Redwood bonsai by Brussels Bonsai

Are you reaching your genetic potential?

I read an article recently about the art of bonsai. I was drawn to the pictures of a redwood no larger than a foot tall, yet a perfect miniature of the giants found in the coastal forests of northern California and southern Oregon. While small, it did not look like a sapling; it had the patina of a centuries old tree.

Redwoods are known for their towering growth reaching heights of over 300 feet tall. They are giants that stretch towards the heavens, creating habitats and ecosystems within ecosystems. Their large root systems extend as far out as the tree is tall, and they thrive when growing together amongst community. This is because their roots become entangled to make so complex of a web that it is theorized that the trees communicate and share nutrients with one another.

In the case of the bonsai tree, it will forever remain stunted because of the pot that constrains its growth. The tree will never scrape the sky to collect the droplets of coastal fog. It will never create habitat for birds, insects, animals, and other flora to live. It will only reach a fraction of a fraction of its genetic potential, purely because of the vessel that constrains its growth.

And that is what got me thinking about the vessels in which we humans live our own lives. Are our houses constraining our own genetic potential? Are we living a shadow life of what could be?

Houses are meant to shelter us from the elements in order to keep us warm, dry, and safe. Somewhere along the lines they became a signal of our status in the world, while our economy became reliant upon the debt created from our desire for bigger and cheaper.

We ignore the rain that falls upon our roofs and channel the celestial water from our downspouts to the sewer. From there, who knows where it goes. Because why would we need to know?

When we run our taps water comes on demand, from somewhere, with some added chemicals, but hopefully not enough to harm us. Once the water hits the bottom of the sink, basin or tub it is then considered waste that must be removed from site. Who knows where it goes? Because why would we need to know?

We seek out natural sunlight to brighten our rooms yet turn our backs on the sun’s abundant, free energy. Instead we have wired our streets and countryside, dammed our rivers, exploded our mountaintops, and sucked the embodied carbon from long-ago living things from the bowels of our planet.

We orient our homes not according to the sun’s natural path, but to a grid system that makes it easy to transact as well as to transport. This grid system isolates rather than unites. It is dominated by machines which are incompatible with humans and other living things.

We have framed our structures by cutting trees that were alive when Christ walked the Earth. When we ran out of resources we turned to Science to create cheap artificial materials made in chemistry labs. The vast majority of these materials is toxic to our health and degrades the environment. We ignore the externalities because we have not yet figured out how to sell the air in which we breathe. We are divided politically because of an economic system that needs to sell these materials, to keep people employed, and to service debt.

We have disconnected ourselves from the soil that nourishes us. We have built our civilizations on top of our most fertile lands and have built a legacy of cement and sod. We pay crews of people using fossil-fuel burning machines to cut our grass, whilst we deplete our aquifers to water our lawns. This is because our lawns are somewhat for lounging, but mostly for appearances — certainly not for growing food, creating habitat, or for beauty.

Our food does not come from our soil, but from distant lands shipped to us in plastic and packaging. We know no seasons because of our globalized transportation system. Our children — our future leaders — can name more junk food brands than they know the names of fruit. They have been cut off from the knowledge historically passed down through elders on how to propagate, cultivate, and steward.

These are our vessels in which we live. If we are the bonsai trees, then it begs the questions:

What are the kinds of vessels that could help us reach our fullest potential?

What unlearning needs to take place to harness the potential of the divine within our cells?



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Neal Collins

Neal Collins


Co-founder of Latitude — a company that helps transform people’s lives and communities by incorporating sustainability into real estate.