Home Mindful Living Empty the cup

Empty the cup

by Vidya Sury April 5, 2018 11 comments
Empty your cup.

I am late today because I had to empty the cup before I wrote this post.

There’s this charming Zen story about Nan-in, the Zen master. People visited him from far and near to receive his wisdom. One day, a rather pompous professor came to him to learn about Zen. He bombarded the Zen master with questions. After a few minutes, the master suggested that they continue the conversation over a cup of tea.  He laid out the cups and began pouring into the professor’s cup from the teapot. He continued to pour even as the tea rose to the rim of the cup and spilled over. The professor watched this and unable to contain himself, burst out saying, “The cup is overfull. Can’t you see? You can’t add to a cup that is already full.”

The Zen master responded, “You are right. Like this cup, you are full of your own thoughts and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you empty your cup?”

However, you interpret this story, the deeper meaning is—we all need space before we can add to anything, especially to our mind, our schedules, our closets, or our bags…depending on the context.

In today’s hectic world, we have developed the habit of hanging on to so much: our schedules, our assumptions, our things, our needs. There is a tendency to lay more importance on material stuff and to what others think. We pay more attention to what others have accomplished.

What about ourselves?

We too need to open our minds and make room to do all the things we would like to do. However, we simply stuff more and more into whatever space is available—in our minds, in our schedules and in our relationships. And in our closets. Guilty as charged.

Then suddenly, we read something and realize the need to relax and recharge–as if it is a novel concept.

For most, this is simply a concept and actually happens only in an medical emergency, where rest is forced.  And then, it becomes painfully clear, on reflection, how we cram our minds and our lives.

We always have an overfull to-do list; we always have pending work; we always run after the next opportunity. A million things fight for our attention and we try to be everywhere at the same time. And all along, we complain about the lack of time, the lack of energy.

Spending time with those we love, hanging out with them, enjoying conversation—all of these go on a “wish list” and when they do happen, become grist for the social media mill.

Coming back to the cup—which us our mind—its value is the space and its emptiness that receives and holds.

How can we empty the cup?

Pay attention to the space in your life. This is pretty much like space in your closet, your friend’s open-mindedness and non-judgmental attitude, or the reduced traffic that allows you to move forward more easily.

  • Appreciate the gift of nothingness.
  • Reflect on what your mind is filled with—worry? Work issues? Regrets? Anger?
  • Be conscious of these and when you feel them invade your space and let go.
  • Focus on something that is positive and makes you happy, and spend more time on this.

So yes, you still have that massive to-do list that continues to grow. But do bear in mind that unless you empty the list, you can’t add new things. If you do, it will turn out to be the proverbial last straw.

While you tackle your full list, try to make space between two tasks.

Let’s say you’re managing your email. It can be as simple as taking a deep breath before you move to the next one.

And so with every task you tackle—doing the laundry, talking to someone, cooking—remember to pause occasionally to mentally recharge.

If there are things too heavy, too energy-draining that just don’t deserve your attention, identify them and drop them from your list. Now’s the time to go on a clutter diet. You know how it feels when you have to drag your luggage uphill—painful and heavy. You must simply let go of the extra baggage and only carry what you can.

And now that we’re talking about extra baggage, how about taking a look at habits, grudges and some of those notions you are holding on to—that seemed fine earlier, but no longer serve you at this moment? Let go before they wear you down completely. Think of the lightness you’ll feel and the space you’ll create for pleasanter stuff.

You may also want to think about not adding stuff to the pile you’re trying to lighten. This may be as easy as not participating in an argument, not making assumptions, not committing to something, not encouraging your inner critic … you get the idea.

Enjoy the space, the peace that comes with emptying your cup. When you lay in bed at night, before you drift off to sleep, how about some Dayenu?

Think of a blank page waiting for you to fill it.

Think of that time you’ve freed up on your schedule.

As your mind calms down and your body relaxes, think of that cup, waiting for you to pour the tea. Or in my case, coffee.

Empty the cup.

Knowledge is learning something every day. Wisdom is letting something go every day. #Mindfulness #AtoZchallenge #Zen

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~Lee~ April 5, 2018 at 11:18 pm

I love the story and the message behind it. I’m reading my youngest a story collection called The Buddha at Bedtime — that story would fit right in!
I am going to empty my (coffee) cup right now and take the dogs for a walk!

Jz April 6, 2018 at 5:13 am

I’m good at letting go of negative feelings but very bad at making space.
I love that second image, tho’. I’m going to print it out and stick it on the fridge. 🙂

Happy A-Z’ing!

Ramya Abhinand April 6, 2018 at 9:34 am

I am so poor at letting go! To the extent at most points I end up brewing a sort of grudge and negative thoughts. 🙁 Must empty my cup, to feel good about myself.

Anupama K. Mazumder April 6, 2018 at 9:38 am Reply
Obsessivemom April 8, 2018 at 9:00 am

I needed to read this. My schedule is so chic-a-bloc today that my head was reeling from things that needed to be done. But I need this pause, to take that deep breath and remove the unnecessary things while focussing on the important ones. Oh as for holding onto grudges – that’s a whole different story. Much harder to let go.

Vidya Sury April 8, 2018 at 9:40 am

Don’t we all reach that roadblock from time to time, Tulika!
Thank you for coming by and I am glad you enjoyed the post. You know there are days when I feel as though I am self-talking myself when I write the post. 😉

I wanted to write G for Grudges, but decided to keep it light with an anecdote! <3
Vidya Sury recently posted…Gingi

Sreesha April 16, 2018 at 12:56 pm

🙂 You know what an overthinker and overanalyzer I am. Maybe emptying the cup will be good for me (in theory) – but it’s so hard. On the other hand, cutting negativity out of your life is the 2018 mantra for so many of us 😀

Vidya Sury April 16, 2018 at 2:28 pm

Thus we live and learn no? But it always helps to have a buddy to rant with and vent, to speed up the process, no?
Vidya Sury recently posted…My Mom and I

Sreesha April 17, 2018 at 11:06 am

Hehheeeh, true that. I wish we were allowed to use gifs here 😀

Birgit April 16, 2018 at 11:37 pm

I love that last quote and this is so important. Sometimes my cup feels empty and other times, it feels like it is overflowing which I have been feeling a bit since January. I have to find something to ease that cup and I will but it will take time

JazzFeathers April 26, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Such a nice post, and one I needed to read. My cup has been particularly full, lately, and I know it. I’m trying to make a bit of space, but I still plartly warrying of all thething that stay bahind. Though I tell to myself, ther eis only an amount of things I can do in one day.

Sorry I’m so late in reading your blog. The challenge has been particularly hard for me this year, due to hectic work scheduels. But even if I need so space, I do want to read your, so I’ll make space for it… if on a loger period than one month 😉


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