I had a revelation recently. These don’t come to me often, but for a few days it was as though the skies in my brain parted for a time and allowed me a rarified view of my life. This particular revelation had to do with my thoughts—how they come and go and take hold. How they uplift me, or slay me, or undo me, or delight me. How these thoughts, for the most part, feel as though they ARE me.
I base many of my choices (and an untold number of unconscious choices) on my thoughts. I hang my idea of what kind of a person I am on my thoughts, and my thoughts determine—to a great part—how content or ill-content I am to live in my own skin—that is, to live with the person who is the product of my thoughts.
This revelation I want to tell you about was a visceral one, and I’ve searched for a metaphor that would allow me to offer this revelation to you in a way that you could feel it ring in your throat and it your chest, as it did in mine…
So I’ve decided to tell you a story of the Bien. Yes, I have spelled that right. Bien is a word used to describe the complete, encircling super-world of the honeybee. It is, for the bee, all and everything. The Bien comprises not just the hive shelter and the bees, but the bee-drawn wax and comb. The Bien incorporates the propalis—the aromatic glue made by bees for sealing their home—and the honey, and the specially fermented pollens and royal jelly, and the baby-bee breads, and the particular vibrational hum created by THESE bees in THIS hive. Extending ever outward, the Bien embraces each sacred plant unique to the bees’ foraging areas. It encircles the way the water falls and flows in that holy place, and holds gently the quality of light and fog and mist in each and every season in that particular place. The Bien is the breath of nectar-scented air in the summer and the blasting acid gales of winter. The Bien is every bird and animal and insect and stone that dwells in the sacred territory of the hive. The Bien is all that touches the lives of those particular bees, and everything that the bees touch, in return.
In my counseling sessions, we’ve begun referring to my life as “My Bien,” our conversations stretching to include intimate yet expansive stirrings of my mind, heart, and spirit. We explore how deeply affected I am by the creatures in body and spirit who cross my path, by the depth of light in the morning in my backyard, or the way rainfall cascades off the broken gutter on Carter’s shop, and patters in my gray tub pond. My Bien embraces the way my husband looks at me in the morning, with love, perhaps, or warm interest, or cool impatience. My life is my Bien, affected deeply in every way by every nuanced thought and being that touches me, and affecting all whose lives I touch. My Bien incorporates not only the bag of skin that contains my body, but the ground, neighborhood, and community where my life is imbedded, and all those things and beings I am nestled with by choice or location.
I think of the bees themselves as embodied mind or consciousness, each bee a thought or vibration, connected by the neural, trembling web of the honeycomb. The hive strives for a consciousness of health. Baby bees are nurtured very diligently, kept warm and gently tendered, and fed only the very best of foods to encourage their most perfect developmental expression. Still, perfection is not something attained in any life.
Mites, viruses, molds, mutations, nasty bacteria, and a host of ailments infiltrate the Bien from all sides. Often, the result is made manifest in the bodies of the baby bees, who are born with deformed wings or with bodies weakened by mites who feed on them while the infant bees incubate in their honeycomb cells.
A strong, healthy hive will remove these sickly bees, hauling them out the hive entrance and dumping them onto the ground, or sometimes flying away with them to drop their diseased bodies far from the hive. Sometimes the sickly bees fight to reenter the hive, but they are turned away again and again by the guardian bees until they finally give up.
Once a year in the fall, all the male bees—the drones—are thrown out of the hive in a day of intense battle. Their use to the hive is believed to be mostly as impregnators of queen bees, but queen matings stop in the fall and do not recommence until spring. To feed these drones through the harsh and lean days of winter is a hardship on the entire hive, and so the maiden bees—the workers—drag them all out and block the door to their return. The drones, chilled and homeless, gather in weary bachelor-priest clusters beneath the hive and die under the night skies. Come dawn, they will serve as a feast for foraging yellow jackets and hungry birds.
Bees that are sickly, or costly to the hive such as the autumn drones, must be ejected for the survival of the hive. I know this to be true, but witnessing these evictions is painful to me. To see the sickly infant bees struggle to break away from the maiden bees, to watch the drones try again and again to return to the door of the hive, only to be blocked and pushed away, hurts my heart. Yet I understand fully what the cost would be for them to remain: My precious hive died this past fall because of too big a burden of sickly, diseased bees. My valiant maiden bees were not strong enough to expel all the disease, and then survive what I believe was a death of their queen.
It is no small struggle to remain healthy and strong on this challenged Earth, in body, heart, or mind. No matter what Bien you inhabit, there are certain values one must retain and protect within the Bien to make healthy survival more likely. In any Bien, there must exist the foundational energies of determination, dedication to something larger than the self, the joy of good work, and the fierce love and protection of family and spirit. Cooperation is an unequivocal requirement: Anything that thrives owes its very life to the cooperation of sunlight, air, water, shelter, biota and bacteria within its Bien.
Conversely, for the health of the Bien, there are things that must be forcibly expelled from its boundaries again and again, with a battle if necessary. The rumblings of sickness of body or spirit, hopelessness, aimlessness, self-importance, and panic must be blocked from entrance to the Bien like a mountain top blocks the path of an angry thunderstorm.
In the mental landscape of my Bien, I’ve been waging a battle against my thoughts. As my readers know, my most recent struggle with chronic depression landed me in a mental ward for of a week of recovery, rebooting, and reconsideration of my medications. What catalyzed my decision to take myself to the hospital was my dawning awareness of a certain host of thoughts that had moved into the honeycomb of my head and taken up residence in its cells. They had wandered in as strangers, but over time, they had become the worst kinds of relatives. These were thoughts that had never been a part of my Bien. And I finally had the good sense to become afraid of them.
While my own particular brand of depression has never been a picnic (to put it mildly), it had never before contained the qualities of self-loathing, free-floating guilt, rage, and suspicion that had somehow made their way past my “entrance guardians.” I had learned to live with sadness, hopelessness, exhaustion, confusion, defensiveness, destruction of my writing muse, overwhelm, and crankiness. These parasites scuttled in and out of my doors, nibbling away at the best of me, but I had made some kind of pact with them, and had forged a small—albiet diminished—life with them. My Bien was not thriving, yet it was surviving year to year.
But then those new invaders showed up, and I began a death march by inches.
For years, I’ve read about the importance of gaining mastery over one’s thoughts. From the most blatantly commercial self-help books to the most profoundly spiritual and religious texts, instructions exist for taming, observing, quieting, controlling, or harnessing the power of our thoughts. The instructions look pretty straight-forward and simple, until you try to follow them.
From meditation, to yoga postures, to mindfulness, to breath work, to visualization, to prayer, to chant, all of these practices—if you take a moment to read the fine print—are not methods at all. Rather, they are a lifestyle. Just as dieting is really about changing what food you let into your mouth forever, thought-modification requires that you change your life about what thoughts you let into your mind forever.
I’ve chanted. I’ve visualized. I breathe slowly and mindfully. I pray. I meditate. I see a gifted young counselor for cognitive behavior training. And I take antidepressants that often don’t do much of anything. I have made slow but gradual progress over many years in becoming more aware of the thoughts that come and go, or take up residence. Sometimes, like in my last-ditch run to a mental ward, I get dangerously careless about my health, I allow all my boundaries to be breached, and I collapse.
Yet, for the great part, this gently growing self awareness has been a godsend in my life, worth its weight in chocolate, I should say—chocolate being worth WAY more than gold in my Bien. And so I believe it was the confluence of my many good practices—plus the right drug at the right time—that came together and gifted me with my recent gut-felt, mind-exploding revelation.
It happened like this: I woke up one morning and all the thoughts about self-loathing and rage and all their kin were gone. Just…gone. I sent out a scout in my head looking for them, but all she could find was clean, fragrant, empty space. As I sat there, a bit stunned at first, sipping my morning coffee, what struck me was a strong, sunlit feeling of spaciousness in my head—literally between my ears—and in the center of my chest, right below my ribcage. I took a deep breath. I called to the destructive thoughts—to my worst relations—and there was no answer. None.
Perhaps because of the efficacy of the drug, Lexapro, there had been no battle at the entrance, no sense of mental struggle to toss out the offenders. It was as though angels had come and whisked the corruption away and then swept the rooms of my mind clean with feather dusters and magic wands. And I suppose that is what happened, but I also know that I set the stage for this monumental moment of grace with the hard work my mind had committed itself to for the past years. I had been consistently courting the good stuff for my Bien, inviting in the spirits of purpose, cooperation, happy work, trust, determination over and over again.
Gooness and mercy collided. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I had much more than an intellectual appreciation for choosing the thoughts I allowed into my mind. For the first time, I could feel the vastness, the expansive receptiveness, the aliveness, the creative potential of a mind suddenly empty of a FEW of the slaying, sickly thoughts.
Yesterday, I was a person who hated myself and hated who I had become. Overnight, I am a different person. Under the gaze of one brief evening of stars, I am reborn to a better self. The shocking swiftness of the change, and its unspeakable enormity, has changed everything. Now, I don’t THINK that watching your thoughts is most important thing you can do for health. I don’t BELIEVE that blocking cancerous thoughts is worth whatever it takes you to do it. I KNOW this, with a certainty that will not leave me. I KNOW this now.
In the days since, I have begun watching old gifts of mine come out of hibernation: Focus, peace, humor, my muse, the Goddess and Crone that I am.
If a mind is devouring itself with sick and demeaning thoughts, there is little room within it for cultivating all the good things of this world. In my mind, I see the image of my bees fighting off the deadly yellow jackets and honey-robbers at their hive door. I remember their fierce energy, tossing the diseased intruders from within, and carrying away the relations that were no longer of value for the hard season just ahead.
In the first moments of my revelation, I will admit to you, here, that I felt just a tiny tug of what I can only describe as, perhaps, loneliness. My worst thoughts, given room and board for a certain length of time, became relatives, became myself, became a piece of my Bien. Suddenly gone, they were, for an instant, missed. But only for an instant.
Yesterday, something happened in the course of life here at my house that brought the devouring thoughts flying back to amorphous, permeable perimeter of my Bien. I felt them coming, like the rumble of a thundercloud on the far horizon. I heard them buzzing in my head, like a wave of hungry yellow jackets. I watched the eternally perverse part of my brain tell the guardians of my mind, Oh, just let them in. Sometimes it is good to feel self-righteous. What harm is a little well-justified disdain? A taste of hostility?
But now I know better and I tell you, strongly, loudly: Do not let them in! Never let them in. Ever. Fight the good fight at your boundaries and in your deepest mind cells. Do whatever it takes in THIS moment and in every moment to shut the gate, to fling them out, to say an unequivocal NO to them. It is your very life that hangs in the balance. I know this with more conviction today than I know anything, and I pass this knowing on to you, until the morning you wake up and know it yourself, in your bones and in your heart and in your brain.
Protect with ferocity and tenderness the goodness that is you. Affirm your right and holy duty to cast off destruction in whatever form it takes when it assaults the sacred space of your Bien. Hum the sweet tune health so that it can be heard by your heart and your mind. Bee well.