“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” – William Rudolph
When I was growing up, one of my family’s favorite exhibits at the County Fair was the Bonsai Tree collection. Our community had a strong group of Bonsai Tree Lovers that met regularly to refine their craft. Each year, at the County Fair, the group would come together to display their art. The exhibit would typically feature over 100 Bonsai trees. They came in various sizes, shapes, and colors. Some were pretty to look at and some not so much, but the exhibit was always guaranteed to draw a large crowd.
Being young, I always assumed Bonsai trees were special trees that only grew really small. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned these miniature trees are no different than any other tree – left on their own they would grow into full-sized trees (much like the trees that composed the forest around our home). But rather than being allowed to reach their fullest size, Bonsai trees are planted in miniature pots, their roots are stunted, and their branches are pruned incessantly. As a result, Bonsai trees never grow to their fullest potential.
And while I completely understand and appreciate the art displayed in the meticulous work of maintaining a Bonsai tree, there is still a piece of me that senses a curious tragedy in this scenario. This tree designed for a great and powerful future has been stunted in its growth.
Yet, this tragedy pales in comparison to the similar tragedy that plays out in so many of our lives on a daily basis. We were designed to accomplish great things. Our lives are unique and perfectly prepared to become something special. We are called to make a significant difference in this world and in the lives of those around us. But far too often, our life’s full potential is stunted.
Of course, our growth is not stunted by pots, soil, or pruning. Instead, it is hindered by…
- Unhealthy habits
- Short-sighted pursuits
- Misplaced pride
- Excessive consumerism
- Unintentionally in relationships
- Crippling fear
- or Clinging too tightly to the past.
Your life… our lives… hold great potential for this world. Each in our own way, we are designed to make a significant difference. May we intentionally evaluate them. And find the strength to make the changes – both big and small – needed to realize it.
Mark Alexander Paterson says
This article seems to have a great, positive message. However, Joshua Becker makes the bold claim that people are stunted and crippled and don’t reach their full potential. People who have problems like those described or with worse problems can find help and training to overcome their problems to lead a healthier and happier life. Those people may or may not be CEOs or fitness trainers but they are and grow into great people. Sounds like the story of the bonsai he slandered.
Why do you think it doesn’t reach its “full potential” for being small and beautiful?
Many pot plants do not reach their full potential because they are not taken enough care of, and often die. However, the case with bonsai is the opposite: they are well taken care of, the soil is changed once a year. It’s so well taken care of it can increase their lifespan.
Being small is not a equivalent to “not reaching full potential” small things can often be more powerful and beautiful than big ones. The plant is happy because it is healthy.
Regarding the wires, why not see it like a legtutor? Or like teeth-brackets? I don’t think people see teeth brackets as torture, they just guide the teeth to look aesthetically more symmetrical.
Md.Emon Hossain says
Mr. JOSHUA BECKER can you tell me more about “Crippling fear” ?
I had this exact realization a couple of years ago.
While I like the aesthetics of the bonsai – the fact I know that growth of these trees has been stunted makes me feel pity at the same time.
Pity for all that are not allowed to reach full potential.
And though we tend to think that plants/trees do not emote – when I am around a bonsai sometimes it seems like I can sense sadness (as unlikely as it seems).
JOYCE MULLINS says
I THINK PLANTS HAVE A SOUL. AND FEELINGS……I DON’T MIND TRAINING A PLANTS TO GROW A CERTAIN WAY, (GENTLY) I DO NOT LIKE IT WHEN THE TRUNK HAS THE CENTER CUT OUT OF IT, OR TIGHTLY WOUND BY WIRE…PEACE….
I am amazed at the variety of the perceptions. Interesting, is it not, that we have such diverse interpretations?
A. Frank says
Bonsai are not “Stunted.” They are highly cultivated pain-stakenly cared for trees that out live their earth bound siblings because of their exceptional health. The root systems are pruned to created significant fine branching which greatly increases the ratio of root/soil and is largely responsible for the longevity of these trees. Ignored, they are known to push themselves out of a pot, or grow roots through it’s drain holes into earth below and thus ‘escape’ the pot. However, they retain the phenological ability to do this, unlike stunted children who, when rescued from their neglect never achieve normal stature.
Interesting to see the parallels drawn here and, after a bit of thought, I find I agree. I particularly liked Megyn’s point and can see where Bonsai might represent moderacy and compromise when viewed in that cntext. It’s good to see an interest that takes so much time and practice offering some inspirational insight.
Nice topic and nice site!
The only way for this to happen is for all the roots to share and compromise. Each root may not reach it’s full potential, but by doing so, it allows the other roots to coexist and strengthens the tree overall. Same goes for the branches.
An interesting view. I have been working with Bonsai for about 12 years now, and I’ve never heard this perspective.
Practicing this art takes years, and most of the plants used for it are not ones that would grow very large anyway. You could not take a regular pine tree seedling, for example, and stunt the growth into a 12-16″ size tree.
What the art can teach you (as it did for me) was about appreciating the plant world and patience. As I said, it takes many years for the “tree” to form, and therefore you must wait for the results. And while you are stunting the plant, Bonsai still produce flowers and fruit, and lose their leaves seasonally.
Good topic Joshua!
beginner in bonsai says
A great article. It shows that you enjoy. Thanks for sharing.
There is no bonsai if there is not a great love for nature. I started growing trees in my garden and now I want to do it in pots. Thanks for the ideas.