Everyone likes a new year. The freshness of a new beginning. The openness of a blank canvas. A clean slate. Who doesn’t want to embrace the opportunity to rewrite their contracts with life? Who doesn’t want a chance to do better? Happy New Year to you!
The beginning of a new year can be a motivation to make things happen, to bring a dream into the manifest world, to really go for what we want! We make new goals or recommit to old ones. We set intentions. We have resolutions. We cultivate a spirit of determination. It isn’t a coincidence that I have finally launched my new website now! I am very excited about it, by the way.
Being a lover of Indian mythology, the beginning of the year naturally takes me to Ganesh – the lord of all beginnings. You know, the elephant headed god who sits in the doorway and guards the threshold. Ganesh, or Ganapati, is known for being the remover of obstacles. He is your own ability to solve problems and find solutions. He is the inner wisdom that helps us overcome the hurdles of our lives.
But being an elephant that sits in the threshold – massive and powerful – he is sometimes also the obstacle itself.
Good news: You are a powerful, wise, blessing-bestowing, obstacle-remover elephant headed god.
Bad news: You stand in your own way.
But is it really so bad? Or could this human tendency actually serve the process of our own evolution?
Without struggle there is no growth. Without obstacles there is no breakthrough. Any tree would tell you that to turn from seed to sprout was fucking hard. And that breaking out of the earth to reach upwards towards the sun was even harder. And do you think it ended there? The tree stands out there, storm after storm. It is exposed to the heat all through the Summer. But without the wind, without the rain, without the Sun, the tree cannot grow strong. If it survives the ferocity of nature, it will thrive.
There is no growing, surviving, or thriving without challenges.
So maybe, the very same presence within you that stands in your way, (AKA you) can also be the source of your strength. And maybe, just like in the Ganapati myths, we can use the cause of the problem, as the power of its own solution.
Now that my intentions for the New Year are more or less set, and I have some goals in mind and determination at heart, I begin to look at the tasks. And I start to notice that there are some limitations that I already place in my own way. And so I turn to my Ganesha tool-box.
The symbols in the Ganapati mythology and iconography are abundant and rich, and can be interpreted in many ways. You can contemplate them in relationship to your goals and intentions, and to the obstacles and limitations that may arise from within you as you move into the New Year. You are every part in the story, so make it personal.
The first tool is the obstacle itself.
Ganesha stands in the threshold as the boundary that his mama, Shakti, sets between her and her hubby, Shiva…
Shiva goes out of town a lot and leaves Shakti all alone. Sometimes he disappears for thousands of years at a time. When he comes back he doesn’t respect her space. He’s very demanding. She wants intimacy. But he doesn’t invest in their closeness. He just takes what he wants. She’s fed up.
One day, while Shiva is away on one of his long journeys, Shakti takes a bath, and she’s feeling very lonely. So she makes a child for herself. She fashions him out of the dirt on her skin and breathes life into him. She places him in the doorway, and asks him to protect the house, and to not let anyone in.
You can only imagine the drama that takes place when Shiva comes back, and this little boy doesn’t let him into his own home. Shiva chops his head off! When Shakti finds out, she threatens to destroy the entire universe with her grief. Shiva promises to fix the situation. He goes into the forest and brings back an elephant’s head. He puts it on the little boy’s body, and breathes life back into it. Now the child is both hers and his.
To win back Shakti’s love and respect, Shiva gives his son the honor of being the Lord Of All Beginnings, the leader of all the Ganas (Ganas in Sanskrit means Groups, and it refers to our thoughts and feelings and all the activities in our psych… Ganapati’s job is to guide all of our inner experiences with wisdom and grace), the one with the biggest presence of all – the elephant in the room.
And so a couple of severed heads later, Ganapati’s presence becomes the energy that restores his parents’ intimacy.
Sometimes we have to give ourselves something to push against. Sometimes we have to draw a line. Every time we face a limitation – an elephant in the way – we are forced to pause. Every pause can become an opportunity to take a deeper breath. Every pause can serve as a moment of reflection. Being the one who sits in between things, Ganesha is always in the middle of everything. So every time we stand in front of a big hurdle, we are reminded of our own power. We are invited into our own midline. We are brought into a deeper relationship with ourselves.
One day Ganapati rides his vehicle – the mouse – around the forest. This is right after he eats a huge meal that includes only (and way too many) Indian sweets called Modaka. The mouse sees a snake and freaks out. He runs all over the forest hysterically.
The mouse is the mind – our beautiful vehicle. The forest is our lives – inner and outer both. Fear has its place in the forest of our being. It is there to protect us. Snakes are dangerous for mice! It’s just that sometimes our mind turns fear into anxiety and runs all over the place aimlessly. And then fear itself can become an even greater obstacle.
Ganapati, who is now way too heavy from all the Modaka, loses balance and falls off. His big belly splits open. And all the candy spills all over the ground. Ganapati crawls around, collects the spillage, and puts it all back inside of him. He grabs the snake and wraps it around his waist as a belt. The problem becomes the solution.
That which we fear most might hurt us, but in the process of healing we might learn to use it as the medicine itself.
Now Ganesha gets back on his feet and tries to rebalance his heavy body back on the mouse. He hears a great laughter coming from the sky. He turns his gaze upwards and finds the moon, in all of its glorious fullness, laughing his moon off. Ganapati losses his sweet temper, and breaks his own tusk to hurl it at the moon, who shatters into 16 pieces.
The curse to only know fullness as a phase, and to forever experience waxing and waning, could be received as a great blessing. No one is perfect. No life is always full. The only way to experience fullness is to know what empty feels like. Nature moves in cycles. It is our imperfections, our flaws, and our brokenness that give us the rich texture of being embodied. We see things from different angles. Every phase informs who we are. The universe breaks itself so that it can know itself.
And so the broken tusk is the tool with which we create the possibility of knowing who are more profoundly, by tasting a variety of flavors, and moving through infinite experiences.
There is another whole different story about the breaking of the tusk. It is full of meaning and metaphor. I am excited to get into it in my next Ganesha Tool Box blog post. Stay tuned!