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Bees and Us: the World We Share

There is too much shallow contact in our lives. I prefer face to face. I want the person I am communicating with so close that I can put my hand on their shoulder.

Werner Herzog

As our human relations are at risk of becoming ever more superficial, and we become accustomed to learn of the illness or even demise of people close to our hearts by email or on social media, we can be ever more glad for the bees. No amount of smart technology and the illusion of connectedness it engenders can come between us and the bees.

When we want to connect with them we have to go to the hives. To "check on their status" we have to go to the hives. To "see" how they are we have to go and see, with our eyes and some other senses, too. The oneness of the hive, the Bien, presents itself to our senses somewhat differently from, say, a horse or a human friend.

It is remarkable how each hive meets us as an individuality, just like people. Two swarms taken in the same week the previous year for example: one exudes confidence and a closer inspection reveals that it still has plenty of stores, at this critical time, at the end of April. The other signals by its particularly frantic foraging behaviour that something may be amiss. But to interpret the signs it is necessary to know the hive. We can only come to know our bees by spending much time with them. Of course an intimate knowledge of colony life is also needed, that is taken for granted. We are concerned here with a kind of knowing that grows from spending time together, and leads to right action.

A friend emails me: "Spent time with the dear bees yesterday, checking their status. Many of the hives are down to their last few cells of honey, despite feeding. The bees were very active on the oilseed rape, bringing in huge amounts of pollen and some nectar too. This is a critical time for them. They have much brood to feed and, if the weather turns poor, they will quickly exhaust their remaining stores. I read of colonies that have not made it through in these last few weeks."

It is distressing to hear of colonies collapsing from starvation. Where were their keepers? What was the nature of their connection? Was there connection? The harsh truth is that the connection was not alive, not deep, not loving enough.

Maybe this is the real risk of our shallow means of communication today, greatly facilitated by smart technology on which we come to depend. With bees there is simply no alternative but to connect deeply. The ingenious gadgets to whose allure we so willingly submit are beyond their ken. To us, these gadgets give a sense of connection, but that connection is often false: we are fooled into thinking we are connected when, in reality, we are not. Words appear on a screen, but this is not connection. If we were truly connected, the knowledge would come before the words; the latter would merely confirm what, at some level, we already knew. But that knowing would be wordless.

Words and pictures on little screens: if only the world were so simple. Sadly, for us and all of Nature, it is not. True reality is far more complex, far more deep and far more subtle. It is the subtlety that fools us for, in that subtlety lies power and, whisper it softly, peril. Our blithe reliance on technology without the engagement of our inner selves, heightens the danger; we know not where we walk. How can we, when we do not engage? We stumble in the dark, mistaking it for light, thinking that our gadgets will enlighten and connect us when, in truth, they numb us and separate us, from each other and from our inner selves.

The bees will remind us, if we let them, of the need to order our inner lives, to seek connection: between us and them, between each other, and between ourselves and the inner worlds. Lest we work hard to train our faculties of higher awareness such worlds will forever be beyond our ken, their message lost or, worse, simply denied. When we meditate by a hive, seeking permission to enter its being, we feel strongly the presence of the inner worlds. They are real and we can connect with them. With practice, we can place a hand on their shoulder and they can place a hand on ours.

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