Monday, September 28, 2009

when ganesha met sally

I love Hinduism. It's in my top two world religions. Among other reasons, it’s the only religion that’s ever marched right up into my face and said hello. (Your move, Buddhism.)

Once I heard it speak, or someone I can only imagine was connected with it, somehow. I was sitting on my bed one evening reading Autobiography of a Yogi, and I was reading some bit about The Divine Mother, and all of a sudden I heard....well, it wasn’t inside my head, but it also wasn’t outside my head. It sounded as though it were coming down through a tube about fifteen feet over my head, but the tube was, in fact, in my head. Whatever. It was a beautiful female voice, and the voice said, mysteriously and simply, and as clear as a bell, “I live forever.” And this wasn’t my voice, my thinking voice. This was a completely separate voice from my own, sugar-sweet. And that’s all it said. “I live forever.” I’ve never heard a voice before that and I’ve never heard one since.

But that took place a couple of months after the story I’m going to tell you now, which is when Hinduism introduced itself to me.

So Hinduism has a doorman, and his name is Ganesha. Surely you’ve seen him. He’s an elephant-headed god with a bulky man’s body. Hinduism has a long list of marvelous gods and goddesses. But Hindu protocol says you’re not heading to those VIP tables until you have a conversation with and pay your respects to Ganesha.

This is the story of how my big, floppy-eared Godfather-in-the-Sky and I met.

In a time I like to call The Sensitive Summer of 1999, I was a raw nerve. There's no time here to tell you why and there's no need. But maybe I’d taken some Ecstasy a couple of months earlier. And maybe things went a little haywire after that. It’s not important. Just know that I was like an antenna made out of a mimosa plant, hyper-alert and wobbly.

One day towards the beginning of this summer, I went on the spur of the moment to a yoga class. I was not a yoga go-er, but I needed the medicine that day, so I prescribed myself a Level One class. I'd say Level One was approximately one level too difficult for me. I was struggling, gasping, tipping over. Maxed out.

Eventually, it came time for the meditation. The nice part. Relief! We were guided through. We sat with straight spines. We were told to breathe through our noses. And that’s what I did, breathing in and out.

And then things started getting peculiar. On every exhalation, it felt like my nose was lengthening and dropping, like a trunk! Not my nose itself, but...let’s call it my spirit nose. (I know.) Anyway, yes. Every exhalation, longer and longer, this thing, this essence, this wispy elemental protuberance from the middle of my face. Back in 1999, we didn't have these expressions like OMG or WTF, but if we would have....


All right. Never mind. Continue. I have a trunk now. Whatever. That's cool. Yoga is wa-a-ack but there you go. Mine is not to wonder why. Now we're told to envision ourselves looking in a mirror. Very good. Hello, mirror. There I am. Nothing special going on there. And now we're told to envision ourselves looking in not a regular mirror, but an internal mirror. We are looking inward to ourselves, in an internal mirror. I wonder what I look like in an internal mirror, how that’s different from an internal external mirror. Let’s see.

I look like a charred elephant head. My head is an elephant head, blackened to a crisp.

Let me just shut and rub my internal eyes really hard and try that again. I look like a what?

Charred elephant head.

Okay, Eight Limbs, thank you for the incredibly difficult and super-freaky class! I will be on my way now.

Later that night, at my boyfriend's apartment, I had something close to a panic attack as I was trying to fall asleep. I was agitated, and everything felt ominous and rubbery, but I sweated through the sensation and eventually sleep took over.

And then I’m woken up. Speaking of sensations, I’m woken up. I feel for all the world like I am being pierced all over, like I'm being sewn. Not my body, more like the air around my body, but it's me. I can feel it. We can call it my aura if we want. I don't know. It was my airspace, palpable. Prick, prick, prick. I don't open my eyes because I don't want to see what might be doing this. I am supremely uninterested, if by uninterested I mean scared shitless. This pricking, sewing sensation just goes on and on and doesn't stop.

Then, behind my closed eyes, I see this clear pattern form. It's a pattern of green and white floral geometric arrows. Like a futuristic sort of feminine wallpaper. Arrows, with their stems wrapped in these soft flowering lines. Green background, white lines delineating these arrow and flower shapes.

Aha. Okay. And all the while, the piercing continues.

Now the next stop on the Lunatic Express is this sensation: do you know how normally you feel that your consciousness is in your head? Behind your eyes, say? That's command central, right? Go ahead, take a second and place yourself. You sort of think that you are in your head, yes? Well, my me dropped. My consciousness, my self, my command central dropped a foot or so down the hollow tree trunk of myself, right into the neighborhood of my heart. If I opened my eyes, I would have fully expected to be looking right out of the middle of my torso. I was there. I could even hear my heart beating right next to me, freshly loud. Right on top of me.

And all the while, the piercing.

I was terrified. I thought maybe these were aliens. Truly. Like extra-terrestrials were performing some kind of surgery on me, or some kind of examination. It just didn’t stop and I was petrified.

And then suddenly I remembered yoga class, and the elephant head. It crept into my consciousness that the Hindus...don't they have an elephant-headed God? Right, Ganesha. Right. I'm going to think about Ganesha. Maybe that will help. Maybe he'll help me. And the minute, the minute I do that, the fear disappears and the most delicious feeling in the world comes over me. I feel like I’m suddenly in a warm shower – not of water, just of warmth, flowing down over my head as I lie there, and I feel so sweet and peaceful, even though the piercing has never stopped. And then! Then! Instead of the trunk I had in yoga class, I suddenly feel like I have giant, floppy elephant ears! Waving back and forth next to my head! This is surprising and super-amusing and very comforting, and I find myself getting drowsy again and I drift back to sleep, while all of it - the piercing, the sense of relocation, the floral arrows, the warm shower, the flapping ear feeling - all of it continues.

You can imagine that the next morning I am awfully very goddamn curious about Ganesha. So I go to a little spiritual bookshop and seek out a book. There must be something. Hindu shelf, Ganesha, Ganesha. I'm expecting that I might find a slim little tome. OH. What have we here? Who's THIS fatty? I’ve found an 800-page number called Loving Ganesha: Hinduism’s Endearing Elephant-Faced God, by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. An illustrated resource on Dharma’s Benevolent Deity, Remover of Obstacles, Patron of Art and Science, honored as first among the Celestials. This will do!

I go home and start devouring this giant, weird, delightful book, which is like the most fun bible of Ganesha you can imagine, with all kinds of stories and lore and drawings and poems and imagined letters from Ganesha. I read about the Milk Miracle, which happened on September 21st, 1995, wherein statues of Ganesha all over the world accepted and drank milk for 24 hours. This is a real thing. They reported it in the New York Times. Devotees would hold up spoonfuls of milk to these statues, and the milk would disappear. It happened in India, in Canada, in Nepal, in Kenya. It happened in L.A. It happened in Queens. The crowds went wild. Milk disappeared by the gallon, through straws, out of trays. Sometimes the Ganeshas would refuse the milk from devout believers and gobble the milk offered by nonbelievers. Anyway. Well into the book is a big section that has a list with drawings of all the symbols associated with Ganesha. Heaps of them.

Now, it took me a while to get to this part. It took me a few days. And then I saw this.

Pushpashara, Flower Arrow: Loving Ganesha shoots flower-covered arrows from His sugar cane bow in guidance to devotees, so they will not wander too far from dharma's path of true fulfillment.

What do I make of all of this? I don’t know, and I think it’s foolish to try and make anything. There’s nothing flimsier in this world than a conclusion. But somebody else said it well, and I’ll finish by handing him the mic, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And to that I say “Word, Bard.”