All of us have times in our lives that are more challenging than others. We know what it feels like to feel good, on top of things, and connected. And we all have experienced times of sadness, loss, fear and disappointment. We have been in places when life isn’t where we’d like it to be. Yoga practice heightens our awareness of what is going on inside of us. We are more aware of our feelings and how they impact our lives. If our attention is on something that feels good, wanted and pleasant, we feel open and good. Likewise, if our attention is on some situation or person that we define as unpleasant, unwanted or disagreeable, our habit is to disapprove, resist and pull away. We know and can feel when our heart is open and we can feel when we are closed down and separate.
Feelings are our inner guidance. When we listen, our feelings help us make decisions that align us with our truth and what is in our best interest. Mr. Iyengar writes in Tree of Yoga, “The circumstances of life are there for our evolution, not for our destruction…. We have to harmonize our lives.” So when challenges and difficult feelings arise, how do we deal with these obstacles to our inner harmony?
In Hindu mythology, Ganesha, Lord of Overcoming Obstacles, is the god with the elephant head and human-like body. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati. Ganesha is wise and jovial, often impulsive and sometimes careless, but always filling the world around him with laughter and joy. He loves to dance, eat sweets and he rides a tiny mouse, Mushika. Problems and obstacles disappear when he is near. Often depicted with four or more arms he carries a combination of these tools:
- a goad–a type of handheld spur used by elephant drivers that symbolizes good judgment that leads to good action.
- “a noose to snare obstacles and sweep them out of the path of people”
- a sweet dumpling or modaka that is a symbol of joy
- an assortment of weapons: swords, bows and axes
- a broken tusk which represents sacrifice
- different fruits such as mangoes and pomegranates that represent abundance and prosperity.
Traditionally people ask for Ganesha’s blessing before a journey, a new job or venture. Known as the master of dance, Ganesha’s gesture of blessing, the abhaya mudra, means “Be not afraid.” In one story where Ganesha is called for help, he meets a demon that is about to take over the world. Ganesha tells the demon, “You are taking up far too much space on this mountain.” Then he swallows the demon, bringing the world back to balance and harmony.
Our own demons and obstacles can have the same impact on our lives. When we are focused on our problems and feeling closed down, there is not space for feelings of joy, appreciation and gratitude for the good things in our lives.
Sutra 1.33 offers remedies for soothing the disturbed mind. Like Ganesha’s arms, this sutra holds tools we can use to cultivate inner harmony. Bounchaud’s translation of this sutra is: “The mind becomes quiet when it cultivates friendliness in the presence of happiness, active compassion in the presence of unhappiness, joy in the presence of virtue and indifference toward error.” It addresses friendliness, compassion, joy and equanimity as attitudes to cultivate in our relationships with ourselves and with others. Sharon Salzberg writes in her book Loving-kindness, “The difference between misery and happiness depends on what we do with our attention.” The Sutras point out that we can direct our attention toward God or away from God, to what makes us feel whole and happy or what keeps us feeling closed down and separate. As in Ganesha’s world, our problems and obstacles can be overcome as we direct our attention to aspects in our lives that bring us joy and inspiration and to the practices that connect us to our own ability to love ourselves and others. It comes down to our ability to focus inward, listen and put our intentions into action. This takes discipline, courage and the desire to move towards what keeps our hearts and minds open. Our yoga practice prepares the way.
It Felt Love
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
It felt the encouragement of Light
We all remain