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 second hive.
My formation as a shamanic practitioner has been directed by a female-led community of unlettered elders claiming some 100 million years of experience on our planet. These are my spiritual teachers, my shamanic lineage if you will, and I consider the honeybees to be a rich source of instruction for us all in this time of our collective colony collapse.
With the in-swarming of the honeybees into our empty hive, I understood that the theme of “reversal” was given me to contemplate by my elders, though I had no idea what that reversal might be.
In my work 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 one’s own backyard, only I’m doing it with honeybees.
We humans, too, are like packaged honeybees at this time of late-stage capitalism. We were raised, bred, and educated up and out of our innate and wildish instincts in order to maximize our efficiency as honey-making, money-making machines. But the problem with heavily-managed colonies, human and honeybee alike, is that they tend to collapse in the winter when life is at its most challenging: barren, dark, and cold.
There is no “saving” the bees any more than one can “save” souls. But feeding the bees when needed, allowing them to keep their honey, encouraging them to swarm, supporting their efforts to rewild themselves–this gives honeybees a fighting chance.
Our work as shamanic practitioners with clients is much the same: feed, allow, encourage, and support these souls in their inherently wise and natural process of rewilding.
An interesting dynamic was created for me to watch in real time: 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, somewhat like a person who spends way too much time up in his or her head. As bees go, these weren’t terribly active or 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.
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 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 a function of one’s ability to descend into the soma, or body, from the mind.
This is the reversal to which the honeybees were pointing me. Like packaged bees, most of us are held captive by our minds, spending our days focused on our screens, texts, and thought. But this heady orientation comes at a hefty price: separation from the experience of ourselves and our connection to the larger environment.
Up there, high in our heads, we are forgetful of our depths, our roots, and our wildish power. Up there, caught in the packaged mind, we are disconnected from sense and soma. With roots in the sky instead of reaching down into body and soul, we leave our landing boards and entrances unguarded. This cultured separation from our embodied, wildish selves does not serve to keep us safe–or sane.
Learning to stay in contact with the subtle energy of the body is a powerful practice that can help us reverse, rewild, and root back into the soma. I am indebted to Eckhart Tolle’s teaching of “connecting with the inner body” from his book, The Power of Now, which is the inspiration for the meditation I offer below. (Tolle, 1999)
This rewilding meditation centers upon an image of the honeybees at their most alive and wild:
Imagine that you are a great, hollow tree with a colony of bees residing inside of you. The living vibration of this colony of honeybees is sounding at all times throughout your being. The energy moving through your soma might be described as feeling like a hum, buzz, or even the universal OM.
Whatever words you would use to describe this ever-present vibration, your task is to feel and experience its animating energy in your being. Close your eyes if that helps you to locate the feeling. Take your time. Scan your body for the presence of this sacred, humming energy. Know that it is there. Relax into the sensation and enjoy it fully.
Check in with yourself regularly throughout the day to feel the hum of your soma.
Endeavor to remain in contact with your inner colony of bees with your eyes open, when walking, sitting, talking. Remember to root yourself in the resident humming energy of your soma no matter what might be happening in your environment.
This is the sound of Life. By experiencing this sound in your soma, you remain in direct contact with Life itself. With time, this somatic experience will become automatic.
Gaia is the vast body who lays claim to our own. As we become increasingly skillful at “losing our minds 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 shared soma of our origins: the earth.
To practice the shamanic path suggests that we meditate upon, nurture, and delight in untamed life wherever it is found and in whatever form it takes. 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 wordless elders, the controlling grip of the packaged mind, the ego, is slowly undone.
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.
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 mental boxes 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.
Egocentrism is simply a learned state of alienation from our bodies and from the ground under our feet; ecocentrism is our natural state of being. Our collective hope lies in undertaking the journey of rewilding for both honeybees and souls alike.