A Balanced Life Requires An Empty Cup

Old wisdom, new perspectives, and a dose of Zen

One of my all-time favorite and most popular essays is a scientifically glorified ode to Bruce Lee - and rightfully so.

The man 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 about your own life for a second, probably no longer ago than last week, I’m sure you can find an example where your cup too was overflowing. I know 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 and compassionate and kind. You want to enjoy life along the way, be happy in the now, and stay curious.

The split between these two is hard to manage. It creates pressure and under that pressure, we often crack and give in to our impulses. But if you asked Bruce Lee, he would've told you 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, but a lifelong practice. We must empty our cup every day.

That’s what the newsletter supporting this book is for. Empty Your Cup will help you find balance with occasional micro-blogs leading up to the launch of the book.

In the book itself, you’ll find 365 stories, each of which contains a bold perspective, an old piece of wisdom, a short story, or a harebrained 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 that spanned just 32 years, he achieved everything we've ever dreamed of and then some. Yet, 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. May we all find balance in his legacy.

“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

You can learn a little more about this project here and see the first few emails here.

If you enjoy them, the best thing you can do to show your support is to spread the word. Forward an email, tweet a quote, share an archive link. After all, what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?


Image via brucelee.com.