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?”
I first read this story about three years ago and have, from time to time, gone back to look at it. It was only in the past couple of weeks that I felt this applies to a few areas in my life.
- There are so many great things about living in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the not so great things is explaining why I am a Christian. Perhaps it is a rebellion to their parents’ religion or maybe it’s the intrigue of Eastern spirituality (which is so easy to find in SF and IS really cool) but I have met people who find it hard to believe that I could be a Christian, even a liberal leaning Christian at that. To them, saying I attend an Episcopal church might as well be saying I lead a “homosexual conversion therapy” group. Their opinion of me is already decided before discussing anything else with me, so there is no “room in the cup” for them to reconsider a faith that is as complicated as any other. (And by the way, if I did run a “homosexual conversion therapy” group I would just tell all members that God loves you no matter what and then spend the rest of the session watching Modern Family.)
- (Please note that I am using my children’s initials in the following section and not that I named my children after embroidery on towels.) This overflowing cup analogy can extend to my kids as well. For MER, my daughter, I often look at her as artistic and expressive. I love her artwork (maybe a little too much because she now wants to tape everything she creates all over the walls). My son, BCR, is wild and a daredevil; his nickname at his last preschool was Spiderman. Sometimes, I forget that there is more to them. M is so curious about science that there are times I can’t even answer her curious questions. B gives the best hugs* and can definitely sit for a long period of time while doing things like building Legos. Sometimes my cup is so filled with superficial notions of my children’s personalities and interests that new opinions of them can’t get poured in. I must let my kids show me who they are naturally.
- I recently went to Italy and volunteered for an archeological expedition. During my stay, I had a roommate who was a decade younger than me but it felt like she was Dora the Explorer to my Maude. She often used expressions like “OMG!” in conversations. As we moved from superficial pleasantries to deeper conversations she spoke very openly to me and the other housemate. She discussed her many difficulties in getting through multiple colleges and her desire to find a sense of normal after a terrible car accident. As we talked, I started to view her as a lost soul. I thought about how my own lack of direction causes me angst and I have ten years on her! My “cup was filled” with negative opinions of myself and these were reflected onto this girl I barely knew. When I emptied the cup, I felt myself get closer to her and by then end of the trip, I was proud that she shared her story with me.
Tea time, anyone?