The house I lived in from birth until I went off to college when I was eighteen was on Ganesha Avenue, so I naturally associate the elephant-headed diety with home. Lord of new beginnings and remover of obstacles, it only makes sense that my life began there, on that comfortable middle-class suburban street in Southern California, where in 1967, anything was possible.
But as time goes on, we make choices in life that limit our possibilities, and create obstacles that must be overcome to live our purpose of becoming our true selves. We accept the hereditary demons carried by our parents– the fears and negative thought forms they couldn’t heal in themselves. I rebelled against them when I was a teenager, wanting nothing to do with that self- contained life of the complacent consumer, sucking resources to fuel a life meaningless beyond itself, seemingly contributing nothing of value to the world. I was as the Steppenwolf, torn between the comfortable familiarity of my origins, and yet rejecting that empty existence. But without accepting the point we start from, it’s not possible to move anywhere else.
It wasn’t until having a child of my own at age forty, the same age my father was when I was born, that I realized how much of his ways I had internalized, for that which we disown we are bound to become. Hearing his angry voice come from my own mouth, feeling his self-doubt and pessimism in my heart, was nearly overwhelming. Living in a small house on a suburban street in Northern California with a new family, feeling like my dreams had been finally snuffed out by the weight of mundane responsibility, I realized that as much as I tried to be different, I had inadvertently re-created precisely the life I wanted to have nothing to do with.
Sometimes in order to heal into the wholeness that we once knew when we were God– and will know again when we make it home eventually– we must create an obstacle in our lives that we cannot overcome on our own. One that no amount of rational thought or any kind of external technology or material solution can affect. We reach a gateway that we cannot pass through without surrendering our self to something greater, putting all our faith in our prayers. I was at that point when, hiking on some property in the mountains we were trying to purchase, I stopped at a huge old growth redwood stump, and offered my self to be the human steward of the land, if mother earth would allow me to serve there. Against all odds, we did find ourselves the new owners of the property, eleven acres of redwood and oak forest, creeks, meadows– and a dilapidated house that needs to be rebuilt. No obstacle is ever removed without another appearing on the horizon, as long as we live in this world.
It wasn’t until we were hiking on the land with my mother some time later, that we passed the redwood stump I had prayed at, and she said, “Oh look, it’s like an elephant’s trunk!” Sure enough, the way the thousand year old tree had eroded and been burned by the fire that was set a hundred years ago after the area was logged to rebuild San Francisco after the earthquake, left a piece hanging down like a trunk. And I realized, it was Ganesha I had been praying to. Tears welled up as I felt such gratitude for Ganesha’s love– guiding me into this world and removing my self-imposed obstacles, bringing me home again.
Someday my parents– now in their eighties– will pass on from this world, and it will be my task as their only son to sort through a life’s worth of material possessions there on Ganesha Avenue. I’m not looking forward to that, but I’ll face that obstacle when it comes up, with Ganesha’s help. When my wife and son and I took the train down to visit them last spring, there was an Indian woman traveling with her mother and son, who was the same age as my son. When I told her about the Ganesha shrine I was in the process of setting up in the redwood stump, she said that where she was from, if a tree even remotely resembled an elephant’s trunk, people would spontaneously set up a shrine to Ganesha there, leaving flowers and offerings. So, when an alter appeared on a chain link fence in the neighborhood where I work, I felt it was only appropriate to place a small figure of a dancing Ganesha there. For all the people who live in that neighborhood– the new ones who ride past in their strollers and the old ones who shuffle past with their walkers, and everyone in between, that the love of Ganesha may help them auspiciously begin each new moment of their lives, and help them remove all the obstacles they will find in their paths.