When being an ‘expert’ gets in the way..

Nan-in, a Japanese Zen Master during the Meiji era, 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 watch 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? 

empty cup

I like this tea story, it is a good reminder that in order to learn we first have to be humble, to empty our mind and make room for the new.

When I left my corporate career five years ago and started working in health care, I came into it feeling a fair bit of pressure to prove myself and have answers for people.  In my capacity as a “gut health specialist”, people would naturally ask me why they had digestive issues, or ask my advice on how to improve their diet etc.  The positive aspect of this pressure was that it spurred me on to find answers and opened up conversations which enabled me to learn a lot from my clients. When I look back on those early years now though, if I’m totally honest, there would have been many times where I would have gained more out of those exchanges than my clients did because I was too busy trying to be the expert. As I reflect on it now, I realise that before I became of any real value to anyone, I had to understand first that it was ok not to know.

Gaining experience and confidence in what you’re doing obviously leads to a more mature view, I simply had to go through this challenge in order to get here. There was a pivotal moment a couple of years ago though which really struck a cord and helped bring about the shift for me. I was reading Andreas Moritz’s book, Timeless Secrets of Health & Rejuvenation where at the beginning of the book he details how significant the placebo effect is. To validate the point he sited research which indicated that doctors who spent fifteen minutes or more listening to their patients achieved significantly better health outcomes with them. The conclusion Moritz came to what that most of the healing comes from simply providing a sympathetic ear. In other words when a person feels truly heard and hence validated, they invest their faith into whatever intervention is undertaken and the body/mind/soul manufactures whatever necessary to make the healing happen.

Once I came to terms with this I found that my not knowing was actually not a liability but was actually an asset. It has meant that I listen more and judge less because when I’m simply listening I know that I’m fulfilling a large degree of my responsibility, which is providing  that sympathetic ear.

By talking less, I now get to really listen to people. In turn I find now that I’m now able to answer their questions with a greater truth. Sometimes my best answer is saying that I don’t know. By doing this we can move the question into a more open space of inquiry where more often than not, the true question and answer lies.

Realizing that I don’t have to have all the answers to still be of value has been quite a relief. I find now that rather than pouring  enormous amount of energy into trying to know it all, I can now channel this energy into more productive behaviour. In this more balanced state of being, I can learn more from others, and be a purer conduit of life’s divine energy. As I’ve emptied my cup, the world has flowed in.

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Aaron Travers is the author of The Boda Fast – a three step plan to lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality”. Aaron writes at www.thebodacleanse.com.au and shares his ideas and experiences on health and wellbeing from his personal life and through working with clients clinically and those doing his “supported fasting” / intermittent fasting diet programs. Every Friday he sends out his newsletter, click below to subscribe. 

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2 Responses to “When being an ‘expert’ gets in the way..”

  1. Christiane LeCornu July 14, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    I so much relate to what you have written here, Aaron. To be humble and to listen are two of the most beautiful gifts, especially when one work in health. I would also add to give the client/patient full attention and time. In this busy environment, how often is the time allocated minimal?
    I enjoy reading your article, they resonate ith me. Kindly, Christiane

    • Aaron July 15, 2014 at 10:28 am #

      Thank you for your comment Christiane – yes giving someone your full attention, truly is the greatest gift isn’t is.

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