Ganesha is a Hindu god, the son of Shiva and Parvati. He has an elephant’s head. One story explains how he got that head like this: Parvati asked him to guard her door while she bathed and to admit no one. Shiva, returning from a long trip, wanted to see his wife. Ganesha wouldn’t let him. In his anger, Shiva cut off his head. Then to appease Parvati, he replaced it with the head of the first creature he could find, which was an elephant. (This is just one of many mythological anecdotes about Ganesha.)
Ganesha is known as the remover of obstacles. He is also the god of letters and learning. For both these reasons, he is one of my favorite deities. When I went to Nepal a couple of years ago, one of the things I wanted to bring back was a statue or image of Ganesha. I brought back three—as well as a Ganesha fridge magnet for a friend.
Just this past year, I learned Ganesha not only removes obstacles, he also gives them. Since then I’ve done a lot of thinking about obstacles, about the things in our way. Philosopher, poet, and teacher, Mark Nepo teaches that what is in the way often is the way, and he uses Ganesha to illustrate that point. I’m gradually absorbing the truth of this.
So often we fight against the obstacles or roadblocks in our path, but thinking about Ganesha as both the giver and remover of obstacles makes me realize that an obstacle itself—and not just its removal—can be a gift. Maybe the way through or around teaches us a lesson we needed to learn—or maybe an obstacle makes us slow down because we are trying to move too fast. In such a case, not having the obstacle to slow our speed might create even more problems.
I’m coming to understand that we and our obstacles perform a kind of dance. We dance around one obstacle, it goes away (to take someone else for a turn?), and a new obstacle-partner takes its place. Sometimes that new one even results from the previous obstacle’s removal. We learn to dance with our obstacles the way streams flow around rocks and roots and fallen branches.
And to tie this back to writing—Ganesha is the god of letters, after all—we know how necessary obstacles are to the creation of a good story. There is no story without conflict. We have to throw obstacles in our characters’ paths—to help them learn and grow, to motivate them to action, to see what they are made of. Maybe it’s the same for us.
Ganesha has only a single tusk—one of them having been broken. This is sometimes said to show how he overcomes dualism. Like the dualistic thinking that says obstacles are bad and the removal of them is good, when in reality both can be either. Trouble and peace, work and rest, obstacles and no obstacles—all are part of our intricate dance with the elephant-headed god.
Connect with me:
I am the author of the New Adult/Young Adult urban fantasy A Gift of Wings. (The sequel, A Gift of Shadows, will be released Dec. 10, 2014.)
I have also contributed stories (one fictional and one true) to the following volumes: