Teacups

My leadership coach thoughtfully provided me with a parable the last time we talked 1:1. It was this:

A business man trying to get to the next level in his business tried everything he knew of and was not making progress.  He asked everyone he knew and no one could help.  Finally he met someone who told him of a faraway master who could solve anyone’s problem, be it love, health, business, or anything else.  The man thought to himself, “I will go see this master, perhaps he can help me.  So he travelled across the sea, he travelled through the desert, he travelled through the mountains until finally he came to the master.  The master asked, “What have you come to me for?”  The man explained why he had travelled so far.  The master said, “You are not yet ready.  Come back again when you are ready.”

Mystified, the man left.  He travelled back home, back through the mountains, back through the desert, back across the sea.  He went back to work, wondering what he was missing that would make him ready.  He worked very hard for many months.  After these months, he thought surely he was ready now.  So he gathered his travel plans, he travelled across the sea, he travelled across the desert,  he travelled through the mountains, until he again came to the master.  “Master, I am returned, I believe I am ready now.”  The master looked into his eyes, paused, and said, “Go away.  You are not yet ready.”

Perplexed and a little upset, the man left again.  He travelled back home, back through the mountains, back through the desert, back across the sea.  He went back to work, wondering what was missing that would make him ready.  He worked very hard for many more months.  After these many more months, he thought surely I am ready now.  So again, perhaps with more trepidation this time, he gathered his travel plans, he travelled across the sea, he travelled across the desert, he travelled through the mountains until he came to the master.  He said, “Master, I am returned.  I believe I am ready now.”  The master looked into his eyes, paused, and again said, “Go away, you are not yet ready.” 

The man said, “Master, with all due respect — what do I need to do to be ready to even receive an understanding of the steps I must take?  It is expensive and frustrating to come this far only to be told I am not ready!”  The master said, “You are not ready, but let us take some tea together.”  The man thought, “Finally!  We are getting somewhere!”   

They sat down to tea.  The master, as the host, bid the man, as his guest, pour himself a cup first.  Then the master poured his own cup, and then reached over to pour more tea into the man’s cup.  The man’s cup was already full though, and the tea started spilling on the table.  Still the master kept pouring.  The man said, “You are spilling the tea, what are you doing!?”  Still the master poured.  The man jumped up and away from the table to keep the tea from spilling on his clothes, saying, “Why do you continue pouring, the teacup is full and the tea is spilling off the table!?”  The master finished emptying the teapot, sat it back on the table, leaned back and looked at the man.  He looked deep into his eyes and said, “When you come to me, you cannot hear what I have to say because you come with a full mind.  Until you empty your mind, you cannot hear what I have to say anymore than the teacup could accept any more tea.  Anything I said would have been lost on you, like the tea on the table.”

She told me this story with a specific intent (of course). I had been telling her that someone I met with seemed not to ever want to listen to me. Besides the obvious of sending this individual a prioritized agenda ahead of time so they would be able to prepare on the topics of importance, she said, sometimes people need to empty their minds before you can get to the matter at hand. Let them empty their teacup. It might take 45 minutes to an hour the first time you meet, maybe a half hour the next time you meet, and so on. Some people need to empty their teacups before they are ready to discuss in a collaborative way, so best to let them empty their teacup.

This has been very useful. When my introvert daughter started talking the other night, I committed myself to letting her empty her teacup. She and I talked for four hours. When I wanted to interrupt to share something, I reminded myself, she needs to empty her teacup first… My quiet girl has maybe a teahouse going on, many teacups. My younger extrovert girl empties her teacups all the time rather than building a house out of them. Often still tea everywhere, but that is how she connects. 

I often feel though as though my friends come to me to empty their teacups, but that teacup emptying is not reciprocal and that they do not want me to share either my tea or empty my teacup. This is likely just my perception & limiting beliefs & my own anxiety.  Often I opt not to, because like my oldest daughter, I have a virtual teahouse at my disposal stored away and I have much to share that I want to share. Often I opt not to because… Often I opt not to because I perceive their troubles are weightier than mine and I should not add mine to theirs. Or sometimes it feels awkward to share something lighthearted after hearing something sorrowful or difficult. Or simply, I start and it becomes obvious to me that while they wanted to empty their teacup with me, they don’t really want me to empty my teacup. Sometimes I know that people want me to share my tea and empty my teacup with them, and because I so often feel pressure not to share my tea or empty my teacup, I find it very difficult to do so.

For now this sits as an observation. If you feel I am not emptying my teacup or sharing my tea (I suppose, and you’d like me to), be patient, ask some leading questions. I may not have answers to your deepest questions, you may not have answers to mine, but come to my teahouse and share in my tea and empty your teacup and I may empty mine. (If I don’t, it’s probably because I’m trying to figure out quite how, if you seem reciprocal. It’s complicated!)

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