Ganesha: such a popular deity. We see his image everywhere in trinkets and on t-shirts, replicated on impressive (but not always) tattoos and posters. Many of us are probably aware that this cute elephant with one tusk and a big belly is the lord destroyer or remover of obstacles. And likely many of us are happy to leave it at that. Ganesha’s image lends itself well to vibrant colours making it a go to choice for lovers of kitschy pop art and easy to grasp spiritualism. Naturally the pre Vedic scriptures where Ganesha first shows up tell a story detailing trials and tribulations layered with symbolism and moral dilemma. Stories that end up summarised in a tiny nutshell: you want to get past something that’s standing in your way? Ganesha.
But have you ever wondered what meaning is behind this delightful looking character? The next time you’re tempted to buy into him as just another lucky charm consider this; in parts of the world where Hinduism is the practiced religion, no building is built, no business is conducted and no praying at the temple is begun without an invocation or offering to Ganesha first.
Ganesha being part elephant has large ears. Ears for listening carefully to all the requests that come his way.
He only has one tusk the other one was broken off as an act of sacrifice symbolic of not holding onto what’s not needed.
The big belly? Aside from making him look so cute and cuddly it actually represents the digesting or processing of life’s experiences. We must take the good with the bad.
He has four arms each holding a different tool.
In his upper right hand he carries an axe or a sword… To cut away the obstacles which lie on our path.
His upper left hand usually holds a rope or a noose of some sort. He uses this to capture those who are struggling or falling off their path and to pull them in the right direction.
In his lower left hand he holds a sweet literally representing the sweetness of a spiritual life and the rewards available to us when we continue along our spiritual journey.
His lower right hand is almost always extended the mudra (gesture) of blessing. An act of benevolence.
Just at his feet is a little mouse. It’s said that this mouse is Ganesha’s chariot but obviously there’s some metaphor at play there because impossible right? The little mouse represents desire. When desire is out of control it becomes a ‘pest’. To keep the ‘pest’ under control it needs to be ‘reined’. In other words we must keep our worldly desires under control. Doing so will mean less obstacles in our lives.
I love how this can relate to our practice of yoga and also how we can carry all the rich symbolism off the mat and into everyday life. Here are just three ways:
1. Listen more. By listening to all the instructions given during class instead of letting your mind wander off on its own story you might find something clicks that never clicked before. One minute adjustment cue could be the difference between getting over an obstacle holding you back in a particular pose and just hitting the same wall again. Off the mat try listening more to the people in your life. What are they telling you? Can you really hear them without adding your own bit in?
2. Use the tools Ganesha has to overcome fear and stagnation in your practice. Fear is not unique, but you are. Therefore you only have yourself to get over. Cut through that ego, lasso the struggling part of yourself and haul it back to the path. Be kind to yourself, add sweetness to your practice enjoy its rewards. Accept all the blessings that come to you through hardship and ease. Off the mat it’s pretty much the same; your fears and worries are not unique to you. The whole world has similar fears and worries. Only you can get past the shit that holds you back. There’s no need to punish yourself for perceived failure, remember all things are ultimately blessings.
3. The Desire Mouse. Yes, we all have desires. We want longer legs, stronger abs, more money, less stress and to experience never ending happiness. But like all emotions happiness is transient. And the desire to constantly seek it is destructive. Don’t let your Desire Mouse give you the run around. Harness it. Guide it. Enjoy the happiness when it comes up embrace the frustration, sadness and apathy as they come up. The class will end soon enough and you can take what you’ve learned on the mat and practice it off as well!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Are there any obstacles you need to boot out the way? Open up in the comments below!
Namaste. Rhy xx