In India, all endeavors start with Ganesha, as will this collection of essays. Ganesha is ubiquitous and revered throughout India. He is commonly known as the remover of obstacles, although his qualities are far more complex than that alone. There are numerous variations on his creation story. One story, from the Shiva Puranas, can shed light on the Yoga of Marriage.

Shiva, the transcendent lord of the universe, lives on Mt. Kailas with his consort, Parvati, the mother of all Creation. One day she takes a bath, and requiring privacy, places Shiva’s bull, Nandi, outside her door to guard against intruders. Shiva himself happens to walk in, and Nandi, being Shiva’s obedient steed, is unwilling to defend Parvati’s need for privacy. Parvati is incensed both by Shiva’s intrusion and the violation of her sovereignty and also by the fact that there is nothing in the universe that is solely under her control.

The situation is a classic quarrel to be found in any marriage. It is an irreconcilable conflict as both of them are right, each in their own way. Shiva, being Lord of the Universe can go anywhere he pleases. Parvati is sovereign with all creation, including her own privacy.

Parvati resolves to take matters into her own hands and creates a small warrior from within her own body. She stations her champion outside her bath, such that next time Shiva walks up, his entry is blocked; being Parvati’s creation, her protector is not bound to obey Shiva’s authority. Outraged to find something not under his control, Shiva calls forth warriors, armies, and deities of every kind to remove Parvati’s guard. Each time, Parvati’s warrior effortlessly dispatches Shiva’s maneuvers. It is a scorched-earth marital battle, each side claiming indignantly that they are right, as the destruction mounts.

Finally, Shiva himself steps forward and cuts off the head of Parvati’s protector. She comes out, utterly distraught by this disrespectful offense and declares her intent to enact a cosmic divorce. Shiva immediately recognizes that this would mean the dissolution of the entire universe, and decides that some sort of reconciliation would be preferable. She demands that her protector be restored to life. Shiva brings forth the head of a baby elephant and restores the life of her champion. Thus Ganesha is born, and the Cosmic Couple has reconciled the spat.

Ganesha retains his body from the Goddess, but his head comes from God. One way to think of it is that Her power and His will are aligned. Her power is His will, and His will is Her power. The irreconcilable difference is solved by recognizing that the seemingly opposed forces reside in one unified truth.

Another way of looking at it is as a mystery: Ganesha’s form is most enigmatic within the pantheon of deities, combining a human body with the head of an elephant. Yet this odd combination has so much power and grace as to represent the antidote to the dissolution of the universe. There is no logic, formula, or linear explanation that applies. He is a dynamic unknown, a paradox that is pregnant with potential. One might think of marriage in the same way. You must engage and explore the potency of the territory with a sense of reverence and respect for its power, and from within that sacred space resolution and transcendence arise. You do not solve a conflict; you navigate it and explore what this reveals about your emotions, your needs, your soul, your purpose; you use this to transcend your limited understanding and expand to embrace a deeper love.

Marriage is characterized by two opposing forces: tremendous attraction, connection, and bonding, and dumbfounding, irreconcilable, contrary opposition. There is no such thing as a marriage free of tension and conflict. Tabloid headlines that refer to some dissolving marriage due to “irreconcilable differences” is an oxymoron: such differences are intrinsic to marriage. Like a Zen koan, the resolution of this paradox is not attained through battle, intellectual device, or mere negotiation and compromise. It requires the parties to grow and deepen, to embrace something more powerful and transcendent than the predicament that led them to conflict. There is no exit or trick, only surrendering to love and having the courage to follow a greater truth than your limited self. Marriage is the arena where conflict is played out, and it requires surrendering to the deepest love and consciousness that dwells within you. In doing so, you become the living embodiment of divine grace and truth. If you can learn to skillfully live within the space of this paradox, there is no conflict in the world you cannot meet and resolve. This is the power and the gift of marriage.

Next essay: Marriage is a Discipline and a Practice

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