Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ A cup of tea

P1000260A story has been haunting me. Over how many weeks, it has popped up in my thoughts. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you. But it does feel odd. Has the story been hanging around in my head, waiting to get into my blog? But why? Does it think it’s got a message for me? But what exactly?

I’m not sure where I found the story – whether someone told it to me or if I found it in a book. I don’t remember how long ago that was – but I think it must be quite a few years. As I recall, it’s an Indian story but I can’t be sure. Here it is.

A cup of tea:

A man who was searching for wisdom heard about a greatly-respected teacher, a guru who lived a simple life on a hillside in a remote valley. The seeker had already visited many other teachers and had learned a great deal from them. Now he determined that he must find this much-respected guru who lived such a simple existence.

When he finally reached the guru’s house, he saw a plainly robed man with a kindly face. Greeting him kindly, the guru invited him into the house. When they were seated, the man who’d arrived in search of wisdom began explaining why he was there and, in so doing, started describing all that he had previously done and the many things he had learned.

After a while, the guru asked his guest if he would like some tea, then went away to prepare it. When he returned, he was carrying a tray on which were a teapot and two cups. After sitting down, he began pouring the tea. His guest watched as the tea flowed into the first of the cups. Then he saw that the guru had not stopped when the cup was full. Tea kept flowing over the brim of the cup until, overspilling, it began making a pool on the table.

‘Stop!’ said the guest, ‘the cup is overflowing.’ ‘Hmm,’ said the simple teacher, ‘much like your knowledge.’

Cat cropThe message:

Well, it’s one of those simple-seeming but gritty little stories that do continue to make you think. I ponder it once more in the aftermath of the General Election. So much pontificating has been going on over recent weeks, that I wonder if it’s the hurly-burly of politics that has caused the story to haunt my mind. So much was said. ‘Strong and stable government.’ ‘Coalition of chaos.’ …. In the aftermath of the vote, the hurly-burly has not stopped. It feels as if little heed is paid to the quiet talking and thinking that must deal with the real needs of life.

Or perhaps the story has been in my mind because I’ve recently been thinking a lot about storytelling in schools and the stillness that sometimes arrives quite suddenly in a storytelling session, the times when you know that the whole room feels like it has paused in some moment of shared understanding.

Or perhaps it’s because, this Spring in particular, I’ve been listening a lot to the birdsong around me, whether in the woods in Wales or my London street. Always it feels like there’s a simple but astonishing beauty in that singing that goes unnoticed when life is busy and we’re too full of talking, swapping wisdoms to and fro. Heard or unheard by us humans, the blackbird continues to sing.

PS: The tea-pot we use all the time is the one at the top of the blog. The pussy-cat teapot came down to be photographed from the top shelf of our sitting room. It was a gift from a friend who knew we love cats and it normally sits on a high shelf in our sitting as part of our teapot collection which also includes one very old one that used to belong to my aunt’s grandmother, one given to us by a Canadian friend, another old Welsh one that was given to us as a wedding present and the red enamel one I got when I was at college. 

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6 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ A cup of tea”

  1. Meg Says:

    Lovely and timely, Mary.

  2. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Meg, One of the loveliest things about doing my blog is receiving comments and messages from you. My thanks. Mary

  3. Pam Says:

    Hi Mary, ah yes, the cup is overflowing… too much, time to stop.
    I have a teapot collection too.
    Michael Leunig, an Australian cartoonist, uses the teapot quite a lot in his cartoons. They always signify peace and harmony for me.

  4. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Hi Pam. Peace and harmony is what we need – except that so many people in the world appear to disagree. Perhaps the dissenters need more tea. A good cup of tea (and time spent over it with friends) always feels very civilising to me. All the best, Mary

  5. Fiona Says:

    Dear Mary
    I love this story and I think it has a lot to teach me as I know I talk too much! I’ve always thought it was a Zen Buddhist story with a formal Japanese tea ceremony in it , but I don’t know if this is right. I don’t know where I first heard the story. I really like the way you connect it the present day. How much better things would be all round with a bit more listening and a bit less talking…..

  6. Mary Medlicott Says:

    Dear Fiona, lovely to hear from you and interesting to know that you came across that story as a Zen Buddhist tale. It really is one that sticks in the mind. Since writing the blog post about it, it has stayed with me, maybe because our world seems so full of turmoil and dissension at present. By now, we’re down in Mathri for another week and already appreciating the peace. Much love, Mary

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