When I took my first art lessons in Chinese brush painting years ago, the first subject we practiced was bamboo. The parlor entrance of my home has my first three attempts hanging on the wall, with my seal affixed in red. Rice paper, bearing these amateurish pieces in black from ink sticks, mounted on sturdy paper and framed, welcome me each time I return home, reminding me to remain soft.
One of my early Daoist teachers spoke often of bamboo in class, and in context, bamboo is a wonderful teaching tool for life. Winds blow . . . bamboo bends, all the way to the ground if the wind is strong enough . . . and when the winds have blown themselves out, the bamboo becomes erect again, surviving the storm. The rigid oaks, thinking themselves strong enough to withstand the invisible winds, are uprooted and perish.
Those who believe themselves to be correct in all things, rigid in their own ways, are frequently uprooted in life, easily blown over by life-changing events. Those who cultivate stillness, who remain in the present moment with the clarity to see things merely as are, withstand the inevitable changes in all things. Life-changing events happen to them, and while their lives change, they do not. Winds blow, they bend, and when calm is restored they stand erect again, fully in the moment.
In Chapter 20 of the Dao de Qing, Laozi asked:
What is the difference between yes and no?
What is the difference between good and evil?
The old joke retort to the question ?What?s new?? is ?Everything.? ?Each moment is filled with endless possibilities, and should be greeted enthusiastically, open to whatever response it requires of us. ?We must remain ever nimble in each moment, to be aware enough of incoming energies, winds blowing, to bend when necessary in our greeting of it. ?My taiji students have heard me speak of this often, and we become adept at recognizing those energies, the winds of life, and in responding appropriately to them with a deflection, a subtle sidestep, or a drop when necessary.
While we can be certain in a particular moment, and act with resolve, we must also be prepared for the inevitability of change in some future moment, nimble enough to respond in a different way. ?The ?yes? or ?no? of things are of no importance; only our response matters. Stay light on our feet, bending when necessary, or we face the same fate as the rigid oak. That same Daoist teacher told us that the soft always overcomes the hard, in time, and this is what he meant.
When I thought I had learned some of the basic brush painting strokes well enough, I decided to do a painting for each of my daughters . . . blue heron for my oldest, a chickadee for my middle daughter, and bamboo for my youngest.
My oldest daughter and I used to enjoy watching for the blue heron at Crab Creek near our home. In her middle school art class, my middle daughter had painted a chickadee for me, a drawing I still have. And of the three girls, my youngest was the most rigid, the one who fought change the hardest.
I gave the paintings as Christmas presents, each with a card, and for my youngest daughter, I wrote: ?Be the bamboo.?
Bamboo survives the strongest of winds, yields to the most violent of storms, and stands tall when they pass. It is not a bad idea to be the bamboo in life, to remain nimble in the face of its travails, another benefit of cultivating stillness.