‘Do you need to empty your cup before you can grow?’

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14th June 2024

There’s an old Zen parable that I love:

A professor came to visit an old Zen master to seek advice.

“I have come to ask you to teach me about Zen,” the professor said.

As the master began to teach, the professor repeatedly interrupted him to share his own opinions, knowledge, and stories.

The master suggested that the two should take a break to have tea.

The master poured the professor a cup. Once it was filled, he kept pouring, until the cup was overflowing hot tea all over the table, onto the floor, and onto the professor’s robes.

Stop!” cried the professor, “Can’t you see the cup is already full?”

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

The parable is a reminder that we cannot hope to embrace new information or insights if our “cup” is too full of preconceived notions, assumptions, and beliefs.

Is your cup too full to embrace new information that the world is giving you?

Do you need to empty your cup before you can grow?

Intellectually, emptying your cup sounds reasonable to most. Achieving it and filling it with a fresh perspective can be more difficult.

So, it starts and ultimately only continues, with clearing out the clutter.

These ideas can help you create space ( I found them very useful):

Be prepared to unlearn some things.

Accept that some of what you “know” is just wrong.

Spend time with people you look past.

Who are the people in your world – professional or personal – you see right past?  What can you learn from them?

Seek out people you don’t like.

They often speak the truth whether we want it or not.

Seek out people with whom you don’t agree.

The other side of an argument is a gift.

Hang out with people of all ages.

Cross-generational exposure illuminates history and a progressive worldview not bound by it.

Read, listen, and watch outside your lane.

Go outside wherever you usually go for information, education & entertainment.

Be open to learning in less obvious places.

Leadership lessons rarely emerge in a conference room, office or cubicle.

Give it some time.

Let all of this thinking sink in. The dots will start to connect.

Some habits that support you as you clean out the clutter can also be your friend.

As habits, they will help you prepare for, find, and onboard new perspectives.

Ask questions, often.

The best teachers, learners, and leaders ask thoughtful questions.

Listen, really listen. Whoever talks the least, learns the most.

Get outside.

It doesn’t matter where you live — city, suburbs, rural areas. Nothing gives a sense of perspective and clear-headedness quite like more time outdoors.

Take a break, empty your cup to grow & stay blessed forever.