Writings: Intro

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The Spirituality of Bonsai: A Journal of Finding Peace in an Age of Tyranny

By Gerald (Jerry) Carpenter


It is cool but bright in the rising sun as I step purposely out on my patio bonsai garden. I have a chair strategically placed looking directly at a tree positioned carefully on two dark milk crates that I set up last night.

I take a seat; it is still quiet this early in the morning and traffic is not buzzing the street yet. The shadows cast by the sun are filling the tree with light. The tree; an old Japanese Black pine is older than me. It stands there armored in thick turtle shell bark produced over 50 plus decades. The needles are dark green and many new “candles” are popping up through the needles. It sits in a naturalized brown pot, hand-made, by a Bay Area bonsai artist and potter. The pot grounds the tree.

My mind silences and I observe. This is the most important part for me; to observe structure, design, the style, and find the story being presented here in this moment with this specific tree. This time becomes meditation without critical thought; simple observation. The sun moves up from the horizon, light shifts, shadows change, the story unfolds.

You might ask, “so what is it with this tree”, “why does it fascinate”, “what story is it telling”, and what the heck am I doing? I will explore that in the coming chapters. For now, know this; I am surrounded by 50+ bonsai tress in my small private garden. There are too many and that influences the spirit. I will look at the volume of trees because so many bonsai artists go for quantity. I do not covet quantity; I desire evolution and enhance quality over a long period to make art with my trees.

The tile says Spirituality.  What the that and is this going to get woo woo?Spirituality is perceived and defined in so many different way. This may make some people uneasy because how can I deem to blend spirituality with horticulture and little potted trees. How is that possible? And, of what spirituality am I speaking?

The spirituality I am speaking of is not a specific religion, it is not being religious with trees, it is not about following the laws and traditions of a religion (even though we do follow design traditions for a reason that may impact the spirit of what I am exploring.) It is not a belief in a specific god and I will not preach of saving a soul. What I will postulate here is that spirituality exits something beyond the physical world. I will speak of a process of awakening from ordinary consciousness, rising above the self and awakening to a wider consciousness. I will go beyond the limitation, thoughts, and narrow viewpoints about life, government, social pressure, and tyranny.

Tyranny; as I see it today, is my moving through a world of oppression from others, from a complex narcissistic society, individualism to the extreme, and temporary disposable materialism.  Raising above those factors to sit in the quiet and “listen to a tree” must seem insane to many in our age. They may not give it notice or consider it odd, a waste of time, unimportant, weird, and many may not be able to entertain the idea in the slightest because a tree is just something to pass by as they move through their busy self-consumed lives.

It is not my intent to judge, much as the Greek Thucydides would say in his History*, it is to observe and find my way through this day, this period of life by finding peace and beauty where I can. I wish to offer that everyone should slow down. Take a moment. Learn an art. Plant a seed or get something from a nursery. Do not just let it stay in its container or plop it in the ground and ignore it until it becomes a chore to trim. I would rather ponder its life in relationship to mind and find out how it fits in my journey.  I would rather turn away from the tyranny of societal pressures, simplify, and gain understanding of the transient, the spirit that flows in and through things, that connects us, and transports us to somewhere healthier.

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