As a teenager I had a romance with honeybees. The promise of their delicate amrita emphasized by the threat of their salient sting. To me they were summer: sweaty and golden. Their yellow and black suits zipped tight as they sliced through a topaz dome. I decided to raise a hive in my backyard and so purchased a colony. I had the euphemistic notion that bees, like dogs, were acutely aware of fear and would not sting if I were emanating “good vibes.” So I always performed the necessary tasks of beekeeping without any tranquilizing smoke, or protective gear. My armor was the trust I had for the bees.
Until one day they swarmed me.
In the deep center of summer, when their activity was prolific and their defenses spiky, they surrounded my bare flesh with the potential of pain. My mother was freaking out from the second story deck. I called up to her as calmly as possible while getting stung in the face, “Mom! Get the hose!”
I recently saw a news clip on facebook declaring that two species of honeybees are now extinct. These particular species are crucial to the world’s agricultural superstructure. In light of their dwindling populations, the role of these fierce mini laborers is becoming potently pronounced. Human’s entire network of nourishment relies on their miniature fluttering and zippy to and fro. Albert Einstein made the statement “If honey bees become extinct, human society will follow in four years.” If the bees die, we die.
Do these bees grok their profound effect on the entire world? Do they realize that their frantic gathering of fragile flower gold is feeding the silver urban centers that harbor humans like a hive? We too, like the bees, zip here and there performing our daily gathering and dispersing. And do we realize that, like the bees, we are affecting the entire earth with our most mundane movements? Our morning latte in its disposable container, our superfluously blazing interior lights, the barbaric wrappers encapsulating every single object we use or consume, the coal burned with a tedious Google search, and another Google search, and the next, and then back to facebook, then email, then maybe someone messaged me, or maybe now, or now, or now… each frivolous Google scorching coal in some isolated data center in the Midwest. Isolated until its lethal fumes waft downwind to the nearest toddler pushing his Tonka truck under the mask of innocuous blue sky.
It is not only these flippant atrocities that accumulate, out of sight. Diminutive acts of beauty that seem ensnared by small bubbles of space and time actually ripple out infinitely. The genuine smile, the authentic artistic expression, the truth speaking, the bike ride, the reuse of a container. Like the bees, our smallest actions are shaping the entire mandala of life that kaleidoscopes in living color on this absurdly spinning planet.
The safety gear needed now is not to protect us from the bees, but to protect our world from the loss of the bees. And this safety gear is not heavyweight canvas suits or narcotizing smoke, but daily awareness, and daily choices that nurture life.
Life is one great interconnected whole, but the absurd thing is that we don’t know it, as Einstein pithily expressed: “We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness.” We are cognitively disconnected from the actuality of coexistence, interconnectedness, of our influence on the planet, of the planet’s influence on us. We are living in a fragmented world—a world of abstractions.
As humans, our intellectual capacity and manifestation is increasing exponentially. Still, we are wired for survival. But now there are countless ways to meet our survival needs: the store stocked with alien concoctions, the internet to order our specific brand of adornment, the television to nurture our social hunger, the car to get us to the office, to make calls for a company, that produces machines for a factory, that constructs bulldozers, that make roads, so other people can get to work, for some other corporation, ad infinitum, and somehow this brings the food to the table for the multitudes.
It is no longer, chop wood, make fire, get warmth. No longer, whittle bow, hunt buck, get food. We are aware to some degree where our food comes from: we can conjecture that most things stem back to soil and sun. But most of us no longer feel the grime of mineral rich dirt between rough pads of finger skin. We no longer look in the cow’s eyes before we take her life. Our fire is a push of an upward arrow on the heat box. Our social network has become a hologram on a flat screen. Fundamental information regarding our subsistence now comes to us in abstracted form, as disconnected data. It has become intellectual, rather than corporeal. We are largely disconnected from tangible impact and immediacy.
For example I got a bit of info about the honeybees—they are going extinct. I know that this is crucial to my survival, but yet, I am able to compartmentalize that knowledge and forget about it. If I still cultivated my own hive of bees, and those little workers pollinated my farm that fed my family, and they began to die, I would surely know the severity of the situation. And I would be forced into action. It is more disjointed when after I receive this info I can visit the well-stocked grocery store and, like usual, purchase my organic apples and broccoli.
Bees are a symbol of communication. They rely on intricate exchanges to relay info that is crucial to their epic daily work. Like the bees, humanity’s communication is dying, or at least reconfiguring in drastic ways. This is the crux of the conundrum of abstraction. We no longer have direct interaction with the resources, life forms, and people who allow for our survival. We have compressed contact to a rapid firing of the finger digits and we have lost the tactile proximity that breeds awareness and connectivity.
I am not concretizing this as a negative thing—the fact we live in a fragmented, abstracted world. But it needs to be addressed if we are able to progress with the rapid rate of technological evolution. We need to find a way to navigate the shape shifting nature of survival on our modern Earth.
How do we, like the bees, live in a way that supports the fundamental infrastructure of the earth? How do we perform our perfect part, rather than, like the immense threat of invading plant species, suck the very life out of the planet that sustains us? Every little action has an effect, a ramification. Not that we should live like a Jain, zealously tiptoeing so not to squash a bug. Death is an inevitable, and beautiful, part of life. But if we continue in our current trajectory we will soon be on the long list of extinct species we are amassing.
It is not about living in fear, but it is about living in awareness, realizing our autonomy, realizing our capacity to choose, to steer away from the swift currents of consensual society’s downward spiral. If we don’t consider our actions, we will go with the lowest common denominator, which at this point is supporting a mass human suicide. It is the small actions that add up to big consequences. Everyday we make choices, or choices make us.
We can peer lucidly into the habit of the everyday. What drives us? What do we live for? It is possible to purport lofty ideals that in actuality never once penetrate the daily humdrum. The simple turn of awareness onto our selves and our lives is the key that begins to unlock the mystery of living in an abstracted world. We have too many choices. And in some regards we are bound by choicelessness. It is a delicate navigation of these paradoxically coexistent states that helps us to fabricate an authentic existence, an existence that, like the bees, supports the health of the planet and its creatures.
2 A.M. MLK day, 2011. The wind invites me out into its wild whispers. In an oversized duffle coat and my pajamas, I step into its fervor. Tree limbs wrinkle against an indigo backdrop. I am pulled to the river 8 blocks west.
The robust wind presses through wires and a crackle of branches. Chimes ignite fragile melodies. The neighborhood sleeps and I walk through their dreams. I am so domesticated that as I walk into the wooded mystery of a neighborhood park, I feel lurking and company. My heart ablaze, adrenaline a vein shot and concept. I pass vacant tennis courts, wet with the fate of winter.
At the river, the surreal scene spreads open before my eyes. The wind has whipped through this river valley for eons and it wails now with archaic mystery. This night the wind speaks to me. As the world rests I am tutored by revelation. It presses its force into my chest. It splits me open. It instructs: “Allow. Trust.” It cries: “Allow the bigness that is beyond you to move through you, to provoke action, effortless action.” It begs: “Stay alert, stay awake, though the world may sleep. Allow the flight of the bees to animate your daily dance. Be yourself fully, and you support the world. Heal your inner fractures and you will mend the world. Open your eyes and the world opens before you. Live for this awareness, this perpetual opening of your eyes. Live in commitment to process, to holding a delicate equilibrium of paradoxical forces. Live for your miniscule thread that perfects the pattern. Live for your perfect part. Live for the love of bees.”