| Laura Spriggs Thompson |
In February, I received a postcard marked “Summons for Jury Service” for the first week of May. “Oh great,” I thought. I mean, I know it’s our civic duty and all, but who wants to actually do jury service? I called each night hoping I would not have to go in. But my Wednesday evening call indicated I was to report to the City-County Building the next day. There were 36 of us and they were looking for a jury for a 2-day criminal trial. I kept hoping I would get dismissed. We went to the court room and were told that it was a child molestation case. You could feel the hearts of everyone in the room sink. I prayed – please, please do not pick me. I do not want to think about this ever happening to my girls. But in the end, I am on the jury.
After they selected the jury, we had a break for lunch. I was feeling overwhelmed with emotion. It was an imposition on my time, a stressor for getting childcare and my yoga class covered and for planning a dinner for guests coming Friday. And I did not want to be a part of this case – I did not want to hear the details. I was mad and emotionally distraught.
I was also just starting an online yoga studies program with my long-time favorite yoga teacher. Each module of the training is anchored by a different deity. Over my years of practice and study of yoga, I have been drawn to the deities and their rich symbolism and mythology, which hold much of the philosophy of yoga. I like to think of the multitude of gods and goddesses as different faces of the one great Energy/God/Spirit/Universe/Divine/Consciousness – however you relate to the concept. Sometimes the idea of that One Energy is hard to grasp in totality, we might not relate to it, we might feel separate from it, or we just don’t know where to begin.
The stories, symbolism, and characteristics of the deities help to make them more relatable to our lives. When we hear stories, in fact, different parts of our brains light up as though we are having the experiences in the story too. One of my teachers would say that we are all the characters in a story – the heroes and the villains – we can relate to and learn from them all. We can think of the deities as archetypes within us and focusing on them can take us from where we are to where we want to be. We might invoke Lakshmi for harmony and abundance, Shiva for transformation, Durga for courage and protection, Hanuman for service and devotion, Sarasvati for wisdom, creativity, and intuition, and there are so many more.
The deity for the first module of the yoga training was Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. He is often invoked at the beginning of something new and is honored at the threshold of temples. He is the god of new beginnings, lord of wisdom, offers protection, and is the remover of obstacles. Ironically, he is also the placer of obstacles. Our practices are, therefore, meant to help us realize that the obstacles are not a problem, but opportunities for our own growth. The obstacle is really our own perception. Instead of living in a state of victimhood, we are invited into our own power to grow under any circumstance.
A few of Ganesha’s symbols: He has a big head, inviting us to think big; he has large ears and a small mouth, inviting us to listen more and talk less; his large belly reminds us that the entire universe is within us and to digest all our experiences. He has a broken tusk that he uses to transcribe the great epic, The Mahabharata, which reminds us that we often may appear or feel broken, but when we embrace what appears to be weak, we discover it holds the roots of our strength and can be our greatest gift and teacher. Many of the deities have an animal vehicle. Ganesha rides on a mouse – it’s part of the paradox that he is both the placer and remover of obstacles, that we are embodied and spiritual beings, and shows his sense of humor. One of his forms is the dancing Ganesha – he has this great big elephant/man form with a grounding and stabilizing presence, but he knows how to dance with lightness through the game of life. He has a buoyancy of spirit.
So as I was taking that break for lunch, sulking, I was thinking of Ganesha and that there was a place here for me to grow. Although I could say that in my logical mind, my emotional being was still resistant to the idea. I did some centering and some inward chanting of a Ganesha mantra and was able to come to a place of peace for what I needed to do. I realized that this person deserved a fair trial, and if I or someone I loved was in the defendant seat for any crime, I would hope for a jury that could be fair and unbiased.
We listened to the case for the remainder of Thursday and Friday. One act triggered so much involvement – police patrol, police detectives, Office of Child Advocacy, Department of Children’s Services, medical examiners, forensic scientists, attorneys, judge, court workers, jury members, and many others not even known, not to mention the victim and the victim’s family. One of the case workers that testified said that in her past three years of working as an interviewer for the Office of Child Advocacy, she has seen over 1,000 cases of alleged child abuse. Wow – what many of the witnesses deal with and see and hear day in and day out is unreal. These people are heroes. Some people make bad decisions, but there are so many that are doing good.
I did not want to serve and it was mentally draining, but I’m glad I did. I learned a lot and am grateful for the court system and community support system that we have. Is it perfect? No, but I’m sure it beats the systems of many other countries. Without going into details, we did find the defendant guilty of the charges. It was not decided upon lightly and the judge told us afterwards that he would have ruled the same way based on the evidence presented. The defendant’s life will forever be changed and so will the victim’s. I think my life will forever be changed as well.
So while the example of finding jury duty to be an obstacle in my life is small in comparison to some of the obstacles we face, we can apply this philosophy to any challenge. And when we practice with the smaller obstacles, it makes it easier for when the bigger obstacles in our lives appear. I need this reminder time and time again, in fact even as I am writing this…when there is a challenge, where there is a perceived obstacle, where I’m feeling conflict or a rub, there is a place to grow. Then maybe instead of feeling miserable or defeated, I can actually savor the possibility for growth and something new to arise. I can dance with a little lightness and trust that there will be an inner awakening and I’ll shine even brighter than before.
Om Gam Ganapatayei Namaha (Ganesha’s root mantra)
Laura Spriggs Thompson has been a dedicated student of yoga since 2000 and teacher since 2004. She turned to yoga in 2000 when she felt a deep stirring of her heart for something more in her life. This practice helped to lay the foundation of support and nourishment that she needed through many difficult times, including the illness and loss of her first husband to cancer in 2011. Laura remarried and lives in Indianapolis with her husband, two daughters (ages 8 and 2), and their new Great Pyrenees rescue, Luna. After 13 years of working in the environmental field, Laura transitioned to staying home with her girls and teaching yoga in 2015. She enjoys spending time with family, experimenting with healthy meals, hiking, trail running, and aerial silks. She currently teaches at Cityoga and Nourish Wellness.