“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” -William James-
Back in the summer of 2013, I attended a meditation class at a now defunct center in Nashville, Tennessee in an effort to find some inner peace in my life. The teacher of this weekly Sunday evening dharma session was a kind and gentle man named Dave Smith. Smith, who is a highly revered teacher in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, uses his practice to aid addicts in recovery.
In our first meeting, I was instantly captured by Dave’s rare combination of authenticity, wisdom and genuine compassion. In that first dharma session, I can vividly recall Dave sharing with us six words that helped him through his own periods of personal suffering: “This is how it is now.” These six words, he told us, had the transformative power to help all seekers of truth through adversity. Not long after this first meditation class life threw me an opportunity to put this mantra into practice.
On the Friday before finals week, I was napping at my house when a text message came through from one of my colleagues at the college I taught at. The message said: “I am so sorry for what is happening to you! I saw campus safety clear everything out of your office and remove your faculty name tag from the door. For what it’s worth I thought you were an extremely positive influence for the students.”
As I read the message I immediately felt a wave of panic wash over me. I scrambled over to my lap top and signed into my campus email. But to my surprise the college had already locked me out of the account.
Fearing for the worst, I desperately tried phoning my dean but the college was closed for the weekend. I then checked my personal email and sitting in my inbox was a formal two sentence message from the Vice-President of the college requesting an “employment related” meeting with me the following Monday morning. Reading between the lines, I concluded that I had just been let go from my job.
While I had admittedly been a controversial figure on campus for my outspoken lectures and reputation as a “hippie” professor, I was very well liked by the students and had forged a deep connection with them. To me, that is all that mattered. But clearly the administration saw things through a different lens. I was perceived as one who had gone too far in his poking and prodding of the status quo on campus.
Moments after closing the email from the vice-president of the college, feelings of intense anger erupted within me and clouded my good sense. Much like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, I began screaming and stomping around the house to the annoyance of my beloved partner and dog. Then a dizzying array of questions began racing in my mind:
How could the college dismiss one of their most popular professors? And how could the college do so in secret like they did?
As these feelings of indignation brewed, a new round of frantic questions emerged: how would I pay my bills? How could I find another teaching job on such short notice? What would my friends and family think when they found out I was fired?
As my bruised ego tried to assert control over the situation, I suddenly heard a small but still voice within utter the six words that Dave Smith had taught me less than a year before at that summer dharma session: “This is how it is now.” The small and still voice within (which I now recognize as my atman, true self or soul) spoke these words in a rather jovial and even amused tone.
I silently acknowledged the wisdom of this voice and I began to meet the news with calm detachment. “This is how it is now,” I repeated over and over again to myself. That same evening, I began to feel the weight of the day’s shocking news fade into the background like waves gently crashing onto shore.
For the rest of the weekend, I decided to use Dave’s mantra to explore the depths of the suffering I was experiencing. So, for the next two days I sat in extended periods of meditation and kept repeating the mantra: “This is how it is now.” While repeating it, I also practiced sending feelings of love and kindness (Buddhists call it “metta” practice) to everyone involved in this uncomfortable drama including the President of the College, (who I later found out ordered my ouster) the Vice-President and all the students who would later learn of my dismissal.
All weekend, I continued to repeat the mantra and sent feelings of loving kindness to all impacted parties. To my pleasant surprise, I began to feel a profound sense of peace and acceptance for my predicament. In the end I knew that everything would be all right.
Finally, Monday morning arrived and I drove to campus for the last time. As I drove the half hour from my apartment in Nashville, Tennessee (where I was living at the time) to the campus in the suburbs, I once again repeated the six-word phrase to myself: “This is how it is now.” I then began to pray that something positive would come from this final meeting.
After the short commute, I parked my car and walked the short distance to the office of the Vice-President as requested. I knocked on the door and he gave me permission to answer. I walked in and saw two officials from the human resources department seated next to him.
George, the Vice-President, then spoke: “With deep regret we have decided to move in a different direction. As of this moment, you are no longer an employee at this campus.” Before I could really muster a reply as to why I had been dismissed, one of the officials from human resources cut me off.
She said that the college would be paying me a full year’s salary in exchange for my agreeing not to step foot on campus again. Stunned by this striking good news, I quickly signed the agreement. A few months later, my partner and I fulfilled a dream of ours and moved to the Great Smoky mountains to live the year immersed in the transcendent beauty of nature. We still continue to live in this humbling setting today.
Being dismissed from the college wound up being a major turning point in my own spiritual journey. Since then, I have come to truly believe that positive things happen to us when we are receptive to meeting difficult moments with calm detachment and equanimity. “This is how it is now,” is a mantra that can help you (just as it helped me) transcend the kinds of suffering that are crucial to our own awakenings.