Ganesha is often called the Remover of Obstacles, but if you look deeper into his story and you’ll see that he can also put obstacles in your path. A more correct title is “Manager of Obstacles.” And isn’t this the reality? Obstacles are part of life. They are our teachers. Not to be removed, but rather to be managed. Buddhists and yogis understood this a long time ago reminding us that change is inevitable, the problem (suffering) comes from attachment to thinking that we can control change (remove obstacles).
Besides Ganesha, yoga gives us other models to understand managing obstacles. My favorite is Akhilandeshvari, Goddess Always Broken (or Surrender to Change). Read more about how I used her in a recent workshop by clicking joy of transitions. As you see in the pic, Akhilandeshvari’s ride is a crocodile (who symbolizes the primal, survival instinct, FEAR and immobilizes it’s prey with a whirling dervish spin before going in for the kill). Akhilandeshvari RIDES fear/the croc with a serene smile, she embraces the spinning nature of life. She is the embodiment of the oft repeated saying, “Obstacles are Opportunities”. For it is the broken open parts that allow her to shine (she is also called the Diamond Goddess).
How does she do this? How does Ganesha manage and not just remove obstacles? I think yoga gives us lots of tools (all the limbs of yoga but especially the last three). Psychology and Science also provide some answers. For my doctoral dissertation, I extensively studied behavior change models. I chose to use Prochaska’s “Transtheoretical” model to test it’s applicability to embracing the healthy habit of “Exercise Adherence”. This model postulates that all behavior change requires navigation through steps (yoga would call these kramas, they call habits samskaras). To move through these stages towards the goal of maintenance, one needs to know where they are in the process as each stage requires specific “tools” to move forward. For example, if you’re in the precontemplation stage (the first), you need to be convinced that you should move forward. You need to see the pros of the change and the cons of not changing. Once you’ve been convinced “theoretically”, you move to the contemplation stage. Here you no longer need convincing, but you need to have specific tools to push you past inertia (mental is called styana and physical is called alasya). The jump from Contemplation stage to Action (you’ve begun the desired habit change) is most likely the hardest for most of us. It requires changing the environment to make it more easy to keep the habit and more difficult to not keep the habit. It requires a supportive social network. It takes specific knowledge on how to implement the change. Time is not spent on the “why”, but on the “how”. As you move towards the fourth stage, Maintenance, many of these same tools apply. Your environment needs to be supportive to the behavior and not supportive of the unwanted behavior. The fifth stage you ask? In my research, it was Relapse.* Sorry. Not a happy ending it seems. But it is actually a recognition that we are in a continuous “whirling dervish”, we’re always on the crocodile. We are always in transition. With awareness, we do get better at riding with a serene smile and do spend more time in the maintenance stage.
In subsequent posts, I’ll be getting more specific with how this model can work for you and how it interplays with ancient wisdom from the Yoga Sutras. I was recently gifted “The Happiness Advantage” which I believe ties in as well. I look forward to sharing these tools with you so that you can manage the obstacles that are keeping you from living your most blissful, fulfilled life. I believe these tools can help you ride the crocodile with a serene smile on your face.
Om shanti and happy new year!
*Since my research in the mid-eighties, the Relapse stage has been eliminated and added is Termination (Individuals have zero temptation and they are sure they will not return to their old unhealthy habit as a way of coping).