The Little Things The Larger Picture: Small Mind or Big Mind?

Sometimes being diagnosed with a chronic physical illness follows with a new-found ability to experience the world through what Buddhist teaching calls "big mind." "Big mind" is the freedom to understand and feel that there is so much more beyond you, and that your life is connected to all living others around you. However, what many people tend to experience on a daily basis is "little mind." Little mind, is what happens when people are trapped within the confines of their ego, worrying about the "I" or "me me me", and it is difficult to see beyond your immediate worries.

I think it is safe to say that everyone sometimes gets stuck on the minutia of daily life, which can seem so big at one point and so meaningless at other times. What are these little things? They can be anything: work stressors, doing the laundry, buying the groceries, what you are going to wear at a party, worries about offending others with your opinions, your beliefs differing from your loved ones' beliefs, and the list goes on. People can spend so much time agonizing over these little things that they rarely think about the bigger picture in life. Sure, people value each others' existence and needs, but it is not too often that people really embrace their appreciation for fellow mankind and put their daily worries about the little things aside. However, the scale may tend to tip to the opposite side for some who live with chronic physical illness.

People who live with chronic physical illness are reminded on a periodic basis that life is precious, rather than limitless. Of course people who live with chronic illness also fall into the trap of worrying about the little things; however, often times they have a larger picture to worry about, which can typically include the feelings and needs of others, (e.g. will I feel ok enough today to not let down my coworkers, how will how I feel today affect my loved ones, will I be around enough for my family). However, not only can the care and extreme consideration extend to a person's immediate circle, but it can also extend to a desire to want to help others in general.

Why does this happen? Besides there being a visceral understand of mortality and the limits of our individual humanity, there can also be a need to feel useful. In many instances, being diagnosed with a chronic physical illness can result in feelings of frustrations with one's inability or compromised ability to do things that one used to do. Thinking of others, giving back to others in any way--emotionally or concretely allows for people to experience their continued connection with humanity and ultimately with life. Things may be different after the onset of chronic illness; however there is still life. I doubt that this often occurs consciously but rather is born out of the human natural desire to feel connected to others which in essence follows with feeling alive-- a part of.

Anyone, chronic illness or not, can choose to work towards "big mind"; however, I wonder if certain experiences, such as living with a chronic illness expedites getting to a wiser place. Again, just like everything else people have choices to make. One can receive a diagnosis and become stuck in "little mind" becoming frustrated about all the annoying changes that have to be made in one's life and thinking about "me me me"; or that same person may want to use his or her experience as a catalyst for enjoying the joy and aliveness that comes from turning the "me me me to the us us us."

This brief streaming of thoughts is an extremely simplified description of the very deep and intricate Buddhist philosophical concepts of big and little mind. However, the essence of the above is an invocation of appreciation and love for each other. In the spirit of the Thanksgiving Holiday, may we put aside daily annoyances and frustrations with things that are not exactly going "our way," and think about what we can give to each other. After all, what are we most thankful for anyway? Usually people are most thankful for their loved ones, much more than they are for their money or any other personal object. There is a reason for that and sometimes it takes a diagnosis for people to maintain that Thanksgiving feeling on a daily basis. Let us try!