Emptying my cup(s)

This is one of my favorite coffee mugs. I got it in the Minneapolis airport on my way to Virginia when I started my new job here.  I used it every day at the office, and since I’ve been home I rotate it with some of my other mugs. I choose one depending on whether I am having coffee or tea (or occasionally hot mulled wine), and whether it’s morning or afternoon or evening, how much I expect to drink if I’m sipping or drinking, and who-knows-what-else as the mood strikes me.  Sometimes I use my mugs as décor, holding pens or markers or other things in my workspace. Here are some more of my favorites.


Then yesterday I came across this story:  A student goes to see a Zen Master one morning. She wants to learn Zen.  She talks on and on and on, telling the Master what she already knows about Zen, and sharing her life experiences. While she is talking, the Master offers her some tea.  She nods acceptance and continues on with her stories as the Master begins pouring the tea.  The student keeps talking. And the Zen Master keeps pouring.  The teacup fills up and begins to overflow. The student is still talking but watching the Master who is still pouring. Finally, annoyed, the student stops talking and gestures to the Master to notice that the cup is overflowing.  “What are you doing? No more will go in!” The Master looks at her and gently replies to her, “Like this cup, you are full of your own notions, habits, opinions, thoughts, and judgments.  In order to learn Zen, you must start by emptying  your cup, emptying your mind, and creating space for new ideas, thoughts, and possibilities.”

Aha!  I think my cup(s) is (are) full right now. The purpose of my sabbatical is to rest, which I can’t do very well if I am too busy filling my cup.  I also want to learn new things, but there isn’t much room.  I want to prepare for the Next Big Thing, but I’m lacking clarity still. I have to create the necessary space for new ideas and opportunities.  I’ve been slowly clearing clutter and reorganizing the stuff in my house, and I’m sleeping so much better, but I’m still keeping myself busy…so I don’t get bored, so I don’t get lonely, so I don’t feel lazy and undeserving of this break.  I think it’s time I stop pouring and start emptying my mind.  (As soon as I finish this last book I’m reading, The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. I am on #54, and there are 67.  I have about 100 pages to go.)

So I have a new plan. When I go camping next weekend, I will not take any books or projects that are looking for space in my mind.  I will give myself time to reflect and empty out … while walking, sitting by a fire, watching the sunset, listing to the birds, maybe coloring at a picnic table. And if I get overwhelmed with the silence, I will write in my journal to satisfy myself that my thoughts are recorded somewhere so I can let go of them and create space for new thoughts.  I will stop trying so hard to justify this sabbatical or prove myself, and I will just let myself “be” for a while.

I will think again about what might be in the way of my having more clarity about the path I am on and where I am headed. I need all my energy intact, and to know where my energy is going.  That’s what I think clarity is about, having my energy directed deliberately instead of leaking out slowly because of inattention.

I’ll be sure to take a mug along to remind me of this.


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