I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the last year hanging out with Ganesh. Like all deities, Ganesh embodies aspects of both divine and manifest experiences, so, as you might imagine, it’s been an interesting year.

For those of you who are not familiar with Ganesh, he’s the elephant-headed, big-bellied Hindu god. There are lots of interesting stories about Ganesh, like the story of how he came to have an elephant’s head. I’ll let you look that one up, but as a teaser I’ll tell you that it involves a lonely mother, an angry father and a benevolent elephant.

But that’s not why we’ve been hanging out. I actually sought him out because I was interested in what he could teach me about something essentially important. You see, one of Ganesh’s chief attributes is his role as placer and remover of obstacles. It was actually the idea that he was the placer of obstacles that first struck my interest.

Initially I thought that the stories around this idea would place Ganesh as a prankster, but I was wrong. It is said that Ganesh places obstacles in your path to teach you great lessons. But since he also removes obstacles, I started thinking about which obstacles were important for my growth and which I could release.

First of all, I’ve had to identify what obstacles I have in my life; financial obstacles, relational obstacles, obstacles that seem to stand between me and my ability to be happy, obstacles that block me from any particular goal or outcome. Interestingly, just identifying the obstacles has decreased my sense of hopelessness or of being overwhelmed and increased my sense of efficacy. And let’s face it, feeling hopeless and overwhelmed become obstacles themselves.

As I’ve named my obstacles, laid them out in front of me, I’ve found that they fall into three categories.

The first category consists of obstacles that are of my own making. These obstacles are things like fear and anger: fear of stepping outside of my comfort zone; anger that keeps me from seeing clearly and urges me to arrange my stories in ways that protect my ego. They are my habitual ways of seeing, overlaying past experience on the present and onto future expectations. They include financial and relational patterns that keep me stuck in unproductive and often painful loops. This category has given me the gift of choice. Once I see them I can choose to release them, work with them or keep them, but I am no longer trapped by them.

There are obstacles, sometimes of my own making, sometimes not, that provide opportunities for growth. I once had a boss who hated me. Actually, her distain was not about me personally. I was not the person she thought should have been hired for my job but I’d been hired anyway. She turned all of her anger and frustration about this, directly on to me and made my life exceptionally difficult. Initially, I was devastated. Then I was angry. I felt trapped. I needed the job. Actually, I loved the job, all of it except the contact I had with this boss. I stayed really trapped in despair, anger, resentment and helplessness for quite awhile. I even considered quitting. Then I decided to try a different tack. Each day on the way to work I said a prayer of gratitude and a prayer for my boss, something akin to May you be free of suffering. May you know peace. And guess what. It worked. Not immediately, but it worked. Over time our relationship changed. I honestly can’t say exactly how or why. Absolutely, my demeanor and attitude were changing, how could they not? But one day, I took a chance and started a conversation about how some of my past experiences helped me relate to the people we were working with. This was a huge risk. It made me exceptionally vulnerable, but it made a difference. Suddenly she saw me differently. Actually, she saw me instead of the idea she’d overlaid onto me. Our relationship changed drastically and she became a great advocate for me.

Often, learning to stay and work with our obstacles leads to amazing growth; puts us on an unexpected path to the person we have the potential to become.

Finally, the last category includes those obstacles over which we have no control. Most recently, our country’s financial crash has impacted my family, and many others, in ways we couldn’t have predicted and over which we have had little or no control. Other people struggle with illness, betrayal and other types of obstacles that life seems to place in front of us regardless of our own efforts.

Here’s what Ganesh has taught me about this. It’s not the obstacle that’s the obstacle. It’s my interpretation of the obstacle. I’ve known people who have collapsed in the face of challenges and I’ve known people who have overcome them, all based on their relationship to them. What are the stories I tell myself about my own power, about future possibilities, about my belief that others will uphold and support me in my time of need. What are my stories about my obstacles?

So, this month, I challenge you to invite Ganesh into your home. Ask him about your obstacles. Why are they there? Can you release them? Can you embrace them? This month play with Ganesh.

Namaste.