a small bonsai tree sat in a pot on the floor

Lockdown Mindfulness – Bonsai as a means of escape?

The Coronavirus lockdown has brought the concept of loneliness into a new light. As students, many of us are outgoing and used to high levels of emotional and mental stimulation from within classes and social situations, usually with other likeminded twenty(ish)-year-olds.

Having moved back in with family at the beginning of the lockdown, I found myself with a commodity I wasn’t used to when living in a student house…a garden.

Originally, boredom led me to the art of Bonsai (a Japanese word, literally meaning plant in pot) through stumbling across YouTube videos on the subject. I quickly realised that this might be a hobby worth pursuing rather than being glued to a phone or laptop screen. Getting me out in the open, in the sun, ingrained in the repotting, pruning, wiring, and watering of these miniature trees I realised that, quite inadvertently, I had been practicing mindfulness.

Now, what I mean by mindfulness is the act of focussing solely and without distraction on a specific endeavour. This, traditionally, has been about breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, etc., but more recently has come to include other actions more suited to a busy metropolitan lifestyle. In principle, mindfulness can be applied to any action where your attention can be wholly dedicated to the movements and thought processes involved, although in my experience, mindfulness is best suited to acts that require little intellectual effort – you practice mindfulness to give your brain a rest, which is difficult to do whilst reading Freud or Aristotle. Pick a hobby that is not too intelligence-based!

This brings me to the art of Bonsai; it is all about incremental and minor changes to the daily growth of the plant that results in something beautiful as a result. My attraction to Bonsai was the idea that I could enjoy this hobby for an indefinite period even after lockdown is over, but in the meantime would present me with something to do other than watching TV. Some Bonsai have been known to live well over 500 years, so this was a long-term hobby for sure!

Whatever the hobby that you do or have taken up during lockdown, I am sure you will be able to practice mindfulness while you engage in it. Try to focus on a specific element, a movement, a function of the hobby, that allows you to forget about the ‘outside’ world even just for thirty seconds. This is mindfulness.

Mental health has been a significant concern for many people during this period of isolation. Having a mindful activity to participate in when you need to escape the stress of lockdown can be really beneficial.