Bonsai and Mental health

By Peter Warren  

Reconnecting with nature is one of the key aspects of bonsai. It does more for us than we realise at times.

Although I said that I would be posting more blog posts now the website has been redone, I have been enjoying the summer too much to write anything, however, something piqued my interest this morning and it is something I firmly believe in.

Looking at the news as I tend to do most mornings, mainly looking at the cricket to be honest, I saw this article on BBC news, about young people and plants. From the article…

We grew up with screens and the internet,” she tells Newsbeat.

“We’ve basically not spent that much time engaging with nature during our youth and so we’re finding it for the first time now as adults.

“It’s the notion of having another living thing around, and also there is a unique, unabashed positivity to seeing something grow.

“You can’t find a chemical high like that you get from seeing a new leaf unfurl, I promise.”

I totally agree with the sentiment, but they are talking about growing a succulent or something similar; if that is how they feel about a cactus, imagine the reaction to growing bonsai properly, they would be as high as kites.

I know several people, myself included, who had their lives changed for the better by bonsai, saving them from depression, PTSD and swapping one harmful addiction for a slightly less harmful one. Bonsai is like a rock for us to cling to in turbulent times, a constant in our lives that is indifferent to mood, situation or personal circumstance. Bonsai don’t care that your marriage has broken down or you lost your job, they need the same water, food and attention even if a loved one has died. I always found that a reassuring constant when going through the tribulations as an apprentice, and no longer see it as a burden as a professional.

Despite it being a reassuring constant, our trees are never constant, always changing. The high that we get from seeing a new leaf unfurl or having a flower blossom open reminds us that despite any hardship, things will change, nothing remains the same. Seemingly contradictory statements in two paragraphs, but both are true.

Personally throughout my career, bonsai has taken me to some dark places, but it has always lead me back towards the light. Looking back on why I started to do bonsai, it was the subconscious reconnection with nature and the psychological high that I got from touching trees that hooked me. These days I am never happier than when I am playing around with trees, walking around the garden watching the changes every day, and nothing hurts more than seeing trees damaged by my own hand. For the most part, damage occurs when working on trees when distracted, frustrated or unhappy. Creativity for example cannot be forced, and for me it needs certain conditions to flow. Take some time to think about how your trees affect your mental well being and how your mental state affects the work on your trees.

If you don’t listen to the Mirai podcasts, then I recommend you do, it takes a little getting used to for a British ear, but there are some great nuggets of insight in there. One of the more recent ones, Ryan talks with Todd Schlafer about this issue a little. It is something that needs talking about within our community and the more a light gets shone on it the better.

Anyway, I have to get out in the garden, enjoy the sunshine, listen to the cricket on the radio and get as high as kite on bonsai.

Comments and responses

  • 08 Aug 2018 16:30:04

    Beautifully written, music to my ears and fuel for the soul.

  • Blake:

    08 Aug 2018 17:03:50

    Very true peter. I lost my wife of 32 years in February and my trees have given me great solace.

  • Paul Robeson:

    08 Aug 2018 17:58:53

    Hi Peter. I couldn’t agree with your comments more. As a therapist I spend a lot of time with people who’s mental health struggles and my trees can ground me after even the worst of days. The trees have a pace of their own and a beauty that unfrazzles even the darkest of minds.

  • Bonsai eejit:

    08 Aug 2018 20:41:57

    We’ll, you already know my story and views on this. Keep shining the light on it.

  • 08 Aug 2018 22:27:00

    Necessary and compelling topic to explore. As with so many primary concepts and dialogue surrounding the existential components of bonsai, your insight continues to push the boundaries and further the conversation. I can’t thank you enough for this;)

  • Dave Crust:

    09 Aug 2018 01:35:00

    I just recently had a great lose when my grandson drowned at our family gathering so your words ring so true to me as a fellow bonsai gardener.

  • ThienXiang:

    09 Aug 2018 20:24:24

    Wabi Sabi.

  • Stéphane:

    15 Aug 2018 10:27:50

    So true Peter.
    Bonsai have given me the mental strength to overcome some hardship since last year. Sure that other enthusiats in the world could testify they have their lives changed for the better by bonsai.
    We must keep in mind the power of trees, even in hard times.
    Great article.
    Kind regards
    (Northern France)

  • Beryl:

    29 Mar 2020 11:29:04

    Have read your blog two or three times and think it’s very relevant to today’s life as was said above when my husband died my bonsai played a very great part in my recovery if ever one can but it continues on as does life my trees give me great delight and hopefully will continue to do so.

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