Is Your Cup Overflowing?

Are you exploring new ideas and methods? Is your organization trying to change and innovate? Consider this story:

“There was a man who was determined to become enlightened.  After many years of sacrifice and study, he felt ready to visit a very holy man in India.  He journeyed far and long and finally reached the holy man’s home.  The holy man invited him in and offered him a cup of tea after his long journey.  The man held his cup while the holy man poured tea from a pot.  The man was surprised and then shocked when the holy man continued to pour more and more tea, causing the tea to flow out of the cup and over the floor.  The man asked, “Please holy man, why do you keep filling my cup?”  The holy man paused and then said, “You have come to become enlightened but your mind is full.  Like the cup, your mind is so full that my words will just flow over and away from you.  To become enlightened, you must unlearn some of what you believe to be true.  You must empty your mind to allow new ideas in.”

To learn, we must first unlearn, and give up what we know “for sure”. We must have a beginner’s mind, meaning an attitude of openness. As Zen Buddhists would say, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few”. [1]

But this is easier said than done. How can we empty our cup so that new information and insights can take hold? Here are a few ways[2]:

  • Take one step at a time, without trying to pre-determine the outcome.
  • Celebrate failures as well as successes for their gifts of learning.
  • Question all your “should”s.
  • Let go of being “the expert”.
  • Face your fear of failure.
  • Focus on questions, not answers.

Like stripping old paint, letting go of old paradigms and habits makes room for the new. Happy spring-cleaning!

[1] Suzuki, Shunryu. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. p. 21



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