Sunday, January 31, 2010


Let's be frank. On a blog of this nature -- a philosophical one -- I discuss a lot of the same general concepts day in and day out: life, existence, connection, flow, the Way. In order to avoid staleness and habitual redundancy, I try to discuss these terms utilizing different metaphors, imagery, and examples from my own experiences. This is all well and good, but from time to time, some of these varying metaphors can appear to contradict each other and that may well lead to a bit of confusion amongst some readers.

For example, one of the recurrent themes in Taoism is the empty bowl which, in part, signifies that the empty mind is more open to be filled up with the energy and essence of the Way. Last night, in my ongoing series, Real Life Tao, I posted an entry entitled, Mindfulness. The word itself appears to contradict the concept of the empty bowl because a mind that is crammed full cannot be filled.

So, how can we reconcile these two concepts? For me, it becomes a question of what constitutes the nature of the fullness. Too often, our minds are filled with crap! While we engage with others or access a situation, our minds are racing a mile a minute with thoughts, desires, expectations, justifications, rationalizations and fantasies. So, the other person/people and the situation itself cannot permeate the already overstuffed wasteland we call our mind.

On the other hand, when we can approach others and situations with a mind like an empty bowl, we can then become mind-full -- filled up -- with what we are encountering at the moment we encounter it. It is in this context that mindfulness is not a contradiction at all.

In other words, the operative point is when the mind is filled. If we arrive at a given point with an already filled mind, that's when we often find ourselves in trouble. When we allow each moment to fill us up, that's when we find balance and harmony.

In addition, it's not only when the mind is filled, but how long it remains in this condition. If we allow the fullness to remain, we find ourselves back in the same predicament as before. So, the trick is to allow the moment to fill us with insight and then to flush the system in order that we can be filled up by the next moment.

To my way of thinking, this is what the Taoist sages mean by mindfulness.


  1. Seems to me that previously mentioned heron said it all...

  2. the problem with the bowl analogy is it implies stagnancy. i like the analogy of a river or pond better. with a river, it's easier to imagine being empty and full at the same time... empty of the past and waiting for the future, but full of the present... in other words, in constant fluidity.

    even a pond utilizes the same concept, as water continually is evaporated, soaked into the earth, channeled away, drank by animals, and is constantly replenished by rain etc...

    a bowl implies a black and white concept- either you're full, or you're empty, or half-full, or some such. you have to consciously make an effort to empty a bowl, but the tao is about letting things come naturally.


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