Blog Post: 16th November 2019, Updated on 2nd February 2020
By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
Title: The Bamboo Paradox: Flexible body, resilient mind, and wisdom in action
Hello and welcome to this little blog post about human resilience.
I am planning to write a newsletter in the next few days, but I thought it might be interesting to share my latest interest with you. This is my interest in the extent to which a human can model itself upon a flexible bamboo.
This is how I introduce my thinking in the Preface of my new book, which will be published very soon:
At the age of thirty-four years, I woke up. Woke up for the first time. Became conscious of the fact that I was living a life that did not really work for me – which had never really worked in a fully satisfactory way. At that point, I began to seek wisdom – to examine my life – and to explore better ways of living a fuller, more satisfying life.
In this book, I want to share some of the fruits of my journey towards wisdom, happiness and health.
This is a book about how to take care of yourself in a difficult world; so you can be happy and healthy, successful and wealthy. Your physical height, weight, muscle bulk and so on, are not the most important determinants of your ability to be strong in the face of life’s difficult challenges.
In many ways, your ephemeral mind – supported by a well-rested and nourished body – is the best measure of your potential for resilient coping with stressful challenges. For example, the humble bamboo is often the thinnest plant in the forest or jungle when a tropical storm hits; but it is often the only plant left standing when the storm is over.
If you develop some bamboo-like flexibility, you can become as strong and resilient as you need to be, even if you are thin and light and less tall than the average person.
This is how the qualities of bamboo are conceptualized by one business-person:
“Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that even in the most difficult times… your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. Take putting forth energy when it is needed, yet always staying calm inwardly”. (Ping Fu: ‘Bend, Not Break: A life in two worlds’).
Like a bamboo, you can learn to bend in strong winds of change or challenge; and to sway in the frequent breezes of trial and tribulation. You can develop a solid foundation, but one which allows you to stay flexible, and to respond to the forces that assail you with a judo-like yielding and returning. Bend in harmony with the forces around you, without resisting rigidly, and thus avoid being broken. Go with the flow, when the flow is irresistible; but swim against the tide if you need to, when the tide is not too powerful. Eventually, the forces around you may grow tired, and you will be fresh and ready to move forward, when resistance is at its lowest.
“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo … survives by bending with the wind”. (Bruce Lee).
To be like the bamboo, you must not just be well informed about how to use your mind – like an ancient philosopher – but also you must be well fed, well rested, happily related to at least one significant other person; and rooted in some kind of family, social group and/or community. You need to be involved and rooted in your home community, but free to take whatever individual action you need to take, so long as it is moral and legal.
“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo”- according to Jodi Picoult, an American author of fiction – “far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance”.
Of course there are flaws in each of those quotes above – limitations and exaggerations – which eventually lead us into paradox, or self-contradicting beliefs and actions, which I will explore later. But the point is to celebrate the near perfect combination of strength and flexibility to be found in bamboo, and to try to emulate that strength and flexibility in our own difficult lives – when appropriate – as individual human beings.
The first major limitation of comparing ourselves with bamboo is this: In western science, the world is divided into three major classes: animal, vegetable and mineral. Clearly, bamboo belongs to one of those classes (vegetable) while humans belong to another (the animal).
Bamboo is rooted to the spot, while humans, and other animals, move around the world.
To build a bridge from the vegetable world of bamboo, to the animal world of human individuals, let me introduce a transitional entity – a little duck in an endless sea.
Donald C. Babcock has written about a little duck – “something pretty special” – which is out on the ocean; cuddling down in the swells; and riding the waves. Out beyond the surf by one hundred feet[i]. …
***For more on this, please click the following link: Preface to Dr Jim’s new book on Bamboo Resilience.***
That’s all for now. Newsletter coming soon!
[i] Babcock, D.C (2003) ‘The little duck’. Quoted in Josh Baran (ed) 365 Nirvana Here and Now: Living every moment in enlightenment. London: Element. Page 157.