Empty Your Cup!

December 4, 2019
BY: Adam Kent

Socrates once said, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” Powerful words from one of the wisest, and most respected minds in history. 

He understood that no matter how much knowledge he possessed, there was still so much to learn. 

In eastern philosophy, there is a story of the scholar Tokusan and Zen master Ryutan commonly referred to as the “empty your cup” conversation. Tokusan, who was full of knowledge and opinions about the dharma, came to Ryutan and asked about Zen. At one point, Ryutan began to refill his guests’ teacup but did not stop pouring when it was full. The tea spilled out and ran over the table. “Stop! The cup is full!” said Tokusan. 

“Exactly,” said Master Ryutan. “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.” 

By the time we become adults, we are full of information and things we “know”. We like to think of ourselves as open-minded, yet, everything we learn is filtered through a variety of levels and assumptions. We unconsciously classify information to fit within what we currently “know” while any new knowledge is sifted through the understanding we already possess. 

Think about it… How many times have you personally said, I already know that!” 

Funny enough, it normally comes about when we defend ourselves. For example, there is a challenge you are facing and someone offers you feedback on it. Even though we have not applied the feedback or have attempted to unsuccessfully in the past, we defend our inability to implement the suggestion having already tried it. We respond with comments like, “I already tried” or “I already know that”, Just like Tokusan and his overflowing cup. 

If you are struggling with something and wanted to change it, or were unhappy about a situation and looking for a solution. What you’ve tried was either ineffective or implemented ineffectively. After all, If we already knew the answer, why would we be complaining about it or choose to leave it unresolved? 

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.” – Richard Bach 

What you already know got you this far but If you’re committed to moving forward, it’s not going to happen without new content, and an openness to change or try something differently. 

Challenge yourself about areas in your life that you are experiencing a persistent, consistent complaint around. Seek new knowledge, be conscious of how your filters are reacting to the new content and how it is impacting your ability to take actions. 

It’s time to empty your cup… 

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