As Bruce Lee said, “Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.”
Like all other plants and trees, the Chinese bamboo tree requires nurturing through water, fertile soil, and also with enough sunshine to ensure that it will grow.
If you try to plant a bamboo tree and you make sure you give it enough water, the right soil, and also enough exposure to sunlight, you will NEVER see any visible growth in the first year.
And if you continue to nurture the bamboo tree, after the second year, nothing will grow above the ground. And if you choose to continue on for the third and fourth year, you will see nothing too.
And finally in the fifth year – behold, a miracle! We experience growth. And what growth it is! The Chinese Bamboo Tree grows 80 feet in just six weeks!
7 Lessons that Bamboo Can Teach Us:
1. Remember, what looks weak is strong. The body of even the largest bamboo is small compared to the much larger trees in the forest. But bamboo can endure very cold winters and extremely hot summers. Often, they are the only “trees” left standing in the aftermath of a strong storm. Bamboo teachs us that size does not matter.
2. Bend but don’t break. One of the most impressive things about the bamboo is its flexibility; it sways in the wind. This gently swaying serves as a symbol of humility. The foundation of the bamboo is solid, yet it moves harmoniously with the wind…never fighting against it. Even the strongest wind will, eventually, tire itself out but the bamboo remains, standing tall and still. A bend-but-don’t break attitude is one of the secrets for successful and happy living.
3. Be strongly rooted yet flexible. Bamboo is remarkably flexible. This flexibility is due, in lage part, to the bamboo’s complex root structure which is said to make the ground around it very stable; not only for the bamboo but for all of the trees and plants in the forest. Roots are important, not only for the simple bamboo, but for frogs and humans, as well. It is difficult today, with our busy world and information over-load, to stay connected to what is important, but without the firm base of a good root, or support system (family,friends, and community), no one wil stay strong for long.
4. Slow down your busy mind. Life can be chaotic, often making it difficult “to see the signal for the noise.” Living in this kind of environment, day-after-day, can wear us down. We need to step back and calm ourselves; to steady ourselves from the blustry world around us. Like the bamboo, in a calm environment, we can thrive and grow strong.
5. Be always ready. The great Aikido master, Kensho Furuya, tells us, “The warrior, like bamboo, is ever ready for action.” Through practice and training we can develop, in our own way, a state of being ever ready. For some, it’s reading uplifting passages. For others, it’s prayer or meditation. By strengthening our innerselves, we learn we are capable of taking on any and all challenges that life may bring our way….just like the bamboo.
6. Smile, laugh, and play. The Chinese character for smile or laugh is 笑う. At the top of this character are two small symbols for bamboo (竹). It is said that bamboo has a strong connection with laughter. Perhaps this is because the sound bamboo leaves make in wind is reminiscence of laughter. Too, bamboo has a connection with playfulness. It it often used to make traditional Japanese kites; bamboo is strong, durable, and lightweight…perfect for flying high in the breeze. The Japanese and the Chinese know instinctively that laughing, smiling, and playing are good for the mind, body, and soul. Now, modern science is giving us factual evidence that “Laughter truly is the best medicine.”
7. Commit yourself to growth and renewal. Bamboo are among the world’s fastest growing plants.And bamboo are plentiful. They can be found in many different places and climates. We, too, are like bamboo and capable of amazing growth…no matter who we are or where we live. How fast we grow is not what’s important. What matters is the fact that we keep moving forward.
While we indeed reap what we sow, we don’t usually reap when we sow. As Renaissance author and father of deductive reasoning Sir Francis Bacon put it, “In all negotiations of difficulties, a man may not look to sow and reap at once; but must prepare business, and so ripen it by degrees.” “Ripening it by degrees” means that leaders must keep doing the right things in the delay between sowing and reaping knowing that “above ground results” will eventually come, even if it takes until the fourth spring.
Nelson Mandela was an avid gardener in prison. He had decades to ponder the relationship between gardening and the larger, leadership struggle in which he was engaged. In his biography The Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela reflected,
In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed” (p. 490).