This is the final article in our seven-part series, “Establishing a Mindful Bonsai Practice”. Throughout this series we focused on incorporating six key practices into daily bonsai tasks to develop a Mindful Bonsai Practice. In mindfulness we consider all the parts of our body, or focus on the rhythm of our breath in an act of focusing attention to strengthen the muscle of our mind. Throughout this series we have discussed ways that you can be mindful of your daily movements; ways to change your perspective; ways to provide relaxation and ways to create a better partnership with your trees. Harnessing your inner potential will allow you to harness the full possibility of the tree’s growth along with your own.
Remember: creating a bonsai requires interaction and connection between a person and a tree.
“Plants are not cognizant. When we cut a leaf, we assume that the plant is suffering. But that's our own anthropomorphism about what's going on.” ― Daniel Chamovitz, “What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses”
In practicing bonsai we create a healthy tree, and the tree creates new growth that we can use to create an update to the shape, age or other character of the tree. With young trees we often want to allow long growth to build wood, creating lanky teenagers that will eventually mature into beautiful mature specimens. With older trees we want to accentuate the positive characteristics with each new set of growth, normally working to contain the size of the tree while refining the overall appearance.
With each new year or new spurt of growth consider the ways that you can use these in your partnership with the tree.
Pay Attention – In spring, signs of growth often begin under the soil before they appear in the buds and branching. Scratch the soil gently and look for fresh root tips near the surface. Examine the color and size of maple buds in later winter. Watch as pine buds begin to elongate.
Find Joy in Simple Acts – Pinching may be among the most satisfying activities in bonsai, with its tactile nature and simple process. Pinching is the process of holding the tip of the shoot between the pads of your finger and thumb and gently pulling away until the weak point of the shoot breaks cleanly and the foliage can be removed quickly. On mature trees where your goal is to maintain an established structure, pinch elongating shoots to create more compact growth. Pinching all spring shoots on a mature maple, or just elongating runners on a juniper, can have the same effect.
Accept Yourself – Some bonsai work is repetitive, required year after year, and can make you feel impatient. Accept that time is relative - regardless of your age, you are young compared to a mature tree. You cannot outlive a Redwood, but you can accomplish many things and you can gain great peace in your partnerships with your trees.
Sitting Meditation – Place one or two trees in front of you. Sit quietly and contemplate each part of each tree that you helped create. Think about the wire you applied and then removed, the tips you trimmed, the branches you pruned. If you are new to bonsai, contemplate the overall process and how many years of work love you plan to put into your trees.
Walking Meditation – Before beginning work on a bonsai, take a walk outside. Look at trees in your neighborhood, or go for a hike outside of town and examine the trees in their natural environment. How do they grow? What style is most attractive to you? Remember this as you set your bonsai in front of you to begin shaping and styling it.
Focus on your Breath – The signs of growth in your tree can be awe-inspiring - cherry blossoms, new buds, fresh growth - and take your breath away! Come back to your breath before you begin to work on your bonsai, so you stay centered and calm. This will help you remember your vision for the tree, and make the pinches and cuts you had planned.
You now have all the basic steps you’ll need to establish a regular mindful bonsai practice. Congratulations! We believe that you and your bonsai trees are ready to realize the benefits of mindfulness - for you, a reduction in stress and anxiety, and improved sleep and attention; and for your bonsai trees, improved health, optimized growth, and increased beauty. Ultimately, a mindful bonsai practice will enable you to more fully appreciate your bonsai trees, and the natural world around you. How is this practice working for you? Please share your results and feedback in the comments below!