Shuklam Bharadaram Vishnum
Sashi Varnam, Chatur Bhujam
Prasanna Vadanam Dhyaneth
Sarva Vighnopa Shantayeth.
I meditate upon the smiling face of he who is clad in white, is the color of the moon, and pervades the universe; May he remove all the obstacles in my path.
I start my morning meditation practice with this verse. It is a verse that is often used to invoke the Spirit of Ganesha – the elephant–headed God of Hindu mythology. His elephant head allows him to uproot obstacles in his path easily. Hence, Ganesha is universally accepted by all Hindus as a force that removes obstacles in one’s path. He is invoked at the beginning of every auspicious event.
When I started thinking about this blog post, a long forgotten encounter with Ganesha came to mind. I had just turned 8. My favorite uncle was ill, and all that I could gather from the hushed conversations of the adults around me was that the situation was grave. On this particular evening, we went to a Ganesha temple by his apartment on our way to visit him. It was a little stone cave–like structure. The scent of incense and burning oil lamps overwhelmed our nostrils as soon as we walked in. In the center of the structure was a stone sculpture of Ganesha, set in a glass pentagon on top of a pillar that was just a little shorter than me. The room itself was dark but fluorescent lights lit up the sculpture. As I stood in front of him, my eyes were shut tight, I pressed my little palms against each other, and clenched my jaw “Please, please, please make him better,” I implored softly to a God, who in my mind was ensconced in the stone sculpture. He was an entity outside me to whom I had to plead my case.
My uncle recovered and my prayer to Ganesha that night became a distant memory. Several decades later, I was dramatically led back to Ganesha and what he would represent for me. I was in the middle of my doctoral program. I was further ahead in my career than I had dreamt of being, having completed a master’s program, worked successfully as a consultant statistician and in a doctoral program. However, the questions of self-worth still loomed large, and I was beginning to see those same issues of worth developing in my daughter who was in middle school. Despite my admonition to my kids about all of us being expressions of God, I did not behave as if I believed it. The way I showed up in my marriage, at work and all significant relationships was with a lot of shame, blame, fear and victimhood. It was small wonder then that my daughter was slowly developing the sense of unworthiness that I was demonstrating.
Every morning, I lit an oil lamp and routinely repeated a set of prayers to the various Hindu Gods on my altar. It was a time in my life when I was juggling several roles, and my faith was a little shaky. So most mornings, I would usually repeat these prayers by rote while my mind raced ahead to all the things I had to do. On this particular day, I was filled with self–pity, a profound sense of being unworthy and worry knowing that the same feelings were developing in my beautiful young daughter. I stood at the altar in my house, struggling to find the faith that had been my anchor in years past, mindlessly repeating the prayer above. Without warning or prompting, my prayer spontaneously changed to a mesmerizing visualization. In it, as my daughter and I stood in front of a picture of Ganesha, a little replica of Ganesha moved into our hearts and started cleaning out. He wrapped his trunk around the darkness created by the sense of unworthiness, self-doubt and powerlessness and plucked it out. As he did that, the little flame within our hearts became bigger and brighter and the sensations of self-pity, guilt and shame were replaced with a sense of trust and peace.
I came out of that visualization with a deep knowing that the only obstacles we face are within and that Ganesha is not an entity in a picture or a sculpture outside us. He is the power within that recognizes these blocks and helps release them.
It has been twenty years since that incident. Both my daughter and I have come far in our careers, our spiritual journeys and our sense of self.
However, as the beginning of this blog post demonstrates, I continue to struggle with the questions of self-worth. My meditation still starts every morning with the verse above, and I use the visualization anytime unworthiness, self-doubt or worry about my daughter rears its ugly head. I trust that every day our flame glows brighter, and we get a tiny bit closer to being true, unfettered reflections of the divinity within us.