Do you find it especially difficult to let go of your expectations, your demands, your opinions or your attachment to other people or things? Read on if you do…

There is a famous story that is quite famous in spiritual traditions. There are different versions of the story going around… The story goes something like this:

Nan-in was a famous Zen master. Many people from across the land visited him because they wanted Nan-in to become their teacher. That’s how a very knowledgeable student came to him to inquire about Zen and asked Nan-in to teach him.

Nan-in started their introduction by serving tea. As he was pouring the tea, the student was explaining all the different methods and traditions that he had been trained in. He was telling Nan-in about the many experiences he had with other teachers and the importance of all the teachings that he had received. Meanwhile, Nan-in was pouring his visitor’s cup to the brim, and then he kept on pouring. The student watched the cup overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup”, Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and what you already know.” “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”, he added.

The importance of curiosity and the beginner’s mind

A common difficulty that psychotherapists and coaches face during their training is how they can keep their beginners’ minds. It is easy to assume that we know what is right for another person. However, this usually comes from our own experience and life paths which are totally different than that of our clients.

So what is important in our profession is to be able to stay with the experience of an individual without offering a solution or a ‘way out’ too soon. Ideally, the client will be able to make a plan or find what he needs through the questions and observations when the professional can be as clear as possible from their own assumptions, presuppositions and expectations.

“Encountering a human being means being kept awake by an enigma” (Levinas, 1983, p.120)

Curiosity is being open to the mystery of the Other. Not to satisfy a personal need to know or find out but as a way of helping the other explore. Therapy and coaching are ways of self-exploring.

You might overhear expert coaches speak about “coachability”. This is basically the meaning of the story I mentioned in the beginning. It is difficult to let anything new in when you are full so if people think they know it all, they are basically not open to change. And a process of letting things go or unlearn what they think they know might be what is needed.

So are you open to letting new things in? What might you need to let go of first to create enough space?

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