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Breaking Open

By Paul Fetler

I tore the thick packaging tape off the box labeled, Very Delicate Ganesha Statue for our Diwali celebration. Lifting the cardboard cover and unwrapping the white towel, my gaze froze. The clay deity’s elephant head with his ornate gold crown was decapitated. In addition, Ganesha’s four human arms, and graceful fingers with painted carmine nail polish were in pieces. 

Eight years ago, after purchasing and peeling the shrink-wrap off the large figurine to celebrate my fiftieth birthday, I realized the statue consisted of a chalky material, more refined, but less sturdy than Plaster of Paris. 

I suspected the Ganapati altarpiece, imported from India, had been manufactured to be worshiped at a festival, and then placed in sacred waters, such as the Ganges, to dissolve. Unlike countless other mass-produced deities with fluorescent hues, he had drawn me in as if spotting an old friend at a party of strangers. Ganesha’s almond-shaped eyes, one now partly chipped off, were painted with tenderness.

Perhaps it was superstition, but I sensed the dismembered deity signified that chunks of my life were going to fall off.  


A few weeks later, my dear friend Sue abruptly passed away. Hearing the news, I felt too dizzy to work. I closed my eyelids and noticed my heart thumping. My subconscious projected scenes of our intertwined encounters of thirty-five years. 

Flashes appeared in the early 1990’s in our mid-twenties. We were excited like children to be employed on our first prime-time animated television show. I recalled the odor in the shreds of newspaper from her pet rat, and other critters such as small birds she occasionally brought to her cubicle area. Also, I can still hear her joyful, almost goofy, laugh that carried down the hall. 

A decade passed, we were working on different shows, and I ran into Sue at an Indian Sweets & Spices Market. While ordering samosas at the counter, I noticed a small pendant around her neck showing the yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda. My prior perceptions of Sue as an artistic colleague working upstairs receded as I felt a calm glow radiating from her. 

A handful of years later Sue was the first person to show up, unexpectedly, on the opening night, at a weekly meditation group I led in Hancock Park in Los Angeles. In the following weeks she came regularly, and I discovered what others already knew. Sue’s expansive heart shared encouragement to each participant. Her witty intellect was perceptive - yet never mean. Despite being candid about her midlife challenges and deep inner struggles, Sue’s generous laughter was a sun that burned through overcast clouds. 

Molding Patterns 

After the initial shock of losing Sue, and other loved ones, my tendency is to try being neat and orderly about my emotions. I’ve asked myself sometimes when I am practicing loving non-attachment, if I am bypassing pain. Over-intellectualizing my feelings have kept me at times from being intimate and vulnerable with Spirit, fellow beings, and myself.

However, experiencing heartbreak opens a geyser of emotions that confront me with a messy human lack of control with aging and loss. I often don’t know the depth of my appreciation, and attachment, to a dear loved one, until they have left their body. 


One of the benefits of practicing meditation over decades is that I have an increased capacity to be present with feelings during bereavement. Meditation offers space for me to notice perceptions that have their own sensory patterns, weight, shapes, textures, and can even feel heavy as do pieces of sculpture. Pausing also allows me to notice these forms eventually dissolve, regardless of my ego glazing self-protective layers.  

If I don’t resist feeling the hot emotions that arise, including sadness and irritability, and offer them to Spirit, my heart softens. When I surrender, there are moments when the departed souls feel nearer, more ineffable, and luminous, than when confined in flesh and bone. Letting go of my agendas expands my own heart’s willingness to embrace the love of Spirit in all. Although the bulb of her body gave out, Sue’s enormous heart reminds me that what matters is the light we carry to love others and be loved.

Breaking Open

Several weeks later, I sat at the memorial for Sue at Paramhansa Yogananda’s historic Hollywood Temple on Sunset boulevard. Following the Minister’s sermon, Sue’s younger siblings stepped onto the dais with open-hearted words about growing up with their older sister in the 1970’s. They marveled about Sue’s always prodigious artwork output, taste in rock bands, and prowess in ever-finding homes for orphaned animals. They shared with pride their big sister taking the big leap of leaving their hometown to pursue her dreams in Los Angeles. 

I shared in tears and laughter of her family and mutual friends, and recognized how through the loss, my heart had cracked open. Yet I couldn’t ignore the deep calm of the temple we sat in. The memorial was nestled in the sanctuary where Sue, and thousands of people had meditated, including Yogananda himself, starting in the 1930’s. I imagined the yoga master offering thunderous sermons emphasizing that the only thing we take with us, when we leave our bodies, is our consciousness. 

Sue’s heart-imprint on others was evidenced by an additional memorial by her animation colleagues and countless testimonials in social media. I reflected on how our Ganesha statue, like the tiny fractal of a gem, is also part of the legacy of Sue. Fourteen years earlier, she had requested our meditation group host a Diwali celebration, where Ganesha found a home on the altar. 

A week after our Diwali celebration had passed, I pressed Ganesha’s trunkless elephant-head above my eyebrows and thanked him. Then I put him, with the rest of his broken body, two thirds the size of an infant, into a bin to be recycled.

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