The Empty Cup: A Learning Philosophy

The movie “Forbidden Kingdom” was on really late last night Sunday night, I think. It’s not a fantastic movie, but I really love Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and the whole kung fu movie genre.

One scene really caught my eye however:

In this scene, Jackie Chan’s character reference’s the metaphor of “emptying your cup.” What exactly does that mean?It refers to the way you approach something new. If you want to learn something new, you need to look at it with an open mind. You need to disregard all previous notions and preconceptions and focus on learning this something new. If your cup is “filled” with previous knowledge, there is no room to grow and learn. Your cup will “overflow” with knowledge instead of being contained.

I first learned about this concept during a religion class in school called “Body, Mind, and Spirit.” In fact, I think I would more so call it an early philosophy class than a religion class. My teacher wrote this quote by the master Bruce Lee himself in large, cursive letters on the board.

“Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.”

I think sometimes it can be difficult to pin point when something really impacts a person to mature. While big events can shape a person, like a family member being in the hospital or making the decision to change career and study paths while in school, some times more subtle moments can help, too. In he last 15-20 mins of this lecture, I was enlightened on how to better myself, and it open my eyes to how arrogant I can be as a 16 year old kid.


Figure. And a picture version of this quote because I really like it.

I now live and breathe this “empty your cup” philosophy. I have used it in school and in the jobs I have had. Other people probably think I am dumb when I say “I don’t know” or “It’s okay, explain it to me again as if I don’t know anything.”

While I value the previous experiences and things I have learned, the best way to embrace a new experience is to treat it like it is indeed brand new and special, with a mind ready to absorb like a sponge. If you are going to act like you know everything, then why bother asking to learn more?

Something to think about the next time you have a few moments over tea or om nomming some ice cream.


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