Wednesday, February 10, 2016
The Empty Cup
"Empty your cup" is an old Zen saying that occasionally pops up in the west.
A Zen scholar, who was full full of knowledge and opinions, came to see a Master and asked about Zen.
At one point the Master re-filled his guest's teacup, but did not stop pouring when the cup was full. Tea spilled out and ran over the table. "Stop! The cup is full!" he said.
"Exactly," said the Master. "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."
This story is often used to remind us to enter into new situations without preconception, what is called "Beginner's Mind", and that Zen, like most things, can be learned by the mind but must be experienced by the spirit to be truly understood.
However, there is another empty cup interpretation (and lesson) that I want to share from the picture above.
These days, many people I meet are tired. VERY TIRED, Exhausted, in fact. I know. Sometimes lately I feel that way, too. The stress of our modern, fast-paced life wears us down. Our jobs and our other commitments demand so much of us. Our "connected" lifestyle means we are online and, sadly, on email and conference calls, at all hours of the day and night. We don't sleep enough and our sleep is not good quality when we do. Many of us have anxiety or panic attacks. We worry that we will not have enough time to do all the things people expect of us.
In relationships we are taught to give and give and give - and then give still more.
We give until our cup is empty, but it is not a happy giving. This giving is a demanded, expected giving that leaves us feeling like we have lost something; like part of us has been taken away.
This leads us to despair.
Let me be perfectly clear: IT IS OK TO BE SELFISH SOMETIMES.
We do not owe others everything we have. It is OK to keep some for ourselves. Giving is not giving when it is demanded or expected. Giving is positive when it is given freely, without any expectation of return and not to offset the inferred guilt of selfishness.
We all need time to recharge ourselves. Take it.
There is no shame in it.
Be selfish. Take care of yourself first.
In fact, this is the only way to sustain ourselves over the long term, without being slowly worn down to nothing. This is true not only of work, but of personal relationships as well. Life is a marathon, not a dash. We should move forward, but pace is more important than speed.
We live in a society that makes us feel ashamed to ask for help, ashamed to ask for support, ashamed to need anything from anyone. I CALL BULLSHIT ON THAT. Needing others is a natural, healthy process of involving people in our lives and sharing what matters to us. It is an intimacy we cannot and should not deny the people we care about. Not only do they want to be part of our story, we need them to be part of it for the story to have real meaning. As scary as it may seem, without letting others into our hearts and trusting them with our feelings we will always be lonely, even in a stadium full of people. None of us deserve that. We surely don't deserve to do that to ourselves.
Take care of others, yes.
But take of yourself first, so you are strong enough to do so.
Take time to fill your cup.
Then, and only then, be sure to share it.