Friday, May 29, 2009

Bee-ing Present

Today I spent some time working inside our beehive. This involves taking off the top of the hive and pulling out some of the wooden frames to see what the bees have been doing. The worker bees create the comb in the frames and store honey and pollen there. The queen bee lays eggs in the comb. (By the way, do you see the big balls of pollen on the legs of the bee in the photo?) Opening the hive is an adventure because I'm still learning what the bees do. I'm also still learning what I should, and shouldn't, be doing as a beekeeper.

When we started the hive, we bought a three pound box of bees along with a queen. (Yes, isn't it amazing what one can buy!) After we, literally, dumped the bees into their new home and put the lid on it, I wondered if this would work. Would the bees accept this as their home? Would they build comb? Would they accept the new queen? Would the queen lay eggs so that the colony would survive and grow? Unlike me, the bees didn't seem to worry about what they needed to do. They didn't seem to sit around worrying "Hmm, should I make wax here, take care of the queen or go eat sugar water?" They just did what needed to be done. Their lives seem to just unfold from moment to moment in this way. When they are making wax, they make wax. When they are feeding the baby bees (that is the eggs and larvae), they just feed them. Can we live our lives with this same kind of simplicity?

As I examined the hive, I pulled a few frames from the top level, which we added about a week ago. There weren't a lot of bees in this level though the ones that were there were busy making comb. When I moved to the bottom two levels of the hive there were a lot more bees and the frames were heavy with comb full of baby bees, honey and pollen. It was hard to pull the frames out because there were so many bees crawling all over them and I didn't want to pinch or squash any of the bees. It was even harder to put them back and I was sorry to see that no matter how careful I tried to be a few of the bees were squashed. So my attention was very focused. There wasn't a lot of thinking about what I should or shouldn't do. There was just doing: Feeling the weight and pressure of the hive tool in the hand as I used it to the move frames around so that there was space to pick them up. Slipping fingers onto the ends of the frames trying to avoid bees while keeping a firm grip on the frame so that it wasn't dropped. Awareness of the changing weight as each frame was lifted and examined. Looking at the bees and the comb on one side of the frame and then flipping it to look at the other side. Slipping it back into the hive slowly so that the bees would move out of the way without being crushed. Moving from one thing to the next, looking at and listening to the bees and their home. I've spent hours on retreat practicing being this present for my life, practicing letting the sense of a separate me drop away, but it just happened naturally as I tended to the bees. Some people call this "being mindful" but it is really just paying attention moment after moment, not getting caught by any thoughts or sensations, just being what life is in this moment.

Of course I didn't realize whether I was being present or not while I was working the hive. If I had thought I was being present, at that very moment I wouldn't have been. It was only when I reflected on the experience after the fact that I recognized that for a while there had been no sense of separateness, just bees and beekeeper together in the moment. That's part of the promise and challenge of a practice of awakening.

Photo: 519742656_0b2323bc8e on Flickr, European Honey Bee Touching Down, by autan, Creative Common License: Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Round and Round

Earlier this week I received a message from a friend whose opinion I respect. When I first read the message, I found what it said was pleasant and I took it as praise. At the time I was working on something else, so I set the message aside and returned to my task. After finishing the task, I remembered the message. The memory was of a warm pleasant feeling but I didn't clearly remember what had been said. So I felt compelled to go back to it and to read it several more times. The first time seemed to be to verify what it said and that my perception of it as praise was accurate. The second time simply seemed to be about getting the pleasant feeling again. Satisfied, I set it aside again and went on to other things. Over the next few hours, I noticed how the mind would keep returning to the memory of the message, wanting to recall it again and again and again.

As I noticed this compulsion, what came to mind was a teaching from the Buddha in a collection known as the Numerical Discourses. The Buddha said:"These eight worldly conditions keep the world turning around…. What eight? Gain and loss, fame and disrepute, praise and blame, pleasure and pain." He then goes on to explain that they keep the world going around because when we encounter these conditions, we get caught up in them and either become elated or dejected.  When we're caught in them it is like being on a merry-go-round, they just keep coming around again and again.

This is certainly what was happening, and often happens, in my own mind. When I'm caught up in the pleasant worldly conditions I want more and more and more. When I'm caught in the unpleasant ones, I usually try to push them away by explaining them away in some imaginary internal dialogue. Sometimes, though, there is an awakening. I clearly see what is happening. I see that this is the way the mind is. Then that particular merry-go-round stops.

Quote: AN VIII.6, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Numerical Discourses of the Buddha: An Anthology of Suttas from the Aṅguttara Nikāya, p.198
Photo: 2461667238_e34a81841f on Flickr, Children in a Merry Go Round, by Nicolas, Creative Common License: Attribution-Noncommercial-Share-alike generic 2.