The Hook To Hang Our Hat On: Part I

If you like wearing hats, like me, you’ll know that just about anything can be a hat support. Anything, really: A chair, a hook, a doorknob. A rack in the oven. Hats, if you’re a hat person, are everything. You live for hats. You don’t live for the hook.

Oddly enough, we can get everything backwards when it comes to things that have forms, like bonsai. We mistake the hook for the hat. We think making forms is the end-all of the adventure, and remain preoccupied with what’s on the surface.

I had a yoga teacher in Arizona who, when he saw a sunset, would break into a spontaneous asana, like a triangle pose or a tree pose. He just did it without thinking. It was the feeling he had when he saw the sunset. That guy had it right—the feeling creates the form. But he was not a beginner. Most of us, like me, do yoga in dimmed rooms and wonder if our pose is really as good as we can make it. And we do it some more until we pull a muscle… so involved we are with the form. The hook.

Yoga is outwardly similar to bonsai, making forms with bodies rather than trees. But yoga teachers are clear that yoga is not simply about making the most perfect poses with our bodies. For that is an unending search for the kind of perfection it denies. We work with the imperfections of our bodies to gain some grace and acceptance of them, and to acknowledge that our lifestyle and approach to living is mirrored in our bodies. There’s the hat.

And doesn’t that sound a bit like bonsai? If you see an old pine at the top of a mountain after a long hike, is it likely to be in a perfect pose? It’s as tired as we are. Are we not more willing, after that arduous hike and wondering about the knees that were once young, to forgive this tree it’s own transgressions on perfection, and on our expectations?

We engage with bonsai, but if open to the experience of bonsai, we engage with ourselves. The hook is the tree… the hat is within us.

sorting_.png image by jiggery-pokery The inimitable Hogwarts Sorting Hat…

We tend to employ many hooks to occupy ourselves, don’t we? I have a few. Yoga is one. Argentine tango another. In tango I enjoy the vulnerable collaboration, and the inability in close embrace in hiding from your partner what kind of day you just had.

Bonsai is my biggest hook, though, and I hang my best hats there: A care-taking responsibility, a tuning fork for the seasons, a philosophic metaphor for life, a collaborative slow-motion tango, and a calming, low-impact way to stay out of worse trouble.

  • How deeply do we enter into the forms that we engage with? How richly woven are our hats?
  • How aware are we of what bonsai does inside us, what gates open when we see one, or create one?

Sometimes while teaching a class I recite a part of a poem that reflects the feeling I have looking at a particular tree. Perhaps your link to bonsai, your hat, is more than joy at seeing a pleasing form, and perhaps it’s a very different hat from mine, but whatever it is I urge you to explore that.

I have yet to hang a hat on a bonsai, a real hat I mean. I hang all kinds of other metaphorical hats on them. Because that is what I think bonsai are. They are hooks to hang our hats on.


  1. Bruce says:

    Excellent essay Michael! I’ll be sharing it for sure.

    And regarding hats, I’m sure you must know of John Helmer, third generation haberdasher, (hat city) in Portland.



  2. Wonderful reflection, Michael. Agreed! By the way, you should see the oak I just saw down near Ashland… Wow. Will post it on Facebook.

  3. japanesepots says:

    Wow Mike, great depth here. Interesting that we have some hobbies In common, yoga and Bonsai! Although my approach to Yoga is more the “Book 4″…copper wire type, while yours appears more flexible, I love that our philosophical approaches to bonsai are the same…
    A bonsai should be like a mantra, when you sit in contemplation of it, the knowledge of mans hand should disappear, somewhat, while you lose time in the tree.

    • crataegus says:

      Yes I agree with the invisibility of the artist in bonsai work. Sometimes it seems too apparent. Of course there are different approaches which makes bonsai interesting, but for my own path, too much ‘hand’ seems to be a big flag of the ego. This may be why I’m so enamored with accent plants… they are rather wild, really. Untamed.

  4. xwires says:

    Well put Michael, thanks!

  5. Bruce says:

    Hi Michael…

    Re: Hats, there’s no “Hat City” per se, it’s just what I call John Helmer’s place.

    3rd generation in Portland:

  6. John C says:

    Hi There

    Sounds like your father was a wise man, its a marvelous way of looking at things that can be applied in many different ways.

    On the subject of Hats check this out

    Best Regards
    JC Down Under

  7. John C says:

    Hi Again

    Sorry I just realised I should have put Is a wise Man.

    I was thinking of mine that I lost on the 8-12-12 & he was only 100 & 7 months.


  1. […] post is Part II of  a series. See also, The Hook To Hang Our Hat On: Part I) Eco World Content From Across The Internet. Featured on EcoPressed Barefoot math professor […]

  2. […] the Blind Mind. (it’s actually the second installment in a series; the first installment is The Hook to Hang Your Hat On). Rather than say much more, I’ll provide a little teaser with a link and you can take it […]

  3. […] of the Blind Man. (it’s actually the second installment in a series; the first installment is The Hook to Hang Your Hat On). Rather than say much more, I’ll provide a little teaser with a link and you can take it from […]

  4. […] the Blind Mind. (it’s actually the second installment in a series; the first installment is The Hook to Hang Your Hat On). Rather than say much more, I’ll provide a little teaser with a link and you can take it […]

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