Be An Empty Cup

By Sarah Petty L. Ac., Dipl. Ac. on March 14th, 2012

“A child said, What is grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child? …… I do not know what it is anymore than he.”

-Walt Whitman

While in school, there was a story that bounced around about the importance of being empty. There is a Zen parable called Am Empty Cup:

“Once there was a university professor who went to visit with a Zen master to discuss things of a Zen nature.  While they talked, it became clear to the Zen master that the professor considered himself quite knowledgeable on the subject of Zen and Buddhism, going on and on about various related topics.  The Zen master listened, and then offered tea.  He went to fetch the tea pot and cups and set one before the professor.

The Zen master began pouring tea while the professor continued talking, but when the cup became full to the brim, the Zen master continued pouring.  Tea spilled over the edge and all over the table!

“Stop, what are you doing?!” the professor spoke, interrupting himself.  “Can’t you see that the cup is full?”

“You are like this cup,” the Zen master explained.  “You are so full of information that nothing more gets in.  You came here to discuss Zen, but how can I show you what is Zen if you do not first empty your cup?”

The professor thought for a moment and became silent, ready then to receive lessons from the Zen master.”

Detail from a painting by Sarah Petty

What is health? I say it is being an empty cup. As we age, we fill ourselves with knowledge, habits, truths, and rigid ways of thinking. We stop looking upon the world with fresh eyes. We know what is right and what is wrong. We know who we are. We know our limitations. We’ve got it all figured out.  We sound so wise! So, how is it that we aren’t completely enlightened and living in our bliss? Could it be that this defined box we have put ourselves in is keeping us from transcending limitations we currently accept? When was the last time you looked upon the world in wonder? Life is a journey, not a destination-If you find that you have already arrived, it may be that you are stuck, and still have more to travel. A lot of people tell me they feel disconnected, and that it is rare for them to feel joy, wonder, and awe. How can we embrace the wonders of the world if we do not create space for them? What is taking up so much space, currently? Could we use a little Spring Cleaning? Open your windows and let the light and fresh air in. Create a bucket list. Clear your head while soaking up the sun on a walk in the park. Practice flexibility on the level of the mind, body and spirit and empty your cup. You can still be who you want to be.

In the words of Cat Stevens:

“If you want to sing out, sing out

And if you want to be free, be free

‘Cause there’s a million things to be

You know that there are”

As always, thanks for reading 🙂

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