Once upon a time, a scholar and a saint lived on the same street, and they arranged to meet. The scholar asked the saint about the meaning of life. She said a few words about love and joy, then paused to reflect, and the scholar jumped in with a long discourse on Western and Eastern philosophy. When the scholar was finished, the saint proposed some tea, prepared it with care, and began pouring it slowly into the scholar’s cup. Inch by inch the tea rose. It approached the lip of the cup, and she kept pouring. It ran over the top of the cup and onto the table, and she still kept pouring. The scholar burst out: “What are you doing?! You can’t put more into a cup that’s already full!” The saint set down the teapot and said, “Exactly.”
Have you ever been around someone like this? Or ‘been that someone’ whose cup is already so full they’re not open to learning anything new?
I answered ‘yes’ and ‘yes’.
While I’d never categorize myself as a saint (and trust me, nobody else would either), I’ve certainly been in conversations with these scholarly types, although calling it a conversation is a tad misleading. It’s more like a lecture or monologue.
You know the type: They love to hear the sound of their own voice and bloviate endlessly about their genius. They don’t ask questions but prefer to prattle on about themselves and all they know.
Sidebar: Have you noticed you rarely hear yourself saying to these people “Please, go on, tell me more!” No, it’s more like: “Wow, while you’re busy being so amazing, could someone please stab me with a fork so I could get out of here?” (Ok, I haven’t said this. Yet. I mean, out loud.)
But then I have to settle my little self down and confess I, too, have acted like the scholar once or twice (ok, more like 112 times by now. Whatever.)
Yes, yours truly has been known to love the sound of her own voice and carry on about all the amazing things she knows (thus giving others the opportunity to request a fork).
My guess is we’ve all fallen prey to resembling the scholar from time to time.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with knowing a bunch of things and being excited to tell others all the things we know a bunch about. Every one of us has gifts and talents the world desperately needs so I say keep sharing your genius!
It’s just that when we let our ‘all knowing self’ take over, we close ourselves off from learning, from being teachable.
When we’re no longer curious or asking questions, we’re a full cup with no room to spare.
In my work as a coach, one of the most costly moves I can make in a session (and I’ve made it) is to assume I know what my client is thinking and feeling based on the story she/he is sharing. The moment I think “I already know”, I’ve shut the door on listening for what my client is really saying. (As it happens, the gold is often found in what they’re not saying.) The bottom line is I miss the mark and do them a great disservice.
The ‘I already know this’ mindset puts a stop to learning. When learning stops, life gets pretty boring, as does the person touting the cup that already runneth over.
Any chance you, like me, might be showing up somewhere in your life as an already full cup?
If so, want to know one simple thing we can do to stay teachable?
Adopt “Beginner’s Mind”.
Beginner’s Mind is a term that comes from Zen Buddhism and refers to having ‘an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would’. (Wikipedia)
Think of it like stepping into the mind of a child and looking out as though you’re seeing or hearing something for the very first time.
Here are some ways to try this out:
* Decide you’re going to become a better listener. During your next conversation with someone, (even if you see them on a regular basis–maybe especially if you do), shift gears and get curious about them. Ask yourself “What does this person seem to care about?” Invite them to tell you more about themselves or the story they’re sharing with you. (Nix this if you’re with a bloviator)
• Pretend you’re a newbie and see what happens. The next time you’re at a meeting or out to dinner with friends or family, instead of assuming it’s going to be “same old, same old”, imagine it’s your first time with these people. Do you find you’re more engaged, more interested? Do they seem more engaging, more interesting? Hmmm.
• Drop your expectations about what’s going to happen and greet the day with curiosity. That’s right, intentionally go through your day inviting a child like sense of wonder and awe. What do you notice? Does life feel more fun, adventurous? Are you more openhearted? Are there any surprises?
• Learn something new. If you want to truly get into beginner’s mind, learn something new: take piano lessons, learn how to make jewelry, take a Zumba, Tai Chi or gardening class. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Or recall what it is you’ve always wanted to learn and go do it!
How will you benefit from Beginner’s Mind?
• Aside from the fact that you’ll be a helluva lot more enjoyable to be around, you’ll be amazed what you can learn from other people when you talk less and listen more.
• It’s surprising what you’ll wake up to in your own life. You’ll become aware of what’s actually happening, not just what you think is happening. This is yet another easy, breezy no cost way to get more fully present in your life.
• Getting curious about someone or something else can launch you out of inertia and fire up your brain and senses. You might even get some great ideas!
• The best part? Your relationships will improve (or at least get more interesting), your energy will increase and you’ll feel more fully alive.
But what do I know? I’m just a beginner….
Pssst. I always love hearing from you, saints and scholars alike!