Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvellous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from all my old failures
–Antonio Machado,”Times Alone” trans. by Robert Bly (Prayers for Healing, Berkeley, CA, Conari Press, 1997)
I feel like I’m in Sunday School again. Learning the basics. Patience is a biblical virtue. I’m notoriously terrible at it this virtue. Those closest to me will tell you. I am a do-er. I like to start something, push through, see results. But the bees are my spiritual teachers in this realm.
Last week I was working the hives with my friend Lorenzo down at his organic farm. Now you have to understand, Lorenzo is 70 years old. He has alot more patience than me. It was the first time we had really gone through the hives to see exactly what was going on with each one.
We were so under prepared. And overwhelmed.
The first hive had not only birthed a new queen after I split them and took their old queen a month ago—they had begun plotting for more queens, in order to split the hive themselves. It’s part of their natural instinct against overpopulation. Take half the hive and leave. But for a beekeeper, we don’t want to lose half our hive. These days it can spell disaster. They move into houses and offices and gutters. Places where they become a nuisance. Then beekeepers are called to deal with this more complex situation. A headache for all.
The hive that day was packed with honey and bees. I didn’t quite know what to do with all that exuberant bee activity. We had no extra hives. So we began to harvest honey. As the bees became more rattled, I became faster and faster in my movements. This can only cause more anxiousness for the bees. At some point, Lorenzo sat back and just let me work. His instinct is to slow down, when mine is to hurry up. Get this over with.
We should’ve slowed down. Lorenzo was clear as we mused on it later—bees can sense anxiety. Our movements make all the different….how can we do this as mindfully as possible? It is a grace to work with an elder. He, along with the bees are mirroring my emotions back to me. His admonition is more gentle than the bees! Both of us were soundly stung that day—many times. Both of us felt we could’ve done better by the bees. First, by being prepared.Secondly, by slowing the scenario down. Bees were stinging us. They were getting squashed, drowning in the honey, their honey, that we were sawing off into a bucket. I made some hasty decisions.
A few days later, as I worked in my own hives, the lesson of patience came back to me. One of my hives had no queen. So I decided to take a queen from another hive and present her to them—before doing the research on why they might be queen less. Act first, research later. Often my motto.
But one quick read up made my stomach queasy. There should be a virgin queen running around in that hive, one they had nurtured to maturity. A good sign was that their hive is filled with honey and pollen. They must just be waiting for her to be mated. I ran back to the hive and quickly removed the queen that would be killed for sure—if the true queen showed up. Then I remembered this exact scenario happened last summer…
Once a teacher said, if you don’t know, or have questions about what you are doing to your bees. Stop. It’s better to do nothing and let mother nature take her course than to meddle and mess them up.
That particular day, I was very aware of being patient. Interestingly, the bees were exceedingly patient with me. No stings while I was up to my elbows in bees.
Maybe I am learning.