Dancing with Obstacles

Steph_2 copy (2)This post by Stephanie Stamm.

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.

I received this Ganesh as a gift.

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:

Undead of Winter Front Only Into the Storm Cover



21 thoughts on “Dancing with Obstacles

  1. Great post, Stephanie. I’d forgotten about him only having one tusk. Yes, putting obstacles in our characters’ way is an art that it takes time and effort to get them out of but htat conflict is necessary. I’m at the end of a piece of writing fro early teens and I ‘m questioning whether or not I’ve put enough of an obstacle in front of each of my three main characters. Working that out is driving me nuts! 😉


    1. It’s hard, isn’t it? Sometimes I don’t want to do bad things to them, but I know I have to. I’m sure you’ll figure out what you need to do to make your story great. Thanks for your comments, Nancy!


  2. Enjoyed the post, especially about Ganesha. Your pictures are great – I really hadn’t heard of this Hindu God and seeing him while you wrote gave more meaning to the post. I think obstacles can be given and obstacles can be taken away. I agree with Nancy that when writing one needs to look at obstacles very carefully to come out with the result they intend. Thank you for introducing me to a new Hindu tradition. I am fascinated!


    1. Thanks, Linda! I agree that providing the right obstacles in our writing can be difficult. They need to be believable within the confines of the story and something that will really provoke our characters or test their mettle. I’m glad you liked the pictures. There are some better ones on Wikipedia. I just snapped these pictures of the statues I have.


  3. I have alway enjoyed the stories of other cultures for there is much to be said for the commonality of our lives. A very nice job of weaving Ganesha’s story into the ‘stories’ we write and tell ourselves. Nicely done. Doris


  4. I enjoyed your parallel of obstacles in life, in writing, and in our stories — as I’m working on this new manuscript (a romance, SO NOT MY GENRE!) I am running into obstacles with ‘what do I do now with this scene, this character)?’ I’m trying to not get bogged down with the ‘what now’ and just let it flow for the moment, but I’m finding my stomach knotting up as the story takes a new direction and dimension — but maybe that ‘obstacle’ is good! We will see. Thanks for an interesting, thought-provoking post, Stephanie!


    1. Thanks for your comments, Gayle! Writing outside a genre comfort zone would pose interesting obstacles. But just let it unfold and see what happens. You can always change it later, right? 😉 Each of the novels in my series posed different obstacles for me, and my process was different with each one. I’m assuming it’s a little different with everything we write.


  5. One of the more philosophical posts I’ve read. Obstacles are neither good or bad… they’re just there in your way and how you deal with them is up to you.


  6. Fun post. You’re right, without obstacles you don’t have a story. Characters have to grow and change so obstacles provide the motivation. And after the last one, you get the happy ending. 🙂


  7. When I started my novel, I gave my main character a big obstacle early on (I thought). But I felt so sorry for her that I had people patting her on the back and saying, “Don’t worry. We know you didn’t do it,” and, “I’m going to get you out of this no matter what I have to do,” and, “The sheriff is a reasonable man, and he knew your grandfather. He knows your grandfather’s people would never do this.” Not a great start for a novel. Then I fell in love with the victim and had to find someone else to knock off. Talk about obstacles, I had them. Characters were sailing right through. Pat pat pat.


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