Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Beautiful Distraction

      It's 9:30 p.m. on post-Superbowl Monday, and both Spartacus and I are grumpy. I spent my morning in the unemployment office, my afternoon getting moving quotes from a relocation company, and my evening, packing up this ridiculous china cabinet, only to find out a) I'm not eligible for unemployment, b) this move is going to cost a small fortune, and c) there are six freakin' glass plates that I somehow managed to overlook. Spartacus didn't get home until after eight o'clock. He's still on the learning curve in his new IT job, and after we finished dinner, he had to get back on the computer to do some work. So much for cocktail hour. I guess I got a lot accomplished with the packing and moving estimates, yet it feels like a wasted day, mostly because of the crummy mood I'm in.
     I feel overwhelmed and angry. I'm dreading the endless days of packing which lie ahead, most of which will be done alone by yours truly. We moved to Rome nine months ago, so that I'd no longer have to commute to and from Atlanta every day, and both of us thought we'd be here for a few years. That vision was shattered back in November, when I learned, over the telephone, that I was losing my job. Now, Spartacus is the one who's having to commute. When I first met him four years ago, he'd been working for IHG (International Hotel Group) with the same group of colleagues for about sixteen years. In November of 2010, IHG dissolved its IT department, outsourcing this work to Verizon instead. Spartacus and all his co-workers were brought individually to a meeting room, where an HR person looked on while IHG's vice president read aloud from a cue card, informing them that their positions were being eliminated. The VP never made eye contact with Spartacus, not even once. Predictably, that decision turned out to be a disaster, and IHG has been beset with serious network outages ever since. When we moved here last April, Spartacus was doing IT work from home, a job which sounded great in theory, but the lack of regular hours and human interaction nearly drove him crazy. He quit his home job with AT&T on the day I received my 90 days' notice. In late November, an old IHG colleague gave him the heads up about this job in Atlanta, and by mid-December, he was making the 100+ mile daily round trip.
     I'm apprehensive, and now, I fear I'm even becoming cynical. What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I went to medical school with the idea that I'd be more autonomous than I'd been as a nurse, but twelve years later, that hasn't exactly panned out, either. Anesthesiology is a tricky field. You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Maybe it's just me. I do question the wisdom of the surgeon who wanted me to give general anesthesia right now to a toddler with a non-emergent surgical issue, and a stomach full of chicken biscuits. I do take issue with being expected to follow cookbook anesthesia, which more often than not, is a recipe for disaster. I do find it egregious that this hospital's administration views anesthesiologists as a liability, instead of an asset. As I've come to learn, its definition of a good anesthesiologist has less to do with one's skills in judgment and clinical expertise, and more to do with making the surgeons happy and ensuring the money-making machine keeps moving along, regardless of what's best for the patient.
     The CEO of this non-profit hospital earned $1.35 million dollars in 2010, a salary which is well over twice the national average for hospital CEOs, rivaling that of for-profit Fortune 500 executives. I have a hard time getting my head around this one. Despite the fact that nationwide, other hospital CEOs have voluntarily reduced their salaries, his salary has continued to skyrocket, even amidst recent employee layoffs, and an already overly-inflated health care cost structure. My tax dollars are helping to pay his salary. On the surgeons' behalf, most of them have been extremely reasonable, and are just as committed to patient safety as I am. A very small fraction of them, however, are gifted back-stabbers who remind me of spoiled, overgrown, poopy-pants toddlers, stomping their feet, incessantly whining and complaining about "anesthesia", and clamoring to suckle at administration's tit. No matter how wrong these big babies are, they always end up getting their way. In the case of the real toddler who ate the chicken biscuit, I appropriately offered to either delay the case a few hours, or do it as an emergency, provided there was written documentation from the surgeon about why it needed to be done emergently. He, instead, cancelled the case, publicly denigrating me behind my back, before tattling on me to the administration. Nice, huh? Knowing all this, how would you feel if that had been your kid?
     Sometimes, I honestly don't know what keeps me going. Every time I think I'm reaching an end point, a place of satisfaction and stability, it all comes tumbling down. I keep picking up the pieces, over and over again, but they never seem to fit together neatly or permanently, and the cycle of self-imposed spiritual torture begins. Why can't I just conform, and do as I am told? Is that what's meant by "cooperating"? What's so great about thinking outside the box anyway? It's not very practical. Is it ridiculous to still be so idealistic at my age? It is what it is. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Quit wasting your time, and get with the program! Am I less committed to my profession because I don't want to spend the majority of my life, living inside a hospital? No, but you're definitely a bad capitalist. Work, work, work for the next 25 years, and then, maybe you'll have a shot at retirement! If I had to do it all over again, would I change anything? Now, that's a loaded question, friend!
     These thoughts and feelings are nothing new. I remember feeling this way a lot, especially as an introverted, introspective, uncomfortable-in-my-own-skin adolescent. Although I had a pretty good idea of who I was and what I was about, I perceived that my integrity was constantly being challenged from within and without. There were roles to play, hats to wear, and agendas to keep. This view of life was like being in the center box of that old Faberge Organics Wheat Germ Oil and Honey shampoo commercial, surrounded by endlessly multiplying permutations of myself, the real me being lost somewhere in the shuffle... "and so on, and so on, and so on." I often feel the same way now. At any given time, I'm being pulled in a million different directions, the multiplying facades of duty, obligation, and insecurity threatening to squash any remaining shreds of creativity, candor or spontaneity, until I'm paralyzed, playing the game.
     Perhaps it's no coincidence that my favorite song in the whole wide world is "Maya" by the Incredible String Band. I inherited the record album from my older sister many years ago, and must have listened to it a thousand times between 10th and 12th grades. The lyrics are simultaneously vague, yet intuitive, the harp and sitar both mystical and comforting:

 In time her hair grew long and swept the ground
And seven blackbirds carried it out behind
It bore the holy imprint of her mind
As green-foot slow she moved among the seasons

The great man, the great man, historians his memory
Artists his senses, thinkers his brain
Labourers his growth
Explorers his limbs
And soldiers his death each second
And mystics his rebirth each second
Businessmen his nervous system
No-hustle men his stomach
Astrologers his balance
Lovers his loins
His skin it is all patchy
But soon will reach one glowing hue
God is his soul
Infinity his goal
The mystery his source
And civilisation he leaves behind
Opinions are his fingernails

Maya, Maya
All this world is but a play
Be thou the joyful player

     Why do I love this old hippie song so much? What exactly is it talking about? For years, it evoked images of a mystical Earth-mother named Maya, tentatively wandering barefoot through an enchanted forest filled with all sorts of divine creatures who were inviting her to play with them. As it turns out, I wasn't too far from the ideology I now believe this song intends to convey. With the assistance of my son, Nick, and Alan Watts, I will attempt to briefly describe the concept of maya. In the material world, the realm of classification and order in which we routinely subsist, we suffer from birth through maya, the rose-tinted shades of illusion which cloud ultimate reality, or God, the unnameable essence of all creation, the infinite, universal source of life. As Nick puts it, "Maya is a beautiful distraction." It's what gets us all tangled up inside, preventing us from knowing/realizing our inconceivable, unitary Self beyond the cellular level. This true Self is atman, the most subtle of vibrations that has always been and always will be, the origin of which is (take your pick) the Supreme Consciousness, God, Brahman, the Tao, the Way...infinity. God is One and Many, and as such, we are all One and Many. But, maya blankets this divine awareness with multiplicity, the divisions and boundaries we create by attempting to define the physical world and the laws of nature in human terms, akin to grasping water with a sieve. Names and forms are the genesis of duality, the departure from God, the beginning of ego, isolation,  and separateness, the "me and mine, you and yours" we tenaciously cling to in our journey through samsara, the cycle of birth and death. In order to liberate ourselves from the many forms of maya, we must empty and recondition our minds, relinquish control of the egocentric ignorance which deludes and frustrates us, rid ourselves of karma through non-interference and selfless acts, and transcend our inherent, futile desire to cling to our thoughts, our physical selves, and whatever it is we think we know through self-realization (seems counter-intuitive, huh?). In letting go, one can achieve both moksha, which is the release or liberation from samsara and the cycle of karma, and nirvana, an indefinable state of enlightenment or union with God, accompanied by the end of suffering, desire, and individual consciousness. In Maya, "the great man" seems to have attained this unity: "God is his soul, infinity his goal, the mystery his source..." He is no longer enslaved by self-consciousness or imprisoned by the need for acceptance: "Civilization he leaves behind, opinions are his fingernails."
    My brain is now exhausted. It's 3:14 p.m. on Tuesday, and it's taken me all day to write this. The weight of the world has been temporarily lifted from my shoulders. I've allowed myself the luxury of venting a little bit, and I feel better. In examining both "Maya", the song, and maya, the concept, I've also spent a disproportionate amount of time, reconsidering this overused adage, which I happen to despise: "It is what it is." Is it really what it is, what it appears to be? As Spartacus and Charles Bronson would say, "I'm not convinced." I've been mired down in the disillusionment of maya long enough; maybe it's time to let go and let God.


  1. Kristyna. what a great post. You put so much of yourself into it. It's a privilege to read such candid and heartfelt writing.

  2. Thank you, NP...what I loved about writing this one was how much I learned from my son, who is deeply involved in meditation, yoga, and Eastern philosophy. I feel fortunate to have both of my sons as teachers in life. Writing has been so cathartic for me.

  3. What a beautiful piece of writing, Krysia! I most love (and did way back when) this aspect of Maya :"opinions are his fingernails". I feel, or experience mostly, the sensation that all parts of Maya are integrated within, and without --I see it play out externally as well as internally constantly. To be human is to enter this state of being where there are so many parts to self to teach us, and enlightenment arrives through the experience of being Maya. The world right now feels like Maya as a dangerous teenager, driving intoxicated, and so inwardly I try to respond much in the same way you did when you refused to potentially injure or end the life of a toddler who had a full stomach of chicken nuggets. This is GOOD KARMA, though it would seem dangerous to stand with integrity and risk not conforming to authorities and administration ($). It is always so risky to follow integrity--integrity and intuition and ethics and your education guided you not to conform. You got out of a speeding car driven by a reckless teen, the entire establishment is headed into chaos. Now you get to breathe in and see what the Universe has for you, from the inside out. I am not a bible quoter but I've been reading again and I understand more fully what it meant when the very rich young man asked Jesus how he could best learn from Jesus, and his reply was give away everything and follow me. I used to take it literally, but when we follow our integrity and walk away from the establishment, from money, from acclaim, etc. we are doing exactly that, we are dropping the precious robe and choosing something other, something Maya can't quite see, even if she knows it's there.

    1. Helen, I love remembering the days when we listened to Maya together. Your "maya-as-intoxicated-teenage-driver" is so fitting. In talking with Nick about some of the Buddhist concepts for this piece, we discussed how the basis of most religion involves a letting go, a giving away of our selves, in order to better follow the truth. Like you, I have always tended to trust my intuition. In the words of Hermann Hesse, "I wanted only to live in accord with the prompting which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?" XOXO!

  4. The farther I got into your post, the more I began to believe that I was witnessing my own thought process before my eyes. Your words are powerful and carefully chosen (I can tell). I've always been self conscious of my introverted ways, but as time goes on, I begin to realize that introspection is a treasure that many people lack. The problem I face a lot of the time, as an apprehensive teen, is the challenge of "getting it out and away from my keeping, the hoarding of ideas and thoughts that never surface. Always sinking to the bottom of the barrel waiting for the spout to be stuck in and allow for quick free flowage out and into the mouths and minds of the rest of the world."
    But then, I am struck by glimpses of hope and truth that slowly coalesce overtime to become one omnipresent light. When I met Nick, I was at a point in my life where I did not have the willingness to appreciate the beauty of simplicity. I was a wild child in critical condition (mentally) and the only thing that brought me satisfaction was getting high. We crossed paths at such a coincidentally fateful point in time and gradually, I began to see that I had been struck by an angel. He had been brought into my life as a gift from God to show me the way. I realized he was my soulmate, and that I had traveled with him through many lifetimes, when he told me that I had done the same for him.
    Kris, I am so thankful to have you and your beautiful family in my life. This post has inspired me greatly and I always carry great admiration for those who are willing to express such personal and profound ideas with others. I can happily say my soul has been cleansed by your words.
    Much love,

    1. Oh, Haley, how I love what you wrote and that you took the time to write! Brad and I love you very much, and consider you part of our family. I am really choked up right now. The love you and Nick have for each other is so genuine and inspiring. There is nothing that makes a parent happier than knowing our children are cherished and loved by their significant others. I am so glad you enjoyed this post...it was such a pleasure discussing some of these concepts with Nick. We'll see you guys in a couple of weeks! Love, Kris