Empty Oneself

Today I am borrowing a famous Zen story to illustrate this week’s food for thought – The necessity to empty oneself in order to unlearn our natural responses to a problem, and begin the healing or rejuvenation process.
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Often times we are full of ourselves; our opinion about ourselves, of others and of the world, though may not be verbalised outward, echo resoundingly in the sanctuary of our minds. Some people call this phenomenon “self-talk.” I just refer to it as a hindrance, a nuisance to learning something new about ourselves and the situation we are currently in.

When we are so fixated with how we feel and think about a certain subject, it is hardly easy to unknot our existing mindset. So go empty your cup of Self, so said the Zen master.

Easier said than done – so how do you go about emptying your cup, really? It’s not like you can see this cup and you pour its contents down the drain, is it?

Perhaps the first step is to recognise that our cup is already full. For example, if we are working towards achieving a different paradigm about forgiveness (towards a friend, your spouse, your MIL), the first thing to do is to say out loud, if that helps, that our ideas about this friend, spouse, mother-in-law, etc.., and what led to the state of unforgiveness, are percolating unhelpfullly inside our cups (translated = mind and heart).

We need to intentionally tell ourselves that we need to pour these bad thoughts out so that good thoughts can finally go in. But the only way to do this is really to say that we are WRONG…okay, maybe not that we  ARE wrong, but that we COULD BE wrong in our opinion about the said situation or person(s).

Nobody needs to hear that out loud yet, it does not need to go into public space.  BUT we need to say it out that we could be WRONG in our current assessment. We could be wrong in thinking that the friend in question was being unfair, unreasonable, unthinkable, etc… We could be wrong in feeling wronged. For those of us who have a hard time accepting that we are wrong, perhaps we could tell ourselves (for now) that there could be another extraterrestrial explanation.

It’s almost like having to mouth out loud this mantra over and over again, “we could be wrong, we could be wrong, we could be wrong,” until the truth sinks in that we could possibly be wrong in our assessment of the situation. Once that kicks in, which could vary between 20 seconds to a few years, we are ready to unlearn our current paradigm of unforgiveness. The Zen master in us (or our coach) will appear. Learning, Unlearning and Relearning can only take place when the student is ready, is it not?

“But what if I don’t want to?” you lament.

It boils down to our MOTIVATION to want to unlearn and relearn, to want to be healed and reconciled, because let’s face it, what are we without the comfort and familiarity of that speck of unforgiveness, that well-worn picture of betrayal, anger and frustration that keeps playing in our minds..

..till the next post.