The Beauty of an Empty Cup

Published by Mikala on

We hear an awful lot these days about the importance of filling our cups and only giving to others when our own cup is full to overflowing. 

But when I recently learned about the beautiful concept of having an empty cup, the buddhist and minimalist in me couldn’t help but embrace and share the lesson.  

The metaphor of the “empty cup” has been used in various contexts to convey different meanings. The one we’re most familiar with being the idea that when we have an empty cup we have nothing left to give others. We must fill our own cup in order to be able to give to others from a place of generosity and abundance rather than scarcity and obligation. 

Which is a worthy idea.

But the analogy I’m about to share comes from an old Zen proverb. And whether you’re an entrepreneur, a student, a professional or just someone looking to grow and improve, having an empty cup can be a powerful tool for success.

Empty Your Cup

Once upon a time, there was a wise Zen master. People traveled from far away to seek his help. In return, he would teach them and show them the way to enlightenment.

On this particular day, a scholar came to visit the master for advice. “I have come to ask you to teach me about Zen,” the scholar said.

Soon, it became obvious that the scholar was full of his own opinions and knowledge. He interrupted the master repeatedly with his own stories and failed to listen to what the master had to say. The master calmly suggested that they should have tea.

So the master poured his guest a cup. The cup was filled, yet he kept pouring until the cup overflowed onto the table, onto the floor, and finally onto the scholar’s robes. The scholar cried “Stop! The cup is full already. Can’t you see?”

“Exactly,” the Zen master replied with a smile. “You are like this cup — so full of ideas that nothing more will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”

Be Curious

Approaching a situation with an empty cup provides the space to embody a new willingness to learn. Embracing the mindset of, “I don’t know everything, and I’m open to new ideas” sets you up for a much richer learning experience, not limited by preconceptions or assumptions. You’re able to absorb new information, ask questions, and challenge your own beliefs from a place of curiosity in order to grow and learn.

Be Brave

While having an empty cup allows you to be open and receptive to new ideas and perspectives. This can be really challenging, as it requires you to step out of your comfort zone and consider viewpoints that may be different from your own. But being receptive to new ideas can lead to creativity, innovation, and even breakthroughs that if you are brave enough to embrace, can transform your life and your business.

Be Open and Honest with Yourself

Embracing the empty cup mindset also requires humility and self-awareness. It means acknowledging that you don’t know everything, have all the answers and that there is always more to learn. This humility can help you avoid the trap of arrogance, which can stifle growth and prevent you from seeing opportunities that are right in front of you.

Be Present for Others

When you approach a conversation or interaction with an empty cup, you’re more likely to listen attentively to the other person’s perspective. This can help you better understand their point of view and foster better communication. When both parties have an empty cup, it creates a space for meaningful dialogue and mutual understanding.

The beauty and challenge of an empty cup cannot be overstated. It requires humility, self-awareness, and a willingness to learn, but it can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life and business. 

By all means, give to others from a full cup, but give to yourself from the gift of an empty cup.