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No Big Deal

Non-judgment as a dharma tool for caregivers

by Marsha Weiner and Andrea Sherman

sunset-174276__340In an earlier article in this series on dharma tools for caregivers we delved into a quote from Trungpa Rinpoche:  “Don’t give up on anyone.” We uncovered its special application for caregivers: don’t give up on anyone includes not giving up on yourself! For caregivers that highlights the need for self-care. Today, here’s another quote from Trungpa Rinpoche that offers some valuable insight for caregivers: “No big deal.”

Pema Chodron often introduces this quote when describing how she excitedly went to share with her teacher (Trungpa Rinpoche) what she felt was a powerful experience within her spiritual practice. Rather than give her a gold star or a trophy, a round of applause or a ticket to the next rung towards enlightenment, he simply said  “ No….big….deal.”   Oh, how non-judgment can baffle us when we are caught up in our emotions and holding onto expectations–a condition which frequently arises when caregiving.

girl-517555__340No big deal has a great deal to offer caregivers. We can readily admit that caregiving often requires sacrifices of time and resources; at times it can simply be inconvenient. Caregiving can easily become a stew brewing with the ingredients for self-pity, combined with a host of other difficulties.  We can swing between wanting accolades for the good job we are doing and the sacrifices we are making, and feeling guilty over our resentment. We can go so far as to kick ourselves for even wanting the accolades.

There is no denying, caregiving can present some spiritually challenging episodes. We can erupt in confusion between what our head tells us (do the right and compassionate thing), and what our body feels like (I just want to be out of here and away from the stale and acrid smell of decay). We are confused by what we feel in our hearts:  today I’m just too sad to sit and hold his hand and watch him deep in his dementia–he doesn’t even recognize me anymore; or I know I’ll just burst into tears if I walk into her room; when she looks at me, all I see is her pain.

But those confusing episodes are also opportunities, a chance to realize the value of meditation practice, especially as conveyed in the phrase No big deal.

woman-570883__340It’s not a glib, insincere or shallow statement. When said with compassion and openness, it’s a reminder that our momentary torrents of feeling, which could be the result of any flurry of reasons, are momentary.  They will change.  No big deal is a reminder to slow down, to recognize the sensations in our body, and to connect with the breath, a reminder to practice.

Of course, words on paper can be read aloud with a range of emotion. No big deal can be said in a condescending manner; it can be said cynically and off-handedly. But there’s a humorous lightness to this reminder to not take ourselves so seriously during caregiving.

For example:

You bring the person in your care to their doctor’s appointment, on time, after huge fussing and fretting and arguing only to arrive at the doctor’s office and learn you are a whole day early  – No big deal.

You can victoriously get to the person you are caring for, driving through six feet of snow in an unexpected blizzard, but forget to put in the car all the groceries you purchased including the boxes of Kleenex and the much needed toilet paper – No big deal.

You can administer the medicine, painlessly –No big deal.

You can bring a picnic to your friend’s bedside including favorite homemade food, as well as his favorite bottle of wine, but forget the corkscrew – No big deal.

You spend hours and hours on the phone with the insurance company, and finally get the remittance straightened out – No big deal.

No guilt.  No accolades. No shame. No blame.

No big deal.

Practice: As you review your day, consider the blunders and the accidents, along with the successes and sterling accomplishments. List all of them, then say each of them out loud, followed by the refrain, No big deal!

Editor’s Note: This is another installment in our series Dharma Tools for Caregivers. Andrea and Marsha are working on a book about harvesting the spiritual fruits of caregiving. You can follow them @SeasonsOfCare.

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4 responses to “ No Big Deal ”
  1. Andrea Sherman
    Mar 15, 2016


    Thank you so much for your thoughts and for framing the challenges of caregiving so well.
    The newest article is on the paramita of discipline! Andrea and Marsha

  2. Camille Yarbrough
    Mar 12, 2016

    Just knowing that the authors are concerned about what I happen to be experiencing as a caregiver is comforting–I am not alone. Even more helpful they know all the vicissitudes that seemed mine alone, and have useful, practical methods, supported by renowned Buddhist teachers, to come back to the present moment, to let go of the “what about me” and gracefully return my view to “how can I help.” Thank you Marsha and Andea!

  3. Andrea Sherman
    Mar 12, 2016

    So glad that you liked the article! More to come in the series! love, Andrea

  4. Wonderful Andrea and Marsha, thanks for such vivid and real life examples of elder care giving! So much appreciated. Love from Boulder.

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