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Bonsai as art and life

Art can bore you, move you, change you, or compel you. Art can reveal what is deeply scarred & crooked or regal & balanced. For me, trees are art in its natural form. Trees have a presence and can distinguish one landscape from another. In the Namib-Naukluft National Park’s Deadvlei, dark camel thorn tree skeletons rise above the white clay of the dunes in a spectacular dead marshland lithograph.

Trees can signal that home lies just beyond that hill, a childhood swing was here, or this is a picnic spot. Trees can signify a meeting point, a rural church or a hanging tree from a fairytale (or our dark past). A tree upended in a storm that later grows again, can represent the resilience of life-force. My first bonsai was a gift of a Chinese Elm. It represented my whole garden when I lived in a basement flat in Islington, London. Bon-sai (from the Japanese) means trees planted in containers. Bonsai can be a metaphor for what it means to live within life’s container – this one precious life, this culture, this age, this body.

I spent years spectating before I took up bonsai as a hobby (or a pseudo-meditation that I might actually be able to do). Having green fingers – growing and keeping them alive was a realistic aspiration. Pruning (decision-making & commitment – gulp) was hard. I had to practice imperfection (relentlessly), lean on the art form (illusive) and tap into a reservoir of life-philosophy (sketchy) to achieve any resemblance of the natural. I learned to accept losses, lessons and good luck. I became sensitized to the demands (a nourishing fertilizer) and the limitations (stunted or finite growth) that life’s container inherently offers us all.

Bonsai connected me deeply with the seasons. Spring arrived in the trees before it arrived in me. Spring brought evidence of what had survived the winter (in the trees and in me). Spring was wildly optimistic. Summer demanded attention (water and food) consistently. It meant noticing the wilt that precedes the withering. Summer disguised with growth the pruning scars and made plain strength from weakness. In summer the short grasses that grew and competed with the trees had to be pulled out, leaves needed to be defoliated and pinched.

Autumn fated the trees their own letting go. They cast off summer’s leaves into a blanket of future good compost. In winter, I could see in clear branch lines what had grown, what had died, what crowded out symmetry. I had to confront what was to be cut away and which shape to choose or reveal. I needed to decide how to support the tree. Winter was when I gently wired and clipped branches to consolidate the tree’s form. 

Bonsai has become as much a personal reflection on my own life seasons – my growth, mastery and death as it is about trees.

A blog is also a container. Ideally (‘they’ tell me) of about 600 words. A blog carries across a story, an idea, an opinion, or an emotion. In this way, it is the same for a blog or a bonsai.

A bonsai image also forms part of the logo for Mettamorphosis. It is symbolic of what it means to consider our life in it’s container of existence.

At Mettamorphosis, coaching follows a methodology of mindful growth, potential and choices. It demands from clients their reflection, courageous experimentation, and in other senses, their letting go. Life coaching yields clarity, reveals and supports what is essential to living well and being well.

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