This year I returned to beekeeping and bought a package of honeybees for the first time. I’ve avoided packaged bees and prefer to catch swarms because in the process of swarming the bees have proven their vigor.
I wanted a sure thing, though, so I shelled out $180 for a package of bees. Two weeks later, I got a call to catch a swarm of honeybees on Mother’s Day. We set up a second hive, but by the time we arrived to collect the swarm, the bees had already moved on.
But that second hive stood empty only for a day or two. Soon, honeybees were entering both hives with pollen in their saddlebags. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The pollen signaled that each hive had a laying queen inside. What?
Instead of swarming out of their boxes, which is the usual course of things, it seems that an at-large colony of honeybees swarmed into our hive.
I love honeybees and consider myself more a bee guardian than a beekeeper. We do not harvest honey, pollen, or wax from our hives. Instead, we provide the bees with lodging, bee tea, shelter, and love.
As a farmer, my aim is to raise rewilded, locally-adapted honeybees to sell to others. The process takes several years, includes many colonies lost to cold winters and viral loads and mites, but there are also generations of bees who manage to overcome the season’s challenges, becoming stronger and more resilient in the process.
My hunch, and my hope, has been these honeybees can reclaim their feisty genetic and behavioral resilience when relieved of the pressure of producing an income for me. It’s a bit like saving heritage seeds for future genetic diversity in your own backyard, only I’m doing it with honeybees.
Or at least that’s what I was trying to do.
On Earth Day, two years ago, we awoke to find our four bee hives broken open and largely eaten. We learned that a hungry black bear was behind the nighttime raid on our bees and that this bear had given birth to 4 cubs the prior winter. Mama bear likely found her way to us after her nearby forest home was clear cut.
Two of our four hives survived the bear attack even after being left out in the rain overnight; a testament to the value of our approach of letting the bees be our primary beekeepers.
An interesting dynamic was created for me to watch in real time: my packaged bees side by side with a colony of bees who had swarmed.
The packaged bees stayed in their hive and remained mostly out of sight. As bees go, these bees weren’t terribly busy. The wildish swarm of honeybees, however, was a study in rowdy presence.
They never stung anyone, but the wildish bees commanded a good 10 feet of personal space around their hive; my packaged bees let me sit right at the entrance. In contrast to our shy purchased bees, our wildish bees covered the landing boards of their hive day and night, as if they were hosting a never-ending street party.
Within 6 weeks, our packaged bees succumbed to attack by wasps and the colony collapsed. The wildish bees, however, proved equal to dealing with the wasps from the start.
Keeping the landing board covered with bee bodies at all times served to keep predation at bay. Unable to find a place to land, the wasps were unable to enter the hive. This is the just the kind of honeybee genetic stock I hope to save and hand on.
At this point of our collective colony collapse, we are being asked to move from egocentrism to ecocentrism in our relationship to the world. The ecocentric stance, a spiritual commitment at root, obliges me to put the needs of the natural world before personal preference and profit.
Merely abstaining from honey or profit wears thin with time, however. To sustain and deepen in the discipline of ecocentrism one must be fed; if not with honey for the body, then with honey for the soul. This is where shamanism comes in.
Until now, I have focused exclusively on teaching others how to journey using a drumbeat. This is an incredibly fruitful meditative practice that helps one become aware of the wildish, stinging, honeyed truths within. To journey with the drumbeat is to swarm from the boxes of the mind, and as with the bees, the practice facilitates evolutionary forward leaps in those who undertake it.
But not everyone can journey from the get-go. After many hours logged in shamanic journeying, working with a wonderfully diverse cross-section of people, it has slowly dawned on me that the shamanic trance state is simply a function of one’s ability to descend into the soma, or body, from the mind.
Gaia is the vast body who lays claim to our own. As we become increasingly skillful at “losing our mind and coming to our senses,” as we learn to appreciate the subtlety and nuance of our somatic intelligence, we deepen in mystical union with the the shared soma of our origins: the earth.
Moving from egocentrism to ecocentrism is the most pressing spiritual issue of our time, but this shift cannot simply be imposed from the outside. The internal logic of ecocentrism has to take root and grow organically inside each of us, lest we simply repeat the patterns of trauma and alienation that have brought us to this moment.
One way to crack the ego open so that it might germinate and grow into something upright and true is through devotion, the path of love. Devotion to Gaia is nothing new to humans, though like packaged bees, we’ve been bred and selected and pressured to the point that we, too, have forgotten our innate, feisty, and fun-loving ways.
To practice the shamanic path suggests that we meditate upon, nurture, and delight in untamed life wherever it is found. As we learn to approach the wildish lands and beings in our midst with devotion, as we seek to apprentice and learn from these, our beloved and unlettered elders, the controlling grip of the ego is slowly undone.
This is how we embark upon the soul’s journey back home to ourselves and to the earth. The heroic task of our age is not to climb to the heights, but to embark on the inward journey of descent down and into ourselves, the soma.
The path of conscious incarnation is a sacred work, one that is undertaken to unite with the burdens and the gifts of our shared body, Gaia. To move from egocentrism to ecocentrism requires a fierce commitment to the practice of presence and the willingness to awaken and refine our capacity for somatic sensing and feeling.
I’ll be honest with you; it doesn’t always feel good. But once we experience life outside of the prison yard of thought, word, and text, once we really get a taste of honeyed connection to this ripe, round, gorgeous sphere of Life we call the earth, we’ll be hooked.
The move from egocentrism to ecocentrism then will seem obvious, worth it, and full of meaning–even delight. Here, hidden beneath our necks and out of the sight of our minds is the honey for which we, the wasps, have been on the attack through the ages.
Egocentrism is a learned state of alienation from our bodies and from the ground under our feet; ecocentrism is simply our natural state of being. Our hope lies in undertaking the journey of rewilding for both honeybees and souls alike.
October special offer
This month, I am offering one-on-one shamanic journeys for $50. For those who have never journeyed before, this is a savings of 50%.
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