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Empty Your Cup December 6, 2011

Posted by nrhatch in Meditation, Mindfulness.

I’ve shared this Zen Parable before:

An arrogant man, who felt that no one could teach him anything, visited a Zen master for tea.   The Zen master poured the tea until it overflowed the cup, and still he continued to pour. 

The arrogant man cried, “Master, stop!  Why do you keep pouring? The cup is full.”

The master replied, “You too are full of your opinions and judgments about the world.  You must empty yourself of the past, to receive the present.” 

Now, let’s take it a step further.  Do we “empty the cup” so that we can refill it with Zen wisdom? 


We empty the cup so we can mindfully experience THIS moment and all that it offers without looking through the dirty lens of stale judgments.

Zen wisdom is merely the voice that reminds us to empty our cup . . . again and again and again.

Aah . . . that’s better!

Quote:  [W]hen we dump out our teacup . . . we make room for the really good tea.  Zen is the dumping of the teacup.  The really good tea is your life, your existence, your you. ~ The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living, p. 91.


1. Carl D'Agostino - December 6, 2011

I’ve heard of spilled milk and the crying thing

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

Exactly. IT is what IT is. We must accept what we cannot change. We cannot control the world . . . but we can control how we CHOOSE to relate to IT. 😎

2. creatingreciprocity - December 6, 2011

We become attached to what we have in our ‘cup’ and are sometimes scared to empty it or let in anything new. Great story, thanks, Nancy.

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

One suggestion from Zen Living is to state “the obvious” as the possible to remind ourselves that many of the “facts” we hang on to are merely “opinion.”

For example, instead of saying, “This IS a dog’s chew toy,” we can say, “This might be a dog’s chew toy.”

It reminds us that everything is subject to change . . . and even planets (like Pluto) can be demoted as we learn more. 😉

3. Andra Watkins - December 6, 2011

I’ve never heard this zen parable, Nancy. Thank you for sharing it again. Emptying the cup is something I need to remember to do multiple times a day. 🙂

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

Same here. As soon as I find myself “resisting” the “what is” or wanting things to be different than they are . . . I remind myself to empty my cup.

Embrace all with JOY . . . anything can be a gift of gold in disguise. 😀

4. Maggie - December 6, 2011

I try to empty my cup every day… but sometimes there are old dregs left at the bottom. Oh well… try harder, I suppose.

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

If we let go all at once . . . we might lose our balance, eh? 😉

5. Pocket Perspectives - December 6, 2011

That’s a wonderful parable…I really like the image of releasing the past= emptying the cup…thanks!

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

We don’t need to let go of our memories and remembered experiences . . . but if we want to continue to LIVE, we need to be fully present in the present.

6. CMSmith - December 6, 2011

What if the tea in our cup is good?

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

Does that mean you’re already enlightened and living in the NOW, unburdened by worries, fear, pain, regret, judgments, opinions, expectations, attachments, preconceptions, and guilt? 😉

7. jannatwrites - December 6, 2011

I like the story. It’s a good reminder to let things go. Emptying the cup is a great way to consciously think of dumping our perceptions so we can have fresh experiences.

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

Exactly. The best way to NOT go through life with a “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” mind-set is to realize that you have NEVER experienced THIS moment before . . . because the you you were is NOT the you you are.

Just ask Ebenezer Scrooge (or the Grinch) what it feels like to lighten the load by emptying the cup of past hurts and stale grievances.

8. ElizOF - December 6, 2011

I’ve always loved that story… and it’s a great reminder for all of us to unload form time to time… TY Nancy for your patience as I adjusted to a new schedule… will be doing a marathon of catching up on commenting tonight and the next. 🙂

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

When we remember to “empty our cup” first, we can really LISTEN to what others have to offer . . . instead of hanging on to endlessly recycled stale opinions.

Don’t worry about “catching up” on SLTW. Just enjoy THIS moment . . . and the NEXT.

9. sufilight - December 6, 2011

This Zen parable is a favorite one of mine and as usual you added clarity by emphasizing the need to let go of judgement so our vision/perception is clear.

nrhatch - December 6, 2011

Some people are resistance to the notion . . . believing that they are to develop amnesia to the past by letting go of all their treasured memories.

Experiential memories are not the problem . . . it’s the baggage we’ve attached to those memories that slows us to a crawl. 😉

10. Nancy Curteman - December 7, 2011

Your post made me think of the religious strife in the Middle East or anywhere for that matter. Fanatics need to empty their teacups and allow that other beliefs have a place in the world.

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

If we each emptied our teacup right HERE, right NOW . . . the world would know peace.

11. Maggie L R - December 7, 2011

It is just like the Godly widom prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

That’s definitely part of it.

As soon as I find myself “resisting” the “what is” or wanting things to be different than they are . . . I remind myself to empty my cup.

But it goes a bit further than the Serenity Prayer.

It reminds us not to become attached to THIS moment . . . even if we LOVE everything about it. Because THIS moment must flow into the next and the next and the next.

We cannot hang on to the shore if we want to sail the sea of life.

12. adeeyoyo - December 7, 2011

I have been consciously trying to live in the moment for the last while, Nancy, and I must say I am so much more at PEACE. No more rushing against time. I think the whole world could do with this lesson. Thank you.

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Exactly! In the NOW, time ceases to exist. We relax into the moment and time no longer tugs at our sleeve . . . demanding that we ignore THIS moment to focus on something else.

We relax into whatever we are doing and embrace it completely. We chop wood. We carry water. We peel carrots. We mindfully focus on the task at hand.

Our minds stop racing and squeaking like hamster on an exercise wheels. Instead, they are like a water wheel. We scoop up THIS moment, embrace it fully, and then empty it out to make room for the next moment.

We are HERE and it is NOW . . . what else is there?

13. LittleMissVix - December 7, 2011

This Zen living has some good tips!

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Life is easier when our thoughts are under control rather than bouncing around like ring-tailed lemurs on steroids.

Reminding the mind to be mindful and pay attention to THIS moment is the heart of Zen.

14. Click the Cootchie 3.0? Anyone? « The Accidental Cootchie Mama - December 7, 2011

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15. suzicate - December 7, 2011

It’s difficult to see the “real: picture when we already have one formed in our heads. Letting go of “conditioning” and reforming beliefs is a very beneficial concept to living in the now…

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Yes! The more we empty our minds to really focus on what is before us . . . the more awake, aware, and alive we become.

Instead of sleepwalking through a gray landscape day after dreck and dreery day . . . the vibrancy of life re-materializes. We laugh, we sing, we dance . . . our joy is unconfined.

16. Cindy - December 7, 2011

It’s empty, now to get a refill 😉

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Bwahahaha! 😆

17. Nicola - December 7, 2011

Like this very much, have come across it in martial arts, not easy to do sometimes, but amazing when it does happen.

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Thanks, Nicola. It can be challenging to rein in an unruly mind that it used to running free. But it’s worth it.

18. johnell74 - December 7, 2011

Some Christians call this “the sacrament of the present moment”, Nancy. How often we find similar concepts in different strains of philosophy. Two great posts.
Thank you

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Thanks, John. One thing that I love about Zen teachings is that they enhance our daily lives no matter what religious or spiritual beliefs we hold ~ it’s experiential wisdom, not faith-based dogma and tenets. And the benefits are immediate ~ not just in THIS lifetime, but in THIS moment. 😀

19. souldipper - December 7, 2011

I held my breath when you said, “Now, let’s take it a step further.”

I kept reading.

Ah…she is there!

XO, Nancy.

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Thanks, Amy.

Just so! The act of emptying our minds allows us to mindfully experience the intersection of HERE and NOW.

What a great place to BE! 😀

20. bluebee - December 7, 2011

Doing repetitive, physical tasks is good for achieving this like weeding and pruning 🙂

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

Exactly. As long as we keep our focus on what we are doing, without resistance, we are LIVING NOW.

Zen helps us to concentrate on one thing at a time (by reining in our monkey mind). If we are doing the dishes, we are washing dishes. We are not thinking: I don’t want to wash dishes. I hate washing dishes. What a waste of time. I have better things to do. Etc.

We calmly wash the dishes WITHOUT adding to our stress levels by resisting the “what is” or by allowing our mind to wander at will.

Aah . . . that’s better.

21. kateshrewsday - December 7, 2011

Wonderful post, Nancy. A daily time when we are empty: it’s the path to happiness, I feel sure.

nrhatch - December 7, 2011

It’s funny how doing “nothing” can benefit us in so many ways. Don’t just do something . . . sit there! 😀

22. M - December 7, 2011

Nancy, thanks for sharing this wonderful post!

nrhatch - December 8, 2011

Thanks, M!

23. SidevieW - December 7, 2011

ypu can’t control what happens, but you can control how you perceive it and react

nrhatch - December 8, 2011

I’ve been getting lots of practice the last few days . . . I feel like I’m playing Whack~A~Mole with the challenges cropping up around me.

24. Team Oyeniyi - December 8, 2011

Life is often a mystery. Yet only we can work out our own mystery.

nrhatch - December 8, 2011

The twists, the turns, and the uncertainty are what make life worth living.

25. nuvofelt - December 9, 2011

I’m all for the ‘now’. Life would be so boring without it.

nrhatch - December 9, 2011

I am making more of an effort to remain “present” in the present and I am noticing a real difference in how I relate to the world.

26. l0ve0utl0ud - December 9, 2011

Such a great post. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of letting fo of past judgements, fears and negativity in order to be able to appreciate this moment.

nrhatch - December 9, 2011

Thanks, LOL. Your last post rocked! Really good examples of how we get pulled out of the NOW by thoughts that are not conducive to happiness.

27. Crowing Crone Joss - December 11, 2011

never think you have arrived, always be open to the new, the now. Flowers do not bloom all year but flower, go to seed, lie dormant and bloom again. So can we, eh?

nrhatch - December 11, 2011

Lovely thought . . . our “down times” are the death of a single bloom, not of the entire plant. If we remove dying blossoms by “deadheading” them . . . we can encourage new growth in the rest of the plant. 😀

28. Pierotucci - December 14, 2011

Thanks – I came over from Julie’s Blog, and found just the right message at the right time.


nrhatch - December 14, 2011

Excellent! Glad it resonated with you. 😀

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