Ganesha: Lessons in Transformation

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It seems I always find inspiration on my mat. Maybe that is why I love yoga so much. Today is no different. Thanks to my amazingly beautiful and inspirational teacher.

As I was guided through my vinyasa yoga sequence, I was told the story of Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles. Naturally the story is so pertinent to my life that I felt compelled to learn more. Whether you buy into the story or not is not the question, the value is in the lessons it provides. Listen closely.

Ganesha is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. While Shiva was away, Parvati fashioned Ganesha out of the turmeric paste she used for bathing. She breathed life into Ganesha and call him her son. When Shiva returned, he encountered Ganesha sitting watch outside where Parvati was bathing. Shiva demanded entrance, but Ganesha would not yield. Shiva instructed his army to destroy Ganesha, but they failed. Then Shiva took out his sword and cut off Ganesha’s head, killing him instantly. When Parvati found out, she was grief-stricken and angry and demanded Shiva bring Ganesha back to life. The first head Shiva could find belonged to an elephant and that is how Ganesha came to have an elephant head on a human body.

Now this is where it gets really good!

We can take certain “lessons” from this story. First, we learn that when we purify ourselves, removing our impurities, awakens our kundalini or divine inner energy. The chakra that holds that divine energy is the first chakra, called Muladhara. It is the chakra of wisdom. This chakra is held at the base of our spine. When we sit in meditation, this chakra is closest to the ground. Ganesha guards this chakra, so as to protect the divine energy from unripe minds. It makes sense therefore, that Ganesha represents earthbound awareness.

In order to access the kundalini energy, one must adopt an attitude of spiritual devotion. When we turn our attention away from the world toward the divine (as in meditation), the secret of divine energy is revealed to us. Whatever we focus our attention on, that is what we receive. The color associated with the root chakra is yellow, due to the color of the turmeric paste used to create Ganesha.

In the story, the young Ganesha is likened to our Ego. Our Egos can be stubborn and not yield when needed. This is exhibited by the young Ganesha not willing to let Shiva pass to interrupt Parvati’s bathing. On the one hand, Ganesha is being loyal to his mother, showing duty. On the other, Ganesha was not balanced in duty and compassion. Our Ego can be so strong that it sometimes doesn’t listen and may require a tougher approach, eventually giving way to compassion. When we let go of our Ego, we no longer find interest in the material (including our temporary physical being). The external world depends on Ego for its existence and disappears when our Ego disappears. It is at this point that our Ego is replaced with a Universal Ego which no longer identifies with the limited individual self, but rather our Universal being. Our life is renewed as one that can truly benefit all creation.

When Ganesha is brought back to life, he has to undergo a transformation. One so large that he can never be the same again. Sometimes we have wounds that are so deep they cause a transformation so strong that we are forever changed. Obviously, what we consider “wounds that cause transformation” are different for each one of us.

However, there are things we can learn from our transformations. Some of the life lessons presented in this story are: 1) Make the most of what you have.Use your own innate wisdom, intelligence, and talents to do your best, act in good faith, have courage and conviction in all you do, and have faith in yourself. 2) Be a good listener. Listening to others helps you understand the situation from a different perspective and more completely. Listening without judgment, without the need to fix the problem or give advice, guides you to reach a better solution or decision. 3) Overcome obstacles. Remove obstacles from your path, both personally and professionally. 4) Take ownership and responsibility for your own thoughts and actions. Foster humility and have respect for all people regardless of their background or position in society. Be selfless and help others, be of service to others. Be kind in your actions and forgive those who ask for it (and even when they don’t ask for it, for your own peace of mind). 5) Maintain balance between spiritual and material needs. Realize that happiness comes from within and that material things provide temporary, not lasting joy.

To your very good health,

Regina