Med One to One Spring/Summer TWENTY TWENTY ISSUE 63

The Lesson of the
Empty Cup

Written By: Ibby Smith Stofer

The Lesson of the Empty Cup

We have all heard about looking at things as a glass half full or half empty. Optimism versus pessimism. But have you heard the lesson related to having an empty cup?

This is the parable of the empty cup: Once upon a time, there was a wise Zen master. People traveled from far away to seek his help. In return, he would teach them and show them the way to enlightenment.

On this particular day, a scholar came to visit the master for advice. “I have come to ask you to teach me about Zen,” the scholar said.

Soon, it became obvious that the scholar was full of his own opinions and knowledge. He interrupted the master repeatedly with his own stories and failed to listen to what the master had to say.

The master calmly suggested that they should have tea.

So the master poured his guest a cup. The cup was filled, yet he kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the table, onto the floor, and finally onto the scholar's robes. The scholar cried, "Stop! The cup is full already. Can't you see?"

"Come back to me with an empty cup."

“Exactly,” the Zen master replied with a smile. “You are like this cup — so full of ideas that nothing more will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”

Are you or someone you know guilty of always knowing the answers — of not hearing others — because you are too busy offering your own opinions, knowledge, or experience? The desire to impress overshadows the opportunity to learn.

Think for a moment of a child sitting in awe as a parent tells them about their life. Children approach learning with an empty cup, willing to listen, learn, and question. Over time, too often, we become too self-absorbed to listen, learn, and question. We believe that we need to showcase for others our vast knowledge, skill, and experience. Too often, we believe we know the answer before we have been willing to listen. We let the tea pour onto the floor because we came with a cup full of our own knowledge, experience, or expertise that we see little value in spending the time to learn from others. We want to impress others, and that desire limits our abilities, our success, and often our ultimate happiness.

I hope that each of us finds the truth from the parable and approach new, and even not so new, opportunities with our cups empty and willingly sip the tea of knowledge and wisdom from others. The exciting thing is that no matter what your age, your career, or your desire, recognizing that using an empty cup is not only possible, it can be rewarding. I wish you well in your continued journey of learning.

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