by Graham Potter
Life is a game. Like all games it requires rules for the guidance of the players and for adjudication in the event of disputes thus preventing fights. The game requires intelligent thought and planning and a sound strategy will ensure success. Every move we make today determines the path we will tread tomorrow. However, one thing that sets the game of life apart from other games of skill or chance is the fact that this game cannot be won. It may be a slightly Eeyoreian view of things but life will end for us all at some time regardless of what we do.
I see great parallels between the world of bonsai and the game of life. In its purest form bonsai is a process we use to guide and sculpt the life force within a tree in order to enable it to show its true beauty to the world. Horticulturally speaking there may well be a ‘best way’ to get things done even though a great many regimens will produce passable results.
As far as the aesthetics of bonsai are concerned the waters are a little muddy. Whilst it is possible to judge the health of a tree by scientific observation judging the artistic value of a bonsai is entirely subjective. It is very easy to look at a bonsai and judge the quality of the work that has been carried out upon it. The wiring, the pruning, the daily care and feeding as well as the preparation and presentation all depend upon the skill of the trees owner. This will bring you some way down the road of weeding out poor quality bonsai from amongst the better value specimens but it will not answer the question faced by many a poor fellow charged with the job of selecting the ‘best’ bonsai from among a bench load of specimens.
At a club level it is not particularly difficult to rise to the surface. On a national stage success is within reach of most folk that are willing to make it happen. International fame is somewhat more allusive but still achievable at a price. A great many people enjoy their bonsai for years on end without worrying about the vagaries of fickle competition. That is the way it should be. Looking for success in a competitive sense focuses ones mind solely on the finished result and whilst a bonsai is never strictly ‘finished’ there is a point at which it reaches its best form at the hands of its caretaker. Once this form is achieved only time and diligent work will add beauty to the tree.
One of the things that disturb me about bonsai here in the U.K is the way in which many of us focus solely on the goal of a ‘finished’ tree. We all know that a bonsai is never finished, after all that is the true beauty of the art; the trees just keep getting older and better. However it does seem that we have missed the mark a little. Owning another show quality specimen bonsai that impresses our mates is not the goal. Owning ‘finished’ bonsai is nice for our pride and may make others a little envious but it reduces our noble art to a very materialistic level.
In today’s society the things that ‘seem’ to matter are having two nice cars, taking exotic holidays, owning the latest home entertainment system and wearing the very latest fashions and designer labels. These are the things that folk work long, long hours to obtain, often ignoring their family commitments in favour of their careers and the money they can earn. Enough money will get you anything you want today but ‘things’ are just a distraction and owning lots of things offers no satisfaction or happiness long term.
Mr Teruhiko Ota, one of Japans last surviving Khumoso monks played sakuhachi all of his life. Even into his late eighties he played and studied diligently forever pushing the boundaries of his own technique and skill forwards through disciplined practice and creative thinking. Mr Ota never sought or found commercial success he simply enjoyed his music and made it his life’s work to be the best that he could. Towards the end of his life he said,
“ Practice for its own sake, let progress take care of itself. Do not corrupt the beauty of learning by becoming attached to an end goal”.