I loved watching Garr Reynold’s TEDx Talk – 10 Lessons from Bamboo (1).
Some of the bamboo qualities that he talks about provide us with powerful strategies for living with soul in this VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).
He talks about how in Japan there exists a special connection with nature. He cites Morihei Ueshiba – the creator of martial art Aikido – who says: “Nature is a great teacher. It is always talking to us.”
Be Like Water & Use the Difficulty
Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying (with) life energy” or as “the way of harmonious spirit.” Kung-Fu film star Bruce Lee also talks about the value of nature, and he suggests we should, “be like the water” as we tackle life and business challenges.
Water flows fast, finding the path of least resistance, changing course quickly to keep moving, rather than standing still.
Perhaps this could mean we need to avoid resisting, complaining and ‘pointing the finger’ at external challenges. This not only saps our energy, but also stops us from taking a calm step back to see more creative solutions to the challenges we face.
In an interview with Michael Parkinson, actor Michael Caine tells the story of how as a young actor rehearsing a scene, a chair was thrown in a fight between husband and wife, blocking a door the young Caine was to enter from. Complaining to the director, he was told sharply – “Use the difficulty! If it’s a drama, smash the chair, if it’s a comedy, fall over it! Use the difficulty!” We can use this in our lives, with every challenge. Take a step back and say: “How do I use this difficulty to walk away a winner?”
In improvisation comedy, actors practice the principle of ‘Saying Yes’ as a fundamental principle in creating magical performances. It means whatever comes your way, say ‘Yes, and…” rather than “Yes, but….”. With the latter, we simply deny the other person’s ideas and impose our own.
How many meetings do we attend when everyone talks, and no-one listens? The results are usually sketchy at best. The key to connecting with others, so that they connect with us, is to accept, embrace, add to, build on, create, flow…
Be Stronger Than Steel
Garr talks about how bamboo is, pound for pound, stronger than steel. Yes, you read that correctly. Something so pure and so accessible in nature is stronger than what we as man, have created. In fact, individual bamboo fibres come in three times stronger.
You can buy a bicycle made of bamboo!
Sometimes, we need to trust that the answer to our problems is in our own nature, at a soul level. Perhaps we just need to be clear about our intentions – and trust our intuition to gently work with the issue, rather than just grasp for the next hi-tech tool.
It also means knowing how to still our busy minds to get in touch with our deeper consciousness. As the idiom says, “still waters run deep.”
“This is the extraordinary thing about creativity: If just you keep your mind resting against the subject in a friendly but persistent way, sooner or later you will get a reward from your unconscious.” John Cleese
Just like the bamboo, emptiness in ourselves can often be the key to our own creativity. Do you practise being still, being empty, and sitting in the present moment each day.
More amazingly, bamboo is hollow in the middle – not a great metaphor on the face of it! However, this means that bamboo can bend with the wind, rarely breaking. As the weight of the snow takes its toll in winter, the bamboo even touches the ground. But, once the sun comes out in spring, the bamboo springs right back to full health and vitality, making it one of the most versatile and resilient compounds available to us today.
In our VUCA world, this means being bendy and adaptable rather than brittle and resistant is the secret to success. This is often down to personal choice, really. Being bendy/hollow also warns of the dangers of being too ‘full’ of our own self-importance or belief that we know it all. This can mean forgoing the best option as we fluff our tail feathers in challenging situations.
In Aikido, just like the bamboo, the advice is not to waste too much energy resisting. The term aiki refers to a principle or tactic of blending with an attacker’s movements “for the purpose of controlling their actions with minimal effort. One applies aiki by understanding the rhythm and intent of the attacker to find the optimal position and timing to apply a counter-technique.” (2)
Embrace Flexible Thought & Live with Soul
Even more amazingly, bamboo forests always allow the light to shine in. We need to be open to ideas and inspiration, yes, while at the same time being deeply rooted. We need grounding in strong principles, we need a cohesive tribe to belong to, but entertaining flexibility and openness to new thinking is also critical. The roots of bamboo take time to develop, before their growth is accelerated – at its peak, up to a meter a day when the roots are strong, the soil is rich, and the light is let in.
Take time to learn about things from outside your normal terms of reference. Engage and grow the whole you, not just the you that’s defined by your current role.
Our roots are our core beliefs, convictions, values and sense of core purpose. If it’s a soul purpose that drives us, it’s more about sensing our deeper ‘why’ and looking at the ‘we’ – the impact we’re having on our community; not just the ‘me’ and how much we may gain for ourselves.
And, as bamboo grows best when it’s receiving favourable rainfall and light exposure, we need to invest in maintaining our natural strength and apply it to gaining knowledge, personal growth, and renewal. This means we need to invest in developing supportive and nourishing relationships at home and work.
To grow quickly, we may also need to consciously choose discomfort, rather than seeking the familiar. Sometimes, it’s more about embracing the process of disruptive change by choice, rather than just hanging on for the end of it.
How can you develop your vitality, get enough rest, maintain nutrition, peace and focus – as well as choose to challenge yourself in this VUCA world
Are You Ready to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone?
Bamboo grows very successfully in the jungle. Sometimes, living a soulful life means stepping up and walking naked in the jungle, anchored in our core purpose and values based on how we believe we can best serve our fellow human beings and even the planet.
Changing our old patterns of reacting and behaving can seem difficult – but, change in many ways is not difficult, it’s just different!
Step out of your comfort zone, and ”be like the bamboo” in the way that bamboo has shown its capability to tackle challenges successfully throughout the world.