Empty the Cup

Empty the Cup

Are you full to the rim?

The Practice:
Empty the cup.

Why?

Once upon a time, a scholar came to visit a saint. After the scholar had been orating and propounding for a while, the saint proposed some tea. She slowly filled the scholar’s cup: gradually the tea rose to the very brim and began spilling over onto the table, yet she kept pouring and pouring. The scholar burst out: “Stop! You can’t add anything to something that’s already full!” The saint set down the teapot and replied, “Exactly.”

Whether it’s the blankness of a canvas to an artist, the silence between the notes in music, bare dirt for a new garden, the not-knowing openness of a scientist exploring new hypotheses, an unused shelf in a closet or cupboard, or some open time in your schedule, you need space to act effectively, dance with your partners, and have room around your emotional reactions.

Yet most of us, me included, tend to stuff as much as possible into whatever room is available – room in closets, schedules, budgets, relationships, and even the mind itself.

Personally, my own mind is often filled with themes of work: details of tasks to do, problems to avert, opportunities to capture keep swelling up again into awareness to capture my attention. For a friend of mine, the wallpaper of her own mind, as she puts it, is rumination about her health problems.

Remember the cup: its value is in the space, the emptiness, it holds.

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How?

Be more mindful of the element of space, openness, possibility, reserve capacity, and emptiness in your life. This includes room in a drawer, the volume of air in a kitchen, the vacuum in a lightbulb, openmindedness in a friend, or minimal traffic on a highway. Consciously appreciate the beneficial somethings that are the gifts of various nothings.

What’s the “wallpaper” in your own mind – the everyday preoccupations that fill it up like bermuda grass taking over a yard? The usual suspects include recurring worries, issues with work, resentments, and regrets. Try to be more mindful of these, and disengage faster when they start taking over. Shift your attention to something that’s positive and interesting, and then try to invest yourself more in this topic.

Sometimes you’re just stuck with a big bucket of tasks yet to do (I’ve been there . . . oops, I still am here!). But at least empty the bucket faster than you fill it with new tasks.

Put some space between finishing one thing and starting another. For example, after sending one email, take a breath before replying to another one; when the dishes are done, pause for a break; in a conversation, let the ending of one topic reverberate for a moment before launching another one; take real time for lunch.

Drop the stuff you can no longer afford to lug around. At sea level, you can run with a brick in your backpack, but if you’re hiking on a mountain, that brick’s got to go. Similarly, most of us have some habits, indulgences, ideas, grudges, or fixations that were kind of OK at one time but now – with changing circumstances (such as juggling more balls, raising a family, aging) – are wearing you down and really need to go. What’s your own brick? What would you gain by emptying it out of your own backpack?

Explore the practice not-adding as a form of subtracting, emptying: not firing back with a tart rejoinder in a quarrel . . . not presuming you know the right answer to something . . . not taking on a new commitment . . . not plopping more stuff on the counter . . . not piling on another self-criticism . . .

Enjoy emptiness in the forms that speak to you: perhaps the quiet at night when everyone’s asleep but you, a blank page in your journal, a friend’s receptive listening, an open counter as you begin to cook (love this one myself), a hole in your schedule, the space between thoughts as your mind calms and becomes still, or a Saturday with no plans at all.

Or a cup waiting patiently for tea.

Know Someone Who Could Empty the Cup?

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Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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