Sunday, August 24, 2008

Empty Your Cup

Empty Your Cup
August 23, 2008

A young man had read all the books he could find about Zen. He heard about a great Zen master and requested an appointment with him to ask for teachings. When they were seated, the young man proceeded to tell the master everything he had understood from his readings, saying that Zen is about this and Zen is about that, on and on.

After some time, the master suggested that they have tea. He performed the traditional tea ceremony while the student sat at attention, bowing when served, saying nothing. The master then begun to pour tea into the student’s cup. He poured until it was full, and kept pouring. The tea ran over the edge of the cup and onto the table. The master kept pouring as the tea ran off the table and onto the floor. Finally, the student couldn’t contain himself any longer. He shouted, “Stop! Stop pouring! The cup is full-no more will go in!”

The master stopped pouring and said, “Just like this cup, your mind is full of your own opinions and preconceptions. How can you learn anything unless you first empty your cup?”

Many students have read volumes about their profession. They come to a lesson with so many ideas about their business that they can’t hear anything that the instructor has to say. They come to the lesson with a full cup.

The empty cup approach does not mean giving up your intelligence and following blindly. The point is to receive everything that’s taught in an open way, withholding judgment about it until you’ve tried it for a while. Try your best to understand what is being communicated, and then give it a fair chance to see whether or not it works for you.

Shumryu Suzuki Roshi, a great Zen master, said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” A beginners’ mind is a mind that is open, eager to learn, an empty cup. If your mind is open, empty of preconceptions, it is always inquisitive, receptive to whatever arises, and ready to engage.

Whether we practice meditation, sales or anything else, at first our experience is fresh and illuminating. When we begin, we have no thoughts of having already accomplished something. Then we can learn. But after a while, it can get stale. We may think we know something and lose our motivation. Our cup starts to fill, and there is less room for something new. When we become aware that this is happening, we can take a fresh start and return to a beginners mind. We may find it challenging to keep to our beginner’s mind; but it is so worthwhile. With a beginner’s mind we can learn from everyone and everything we encounter.

Ben Hogan, perhaps the best golf ball-striker of all time with the most precise swing ever; yet he never tired of practice. In fact, he delighted in it. That’s because he believed there was always more to learn. He always had a beginner’s mind.

If there is one thing I am certain of, most people in business are reluctant to practice, to role play. In this regard let me explain why role playing is so important. Every time you role play you lead yourself to a successful conclusion. Time after time you achieve success through your role playing. What most people fail to realize is that the subconscious mind is accepting success at every role playing session. The subconscious mind then “expects” you to be successful when you are engaged in the “real thing” and then find ways to make the successful actually happen. That is what professionals in any profession do – they expect success and their subconscious makes it happen.


There is a saying, “Sales can’t be taught; it can only be learned.” That does not mean we can go without instruction. The point is that no matter how good the instruction is; it is only as useful as the student’s interest and effort in learning. In describing the learning process, the Buddhist teachings once again make use of the metaphor of the cup. Four types of cups symbolize four kinds of students. Instruction is symbolized by water being poured.

The first cup is upside down. This represents a student who is supposedly there to learn, but pays no attention. You may have experienced something similar while reading a book; your eyes move across the words all the way down the page, but when you get to the bottom, you realize you were daydreaming and have no idea what you read. That’s what happens when a cup is turned upside down. No matter how much is poured, nothing gets in.

The second cup is right side up, but has a hole in the bottom. We hear what’s being taught, but we forget it all too soon. We don’t chew on it and digest it and take it to heart. For example, we might attend a class and when we get home, be asked by a fellow associate or friend, “What did they teach?” And we say, “Um, well, it was…Actually, I don’t remember but I know it was good.” This is the classic case of “in one ear and out the other.”

The third cup is right side up and doesn’t have a hole in it, but the inside is covered with dirt. When the clear water of instruction s poured in, the dirt makes it cloudy. This symbolizes the way we can distort what we hear, interpreting and editing it to fit into our preconceived ideas or opinions. Nothing new is actually learned. When we take a lesson, if the instruction matches how we already see things, it is taken as confirmation. Anything new that doesn’t match our opinion is resisted, ignored, or disregarded.

The fourth cup represents the ideal way to be a student. It is upright, receiving what it taught. It has no holes, retaining what is taught. It is clean, open to learning something new. To whatever extent you can and should be like the fourth cup.

Most students profess to “want” to improve their business. When people find out that I coach the mental game, many of them say, “Boy do I need that.” But most are not really interested in learning – instead they (certainly not you) are like upside-down cups.

Sometimes at the end of class, before the students actually go out into the business world, I emphasize a particular thing to do in connection with every opportunity. Later when I ask how it went, most of the group had forgotten to do it al all - right through the bottom of the cup.

When people come back for a second lesson (which rarely happens), I ask about the practice I gave them to do. The descriptions are sometimes so different from what was said that I barely recognize them. Those cups already had a whole lot in them that got mixed up with what was taught.

But it is delightful when someone who, like the fourth type of cup, comes back and describes the results of working on what we discussed, and has even begun to apply the instruction to other aspects of his or her business.

The most gratifying experience of all is when a student says, “Wait a minute, Gymbeaux. This has to do with a lot more than sales, doesn’t it?”
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Now if you were paying attention, you would have noticed that at the top of this Nugget there was no mention of “who” wrote the Nugget as has been the case in every other Nugget. I only wish I had written this. In fact it is the first chapter of “Zen Golf” written by Dr. Joseph Parent. I have substituted sales or business whenever the chapter referred to Golf which was not very often. I added a couple of sentences to reflect my own thinking on the subject. If I had suggested to someone who does not play golf that they ought to read “Zen Golf”, I seriously doubt they would have read the book. I think this Nugget points out that if you were to think of its contents in the world of golf, you would realize as I have that golf is very symbolic of life and life’s trials and tribulations.

This book is not only about being a good student but a student who is aware of their surroundings and who consciously attends courses, reads books and listens to audio training programs. I read a lot and I can relate to reading a page and having no idea what I just read. That is when you need to stop, take a deep breath, clear your mind and begin again. It helps to take notes and to underline important passages.

Learn to use a “Things To Do” and “Actions To Take” page whenever you take a course whether it is live or recorded. If you think of something you need to do while in a class, write it down under “Things To Do” and then immediately get back to the instruction instead of dwelling on the task. If you are taught something that you want to implement into your life or business, write it down under “Actions To Take” and then get back to the instruction. This keeps you focused on what is important rather then missing some important aspect of the ongoing training.

Take notes. There is magic between the eye, ear, mind and fingertips when you take notes. Whatever you write down you tend to take ownership of. Whatever you write becomes important.

People are generally NOT aware of their surroundings; life just goes on while things are happening all around them. There are opportunities that go untouched simply by being oblivious to them. Learn to stop talking and to pay attention to what people are really saying.

Always be a “beginner” with a “beginners mind.” By so doing you will always be receptive to new ideas that can work for you.

Read – attend courses – take notes - create a personal educational plan – practice – practice – practice!

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