Empty Your Cup

Taking into account the current social climate, my own emotional state, and the idea of a future amidst it all, I’m reminded of a martial art principle.

Empty your cup.

Simply put, imagine you have a cup full of liquid. The cup represents you, the liquid what you’ve allowed, or has been present in your life. You see that the container is full due to the enormity of your experience; whether you’re proud of the liquid’s actual makeup depends on how you choose to look at yourself.

Now imagine more of life’s liquid being poured into your already full cup, and I bet you already know what happens. There’s no room for more, so the majority of the new life spills out beyond the edges, while the little that can remain forces out previous liquid to make room.

Solving this dilemma is quite simple in the theoretical sense of the story: you simply dump what’s in the cup out, so the substance to come has a place to be. But, outside of the theory, the liquid represents family situations, moments in the workplace, times you’ve felt less than the scum of the earth, euphoria that had you riding higher than the clouds, the grand mistakes that you regret every day, the best choices you’ve ever made, etc.

The cup may be you, but the liquid represents who you are. How does one willingly let themselves go? The fear inherent in wondering what kind of person you’ll turn into can be staggering. Because honestly, what does a person become if they let go of the reasons they became that person?

Allow me to introduce one of my favorite mantras, and it comes from one of my favorite movies. Hook. The story of a grown-up Peter Pan going back to Neverland to save his kids, relearning who he used to be and eventually embracing the past and the future. But it took so much more than exposure to get him there.

After a hard day’s training with the Lost Boys, they were all preparing for dinner. Peter Pan (as played by Robin Williams) sits down at the table in immense anticipation and grabs the knife and fork in expectation. A lost boy across from him, seeing the utensils, shakes his head passively, saying, “No, no, no, no, no. We don’t use those.”

“Well, why do you have them?” Asks Peter.

“We have them, so we don’t have to use them,” responds the boy.

When we hold on so tight to what we find valuable, we lose it. Imagine trying to hold water. If you reach your hand in to grasp it, or keep it like you would a stick or a rod, you end up with nothing but a wet hand. It’s only when you take both hands, gently shape them into a cup or a bowl, and allow the water to fill into your palms that you retain the water.

So it is with the principle of Empty Your Cup.

If you’ve managed to fill yourself up to the top, I congratulate you. That by itself is no easy feat. But now you need to learn to trust that what you’ve already gained will not be lost by putting it to the side. Quite the opposite. It becomes more a part of you than you’ll ever be able to surmise. When you can combine the old liquid with that to come, you’re life increases exponentially.

You cannot lose that which you’ve already gained, as it concerns yourself. But the harder to hold onto your definitions, the less substantial they become, and the further away they go. And, you exhaust yourself to the point of confusion, fear, doubt, and depression.

Allow me to share a personal representation of experience with emptying my cup.

It took me nine years to become a black belt. Westwind Kenpo Blackbelts are incredible in many ways, one of them built around the time and discipline it takes to earn one. One day I’ll walk you through that journey, but what we need takes place after.

I felt competent and able as a martial artist, and I reached a point of contentment. There was a span of five or six years that went by where I wasn’t involved in karate anymore. I did some volunteer work for my church, went through some primary college, and pursued a career.

It wasn’t until God provided me a powerful dream that I ever had the idea to return. But I’m glad I did.

When I came back, I was nervous, because I returned almost as a new student, but one with the history of a black belt. I had questions on what else I could learn in an environment that I’d already mastered once. Surely it would just be a workout situation, where I’d do it for the exercise as opposed to the growth.

The first year was dedicated to reviewing the white belt grabs and practicing one of our kicks. That was it. The basics. We started, a class of Blackbelts, at the basics. I was disappointed. However, I had incredible trust and faith in my instructors due to my experiences with them, so I stayed and went along with the curriculum.

As we practiced, I quickly noticed that we may have been re-working the white belt techniques, but we did so as black belts. As a white belt, your beginning level is simple. As a black belt, our beginning level was mastery. 

I began to see these moves with a different eye and perspective because of my nine-year development. If I hadn’t had such a chance, then what we were learning later would have gone entirely over my head. Suddenly there was color, contrast, depth, height, imagination, movement, and wisdom in the moves.

They transformed before my eyes, even though the techniques were the exact same as when I’d learned them as a white belt. 

Is this making sense? In my initial nine years of learning Westwind Kenpo, I was able to fill my cup up to the top. This is one of my most significant accomplishments in life. But then, when I returned, I was given another opportunity to either hold onto what I had and resist the next steps or accept that I already had the past, and I was eager for the future.

By putting myself aside, I gained a much deeper love and appreciation for myself, my instructors, the art form, and my outlook on other aspects of my life. 

I’m now a 2nd Degree Blackbelt, though I don’t stay for the rank advancements. I stay because of what those levels represent regarding my emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical levels. There’s always something more to learn, and the best futures are built on the foundations of our past. 

To Empty Your Cup is not to forget yourself. If you can do this, you empower and enable yourself beyond anything you can currently imagine. 

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