Not Filling Your Cup

Reflections on Chapter 9 of the Tao Te Ching:

Filling a cup to the brim
is not as good as
stopping in time.
Staying constantly sharpened
can wear out the blade.

One cannot protect
a home full of jewels.

Position and prestige
lead to arrogance
and eventual downfall.

When your work is done,
gently withdraw.

This is the natural way.

The culture that we live in is very much “gimme, gimme, gimme”. You go to a restaurant and they serve gigantic meals. It is just so much, “fill, fill, fill”. Really, it is best to moderate. It is best to not get to that certain level. Like with eating, for example, you get to a certain point that is perfect. But if you just that little bit beyond, it is awful. If you look financially – to a certain extent, your spending is perfect but if you just a little bit beyond then it is not good.

You know this, inherently. Everyone has a sense in our body, our energy. We have a sense that you should not go too far. You know that when something goes too far, it turns around on itself and gives you the opposite.  If you can, hold back at that point where you are not quite there yet – where you are not quite to that point yet. It extends that thing – it extends the energy of that thing and it doesn’t make it go to that opposite.

You find this in relationships too. You get in a new relationship and you go crazy and you spend all this time together and it burns out. You can tell when the energy is like that. You can tell. A beautiful flower has that too. It puts all its energy into being beautiful and it just goes “poof” and its gone. There is nothing wrong. It is just natural. That’s how things are. It’s like that.

How can we apply this? How can we apply this in our lives so that we recognize it and perhaps have things be better? Lao Tzu would not encourage people to have things be good all the time. That is certainly one thing. You don’t have to have things be good. There’s an appreciation of exactly what is because we know energetically, that when the energy of something is full, it will flip to the other side. We know that. That is why there is a sensation of  “waiting for the other shoe to drop” that occurs.

If you can find a way, when you are in the midst of that space…things are really good and you are just wanting to over-indulge because things are so good…how can you shift your energy around it so you can slow it down so that it is not so intense and may last longer? In the reverse, when things are not good and it feels like it will be that way forever, you can just relax and understand that it is going to shift at some point. It works the same. If it is overflowing with really bad, it is going to shift. It’s going to shift into something that is not so bad. It’s just going to.  That’s what energy does.

Yin Yang Symbol from

Yin Yang Symbol from

I love the yin yang symbol because it is so perfect for symbolizing what we are talking about here. That’s what it means. It symbolizes the energy of what we are talking about here. One energy expands and grows – the teardrop shape – it gets bigger and bigger and then it turns on itself and becomes wholly the opposite. It becomes the other thing in full. It flips and becomes the other. It also shows you the inherent presence of the opposite. It isn’t just the white and black shapes. If it is done correctly, there are two dots. One inside each teardrop shape of the opposite. A black dot inside the white and a white dot inside the black. The reason why they are like that is that the white is always inherent in the black and the black is always inherent in the white.  Darkness always lives within the light and lightness is always inside the darkness. They are two sides of a coin and they are always together. It’s perfect. Just the way that it is. It is exactly the way that it is supposed to be. If things are really, really, really good – be ready because things will shift. Especially if you indulge in it.

I think what he is trying to say with this is that you just need to recognize that things ebb and flow. If things are good, you don’t want to worry about things being bad because it will ruin the moment. You aren’t enjoying the moment when you are doing that. When it starts to get to full, relax it a bit. Don’t let yourself get tripped up into the emotional drama of the flip. The flip is coming. It always does. It just goes back and forth. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in that drama of everything being so good and not being prepared for something to go in the other direction. Same goes for the reverse. If something is really bad, don’t get so wrapped up in it being really bad that you don’t recognize that everything is going to be fine.  That’s the sage. You are looking ahead at things are understanding things from a bigger perspective. Just allow yourself to do that.

Read Chapter 9 of the Tao Te Ching


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