Illustration by Molly Askey-Goldsbury
Illustration by Molly Askey-Goldsbury
By Bryn Bamber
I walk into my apartment and I am furious. I hate my neighbours. I hate building management. My apartment is full of cigarette smoke and I am looking for someone to blame.
Am I going to get cancer and die? Will I be able to fall asleep with this smell? Who can I yell at?
I moved into this apartment in July and am completely in love with it. I have a beautiful view, it’s close to High Park and the subway. I’ve set it up the way that I like – my books are stacked on wooden shelves, my guitar and banjo hang on the wall, my grandmother’s ivy sits on my desk. My apartment is spacious, with room to roll out my yoga mat. I can sit and look out at the lake and am able to forget that I live in a bustling metropolis of 2.6 million people. It’s my safe haven. It’s my refuge from the world and it’s perfect.
Except now it’s filled with cigarette smoke.
I’ve tried to manage the situation for months now. The building management has been here multiple times, fixing a missing window where I suspected the smoke was coming in, but that didn’t seem to help. They resealed it and gave me an air purifier. But the smoke continues to fill the apartment. My safe haven is full of poison and I’m ready to let someone have it.
I pause and think maybe I should try a different tactic. Maybe I should look at the situation from a yogic perspective. Why has the Divine presented me with this situation? What can I learn?
In Kundalini Yoga for the West, Swami Radha writes,
Negative emotions such as hostility and resentment should not be suppressed. It is better to deal with them thoroughly, come to grips with them, and direct awareness into the area from which they spring. If they are expressed against another person, the ego is strengthened and it will be impossible to ever achieve peace of mind and come to inner harmony. The ego is the worst taskmaster. It judges, condemns, criticizes ourselves and others. Life is black or white, good or bad. And so is the “wearer” of the ego, living between punishment and reward.
It is seldom suspected that feelings of worthlessness and helplessness often derive from not getting one’s own way. “My opinion is not appreciated. I am not important enough.” It should not matter if you truly “know in the heart” your own intrinsic worth. The greater the awareness of your own Divinity, the less you are subject to the demands of the ego. Then you can open yourself to learning, free to acknowledge the fact that you don’t need to know anything.
My extreme anger arises because a part of me feels helpless and has given up. “I guess I will just have to live with the poison because I’m not strong enough to protect myself,” it says, and then looks for someone to blame for my suffering. I see that a part of me really believes my safety is being threatened. It feels like a little girl that is very scared and who lashes out. These responses aren’t helpful, but when I see why I am so upset, I am able to have more compassion for my feelings and my behaviour.
On a practical level, I can continue to work at solving the problem without blaming others or getting furious. When my dad was visiting recently, he suggested taping up some openings to test if they were the source of the smoke. The problem then shifts from something that throws me into the depths of despair, into something that is more like a crossword puzzle or Jenga. It can be solved through trial and error, in collaboration with building management.
I am able to move from seeing building management as the enemy, to seeing them as allies. My perspective changes and there are more possibilities for resolution.
As I write this, there is still cigarette smoke in my kitchen. I get up, open the windows, turn on the air purifier and light a beeswax candle.
The physical problem remains but I have more hope for the future.
Can apply this lesson to other areas of my life? There is a lot of hate and violence in the world and sometimes I can be thrown into despair. But when I step out of my fear and my hostility, I can see possible solutions.
And as I remember to “know in the heart” my own intrinsic worth and move out of despair, I am stronger and ready to face the work that needs to be done, both in my apartment and in the world.
Bryn Bamber is an educator, writer and Yasodhara Yoga teacher who is obsessed with bridging the gap between dissatisfaction and the desire to live a life filled with meaning. Her writing has been published in Scratch Magazine and at brynbamber.com.
Read her other articles in Finding Yoga.
“I pause and think maybe I should try a different tactic. Maybe I should look at the situation from a yogic perspective. Why has the Divine presented me with this situation? What can I learn?”