In the Zen tradition of Buddhism, there is a story of a smart and eager university professor who comes to an old Zen master for teachings. The Zen master offers him tea and upon the man’s acceptance, he pours the tea into the cup until it overflows. As the professor politely expresses his dismay at the overflowing cup, the Zen master keeps pouring.
“A mind that is already full cannot take in anything new,” the master explains. “Like this cup, you are full of opinions and preconceptions. ” In order to find happiness, he teaches his disciple he must first empty his cup.
When meeting my first meditation instructors, I learned to interpret my emptiness in a completely different way. “Stop trying to understand what you are feeling and just feel,” they told me. “Absence or presence, it doesn’t matter. Just pay attention to everything exactly as it appears and don’t judge it.”
They taught me to use awareness of my breathing as a model for attention to difficult emotional states. “Don’t try to control breath,” they counseled, “Breathing happens on its own. Let the breath breathe you. Pay attention to whatever sensation, or lack of sensation, you can find.”
In mediation, I had stumbled upon a new way to be with myself. I did not have to make that disturbing feeling of emptiness disappear. I did not have to run away from my emptiness, or cure it, or eradicate it. I had only to see what was actually there. In fact, far from being “empty,” I found that emptiness was rather “full” feeling. I discovered that emptiness was the canvas, or background, of my being.
I did not understand it, but I was much less afraid. My condition had no name, but I could reach down and touch it. I had come with an explanation but left with an beautiful experience.
© Linda Moon