Let’s start with a story this time
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
This zen parable does not need any explanation. We are all guilty of it; well, most of us are. It is good to have opinions or ideas as they help us move. The views and the speculations give us the confidence to move forward. It is when they become ‘THE’ opinion that it prevents us from learning.
For example, let’s say I am trying on a new recipe which requires me to steam the potatoes. I do exactly as the recipe says and the dish turns out to be perfect. I make it when my friends come over; they compliment the meal. I have a strong opinion about how to best use potatoes in a dish. Now, my friend comes across, and she says it would be quicker to boil the potatoes than steam them. If I were open to learning, I would at least give it a try. There could be two outcomes – a) The potatoes are done faster, and the dish tastes the same or even better b) The potatoes are done quicker, but the recipe turns out to not so good.
If you are afraid of failure, the chances are you will not try a new technique. Being open to learning means that you have to embrace failure. And to do that, we have to make space for either teaching or failure. And as per the parable if we are full of ourselves, then we have no space. We will be stuck with something that worked for us without moving onto a better version.
There is no denying the fact that it is hard to accept that what worked so well for you in the past is no longer working for you; in fact, it might even be deemed harmful. Our attachment to our way of working is so powerful, and it is this attachment that causes us grief when we try to break it off.
The best way to handle this is to first, respect and honour what worked for you so long – the opinions you held were working. Second, be open to failure and learning – this is hard, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Third, do not beat yourself about it – there is nothing in this life that is worth beating yourself up about; you are just making it difficult for you to learn in the future. Easier said than done, I know.
Practice is the best teacher. Like everything else, it is all about building the muscle. To build the muscle, you have to exercise it as much as possible. You can start by failing in small matter like rolling your tongue, riding a bike without holding the handles, learn a new hobby etc.
What will you learn/fail to make space for new opinions?