September 3, 2015

Honeybees & Dharma: Finding Inspiration.


Honeybees inspire me.

The doors are open to the wraparound deck, my two Whippets are passed out on the floor for their eleventh nap of the day, and from somewhere out in the distance, the whining drone of a chainsaw cuts the silence repeatedly.

As I zone out and stare through the large windows, every few seconds a small, darting, golden missile flies across the view.

My bees are out and about, zooming forth on their endless missions to gather nectar from the mountain or returning home with their golden cache to the white box that houses their colony.

I was hoping to work the bees today—opening up the hive, removing frames and looking for the queen, checking the state of the brood and cells of honey—but the sun isn’t out. Though it’s not raining, it isn’t ideal bee weather.

No matter the outside climate, these busy, little, winged alchemists of nature keep the interior of their home at a very constant temperature thanks to the fanning of their wings. If the roof is lifted off, they’re in a much better mood about the situation if the day is sunny and warm—no cool breeze suddenly blasting into their living space. It’s understandable, really; if I was seated comfortably in my living room, reading a book or working on a project, and someone suddenly opened the front door (or took the entire roof off) and left it open so that cold air was pouring in, I’d be grouchy too.

Being a starter colony with a young queen, I like to check the state of things fairly often (but not so often that I’m bothering them), about once a week, just to make sure that everything is buzzing along nicely.

My main concern is that the golden queen (Lucinda, I’ve named her) is laying well and that there is “brood” (unborn bees) in all the key stages of development. Being a small hive, the colony’s main objective at this point is increasing its size rather than simply building up reserves of honey. One of the lovely benefits of tending bees in Hawaii is that they don’t have to survive a cold winter; a wealth of plants are always in bloom and pollen is abundant, so the bees make honey year round.

The creation of honey is a staggeringly labor-intensive process. As outlined in the award-winning travel narrative, Honey and Dust, by Piers Moore Ede:

Considering that the average bee will produce only about 11/2 teaspoons of honey in its lifetime, it takes about 5,300 bees to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey. One jar of honey is also the result of about 80,000 trips between flower and hive, the result of about 55,000 miles of flight, and the nectar from about two million flowers.

Not only does this insight put the actual value of honey into perspective (more valuable than gold, I say), the endless work of these amazing creatures to produce a relatively small output gives me a sense of encouragement…inspiration, even.

There have been countless times—particularly when struggling with my most recent book manuscript—when I felt that my daily efforts didn’t add up to much. And yet I haven’t worked nearly so hard (nor so constantly) as an average honeybee in a day. I can only trust that by the end of my lifetime, I will have written and accumulated enough words and pages to equal that precious teaspoon and a half of honey from a worker bee. If I am very lucky, I too will have transformed some of nature’s nectar into a bit of golden sweetness to offer the world through words, insight, and authentic action.

Often I sit in a folding beach chair placed two or three feet from the white bee box hive; doing a bit of writing in a notebook, enfolded by the sonic hum, and observing the activity as “the girls” come and go.

Being around the bees is always a sort of meditation for me and I learn a great deal from simply observing them. They will each serve many roles within the colony during their lifetime—nurse bee, builder, guard, gatherer—and each individual is completely attuned to their purpose while totally dedicated to the welfare and survival of the community.

In our modern world, this sense of role within a community is something that we’ve lost. Very few of us have any tangible sense of larger purpose in our lives, what our authentic roles or gifts might be, or how those talents might serve our community. Little of our work in the world seems meaningful, which makes it all the more likely to feel that our efforts and actions don’t count overly much.

Even if we have discovered a project or purpose that offers a soulful framework to build our days upon—a sense of being in dharma, or right livelihood—there will still be times when the journey is difficult and uphill, where it seems that we’re not accomplishing much, or that we’re simply spinning our wheels.

Though it has largely become the measure of our days, productivity isn’t the key value of a life well-lived. Yes, creating and offering something of merit certainly adds to our sense of meaning, but there is also tremendous value in surrendering to the mysterious currents that steer us in unexpected directions. There is also the contentment of simply learning to enjoy life—not through entertainment or distraction, but through the pleasure of our open senses and being deeply embodied in body and soul.

The bees inspire me to keep working and they simultaneously offer a bit of solace that my modest efforts may still add up to something worthwhile. Life is always a dance between doing and being (or ‘bee-ing,’ perhaps).

Some days I’m better at the doing aspect and some days I’m better at the being. Occasionally I strike the elusive balance between the two and I find myself in perfect alignment: a sense of openness, vitality, and ‘flow’ in body and breath. I treasure those days…they are surely part of the priceless gift of being human.

As always, the closer I draw to nature, the more time I spend with the bees, ever more do I become fully human…and inspired.



The Birds and the Bees: Pollinators in Peril.


Author: L. R. Heartsong

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Ben Gray


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