Preconceived Notions

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea.  He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept pouring.  The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself.  “It is overfull.  No more will go in!” 
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations.  How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”   Every day we go into life with a set of beliefs.

  • It’s going to be a _________ day.
  • I look …
  • My employees will never …
  • My boss will/won’t …
  • I’ll never have enough money for …
  • I’ll never be able to …
  • All Democrats/Republicans are …
  • My daughter/son will …

These expectations have a powerful impact on our reaction to the world around us, often without us even being aware of it.

When you find yourself making, or thinking in broad strokes, try asking yourself four questions as suggested by Bryon Katie.
#1. Is it true?
This question can change your life. This is essential with the easy proliferation of information on social media.   Be still and ask yourself if your question is true.

#2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
This is another opportunity to open your mind and go deeper; to find the answers that live beneath what we think we know.

#3. How do you react – what happens – when you believe that thought?
With this question you begin to notice internal cause and effect.  What do you feel?  How do you treat the person (or situation)?  How do you treat yourself when you believe that thought?

#4. Who would you be without the thought?
Open your mind.  Imagine yourself in the presence of that person (or in the situation), without believing the thought.  How would your life be different if you didn’t have the ability to even think the stressful thought?  How do you feel?  Which do you prefer – life with or without the thought?  Which feels kinder and more peaceful.

Preconceived ideas and opinions are personal beliefs or judgments that are not necessarily founded on proof or certainty.  Don’t go through life blindly listening to your own expectations.  Examine them, question them and edit them if they aren’t helping you lead a happier, more productive life.
The road is easier together,

Linda Laitala

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