Tea Cups, Brass Bands and the Gentle Wisdom of the Piccolo

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You’re probably familiar with the old ‘teaching’ story about the tea cup, where a Zen Master was visited by a very educated intellectual who wanted to learn the secrets of Zen Buddhism.

zen tea

The Master poured him a cup of tea, but when the cup was full, he kept on pouring so that the tea spilled all over the table and floor.  Finally, the visitor interrupted and asked him what he was doing.


The master told him that he, the educated man, was like the cup – so ‘full’ of knowledge that there was no room in the cup for any more wisdom.  “First, you have to empty your cup” said the master.

You can watch one of the many versions of the story here…

I’ve been using this story in my coaching and teaching for years… but it’s only recently that I’ve grasped the deeper meaning behind it.  I used to think that emptying the cup was about having space for something new to come in from OUTSIDE.

Now, it means something different for me:  it’s about having the space for something new and fresh to come up from INSIDE – the bubbling up of insights (literally sights from within).

This infinite wisdom is always available to us, in any moment – but it can be challenging to ‘hear’ the gentle voice of the piccolo, when your head is too full of thinking.

A wonderful woman I was coaching this morning described how she experiences life with the almost constant cacophony of a very loud brass band playing in her head.  It’s a fairly obvious logical conclusion that she feels anxious and stressed a lot of the time.

And then, as she quietened her mind just enough, she began to hear the gentle piccolo of her own wisdom again, reminding her that she was whole, loved, enough, connected and completely OK.  And that there was nothing to fear, and she could take the next steps towards creating the wonderful life that is available to all of us, in any moment.

And fresh, new insights began to rush in to fill the space.

It’s a wonderful thing to witness.
What’s it like in your head today?

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