We cannot change the world by a new plan, project or idea. We cannot even change other people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals, but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own centre. How important it is to become empty in order that we may learn is well illustrated in the following Zen story:
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 on 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 opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’
To convert hostility into hospitality requires the creation of the friendly empty space where we can reach out to our fellow human beings and invite them to a new relationship.
–Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out, 1975