Bruce Lee was a hustler, fighter, and a Hollywood superstar. But he was also a Zen master, philosopher, and perpetual learner. This was one of his favorite stories:
A learned man once went to visit a Zen teacher to inquire about Zen. As the Zen teacher talked, the learned man frequently interrupted to express his own opinion about this or that. Finally, the Zen teacher stopped talking and began to serve tea to the learned man. He poured the cup full, then kept pouring until the cup overflowed.
“Stop,” said the learned man. “The cup is full, no more can be poured in.”
“Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions,” replied the Zen teacher. “If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”
If you think back through your life, probably no further than a week ago, I’m sure you can find an example where your cup too was overflowing. Mine does all the time. I mean, I get it.
You’re ambitious. You’ve got big plans. You want to achieve your lofty goals. But you also want to be a good person. You want to be calm, compassionate and kind. You want to enjoy life, be happy in the now, and stay curious.
The split between these is hard to manage. It creates pressure under which we often crack and give in to our impulses. But if you asked Bruce Lee, he’d tell you that they’re two sides of the same coin: Living a balanced life.
Achieving this balance requires lots of things but, most of all, it requires an empty cup. To challenge our preconceived notions at every turn. To engage with new ideas. To always keep an open mind. That’s not something you can do just once. It’s a lifelong practice. We must empty our cup every day.
That’s why I’m starting a new project. It’s called Empty Your Cup.
It’s a short daily newsletter that will help you find balance through old wisdom, new perspectives, and a dose of zen.
Every day, I’ll share a bold opinion, an old quote, a short story, or a hare-brained idea. Whatever it takes to get your gears spinning, open your mind, and look at life — look at yourself, really — from a new angle. So that you can move forward without losing the spring in your step.
Bruce Lee undoubtedly possessed this quality. In a life of just 32 years, he achieved everything we’ve ever dreamed of and then some. But he didn’t let any of it get to his head. We could do worse than follow in his footsteps.
I hope you’ll join me on this quest. So far, almost 1,000 people have. May we all find balance in his legacy. You can find more info here and see all emails of the past two weeks here. If you enjoy them, sign up!
“I have to leave now, my friend. You have a long journey ahead of you, and you must travel light. From now on drop all your burden of preconceived conclusions behind, and “open” yourself to everything and everyone ahead. Remember, my friend, the usefulness of a cup is in its emptiness.” — Bruce Lee
Originally published at emptyyourcup.substack.com.