The eyes of bees are quite different from our own eyes. Due to their particular makeup, bees are unable to focus or zoom in on objects in the outside environment. We humans can turn towards any object in the world with the help of our flexible lenses. Our consciousness can move from within to the outside world of light, colors and objects. Bees, on the other hand, solely receive the light. The light streams through their open eyes into their body, almost as if they were merging with the visual world.
Their breathing organs have a similar quality. Human lungs are an interface between the outside environment and our inner organs. Bees have a tracheal system which enables the outside air to reach every single organ and tissue directly through small channels within the bee’s body. The ocean of the air reaches every part within. In these examples of air and light we find that there is no substantial separation between the bees and their environment. It is as if they are one and the same, as if the outside world is an extension of their inside.
Just as we come to realize how intimately the bees are connected with their environment, we discover that the colony as a whole is organized as a separate individual entity. All physical life forms are defined through a membrane separating the inside from the outside world such as our skin. This membrane makes life in a physical form possible as it enables all life forms to control their inner milieu. A bee colony portrays these same features. The bees as a single organism control all aspects of life in the hive 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. That space is inhabited by individual members, the bees. The colony becomes one entity; it becomes one animal. 50,000 individual bees constitute one body. They equal the somatic cells of multicellular beings. The biological term for this is super-organism: the super organism goes beyond the individual parts and is more than the sum of its parts. This is evident in that a single bee is not able to survive by herself. The old German word bien is an attempt to describe this oneness and define it as one being. The bien is one being in countless bodies. The colony is both a society of thousands of individuals as well as one super-organism, one bien. What is so fascinating is that there are two fundamentally different systems which merge and depend upon one another. The multitude of all the single bees creates one being with capacities far beyond those of each individual bee. The bien, on the other hand, enables the vast number of bees to excel and thrive on more refined level of life.
The bien’s largest internal organ is the comb. Bees are able to create wax out of themselves and form wax comb where they spend about 90% of their life. The comb is the location for various functions and physiological properties. It is the skeleton of the bien, it is the place where pollen and nectar are metabolized into honey and beebread . All the individual bees are raised in a social uterus/womb. It serves as a communication platform, the comb-wide-web, for the famous waggle dance. Comb is part of the immune system of the bien. It contains microbiologically active propolis, and it also has symbiotic fauna as in our own intestines. And, last but not least, comb is a memory organ of the hive. The entire life of the bien is documented in the construction of comb and all the scents within. Even as the bees move on the comb in darkness, they know exactly where they are by the scents within the wax. The wax and comb are a reflection of the environment of each individual bien. The variety of flowers and trees, soil quality, climate and sun exposure will have a unique imprint on it. It is a sculpture of the surrounding flora, a sculpture of the particular place on earth where the bees live. Comb is essential and co-evolved with the bees. It is their birthright to build their own comb. Once I began to understand the importance of natural comb, I could no longer move frames of comb the way I once did. How could I change what was created by the bien in a certain order?
(…) On late spring afternoons when bees are flying in large numbers, I sometimes approach them carefully and move right in front of their nest entrance. Within a short amount of time, an increasing cloud of bees is forming and hovers all around me. Simultaneously the flying sound of many hundreds of them becomes almost like music. It feels like being within this being. It can bring thinking to cease. I close my eyes and just listen and surrender – surrender to a wordless world.
The bien presents us with the opportunity to become quiet and to listen. Listening can be a part of being with bees. And in listening, we can practice non-knowing. Not to know presents us with the possibility to learn something new. Our mind can be very receptive to the effects of the bien. It may open our mind to a magnitude and oneness of life, with a new sense of our own true nature. The bees can show us that our life body does not end at our skin but extends into the environment. This sense of self can change one’s life and have a radical impact on the way we walk on the earth.
Apiculture can become a spiritual path, a journey into the great fullness of life, and it can deepen our personal practice. The bien can be a kind of apitherapy for the soul and inspire us on many levels. Rudolf Steiner in his bee lectures describes the bien as being permeated with life based on love. To touch them on that level and to be touched by them will show a new way of being with bees and a new way of being in this world. To ensure the harmony between bees and apiculturists, historically living with bees was ritualized. In our de-ritualized world, we face the challenge of finding the means to reconnect with different aspects of life and of finding guidance for being with the bien.
Life on earth is in transition on all levels. In this pivotal time, the bees enter our awareness worldwide through their struggles. Honeybee sanctuaries such as The Melissa Garden are marking a change in our cultural, emotional and agricultural landscape. Apiculture is beginning a transformation towards a wholesome way of living with bees. New voices are emerging. The bien is calling.
In his bee lectures, Rudolf Steiner concludes 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 is showing us the repercussions. 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 life. May we all wake up!
Image 1: Copyright Christopher Down
Image 2: Wikimedia Commons
This excerpt appears with permission of the author. The Bien: Oneness of the Honeybee Colony appears in its entirety in the companion book to the 2010 film Queen of the Sun. Purchase a copy here.
Michael Thiele is leading an innovative approach within the biodynamic apiculture movement and teaches in the United States and abroad. He founded Gaia Bees (www.gaiabees.com) to create an educational platform and resource for a new approach to living with bees. Through Gaia Bees, he provides set up and care for “landscape apiaries” and offers seminars and presentations. He promotes alternative and bee-centered bee hive/nest designs. In 2007, Michael co-founded “The Melissa Garden” (www.themelissagarden.com) in California, which was one of the first Honey Bee Sanctuaries in the US (now a pollinator sanctuary), and his work is documented in various (inter-) national magazines, books and film documentaries (“Queen of the Sun”). In 2013, he began working as a consultant for the USDA in the Dominican Republic. He lives with his family in CA, USA.