The Half Full Cup

the half full cup

So many of the people who visit me for help in overcoming their difficulties have been struggling for years.

It’s not at all uncommon for someone to tell me: ‘I’ve had your telephone number for ages, but I didn’t call you. I just kept on hoping my problem would go away…’ But, of course, it didn’t. Often it simply got worse.

The fact is, the more we hold on to our problems, without doing something about them, the more they trouble us.

This puts me in mind of a story I heard some time ago. In this story, a therapist is walking around a room full of psychology students. In his hand is a cup, half full of tea.

Perhaps, like most of the people in the room, you think he will ask the students whether the cup is half full or half empty. No.

With a wry little smile he asked: ‘How heavy do you think this cup is?’

‘6 ounces’ said one. ‘200 grams’ guessed another, trying to appear a bit more sophisticated. ‘As heavy as half a cup of tea’ suggested another, cleverly.

‘Well,’ said the therapist, ‘the actual weight doesn’t really matter that much, does it? What does matter is how long I hold it.’

He held the cup out in front of him, staring at it.

‘If I hold it for a short time, let’s say a minute or two, it really isn’t a problem. If I hold it for an hour, what’s going to happen? My arm will feel kind of numb. It will really begin to hurt.’

His smile was beginning to fade. It looked like his arm was already getting heavy.

‘What if I held if for longer? For a week, a month, a year? My arm would become paralyzed and the pain would be almost unbearable. I’d find it very difficult to function.’

There were smiles of recognition on some of the students’ faces.

‘Peoples’ problems and issues are a bit like that cup of tea. Think about them for just a short time and nothing happens. Think about them for a day, a week, and they start to hurt.’

He paused to take a sip of tea.

‘Think about them all day long, day in and day out. Keep holding onto them; let them weigh you down and you become paralyzed, incapable of functioning properly. It becomes hard to do anything.’

He lowered his arm, putting the cup down on a desk and his smile returned.

‘Our problems don’t go away by trying to ignore them, or by staring at them. We need to take action. When the cup gets too heavy then the person needs to put it down, to stop holding on to it.’

He took another sip of tea.

‘The sooner they do that, the sooner they will feel better.’

'All the art of living lies in the fine mingling of letting go and holding on.' Henry Ellis



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