-love and compassion.  And little steps.

Part Two.  Little Steps.   Most of us have been there.  The scale tips past that number which is your personal line-in-the-sand or you get back some troubling lab work and a stern warning from your doctor, or someone gets sick or dies, or your spouse or significant other leaves you.  Or someone takes your picture – from the side.  Something wakes you up, but at the same time, makes you sick and tired of yourself and now you are sick and tired of being sick and tired of yourself.  And so you resolve to make big sweeping changes.  This makes the Voice go full tilt, and do everything it can to  sabotage and undermine those efforts.   Most people fail when they try to make big changes, because shame prompts them to set unrealistic and unobtainable goals.   Or even if they initially succeed, they can’t sustain it, and they revert back to old behaviors, and the Voice is there to greet them, heaping even more scorn and shame. “Loser.”   Being prodded by shame and self-hatred to make big changes is usually the best recipe for failure and staying locked in the cycle of more shame.

Get Part One handled.   Welcome yourself.   Love and accept yourself as you are this minute.  Look down at your feet (if you can) and know that you are standing in the best place, the perfect place, to decide – with deliberate intention – what your next step will be.  Imagine loving and being grateful for the gift of your body.  Imagine acting from a place of wanting to protect that gift from harm.  Imagine what food choices will feel right and good and nourishing of that gift, and what food choices won’t.  Imagine feeling the aliveness and vibrancy of your very cells.  Imagine feeding those cells with food that has vital life force.  Imagine putting lifeless dead food into your body that will age you, hurt you, and make you sick.  Imagine knowing that your body was created and designed to move, that movement represents the momentum of life itself.  Imagine what choices will feel right when you decide to increase or decrease your movement, what will feel congruent with how you feel about yourself, and what won’t, which actions or choices will be in alignment with who you really are, and which won’t.  But whatever steps you do choose, the idea is to keep it small, to make baby steps.

There is a brilliant little book called “One Small Step Can Change Your Life: the Kaizen Way” by Dr. Robert Mauer.  Dr. Mauer explains how when we take little steps we don’t arouse the Voice to sabotage our decisions.    While it is true that we are created with a yearning to grow and evolve, we also fear change – yet another paradox to accept.  There is a part of our brain which controls a survival mechanism, which can be misguided in what it interprets as a threat, and then it inappropriately tries to protect us by keeping us safe, or in line, or protected from the dangers of risk-taking, or the unknown.  So the idea is to take such small steps that this part of your brain doesn’t think you are in any kind of “danger”, so it won’t try to bring you down.  Imagine tip-toeing around a sleeping watchdog.   Ssshhhhhh.   Take a step and the dog stays sleeping.  That went well.  “Ah, success, I can do this.  It’s easy.  I can do this.  Yes”.  Take another step.  If the dog picks up his head, ears alert, sniffing the air, you went a little too far.  Take it down a notch.   Find your stride, that sweet spot between “nothing’s happening and I’m bored and this is ridiculous” and  “oh-oh, guess who woke up”.  The point is to experience success enough times so that your brain is re-wired for positive thought patterns.   Lao Tzu said that a Journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step.  The Kaizen Way is to keep the steps small, small enough that you can even stay on that journey.

So back to the mirror again.   I look down at my feet, my foundation, my connection to the earth and I think how they carried me into this gym today and have supported me for thousands of miles over 50 years.   I look up and into the mirror.  I am breathing hard, but I am breathing and I am grateful for the breath that sustains me and connects my body to my soul.  I look into the mirror and I peacefully and lovingly accept what I see, and am grateful for this body and this life.  My bad body double and I have declared a cease fire.  At the end of this aerobics class, of course I am not where I ultimately want to be, but I am one hour stronger, one hour better, one hour more flexible and vibrant, one hour healthier, one hour more aligned with my core values, and one more hour living my truth.  I am not the victim of anything or anyone.  I am a woman of power and choice.  I am responsible for my thoughts, my emotions and my actions.  Every day, in a very true way, I co-create my reality.   I choose to create well being.

Hanna Perlberger, JD.,BCC

The Wisdom of the Heart, by Hanna Perlberger

ImageYears ago, I took a philosophy class and the professor and the class (including me) were laughing at the medieval idea that the heart was the seat of wisdom.  Wasn’t that funny, we thought, that, centuries ago, people didn’t understand the function of the brain?

Well, isn’t it funny that we are now realizing how true this medieval concept really was?   Research at the HeartMath Institute explains how the heart plays an extraordinary role in our lives far beyond what is commonly known.  We are just discovering how the heart and the brain communicate with each other, and that the heart sends more information to the brain than the other way around.   Did you know that your heart sends out electromagnetic fields that change according to the state of your emotions?

There is a physical/emotional state called “coherence”.  What that means is that when we are feeling a great positive emotion, such as seeing a beautiful sunset, having a laughing child running into our arms, etc., we are in a state of “coherence”, meaning, our hearts are putting out great activity with encoded messages.  These messages impact us in a positive way – and the people around us as well – as they are in our orbit of electromagnetic activity.  Their hearts can pick up and read our activity.  Happiness is contagious.  No one is in isolation.  We are all connected.

And what is really great is that you can get into a state of heart coherence any time you want, wherever you are.  You do this by closing your eyes, breathing slowly in and out, and as you do so, you concentrate on feeling as if you are breathing in and out through your heart.  It helps to place your hand over your heart.  Don’t worry if you don’t feel this right away, as it gets easier and more powerful with each try.  After a minute of two of feeling centered and calm breathing and out through your heart area, think of something for which you are grateful for that day, for someone or something in your life or something that happened or something for which you could feel a sense of gratitude.  If you can, think of three things for which you are grateful.   You can be grateful for your beating heart, your lungs, and your mind, directing you to do this exercise.  And after a few minutes of being present to state of gratitude and breathing deeply and slowly, I guarantee you will feel more calm, centered, and happy.  It’s a great de-stressor during work, or going to sleep, or when you just want to shift your mood.

Just as negative emotions flood our nervous system with chaos, positive emotions can actually improve our health and boost our immune system.  Click on these two short videos to learn more, and give it a try for yourself, and you will see how wise those medieval philosophers truly were.  (Mysteries of the Heart…Did You Know?)  (Science of the Heart)

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