In Japan, the symbolism of the bamboo plant runs deep and wide and offers practical lessons for life and for work.
(1) Bend but don’t break. Be flexible yet firmly rooted
Bamboo bodies are hard and firm and yet sway gently in the breeze while their trunks stay rooted firmly in the ground below. Even the strongest wind tires itself out, but the bamboo remains standing tall and still. A bend-but-don’t-break or go-with-the-natural-flow attitude is one of the secrets for success when dealing with the everyday drama of life.
(2) What looks weak is strong
The bamboo may not look impressive at first sight at all. But the plants endure cold winters and extremely hot summers and are sometimes the only trees left standing in the aftermath of a typhoon. It is not as fragile as it may appear, not by a long shot. We must be careful not to underestimate others or ourselves based only on old notions of what is weak and what is strong. Stand tall, believe in your own strengths, and know that you are as strong as you need to be.
(3) Always be ready
Unlike other types of wood which take a good deal of processing and finishing, bamboo needs little of that. A great Aikido master said “The warrior, like bamboo, is ever ready for action.” Through training and practice, we can develop in our own way a state of being ever ready.
(4) Unleash your power to spring back
Bamboo is a symbol of good luck and one of the symbols of the New Year celebrations in Japan. The important image of snow-covered bamboo represents the ability to spring back after experiencing adversity. In winter the heavy snow bends the bamboo back and back until one day the snow becomes too heavy, begins to fall, and the bamboo snaps back up tall again, brushing aside all the snow. The bamboo endured the heavy burden of the snow, but in the end it had to power to spring back as if to say “I will not be defeated.”
(5) Find wisdom in emptiness
It is said that in order to learn, the first step is to empty ourselves of our preconceived notions. One cannot fill a cup which is already full. The hollow insides of the bamboo remind us that we are often too full of ourselves and our own conclusions; we have no space for anything else. In order to receive knowledge and wisdom from both nature and people, we have to be open to that which is new and different. When you empty your mind of your prejudices and pride and fear, you become open to the possibilities.
(6) Express usefulness through simplicity
“The bamboo in its simplicity expresses its usefulness. Man should do the same.” Indeed, we spend a lot of our time trying to show how smart we are, perhaps to convince others — and ourselves — that we are worthy of their attention and praise. Life and work are complicated enough without our interjecting the superfluous. If we could lose our fear, perhaps we could be more creative and find simpler solutions to even complex problems that ultimately provide the greatest usefulness for our audiences and customers.
(7) Commit to continuous growth
Bamboo trees are among the fastest-growing plants in the world. It does not matter who you are — or where you are — today, you have amazing potential for growth. Even though the bamboo grows quite rapidly, you will not notice its growth from day to day. We too, even when we are making progress, may not notice our own improvement. Do not be discouraged by what you perceive as your lack of growth or improvement. If you have not given up, then you are growing, you just may not see it until much later.
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