Workshop graphic by Rebecca Clark:
"We are the little saints and in the hallow of our hive
we are making and remaking God.
But our God is sweet. We don't want your sour God.
We can't gather in you, or your God, until the light shines through.
We turn our darkness into light. What will you do with yours?"
- Jacqueline Durban
At the end of May, a fragrant month of increase, nine women gathered in Sussex to be with the bees. Our exercises in seeing, listening and telling during the Flights of Imagination writing weekend brought rich moments of solitary and group work, contemplation and conversation.
A sensitivity to the scale of ecological and social injustices can be paralysing - it is easy to fall into hopelessness. However, an excessively optimistic attitude that views the world as perfect exactly as it is can be just as dangerous, leading to the same inertia as despair. Our wide-ranging discussions often concerned this dance of darkness and light, the question of how to maintain a balanced worldview and respond with wisdom to challenges that can seem too vast to do anything about.
Discomfort, when not overwhelming, is a call to action, spurring efforts for change.
We find ourselves in a place of unease, sadness and concern when we contemplate the current state of affairs – but whatever pain we carry in our hearts ought to be tempered by an appreciation of the beauty that persists in the midst of ecological chaos. We pull back from horror stories of the future, our fearful premonitions, and into the present, where the bright borage is humming with pollen-laden bees, the grass is warm underfoot, birds are singing in the lush lime tree and sheep are grazing in the fields.
So, the task at hand is to find a place of equilibrium between cheerful blindness and abandonment in pessimism and futility. How to hold the ache of awareness, the fear that everything is going wrong, and allow this pain to catalyse and inform our work in the world? How might we transform ourselves and in doing so repair our relationships with other beings?
We navigated these questions and many others with Charlotte Du Cann, writer and Dark Mountain editor. One of our creative exercises involved writing about an encounter with the bees, working outwards from personal biography, to social and mythical levels of significance. Narrative is a powerful tool in coming to understand our place in the world, to reimagine ourselves as custodians charged with creating and defending spaces for wildflowers and weeds.
Poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder says ‘there is something in Western culture that wants to totally wipe out creepy-crawlies’. In his prescient text ‘Four Changes’ (1969) he writes that change needs to occur in ‘our own heads’ – and I would argue hearts – in order to unlearn our fear of ‘creepy-crawlies’ and to reorient ourselves, however slowly, to a mode of being and relating based on an ethic of care rather than consumption.
Over the course of the weekend we thought about what this change might look like, in a recontextualisation of the individual as indivisible from the collective. One evening we each read from a book that was significant to us. This was a moving testament to artistic bloodlines, acknowledging those voices that have aided us, inspired us and moved us to live and create with more honesty, curiosity and courage. I read from choreographer Deborah Hay’s book ‘My Body the Buddhist’. Hay views dance as a form of prayer in which she is ‘in dialogue with all that is’.
The practice of writing requires rigorous seeing. Writing brings us into dialogue with the totality. Words can advocate for those beings whose voices too often go unheard. To see the bees is to love them, to feel a profound sense of connection with them. In writing, we assert this love for and connection with the bees.
That we were a group of women was pure chance, but I felt this brought an added power to our meetings in the garden, around the dinner table, and in the little shed that served as our classroom. Words flowed, musical phrases, the flowering of individual voices, their meeting in a collective harmony, a honeycomb in construction, ever-growing, sweet and never complete.
There was a simple joy in being together, beside a busy hive in the morning, observing the bees with gratitude and reverence. In the darkness of the hive the bees were building their comb, tending their young, preparing their stores for the coming winter.
I was paying attention, listening to the bees, wanting to relate their message.
What the bees told me: the work is never done.
Carrie Foulkes, 2018
To see the bees is to love them, to feel a profound sense of connection with them.
In writing, we assert this love for and connection with the bees.