There’s a well-known story about a Japanese Zen master. A university professor interested in learning more about Zen comes to see him. The master offers the professor tea, and as he pours tea into the professor’s cup, the professor talks on and on about his background, his current knowledge about Zen, and why he wants to learn more. As he keeps talking, the master keeps pouring. Before too long tea overflows from the cup. The professor notices that and yells “the cup is full! No more will go in!” The master replies “Like this teacup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I teach you Zen, unless you first empty your cup?”
We can be just like the teacup. Full of activity, thoughts, opinions, and habits. If our cup is full, we are unable to take in anything new. Confession: I have a habit of interrupting people to finish their sentences. I do this because I think I’m on the same wavelength and want to show how connected we are, how much I get them. More often than not, though, my end of the sentence is not what they were going to say. At all. And even if I’ve got it right, my interruption makes the conversation more about me than about them. Defeating my point, of trying to solidify a connection. I’m working on this. But I see this as an apt example of how I let my cup get too full. Consider whether your cup overflows in your own way.
Yoga practice is a great time to practice emptying our cup. Clearing the mind by focusing on the breath and the physical sensations. Not trying to anticipate the next pose, or the one after that, but rather being in the present moment. The next time you are in downward facing dog, imagine your mental cup being emptied. Flowing right out of the crown of your head onto your mat. And being washed away by your breath.
When we create space – both physically and mentally – on our mats, we can practice this in our lives more readily. I don’t know about you, but I hope to be a student for the rest of my life. Of yoga, of life, of whatever else captures my interest. To be open to learn, we need to have some space in our cups. So practice emptying your cup, at least every now and again.