This is one of my favorite zen stories. The story goes that Nan-in, a zen master, was being interviewed by a philosophy professor.
Upon their meeting the professor began to tell the zen master all that he know about zen. He talked and talked and talked. After some time, Nan-in said, “Let’s have some tea”.
They sat for a traditional tea ceremony. The professor kept on about all that he knew. Nan-in began pouring tea into the prof´s cup. It became more and more full. The tea began cascading over the side of the teacup and the Professor said, “Stop. Enough. It is full. It cannot take anymore”.
Nan-in then said something like, “You are like this cup. You are overfull. No more can fit. Empty your cup”.
This is the mind-frame we need to allow ourselves to cultivate. Regardless of what we think we know, we must empty our cup. We need to cast out our pre-conceptions and listen to information, as though it
were the first time we ever heard it. In listening with this open mindedness, information we have known for years can resonate in new ways and we can take on a new, deeper understanding of the material
being offered, as if it were the first time we heard it.
When I was a boy, I was extremely active in martial arts. It was my passion for about a decade. I had five different instructors I regularly trained with. I would hear, more or less, the same information from each of my teachers and would marvel, at times, when I would suddenly have a mental breakthrough, as to understanding what each had been saying. I thought I understood, prior to this moment. But in some cases, it was only after I had heard the information from the fifth instructor, that I actually understood it with some level of depth.
Emptying our cup allows for new breakthrough discovery and deeper awareness and understanding.
We should each know that we do not really know much of anything, in relation to what is possible to know. If we are truly open to knowing more, and actively seek to know more, then we have the potential to be
in a state of constant self-learning. We then become our own teachers. This state of mind is an optimal place to be as an artist (and human), as we are then in a constant (and often rapid) state of growth.
An emptied cup perspective is one that allows for possibility. When we think we know something, sometimes we close our minds off. We dismiss this information as, “Yea, yea. Got it. What’s next”? That is a form
of closed-mind-ed-ness. Keep your mind open.
Empty your cup.
Jim Hart is the founder of Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts, a full-time training program in Entrepreneurial Arts technique, teaching artists how to make a living in the arts. Hart has also founded The International Theatre Academy Norway and The Hart Technique.
Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts opens in the Autumn of 2010.