The Learning from the bees conference; a reflection

[As published in Natural Bee Husbandry November 2018]

Over the past year I have shed the final layers of ‘beekeeper’ and have come to realise that the bees are in fact keeping me. So the Learning from the Bees conference was timely in supporting an understanding of where I now stand as a ‘bee person’ rather than ‘beekeeper’. This change emerged steadily as I sensed more and more that the honeybees in my life needed me to do less and listen more. In the ‘Spirit of the land’ session, Karsten Massei described going to the bees to simply ask,“Who are you?”. “To find the answer”, he continued, “one must learn their apian language through deep listening”. I wondered whether the intuitions I receive around the bees are the beginnings of my understanding of this ‘apian language’? Jacqueline Freeman expressed the importance of waiting and how in the waiting, “the pregnant listening becomes crucial in understanding the oneness of the colony.” It brought me huge hope to hear these bee people from different sides of the world arriving at the same place of asking, waiting, and listening with the bees. They articulated a way of being with bees that I had experienced but not yet found the words to express. Each day at the conference brought together these expressions of deep spiritual understanding & love for the bees, interwoven with the latest scientific information, delivered with such passion from our top global bee researchers. Thomas Seeley confirmed that, “honeybeescan survive without varroa treatment” and that “wild bees have undergone genetic natural selection to develop varroa resistance over the last 20 years… natural selection has been working on the bees for 30 million years. It is constantly fine tuning the honeybee and it is our ally in helping the bees.” His evidence for control-free and treatment-free practice was invaluable to receive in supporting the choices I make for the bees in my life. In the ‘Spirit of the hive’ session, Gareth John brought the room to quiet reverence and tears with his words concerning the spirit of bee, their many mysterious ways and their intense connection to their inner ‘light’ world made manifest in hexagon wax comb. He spoke of our lack of connection with our own inner worlds but that, “the bee stands ready to take our hand. Accept the invitation and follow the message of the bee to join their dance for the healing of this world and for wo/mankind.” I have pursued this invitation from the bees for many years now and it felt important to be reminded of its potency and its urgency. As that session finished, I felt tears rising in me as I turned to see a man much older than me with tears rolling down his face. “50 years of study just made sense” he said. I managed to hold back my tears long enough to thank Gareth and make it out of the venue into the surrounding woods to let my tears flow amongst the trees. I cried with grief for the way we have treated the bee and for our loss of connection with our own inner worlds. Then, after a while, the tears came with a smile, with hope and awe for the bees in my heart and for the truly special experience surrounded by so many wonderful bee people from across the world; all who share a special reverence for the natural world and such a deep felt commitment as guardians and students of the bee. It was the chance meetings, emotional encounters and vulnerable conversations at the conference that will leave a lasting impression on me. Having migrated away from my local beekeeping community, I can feel alone here with the bees and the choices I make for them so I was reassured to hear Heidi Hermann declare on stage that “beekeeping is a bit yesterday.” Being in the company of so many like-minded, like-hearted and like-spirited bee people validated many things I had sensed and grappled with alone. So like a weary forager laden with pollen, I returned home filled to the brim with information, hope and the magic of the bees with the feeling that I was now part of a healthy, strong colony of bee people.