Meditation as a practice can appear as a giant slippery stone wall that while grappling your way up gets a shower of rainwater, causing a fast slide back to the bottom and a wonderment about whether you ever got anywhere in the first place. Being mindful of your present circumstances and surroundings may be a more approachable method for accomplishing the same goal - that of inhabiting your body to the fullest, right now.
For some, the idea of a bonsai practice brings up thoughts of strolling in a garden peacefully clipping a few little branches on your trees while contemplating serenity; focusing on the scents; and enjoying gentle sounds. Although concentrating on your own breathing seems to be the method of choice; If meditation and mindfulness are the practice of being present, then you can meditate or practice mindfulness while doing anything as long as you are inhabiting the now - not letting your mind wander away to experience some other time or place separately from where you physically exist.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” - Ekhart Tolle, “The Power of Now” 1999.
Still, for some others, bonsai conjures some stress; perhaps worry or fear that a plant may suffer from their tending, or worse, that they are torturing the plant or that the plant may die in the future. Set aside the “maybe” and the “if only” and concentrate on the present while working on your plant. If it’s spring and the new growth is elongating, feel the tender leaves between your thumb and forefinger. In winter appreciate each fine twig of a deciduous tree in silhouette, or the green and lush foliage of an evergreen.
Today is now today, and tomorrow will be now tomorrow; in both cases, as Mr. Tolle urges in the quote above from his befuddling yet interesting book, that to be present you must focus not on what has happened in the past, nor what you believe will happen in the future, but direct your mind to focus on the sensory input that you are experiencing.
To practice, take a bonsai tree, or even a garden plant, and sit down comfortably in front of it to contemplate everything about it. In the case of a bonsai hobbyist, this may be a regular maintenance session whereby you thin old foliage or trim and remove excess growth. In the case of a person who has a single tree - this may be simply an opportunity for contemplation. Spend 5-10 minutes either simply looking at the plant, or working through some parts of the seasonal maintenance; see how many things you can notice about the tree. Perhaps the color of the bark or twigs, the moss on the soil surface, a small bump protruding where a branch was previously pruned.
While designing a tree, gathering all this data is crucial to a full understanding of the structure of the plant, and it’s a practice that hobbyists and growers use to reorient themselves to plants they have grown for years. With each minute or hour spent on the plant, the shape and ideas expressed will become more refined.
Think of how you interact with your bonsai, and about how you can turn each interaction into an opportunity to gain clarity about yourself. Here are some suggested activites that you can use to practice.
Examples of Daily Bonsai Practices
Inspecting for insects
Inspecting for disease
Monitoring new growth
Monitoring soil moisture
And, if practicing all that doesn’t quite feel right then take solace in the words of Peter Barton:
“Commentators on human happiness, from the Buddha to the latest psychobabbling guru, are always harping on the importance of living in the present moment. But, unless you’re content to spend your life sitting under a tree and begging alms, that simply isn’t possible. To be a functioning human being you’ve got to be concerned about the future.”
So, perhaps do your best to practice mindfulness, but don’t let it interfere with taking care of your bonsai, or living your life -only let it enhance your experience of both.