There I was, sitting in the neighborhood park where gleefully screaming kids typically assault the jungle gym. But it was mid-week, early in the afternoon and a school day, so the park was unusually and blessedly silent. I needed quiet. Nagging thoughts about the next chapters of my life had me weary. I picked a weathered bench on the edge of the playground, surrounded by my favorite towering friends, a stand of white pines. An urban neighborhood oasis, just blocks from my office.
I peeled off my shoes and felt the rough but freshly laid cedar chips underneath my feet. Their scent, mixed with the fragrance of dried pine needles, drifted around me and reinforced that I had found my “power spot.” There was no one else in the park, no cars driving by, no distractions. All I needed to do was turn inward, to focus on my breath and simply be.
Lately I’ve been learning to “re-source” myself. A friend introduced me this expression, though it’s been in her lexicon for years. It’s a practice of building one’s energy without turning to substances or people, of facing discomfort and breathing. I use her wellness skills to enhance what I’ve been practicing over the years (mind and body connection) and then teaching these powerful, embodied, distinctions—to notice when we habitually tighten our bodies and where, and then notice when and how we ease our bodies. How I do this usually involves a fictional story or a mindless reaction. Or both.
Enter the fly. A metallic, rainbow-sheened fly darts into my power spot and dances around my right hand. Autopilot is triggered, an annoyed response, as I catch myself about to wave it away. I instead allow the fly to flit around and hang with me. He lands on my arm and I take in the feather-like, ticklish sensation. Thinking myself quite the Zen master, I self-congratulate myself with internal comments such as Look at me. I am so at peace with my little winged friend. This is great practice of just being with whatever shows up.
As if on cue, enter the bee. Buzzing toward my face, a way-too-close-for-comfort hello, my reaction is 180 degrees from that of the fly—Zen is supplanted by panic, revealing a big fat zero in the Mastery Department. Despite my ideal surroundings and previous ease, the bee quickly revealed my dominant, internal state. I freaked out.
For a split second, I thought to allow her to simply be a bee. Instead, I did what most people do—I ineffectively swatted at the air around me, knowing this would only agitate her. As additional insurance against getting stung, I leapt up and sprinted toward the monkey bars as the contents of my wallet spilled to the ground. Embarrassed and admittedly ashamed, I collected myself and glanced around, hoping my episode went unnoticed and wouldn’t appear on YouTube.
I should note that, so far as I know, I’m not allergic to bee stings. In fact, I’m actually a huge fan of bees; they can be medicine from their sting to their hive, their crucial role as pollinators, their immense historical and cultural impact on humans for thousands of years. I follow the ongoing struggles that bees face with a heavy heart, and know that we truly need them more than they need us.
Just recently I had the opportunity to learn more about bees through an amazing beekeeper, Jacqueline Freeman. She embodies what I think of as the definition of calm. Of presence. Of joy. Jacqueline is someone who not only theoretically understands prana, qi, life force but delivers it when working with an insect that en masse can also do harm. When near or handling bees, you cannot exude fear. It just doesn’t work when you’re working and partnering with wild honeybees. How I long to be as calm as Jacqueline-this deep calm where nothing can rock me. The lesson is that life circumstances will reveal your dominant energy. Wishing I was peaceful doesn’t make for being peaceful. Many days, choosing to be peaceful is choosing it moment-to-moment.
Why I’m relaying this story is, no matter how serene or ideal my surroundings, peacefulness is an inside job. That’s why some yoga studios play rock n’ roll versus ambient flute music or meditation classes are taught as a way to be with your internal noise versus escaping it. The practice is turning inward, creating an observer of your breath, your body no matter what your circumstances are. Bees are not interested in stinging unless threatened—it’s a waste of energy and their death is imminent. But it was difficult for me to breathe during the rapid-fire “what if?” my mind was generating. I was not willing to be a patient of “bee acupuncture.”
I returned to the bench with my collected wallet contents and sat down. Deep breath. Knock knock. Guess who showed up? The bee teacher was back for a second lesson. I hadn’t truly collected my prana, so I moved to another bench across the playground. I sat down, thinking about the theme of the recent lunar eclipse—move toward what you fear. As soon as that thought left me, my bee stalker returned! She was up for third lesson, and admittedly I’m in a remedial moment. By then it was getting late, so in a brief moment of surrender, I let her hang out. This time I noticed her beautiful golden color and verified that, in fact, she was a honeybee. When I began to observe her with curiosity versus fear, I was much calmer, and grateful that she had been persistent with me. From the first episode to this last bee interlude, I gained an awareness of me “coming and going” my angst, with moments of peace. Being able to stop and pause for a few seconds with this being is the interruption of the mindlessness reaction. I announced to her that the lesson had ended. To be sure, the lessons will continue.