Ganesha and me, in brief

When I was about 20 I had a powerful dream in which I was on a hillside in India, a place I had never been, watching beautifully painted elephants being washed in a river.  Suddenly someone pulled the skin off of one of the elephants in one smooth pull and the painted elephant skin sailed up into the air like heavy silk, and landed at my feet.  Somehow this was not gory; it was beautiful and potent.  A couple of days later I heard of the Indian elephant headed god Ganesha for the first time and I knew deep inside that he was the elephant of my dream.

The first time I met the well known Thai massage instructor Pichest Boonthame, about 17 years ago, he told me to close my eyes and see who was helping me.  I didn't understand what he meant.  He kept prodding me to figure out who my helper was, until in a fit of frustration and tears I cried out "I don't know, all I see is elephants!"

When I got married my father and stepmother gave me a lovely large statue of Ganesha as a wedding present.  They told me that it was that or a washing machine. 

I buy little tiny statuettes of Ganesha by the handful in the Indian district of Bangkok, before or after finding the street samosa seller.  Once, the statue shop owner accidentally dropped one of the statuettes on the ground, swiftly picked it up, and kissed it tenderly in apology. 

I give little tiny statuettes of Ganesha to friends embarking on journeys, or struggling with challenge.

I lose little tiny statuettes of Ganesha frequently, and trust that it is because someone else needed that one.  And that one.  And that one.

A few weeks ago I buried one along a forest path in Powell Butte park.

Piercing the upper edge of my ear in Chiang Mai, years ago, I tell the piercer that I am vegan, and he tells me that he is vegetarian one day a week, in honor of Ganesha.

In Thailand Ganesha is called Prá Pí-ká-nâyt (พระพิฆเนศ) and there is a marvelous museum just south of Chiang Mai that is dedicated to images of him.

The Thai medicine teaching lineage that I am some small part of, is linked to Buddha, Jivaka, the reusis, Prá Mâe Tor-rá-nee (พระแม่ธรณี ~ Mother Earth), and Prá Pí-ká-nâyt , our friend Ganesha.  My teacher's teacher has a 3 dimensional image made of painted medicinal herbs of Ganesha covering a section of his office. 

Every evening I chant pages of Pali and Thai and Lanna verses.  Even when I am grumpy and wishing I hadn't made this commitment to daily chanting, verse after verse of religiousness, when I do not consider myself to be a very religious being, when I get to the part where I pay homage to Mother Earth and Ganesha, I become something soft and grateful.

On the airplane, when I am frightened by turbulence, I turn my mala beads hidden beneath one of those thin and questionable airplane blankets, chanting silently in my head with each bead, "Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha", homage to Ganesha. 

Do I believe in an elephant headed god? I'm not sure.  I was raised sans religion, and have never considered myself a seeker, yet Mother Earth and Ganesha each fell into my heart the moment I heard their names, the moment I learned that they were considered deities.  It does not matter to me if there is such a thing as a deity, or if they are energies created by our collective imaginings, or if they are archetypal metaphors that provide understanding and anchorage in humanity.  What matters is that they provide solace in a complicated world.  When I am worried there are three things I find myself turning to: Mother Earth, The Bene Gesserit fear mantra from the book Dune, and Prá Pí-ká-nâyt (because apparently I am a pagan, a geek, and one of those Thai Buddhists who incorporate many deities).

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha