Bamboo makes a great symbol for spiritual living. It’s sturdy and strong, but also flexible without being easily breakable. These are all qualities we need in our spirituality.

Bamboo is hollow which can represent the hollowness of being a conduit of the divine for healing, compassion, guidance, wisdom and awakening for self and others.

Bamboo is a perennial evergreen; it has leaves every season. Life is full of seasons. Even within a calendar season, our own life may go through more than one ‘season.’ Evergreens shed leaves while producing new ones. Similarly, we need to discard the old and dysfunctional for the fresh and empowering. Like a bamboo’s leaves we benefit from being self-renewing.

The most important symbology of the bamboo is in relation to developing a spiritual backbone. Whether your path is Reiki or another teaching, having a spiritual backbone is essential. Without it the path becomes unsteady. We waver. Both inner and outer temptations are too great and the path itself is already challenging.

Our spiritual backbone isn’t physical, although strengthening the back to sit for longer periods of meditation is important. Instead it’s about our integrity, resoluteness, and spiritual fortitude.

Someone just starting out on their path may not necessarily consider the long term aspect of it. Today we live longer and healthier lives and our spiritual path is meant to accompany us all the way through those years. There are an unknown number of twists and turns, ups and downs. Nothing is guaranteed and the end is obscured. And at the beginning the path is narrow, even hard to discern.

Given this, the only real ally we have is our commitment.

Our lives, like the ocean, constantly change, and we will naturally face great storms and dreary lulls. How, then, to put our minds in a space where practice is always there, whether tumultuous or in the doldrums? It requires a completely radical view of practice: practice is not something we do; it is something we are. We are not separate from our practice, and so no matter what, our practice is present.


— Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara

It takes spiritual backbone to commit to practice and lifelong spiritual living. This backbone develops and strengthens with the spiritual practice(s) we engage and also shows up for us when we need it, as long as we’ve put the time in. If you’ve put in solid spiritual time consistently and sincerely, your inner core of integrity and fortitude can take over during dry spells, when feeling bereft or challenged, or even just busy. (‘Busyness’ is a trap, however. It has to be recognized and held back.)

We also need this backbone to stay with our practice during such times. Those are exactly the times we need to practice. Spiritual practice can’t wait for idyllic conditions. It’s now or it’s not.

Bamboo has countless uses, from cooking to medicine to textiles to construction. It’s one of the most versatile plants there is. It’s also flexible in this sense, not only for bending in high wind. Life asks of us to be adaptable and resourceful. We’re endowed with many inner qualities, everything we need to face all situations.

Traditionally bamboo symbolizes longevity. This can also symbolize the longevity of our practice. The straight stem of the bamboo is seen as the (spiritual) path itself, and the segments of the stem are stages along the way.

Stephen R. Covey writes this of bamboo:

After the seed for this amazing tree is planted, you see nothing, absolutely nothing, for four years except for a tiny shoot coming out of a bulb. During those four years, all the growth is underground in a massive, fibrous root structure that spreads deep and wide in the earth. But then in the the fifth year the Chinese bamboo tree grows up to eighty feet!

This is significant in spirituality and healing in so many ways. How often do we become impatient with ourselves and/or the process? How often do we mistrust ourselves and/or the process? How often do we lose faith?

In spirituality or healing (which overlap) it’s also commonplace that there are no observable changes or growth, at least not on the surface. This can be discouraging, but if we abandon teachings then it’s like digging up the bamboo seed in the first four years because not much is visible above ground.

Spiritual teachings usually have several different practices, both formal and the overall practice of embodying our learning and growth as we apply ourselves. Reiki certainly has a variety of methods, beyond its most well-known hands-on application. In fact in Reiki and most other authentic paths, meditation is the foundation.

If your self-discipline or dedication seems to weaken, remember first of all, that this is natural and you don’t need to berate yourself for it. Seek inspiration in the form that works best for you—reading poetry or prose that inspires you, communicating with like-minded friends, finding a community of meditators, maybe a group to practice with… If you haven’t been keeping a meditation journal, start one. And keep in mind that no matter how badly you feel things are going, no matter how long it’s been since you last meditated, you can always begin again. Nothing is lost; nothing is ruined. We have this very moment in front of us. We can start now.


— Sharon Salzberg

That’s sage advice. And it can be applied to any of the methods in which we have instruction. Let’s summarize how bamboo can be a helpful analogy for the spiritual life:

  • It bends but doesn’t break. Curve balls are easier to handle if our fundamentals are strong, and we can also be fluid.
  • It’s strong without being rigid. We have a firm base and core which allows us to be soft and yielding when needed.
  • It’s hollow. We empty ourselves of preconceptions and expectations so the divine can fill us.
  • It’s evergreen. We’re discarding and renewing at the same time; keeping and improving on the good, releasing the not-so-good.
  • Bamboo doesn’t give up underground. It develops and incredible root system. Commitment and inner resolve are deep resources we draw from from start to finish.

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Establishing a Spiritual Backbone