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5 Life Lessons from Bonsai

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning, the sun is just rising up, birds are singing, it’s going to be a great day.  Although it’s Sunday, I have a full day ahead but I feel the need to slow down and think.  This blog has given me an outlet to do some of that.  I really feel blessed and grateful to have found a hobby/activity such as bonsai that have given me back so much.  My wish is that more people will discover bonsai and experience the many potential benefits that comes with it.

I have been thinking about writing a series of life lessons from bonsai but have been putting it off.   Now, I feel that the timing maybe more appropriate.  Here where I am Washington State USA, many high school kids have graduated and will be moving on to go to college, military service, work, take some time off etc.  In fact we were at a graduation party yesterday and 2 weeks before we were at a graduation ceremony.   I’m trying to recall how I felt when I was at that age.  There is so much ahead that it’s exciting yet it’s daunting and intimidating all at the same time.    I wish I can do a mind transplant to all these kids (17 to 19 yrs old) and impart in them some of the lessons and mistakes I’ve experienced and so they could use them to survive the new world they are about to experience.  I’m confident that most of the kids I know at least have those skills and ammunition already imparted by their own parents, teachers, and others around them that they will be OK.

So what does this got to do with bonsai?  Actually a lot more that we think.  For the bonsai enthusiast, we all heard about bonsai as a metaphor for life (human life that is).   I heard Ryan Neil, the young American bonsai master referred to bonsai as a methapor for life.  If one is to look deeply into bonsai and the practice of bonsai art, there are many, many life lessons one can learn from it.  On this posting, I will try to impart only 5 lessons with the thought that if a high school graduate saw this and took it to heart, he/she will be able to use these lessons moving on with the rest of his/her journey through life.  However, these lessons can apply to anyone.

I will do my best to keep it simple and also would love to get some feedback on this

1) CLARIFY YOUR END RESULT:  In bonsai, before starting a bonsai project, the artist will need to have vision of what this tree will look like in the future.  He must define the viewing front of the tree, the style, how big it will ultimately be kept at, etc.  Being “clear” in the artist’s mind what the tree will look like will help him shape this tree to what it will become.  

Life lesson 1: Most people heard of setting goals.  Goal setting is great but I believe we need more than that.  We need to “visualize” ourselves into the future.  One must see themselves already living in the future; what they are (artist, lawyer, musician, doctors etc), house they live in, cars they drive, and so on.   This vision will ultimately drive a person to do things that will help them accomplish or make that vision a reality.  Of course that vision should be driven by one’s passion (a lesson to be discussed by itself).  I tell my kids, especially my 16-year-old daughter,that the sooner you can be clear about your future, the better you will be.  Understand what you are good at, passionate about, and use that to clarify your vision for the future of yourself.   Read Ryan Neil’s story, very inspiring story about a passionate kid who was very clear of what he wanted.

2) TAKE SMALL STEPS TO GET THE BIG RESULTS:  A beautiful bonsai does not happen overnight.  Yes, I’ve seen videos and pictures of bonsai before and after where the artist seem to turn a rugged looking shrub or tree into a beautiful bonsai in a few hours.  Yes, that can actually happen but prior to that happening, there are preparations that took place before that happening.  For a collected tree, the tree of course will have to be collected first. Then even before any work can be done, one must make sure it is healthy.  To make it healthy, the soil must be the right soil, watering is correct, fertilized property, decease are controlled, proper sun light is available etc.   Although, these are small items on its own, cumulatively, they all result into something bigger.  That is.. the ultimate health and beauty of the tree.

Life Lesson 2:  In life, it’s the same thing, anything that needs to be accomplished is composed of many smaller things or steps.  You want to be a doctor? an  Engineer?  a movie director?  What are the smaller steps to get there?  Besides your passion that helps drive you for it, you must know, to keep your grades up, so you can get in a school that offer that curriculum, apply to that department, and continue to take classes that will finish the program.  In other words, it’s a LOT of work, but it you look at the smaller steps, it will be less overwhelming and you will feel that you are accomplishing something towards it.  I know it’s easier said than done.  This lesson will work for other things in life.  

3) PERSIST/PERSISTENCE:  In bonsai, there are so many ways that one can fail.  You can kill a 300 year old tree just like that.  Crossing my finger that I will not do that but it took me a few years before I feel I had some success with bonsai.  I have killed many poor trees because of my inexperience or pure negligence.   I have been disappointed and have been unmotivated about bonsai.  But again I continued to stay on it and  my desire and passion persisted and kept me going.   Although, I feel I have a long ways to go to have great bonsais, being persistent is helping me get closer.

Life Lesson: In life and in pursuit or your vision and dreams, persistence, I believe is very key.   If you have not already experienced it, you will run into obstacles, distractions, even failure.  That’s okay.  It’s part of it.  There’s a saying that I think it goes something like this ” if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough”.  Be stronger than your issues and problems and persist.


4) STEP BACK AND MAKE ADJUSTMENTS:  Bonsai is an art, the artist, grow the tree, prune it, wire it, carve it.   The artist will be very intimate with the tree.  Working on it very closely but the artist also very frequently will have to step back and look at the entire picture of his creation to make sure it’s developing to look like its original vision.   If not, an adjustment maybe necessary.   Sometimes that adjustment is minor but once in a while, that adjustment can be very drastic.  As long at the adjustments results into the health and beauty of the tree then it’s completely acceptable.  The artist is free to create.

Life Lesson 4: You, are the artist of your own life.  The final health and beauty  or say the wellness and happiness of your life is up to you to design and accomplish.   Like I said on lesson one, knowing your clear vision of the future will help guide you.  But there are things that happens your own influence or something totally out of your control.  A branch breaks on a bonsai due to wind knocking a tree down.  You failed a test at school that was to take you to the next step ( no matter how hard you tried).  Maybe you need to step back and adjust your (life)design.

5) KEEP LEARNING IT’S NEVER FINISHED:  In bonsai, there’s a saying that “bonsai is never finished”.   Bonsai is always being worked on.  As bonsai artist, you’re always learning about your trees, how to care for it, learning new techniques, decease, etc. There’s always something to learn.  Without that desire to learn, the bonsai trees will not reach its potential beauty and health.

Life lesson 5: In the art of life, it’s the same thing.  Continue to learn.  Be open to new ideas.  Continue to humble and improve yourself.  In turn, your life will continue to become more beautiful.   And in turn others seeing you, they will be inspired to do the same.

This is a little more wordy than I want it but I hope this helps anyone that might come across it.  Again, I would love to hear feedback about this.  Bonsai has many more lessons, my hope is to be able to digest those lessons and share them here.

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