An important and hurried and stressed businessman visits a Zen master, seeking guidance. (It seems that these days, to look important, you have to appear hurried and stressed.) The Zen master sits down, invites the businessman to sit, and pours the visitor a cup of tea. But even after the tea fills the cup, the Zen master continues to pour, allowing the tea to spill, now running over the entire table.
The businessman is taken aback, “Stop! Please stop pouring the tea! Can’t you see the cup is full, and obviously can’t hold any more.”
The Zen master replies simply, “Yes. So, it is with you. And you will not be able to receive any guidance, unless you make some empty space first.”
I can relate to the businessman.
There is something alluring about filling empty space. And something very unnerving about being asked to empty (or let go of) whatever I’ve stockpiled to fill that space.
But I do know this. When there is no empty space, I pay the price.
I am full. Stuffed. Numb. Literally; numb. And when my senses are numbed by the noise of overload and worry, I am impoverished. Think kryptonite for sanity.
Gratefully, in the business world there are conversations about making “white space”. Space essential to nourish innovation and imagination. Space to pause and reflect, let your mind wander, or just breathe deeply.
It is too easy to make this only about speed. Yes, we move too fast. Yes, our calendars are crammed, and our lives are hectic and chockablock. But this is about our emotional and spiritual space, where we come face-to-face with the “addictive element” of being too full. I readily grumble about exhaustion. And yet…
…my world of obligations fills with the need to fix or impress others;
…my spirit–unnerved by life’s uncertainties–becomes a magnet for (and is weighed down by) fear;
…my sense of self and identity attaches itself to pain or loss or unrealized expectations.
Meaning? This pattern obviously takes care of something.
Two traveling monks reached a river where they met an attractive young woman waiting to cross. Wary of the current, she asked if they would be willing to carry her. One of the monks hesitated, but the other promptly picked her up into his arms, transported her across the river, and put her down, safely on the other bank. She thanked him and went on her way.
As the monks walked toward the monastery, one brooded, stewing in the toxic elixir of self-righteousness and envy. After an hour, unable to hold his silence, he spoke. “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked her up in your arms, held her very close and carried her!”
“Brother,” the second monk replied, “That is all true. But on the other side of the river I set her down. It sounds to me as if you are still carrying her.”
This is a story about how we can be (every single one of us) owned or possessed by the things we carry. We live with an absorbed willful blindness, seeing only what we want to see, and our spirit is tied up into knots.
Remember when we called it baggage? Or tapes? (It doesn’t quite translate in a MP3 world, does it?) Regardless of the name we give it, we are prevented from being free. (Or, at the very least compelled to buy every self-help book that promised some kind of relief promising a version of an enviable life.)
Our spirit is like the teacup. Overflowing. And all we wanted was guidance. We just didn’t expect that it would involve making space. “You need me to let go of what?”
Let go of say… multi-tasking or distraction. Like the little boy said, “Momma, momma, listen, but this time, with your eyes!”
Let’s admit that there is a fusion or muddle. Meaning that there is stuff we carry that brings delight. And, there are a few things that bring regret. Maybe that’s the weight: an expectation that I am to be somebody other than who I am today. That my value is conditional; all about some need to measure up or pass muster. Can it be true that I am loved, or am somebody, only because I keep the rules, or play the role, or worry about what others think?
If that is the case, then this weight (just like the first monk carried) means that I am no longer free…
To risk, or to try.
To live unbridled.
To show mercy.
To right wrongs.
In her book Broken Open, Elizabeth Lesser talks about our need to “practice death”; the process of letting go of whatever enslaves us. Like the worried monk, there are times when I carry a life that does not even belong to me. We need to take a breath or two, in order to clear our minds of emotional storm clouds.
I no longer need to clutch.
I no longer need to be a warrior doing battle, as if my identity is dependent upon only being strong.
I choose to quit trying to be perfect or always right or unflawed or impressive or in a pell-mell hurry.
If it is toxic to my spirit, I choose to say, “let it die.”
I choose to empty some of the tea, learning the dance between letting go and gratitude.
Here is the power of making space. Within that space, we are able to see, and to receive. Even if that means receiving sadness or loss or grief or the death of expectations. You know: by now I expected to be _________ (fill in the blank). And when we receive, our lives are fueled by gratitude.
Yes, I know. We want a list of “how to.” But let us not make letting go another obligation. Lord have mercy.
Let us begin simply. I will stop, if only for a minute. I will take time to breathe. With each breath, I will empty a little from my cup. With each breath, I will say thank you, and not close all the windows of my heart.
Our hearts break this week for our New Zealand friends affected by mindboggling violence. There is a prayer below, from Muslim brothers and sisters.
Tonight, I raise a glass with you on St. Paddy’s. “May you have warm words on a cold evening, A full moon on a dark night, And the road downhill all the way to your door.”
This week I’ll be headed down to Anaheim for the Religious Education Congress. I hope to see some of you there. Stop by for a hug. I know that I need one.
Quote for your week…
One of the ways to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that we have an address but cannot be found there. Henri Nouwen
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Salam alaikum, Inna lilahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun (from God we come and to Him we return). Our thoughts and duas (prayers) are with you and all Muslims in New Zealand at this most difficult time. May Allah (God) grant the deceased paradise, ease the pain of their families and friends, and help the community deal with this terrible tragedy. Amen.
Prayer from our friends at ING
(Islamic Network in the Bay Area).
Guard Your Heart
She takes the bird into her hands
and brings it near
to hold it in her crossed arms
her fingers tight together
as if it would slip away.
She hugs it to her
as if holding could revive it
as if she could protect it
from every kind of harm.
She looks into the distance
and all her energy
sinks into the heart, beating,
warmth to warmth, as if
it could fly again.
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be confident knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
St. Theresa’s Prayer