Self-Care Challenge (Day 307): Learning Bonsai

Book cover of Basic Bonsai Design

Last week, I had an overwhelming desire to buy a bonsai tree. For whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by (okay, slightly obsessed with) trees.

Perhaps it’s because they are so symbolic of life, and their characteristics are among those I aspire to be–grounded and strong, yet flexible.

We share many similarities with trees. We both require essential nutrients to grow and live. Trees connect with other trees through their root systems and a network of fungi; we use our legs to move around and network with other people. Fruit trees require other trees for cross-pollination; we require other people to build upon our ideas and eventually bring them to life. Deciduous trees let go of their leaves to regenerate; we let go of our emotional baggage and faulty thinking in order to regenerate. Trees are stronger and more stable when they are surrounded by other trees; we are also stronger and more resilient when we are surrounded by supportive people. Trees are perennial, and so are we.

And that’s why I decided to learn more about them as part of my self-care practice.

I’ve always thought there was something especially magical and inspiring about bonsai trees, and, if you’re like me, you’ve probably been pronouncing it wrong–especially if you missed Mr. Myagi’s subtle correction of Daniel-san when he mispronounced it in the 1984 movie Karate Kid.

The correct pronunciation is “bone-sigh” not “bon-zai.”

In Japanese, “bon” means “tray” and “sai” means “planting. Simply put, bonsai is a complicated form of artistic expression. There are many styles of bonsai, but there are a few basic principles that are applied to all of them. And after you understand these rules, it becomes obvious when the rules aren’t followed; there’s just something “off” that you can’t necessarily put your finger on.

Balance and unity are the primary principles of bonsai design, and the overall shape is dictated by the innate characteristics of the tree itself. In his book Basic Bonsai Design (Amazon Associate link), author David De Groot notes that “the trunk of every bonsai should tell its life story.”

Just as environmental conditions shape each of us–trees and human beings alike–bonsai artists accentuate the authenticity of a tree–telling its unique story–rather than forcing it to be something that it isn’t.

How beautiful is that?

As I continue to learn more, it’s becoming clearer that I’m going to need a mentor who can show me, not just tell me, the design process. Unlike many other artistic mediums, this one involves another living thing, which requires more attention, care, and respect.

This experience is reminding me that we all have a story to tell, and that we each have unique characteristics that can be accentuated by designing a life that is aligned with our inner truth–our luminessence, or our authentic self.

Does the shape of your life mirror your inner truth?

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