Anaphylactic allergies to bees and wasps and stern warnings not to be stung again have combined to cultivate a terrible fear of bees in me. That fear even makes some sense in places where the bees have become aggressive. But I’ve also been spending a lot more time lately around other varieties of bees, bees that are busy with our human agricultural labors and bees that are busy with their own survival. The first thing I needed to learn to be in better relationship with the bees was not to panic. My fearfulness was actually increasing my likelihood of being stung. Reacting by suddenly pulling away can look to some bees like you’re preparing to attack. Moving more slowly and deliberately, I’ve found a quiet calm with the bees. The first few times, I did have to remind myself to be with the bees, rather than my fearfulness. But the more I was with the bees, the less fearfulness ruled my response. Slowing down and appreciating the bees improved my chances at meeting another day.
Spiritual practices are for the faint-hearted. What spiritual practices help us do best is learn to be with these feelings that can overwhelm us: fear, anger, confusion, grief, ecstasy, yearning, loneliness, urgency, ennui, and oneness. Spiritual practices help us because they slow us down. One minute meditation is super when no minutes of meditation have been your life. But five or fifteen or one hundred and twenty minutes might bring even more amazing results. Pressure to do more in less time – to model the efficiencies of production lines –buzzes around many of us. Afraid of being stung badly, we jerk away into our default responses. Being a good person is not about efficiency. Being a good person is not tied into being a busy bee. Being a good person is inherently relational and relationships take time. When we’re reacting, we not engaging in the kind of relating that nurtures connection and care, allows of differences to emerge and appreciation for those differences. When we’re reacting, pressured, to the persistent buzzing, we have good reason to be afraid and polarized in how we live.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. When we learn how to slow down and meet our impatience, fear, anger, or other challenging state, we’re less likely to be controlled reflexively by those states. I’m not offering anything new here. But the spiritual journey is one of degrees. Where I might be quite comfortable and able in one environment, in another I might have to relearn all those skills again. That doesn’t make me a bad person, just a person who is living and learning, growing and practicing, perfectly imperfect as I am, a person who is living with bees.
Death and threat pervades our lives. As many have quipped, no one leaves this life alive. How we live with those threats and learn to risk loving and risk the adventures of life is the story that matters. I’ve never read an adventure story yet that didn’t carry risk in encounter. The big moment in many adventures is when our intrepid hero is in great danger of losing all, and she pauses with time that she doesn’t have, and in those precious moments, finds what is necessary to carry the day. Spiritual practices invite us into this adventurous pinch: we need these practices of slowing down to appreciate and meet where we are in order to greet another day.