How to Turn Challenges into Sweet Treats: A Lesson from Ganesha
Three days ago, I certified a fabulous group of new teachers at the Frog Lotus Yoga 200 hour Vinyasa Yoga teacher training in Bali. That was August 25, which auspiciously was also the start of Ganesh Chaturthi in India this year - a 10-day festival celebrating the birthday of the popular god Ganesha. Ganesha is thought to bring good fortune and is traditionally invoked at the beginning of new endeavors to help surmount any difficulties that arise, so he naturally becomes somewhat of a mascot for the teacher trainings. This blog is dedicated to the 2017 Bali FLY grads - love you all and may you each rise to confidently meet the landscape of your individual path!
Maybe you’re already familiar with the figure of Ganesha, maybe you even already feel an affinity for this happy-go-lucky deity with his big belly and bowl of sweets, showing his love of the good life. But maybe instead you’re asking how this strange creature with a man’s body and elephant’s head is in any way relevant to your life…which is a fair question. Like all Hindu gods and goddesses, Ganesha is a metaphor for certain aspects of Infinite Consciousness. Yoga teaches that all of us (yes, you too) are made up of the same stuff as Infinite Consciousness, meaning we can call upon any qualities as and when we need in our daily lives, whether or not those qualities are things we associate with our “normal” personality.
Although theoretically we always have access to these infinite resources, we’re not often fully aware of that fact, so we need reminders. As humans we are storytellers who naturally identify with characters we can relate to - not intangible, faceless characteristics.
We understand words like “courage” or “gratitude” or “wisdom” but we relate much more strongly with someone embodying those qualities than the words themselves.
Enter Ganesha. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva is the god of Yoga and Parvati is a formidable yogini in her own right, whose incarnations include Durga and Kali, fierce warrior goddesses. One day, Parvati requested that Ganesha guard her private chambers while she bathed. Meanwhile, Shiva came home, and Ganesha, not recognizing his own father, would not let him pass. Angered by this insult, Shiva cut off the boy’s head.
Seems drastic, I know! But remember, it’s all a metaphor. In this case, Ganesha’s failure to recognize Shiva (who is Ultimate Truth) represents the ignorant mind’s failure to recognize truth when it presents itself. Like when you know exactly what you should do, and somehow you end up doing everything but that. (Starting to sound more relatable?)
Fortunately, Parvati realized what happened and immediately sent Shiva out to find a replacement head for their son. Of all possible options, Shiva brings back an elephant head. Why? Elephants are said to represent both wisdom and effortlessness. So now, instead of a chattering, contradictory, and potentially ignorant human mind, Ganesha becomes wise and knowing like the elephant. This is also where Ganesha’s reputation as remover of obstacles comes in: elephants are surprisingly agile for their size, able to deal with whatever crosses their path with remarkable skill. And when something arises that they can’t delicately step around…well let’s just say almost nothing can stop a charging elephant.
This is such a powerful teaching for us humans who have feelings that can get hurt, self-doubt that can creep up at the slightest invitation, and a built-in risk avoidance system to keep us safe. Ganesha is here to remind us that we are bigger, stronger, and more dexterous than any problem that we might encounter.
Remember his rotund belly and the bowl of sweets? They symbolize the ability to taste and enjoy all the flavors of life and then to digest those experiences - the good, the bad, and the ones that are necessary to make us more capable and compassionate, but are no picnic to live through. Especially the last kind. Because when we invoke Ganesha to “remove obstacles” we’re not really asking him to intervene in our lives with a giant eraser and wipe all our problems away. After all, it’s just a metaphor. There is no magic hand reaching down from the heavens to “fix” our lives. Rather, when we call on Ganesha, we’re calling on our own inner abilities and resources to confront whatever lies ahead in our journey.
We’re asking to rise into ever greater levels of our own infinite potential, so that the inevitable setbacks and hardships of life barely even slow us down, like an elephant making its way through the forest: effortless, yet unstoppable in its path.
Of course, like all Hindu deities there are many more layers of symbolism to Ganesha - from the implements he carries to his vehicle (a tiny mouse), and the many stories about him. But for me, his wise, resourceful, and playful nature when confronting life’s sweetness and its challenges is what truly defines him. And you.
May you receive the experiences in your life that you are ready for. May you rise to meet those experiences with courage and a willing heart, knowing you have all the resources you need. May you appreciate all that life presents to you, remembering that any experience is temporary, while you, my friend, are infinite.
Many blessings and much love,