How Watching People Restore Bonsai Trees Became My Form of Meditation

When Peter Chan gave my pandemic-wrecked brain a break.

Image of a Bonsai tree on a table
Photo by Luca Finardi on Pixabay

Back when I was around 12 years old I discovered my neighbor's collection of Bonsai trees. He had around eight trees ranging from the age of up to 200 years and religiously pruned and watered them almost every day.

Looking at these miniature versions of ancient Oak or Elm trees, I was instantly hooked.

I joined him in meetings at his local Bonsai Club, where they celebrated stuff like repotting, pruning the roots, or rewiring the trees.

It was magical.

So I bought a small tree at our local supermarket, pruned it, wired it, and took care of it every day for a month.

Then I accidentally killed it and moved on to playing Pokémon with my friends.

I mean. Come on. I was 12 years old.

That fascination with Bonsai trees never really left me though. So before I tell you how I got back into watching people taking care of Bonsais instead of doing it myself, let’s get into the basics (just scroll down if you don’t really care).

What is Bonsai?

Bonsai (Japanese: 盆栽, lit. ‘tray planting’, pronounced [boɰ̃sai])[1] is a Japanese version of the original traditional Chinese art penjing or penzai. Unlike penjing, which utilizes traditional techniques to produce entire natural sceneries in small pots that mimic the grandiose and shape of real life sceneries, the Japanese “bonsai” only attempts to produce small trees that mimic the shape of real life trees.

Thanks, Wikipedia. So let’s move on.

What’s so great about watching people groom trees?

For whatever reason, my Youtube algorithm decided to suggest a Bonsai restoration video to watch. Thinking back to twelve-year-old me, sitting starry-eyed at those Bonsai Club meetings watching old men get excited about old trees, I initially just clicked on it for the nostalgia.

The video is almost 1 hour long. I watched the whole thing without even realizing it until my time tracker kept asking me if I was still working.

I broke the branch, so I had to pretend that I had intended to break it all along.

- Peter Chan

Apart from the fact that Peter is hilarious, even a complete novice like me can tell he has fully mastered the Art of taking proper care of Bonsai trees.

Life is stressful

Let’s face it.

The pre-Pandemic world was stressful because you kept trying to find a balance between a fulfilled social life and work, usually utterly failing.

The pandemic world is stressful because you have days when you can barely get out of bed and consider it a personal triumph to put on pants. A seemingly ever-flowing stream of bad news drains your energy and motivation.

The post-Pandemic world will be stressful because you’re suddenly going to be hit with the fact that, to be part of society you kind of have to give up that hermit life you’ve gotten used to (anyone watched the last season of Handmaids Tale yet?) and actually participate in social activities again.

For me, watching that old man restore a tree was meditative on several levels and enabled me to completely zone out for an hour.

So why is that?

Natural Art

I love being out and about, going camping, and just enjoying being outside. Humans yearn for the great outdoors, being one with nature and just relax for a second. Bonsai trees resemble a microcosm of the great outdoors. Watching a master work on a tree, you can feel the deep respect for its natural shape. The tree isn’t strictly pruned and wired to fit into some desired form. The natural shape is just nudged in the right direction, resulting in arguably the most natural form of Art.

Time

We’re living in an extremely fast-paced society. The sweet spot for a youtube video length is usually around 5–6 minutes. You spend your day hopping from one task to another, checking the latest Instagram feed in between, and maybe chug down a cup of Huel because you can’t find the time to actually prepare a meal. This is an extreme exaggeration I know, but you get what I mean.

Bonsai is an Art where you are literally forced to take your time. If you wire a tree, it will take years until you actually see the result. The most impressive trees are oftentimes a couple of hundred years old. I guess that takes out a lot of the stress factors we have in our everyday life because you have to sit back, relax and literally watch a tree grow.

Self-Care

Maybe this is a bit far-fetched, but watching that old man thoroughly taking care of and restoring the juniper tree, I subconsciously drew a connection to myself. Without realizing it, for the next couple of days, I took more time in the morning to take care of my skin, beard, and general appearance (we all know that pandemic look).

I think nurturing a Bonsai inherently reflects the human need for self-care and preservation.

So in conclusion, watching those Bonsai videos worked better for me than all the Headspace sessions I keep forcing myself into. I was able to completely let go of my surroundings and felt more refreshed and focused afterward.

Maybe I’ll even give it another go and actually buy a tree myself.

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David Kippels

Freelance UI/UX Designer | Random thoughts on Design, Finance, and other things | www.davidkippels.de