Bees – an ancient love story
For our ancestors, bees were heavenly messengers, an expression of the wisdom in the universe, a spark of cosmic consciousness, and a gift to the world. To recognize and understand the unique nature of the bees means to recognize and understand something of our own fundamental nature. The oneness of the bee colony reveals the interconnectedness of the world, and of ourselves within the world. In the past centuries as bees became a commodity of modern agriculture, a deeper meaning and understanding of their true nature was lost. Only a more bee-centered approach can help us re-establish a reverent and respectful relationship with them.
The old German word bien is an attempt to describe the oneness of the bee colony, and also recognizes its individual “personality”. The honey bee colony is one being in countless bodies. The biological term for this is super-organism. The bien is configured through the harmonious and functional relationships of all its parts. Every part depends on the other and all parts provide the necessary environment for their own existence. The colony is both a society of thousands of individuals as well as one super-organism, one bien. It is fascinating to see how two fundamentally different paradigms merge with one another. The multitude of the bees creates a being with capacities far beyond those of a single bee, and the bien as a whole lifts the individual bee on to a higher level of existence.
The single bee gives herself completely to the wellbeing of the bee colony. Her physical existence is completely devoted to the prosperity and survival of the bien. She will even give her own life, to serve and protect. In this altruistic gesture we can see her sense of self and the extent to which she can transcend her individual existence. The colony becomes one entity; it becomes one animal. Similar to the somatic cells of multicellular beings, fifty thousand individual bees constitute one body.
The body temperature of the honey bee colony, reaches almost that of mammals. Within the hive, bees control all aspects of life and maintain a constant temperature within, summer and winter alike in any climate. Due to this homeostatic environment, we can imagine an invisible membrane surrounding the core of the hive. The colony’s embodiment is within this virtual and functional membrane .
The warmth of the bien reminds me of catching a swarm one spring day. For some reason I decided to use my bare hands to move them off a branch. I used neither veil nor smoke. I talked to them and very slowly I began touching the outside of the swarm cluster. It was as warm as my hands. I slowly moved my two hands into the swarm until my palms were filled with bees. It was like holding a warm liquid body in my hands. At the same time it felt as though someone was touching my heart. The bees and I were relating with each other at that moment with a language beyond words. It felt as if love was pouring into my heart. I had touched a sentient being, and it was touching me as well. This experience changed my perception so that I live with bees in an entirely new way.
Historically, living with bees was ritualized, ensuring harmony between bees and apiculturists. In our de-ritualized world, we face the challenge of finding the means to reconnect with core aspects of life and of finding guidance for being with the bees. In his bee lectures, the Austrian philosopher and spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner describes the bien as being permeated with life based on love. To meet the bien on that level and be touched by it will bring forth a new way of living with bees. The bien can become a metaphor for our interconnectedness with the world and it can make the oneness of our life palpable. Infused by a radical different sense of self, it resonates within the depths of our own hearts. The bees can change our sense of who we think we are and instill in us a wish to serve.
In this pivotal time when life on earth is in transition on so many levels, the bees enter our awareness worldwide through their struggles. They can become an inspiration for a change in our cultural, emotional, and agricultural landscape. Steiner emphasizes that “we need to study the life of bees from the standpoint of the soul”. In the end, the world shows us whenever the soul element is missing in our lives. The current plight of the bees shows us the repercussions of our limitations. As our life-long allies, the bees mirror our own struggle to live in this world. Their encouraging message is to wake up – to wake up to this fragile, wonderful and precious world, to wake up to a heart-centered reality. May we all wake up!