Say Hello to Miss Bee!

Say hello to one of the busy ladies who now calls our backyard home. Our new hive of bees (called a "nuc") has arrived. They are filling their new home with wax and tending a burgeoning brood of offspring. The ladies would like me to share a little bit about their lives.

  • These busy ladies build wax and tend brood on frames. The frames are housed in a large wooden box called a "super" This weekend we will add a second super on top of the bees' current home, which is almost full.
  • When the second super is full, we'll put a metal grate above the second super and add a smaller box on top of the grate. The metal grate will allow the worker bees to get into the "penthouse" and fill it with wax and excess honey but will prevent the much larger queen from fertilizing the cells in the top box. We will rob, or harvest, any honey in that uppermost box later this summer. Since we are midst a drought, however, the bees may not make much excess honey this first year for us to rob.
  • The worker bees are female and start their lives tending to the brood and cleaning the hive. After a few weeks, they leave the hive and become foragers bringing back pollen and nectar to the hive until eventually their wings wear out. Those who are born closer to winter may live a matter of months instead of weeks as they live off of stored honey during the cold months when minimal food is available outside. The hive dramatically reduces in size during the winter, and this is the time when a hive is most likely to collapse, as ours did in February.
  • One of the most interesting behaviors is the daily scouting report. Early in the morning, while it's still too cool for bee comfort, brave scout bees leave the hive to search for sources of pollen and nectar. They return to the hive with a lively report. They dance! The vigor and movements of the dance tell the rest of the hive the location, quality and amount of sustenance within a radius of about 2 miles. The hive then makes a collective decision about where to focus foraging based on the scouting report.
  • Unlike the short-lived workers bees, the queen bee may live for 2-5 years. What makes her a queen is her diet. All honeybees eat royal jelly for the first three days after hatching, at which time they switch to a diet of honey. A queen bee larva is only fed royal jelly.  Royal jelly is not only what makes her a queen but is also the secret to her longevity.  (Supplement and beauty product purveyors take note!)
  • Workers may create a new queen if the old one isn't up to snuff or if the hive is getting so large that it's time to split up the collective, swarm and colonize a new home. The old queen slims down to improve her aerodynamics and takes some of the old guard with her to start a new hive. The new emerging queen will either also start a new hive (if it's still crowded) or will stay and be the queen of the current hive, in which case she will kill her still-pupating queen sisters so that she has no competition for the throne.
  • The drones are the other residents of the hive. They are, in essence, the lazy, do-nothing males who sit around while the women do all the work.  They are fed by the women and luxuriate while the females remain incessantly busy.'s time for a new queen to mate. When that happens, she leaves the hive. The males follow and try to catch her. In true survival-of-the-fittest fashion, those with the best genes catch up with and mate with the queen, who may mate with up to twenty of the drones. Royal marriages are short-lived in the bee world. She returns to the hive to lay up to 2,000 eggs a day or 1,000,000 eggs in her lifetime.
  • The drones, having had their jollies, return to the hive. The females, however, are done with the males at this point. They have served their one and only purpose, and the females have no more use for these slothful moochers, who are barred from re-entering the hive. They have neither stingers nor the ability to feed themselves, and so they soon die, having been discarded by the industrious women.

Our new residents thank you for your interest in their lives and ask you to select bee-attracting plants and minimize the use of pesticides so that they, in turn, can pollinate plants that add nutrition and beauty to your life.

Fly Versus Spider

Recently I recorded the video below of a pitched battle in the window sill of my studio. Do you feel sadness for the fly during its last flailing moments or relief for the spider securing a needed meal? Below is a haiku I wrote based on the video. Please take a moment to share your own haiku.

Fly versus spider:

Don't take death personally. 

It's the way of things. 

[vimeography id="16"]

Is Lake Tahoe Good Enough?

Lake Tahoe. Lying in a hammock last week overlooking the placid waters, I wondered what could be better. Of course, my mind quickly had an answer: "The two jet skis could be silent. If only the sun would move off my face, I'd be more comfortable. I wish I had brought something out here to drink." My bliss was turning into a disappointment. Here I was lazing away an afternoon in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet, and I felt dissatisfied. How did this happen? Fortunately, I remembered something. I was at a retreat center where the theme of the week was gratitude, compassion and forgiveness. The guest facilitator was Dr. Fred Luskin, Director of Forgiveness Studies at Stanford University. (Check out his YouTube videos and his book Forgive for Good.)

Dr. Luskin's basic take on forgiveness is that it is making peace with not getting what we want. When I wasn't getting the perfect "Lake Tahoe viewed from a hammock" experience, I recalled what we had learned as the first step toward making peace with what is: gratitude.

Gratitude begins with: “I am not the center of the universe.” I can see Lake Tahoe without feeling that I own it and that it owes me something. I am part of it. It is part of me. What created that lake observes it through another part of itself (me). This is humility. When I quiet the screaming mind that always wants more, I notice what I’m already given. Then my suffering shifts to gratitude.

Our biology/neurology predisposes us to find problems in order to keep alive, but not to make us happy. We have well-developed threat monitors. For most of us, the part of us that finds good has atrophied.  We need balance. Wholeness is to appreciate the goodness without pushing away the suffering. Yes, there are real threats and suffering. Most of the time, however, in the midst of this unpredictable, dangerous world, we are ok. That in itself is reason for gratitude.

Fred Luskin shared an easy way to monitor whether we are cultivating gratitude or suffering. In any moment we can notice if we are responding to life with “Thank you!” or “It’s not good enough.”

Studies show that 75-80% of our day is consumed with “It’s not good enough.” No need for judgment. It's a biological survival mechanism. It's just not conducive for happiness. For happiness we need to balance that problem-obsession with gratitude.

Gratitude is saying “thank you”. If we are the center of the universe in our own experience, then everything must be perfect…otherwise we complain. We can even turn abundance, even Lake Tahoe, into a problem. We have so many choices, and every choice makes us count the missed opportunities of options not chosen. It’s like online dating, which creates anxiety about what is lost/missed by the innumerable choices not selected. “I deserve to get more/all”. This is the polar opposite of gratitude and "thank you".

So in that moment by Lake Tahoe, I chose to say "thank you". I inhaled appreciation for my surroundings, relaxed my tensed belly, and exhaled. I kept doing this until my self-absorbed compulsion for more/better subsided. "Thank you" was enough. (Mystic Meister Eckhart said that if "thank you" is the only prayer you ever learn, that's enough.)

A deep, in my body sense of gratitude turned an agitated moment into a happy one. Nothing had changed. Except me.

Swimming Upstream

At Muir Woods National Monument I recently watched the endangered Coho salmon prepare to spawn, which is shown in the video below as a male and female make a redd for their offspring. (A redd is a gravel depression salmon create with their tails and into which the eggs are laid and fertilized.) Coho salmon are making a comeback in the Redwood Creek that flows through Muir Woods here in Marin County, California. Each December after the first heavy rain, the sandbar at Muir Beach breaks. The seam allows salmon to leave the ocean and swim upstream to the creek where they hatched about three years before.

The parents undergo dramatic physical changes on this final journey. Their jaws and teeth become hooked. Their skin blushes with hues of red and pink. With immense effort, they make their way upstream. Finding a shallow spot for a redd, they create their nest, lay and fertilize their eggs, all the while maintaining their resistance against the incessant current. Having completed this final phase of the life cycle, they die having given their lives so that life may continue.

The final lines of The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi capture the spirit of the salmon's life cycle:

"It is in giving that we receive...It is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Of course, their behavior is driven by instinct, a genetic imperative that lacks our tendency toward prolonged self-reflection and angst. It simply is the way of things. The salmon just keep working their way through the water.

I, however, am not as zen as the salmon. I want to know why the current is against me, how to control it, and what's the meaning of it all. I gripe about how wrong it is that I must swim upstream when life should be so much easier.

The salmon school me in living. They inspire me to swim with my whole body, heart and soul, whether the current is with me or against me. They invite me to remain open to the inevitable changes that will occur in life. They remind me that, ultimately, this existence is not really all about me. My individual life serves the greater cause of Life itself, of which I am part.

The salmon don't pause to ponder what the meaning of it all is. They embody their purpose. They live who and what they are with every ounce of energetic verve in their being. That's all they do, and it's enough...for them and for us. As Joseph Campbell said:

"People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about." 

[vimeography id="15"]

Lose Your Mind and Come to Your Senses

When you see the word "freedom", what comes to mind? Weekends? The Fourth of July? Never hearing a Michael Bolton song again? Freedom always has at least two aspects. We get free from something: old habits, an overbearing boss, pain, or a lousy cell phone contract. We also get free to do or be something: be happy, start a new business, or speak the truth fully.  Unless we channel our "freedom from" into a "freedom to become or do", our freedom is likely to be short-lived, either because our new found energy is taken captive by another draining situation or because we squander it on self-absorbed gratification, which becomes its own prison.

How do we get free and stay free? A good place to start is to take the advice of Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy:  "Lose your mind and come to your senses."  The controlling, critical aspect of the mind keeps us trapped in old patterns that rarely serve anyone, yet we continue to justify the status quo with any number of irrational rationalizations. What's needed is a trip back into our senses, our subconscious, our deep spirit, our inner light and our deep joy.

Whether we do this through nature, meditation, prayer, creating art, singing, yoga, or playing with dogs, the form is not as important as the benefit, which is liberation from our habitual thought patterns. When the old mental chatter simmers down, clarity emerges in which we see things as they really are and respond appropriately with grace and ease. We become fully alive.  Our hearts and minds open.  We freely give back all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do to Life, to God, to the common and highest good of all. We finally come to our senses.

Coming to our senses is more likely, fun, and enduring when we collaborate with others who share a common intention, supportive energy and wise feedback. If you would like to take a deeper dive into freedom, come join us for a series of day retreats this fall. The theme of the three retreat days is "Path to Freedom: Using Challenges to Revitalize Your Life". For more information, check out the page on Classes.


A Bird in the Hand

Monday night I went outside to water a few plants.  In the front yard under our redwood tree I noticed a small, gray, fuzzy blob. A baby Mourning Dove had fallen from its nest some twenty feet above. We had been watching the past few weeks as the devoted parents incubated the eggs and then as tiny beaks appeared in the nest. Monday night I looked up and saw the remains of a disintegrated nest. My partner Herb and I took the little squab inside and put him/her in some soft towels under which we had a heating blanket set on low. We decided to call our little visitor Francis. While I was tempted to become a foster parent and raise Francis myself, I realized that a wildlife rehabilitation center offered our friend a much better chance of survival. So the next morning, Francis and I went to Wildcare, a fantastic nonprofit that rehabilitates over 3,000 injured wild animals each year.

After one last look, I closed the shoe box and entrusted Francis to the compassionate woman at the desk. She took Francis into the animal hospital for a brief examination and then to a cozy incubator. She told me Francis would join a nest with other rescued baby doves, who are cared for by adult doves recuperating from various injuries. The adult doves will show Francis what it means to be a dove and how to survive in the wild. Meanwhile, parenting Francis and the other babies will speed the healing of the adults.

Tears came to my eyes as I considered this beautiful arrangement in which babies and wounded adults nurture each other. As I left, I was given a number with which I can track Francis' progress. Wildcare will also notify me when Francis is released back into the wild so that I can attend.

In caring for this avian infant, I felt so much tenderness, purpose and connection to Life that it became impossible to tell who was really helping whom.  Francis reminded me that every being, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, in some way affects every other being on the planet.  Now I know just how much a bird in the hand is worth.