Category Archives: Quiet mind

Why I love bees

I was a gardener once, and when I was out among my blossoms I enjoyed seeing the honeybees and bumble bees visiting the bright blooms, their sonorous buzzing all around me.

I can tell when they are happy by their buzzes. Low-pitched means contentment; high-pitched means irritation. They warn you for a while before they get serious.

But most of the time, they just buzz happily and work around you. I’ve actually bumped my forehead on a bumblebee once, and he didn’t even mind.

Bees like blue-colored flowers the best, but they’ve visited my zinnias, dahlias, gladiolus, lilies, and hibiscus almost as much as my anise hyssop, salvia, lavender, chamomile, and mint. I like to think of them making really tasty honey with all of those sweet scented herbs.

Bees are fun to photograph if you have patience and a decent camera. The average iPhone does and okay job, but for those amazing shots like the one in this article, you need a macro lens on a single lens reflex camera.

Bees are not mean at all, except perhaps killer bees. The only bee that ever hurt me was a dead one I stepped on. I’ve been stung by wasps, yellowjackets and hornets – but never bees.

And their honey is heavenly, especially when the hive’s main source of forage was orange blossoms or clover. My vegan friend Valerie once told me that eating honey is frowned upon by vegan purists, because you’re basically eating their food source for their young and wrecking their shelter. In addition, sometimes bees get stuck in the honey as you pull it out and can drown, which I agree is unfortunate.

There is always agave nectar, which is coming down in price as it becomes more popular. It’s kind of neutral in flavor, but maybe you can season it with orange juice.

Sadly, the world’s honeybees are in the fight of their lives: these little champions of pollination not only have to fly farther and farther to reach decent nectar sources because of human population growth and the desctruction of natural open spaces, they must also deal with a virulent new strain of deformed wing virus which is being rapidly spread by the parasitic Varroa mite. And this isn’t just a catastrophe for our little fuzzy friends – the U.S. has a $10-15 billion honey industry.

I remember two very remarkable bees on film. The first was “Invasion of the Bee Girls,” about women that turn into “bee women” and kill innocent men by having sex with them. They wore shades at night so men couldn’t see their scary compound eyes before they went in for the kill.

Invasion of the Bee Girls

My other favorite bee appearance is the Bee Twins from The Tick animated series. El Seed, a matador-esque animated sunflower, is trying to take over the world with these sexy bee henchwomen.

The Tick Bee Twins

Perhaps the most inspiring and quirky thing about bees is the bee dance. When they go out into the world and find this totally awesome stand of prickly pear cactus in full bloom, or a tea herb garden, they have a way of helping others get there.

When they get back to the hive and run into their buddy, they do this little “nectar dance” where they turn this way and that, frst clockwise, then counterclockwise, like a combination lock. This means something to the bee watching the show along the lines of “go tree tree tree tree turn right go tree tree tree turn left turn left go tree turn left turn left.”

There ya go. Don’t tell anyone else you know where the nectar is.

Quaker meditation – getting focused

Sitting with the Quakers in silent worship one morning, I found a way to settle down into the silence that helped me. It’s like a song with three verses – you can repeat each verse as many times as you like until you reach the right mental state. Chant aloud or silently – it’s up to you. If you try this, I’d love to hear how it worked for you.

breathe in while saying or thinking,

I rest


breathe out while saying or thinking,

I give thanks


(repeat as many times as needed to give yourself grace for this process)


breathe in while saying or thinking,

I give thanks and open


breathe out while saying or thinking,

I wait and listen


(repeat as many times as needed to begin to clear the mind)


breathe in while saying or thinking,

I wait and listen


breathe out while saying or thinking,



(repeat as many times as needed to stay in this listening state)

What would a day without expectations be?

Okay, maybe that concept is a little too abstract even for the most “zen” among us, but let’s try this:

What if we picked a day and, when asked for our preference/order/decision on something that day, instead described the outcome we’d prefer in more general terms?

We could call it the Flexible Wish Day. Or maybe Surprise Me Day. What would you call it?

Here’s how such a day might play out:

I’d wake up in the morning and do the stuff everybody needs to do to get ready for work. Instead of selecting the exact shampoo I want, I’d grab whatever’s closest. Instead of worrying about my outfit, I’d close my eyes and grab a shirt from my wardrobe, then select stuff to wear with it that matches.

Walking the dog, I’d let her go where she wants, wherever that might lead us.

At work, instead of listing all my “to do” items and ranking them by urgency/priority, I’d jot down 2 or 3 things that are foremost in my mind and then think, how do I want my morning to feel? If creative, I’d work on the thing that helps me feel that way. If social, I’d work on an item that required collaboration. If detailed, I’d work on spreadsheets and stats.

Instead of planning ahead and packing a lunch, I’d go to the grocery/deli and pick whatever attracts my eye first, without further deliberation over price or nutrition. I’d eat it with care and enjoy any surprise it delivered.

For my afternoon, instead of being pulled from task to task by urgent emails, phone calls and in-person interruptions, I would stop answering the phone and email, put on my headphones, and think, how do I want my afternoon to feel? Then I’d pick one of my priorities and work on that.

On the way home, I’d put on my iPod and hit Shuffle, even though I have 20 carefully selected podcasts saved which are exactly long enough for my drive home. Whatever played, that would be groovy. At stop lights, instead of thinking how I can get in front of the slow guy, I would look around at the faces of the other drivers and see if anyone is doing anything interesting, or better yet, if anyone would like to smile back at me.

At home, when one of my peeps asks me what I want for dinner, I’d smile and say, surprise me! If that throws them, I’d breeze into the kitchen and randomly put my hand on a box in the pantry or an item in the fridge, saying, why don’t we do something with that? Or, if the mood suits, I would say, I don’t care what I eat but I would like something spicy. 🙂

Or maybe we decide to go to a restaurant, only this time I am driving and my family does not yet suspect I am having a Flexible Wishes Day – great fun! I drive randomly until some restaurant catches my eye. I apply no criteria whatsoever to making the choice. We go in, and the waiter asks what I would like. I ask what he would like to bring me. He tells me the specials. I say, I want something warm and crunchy. And wait. Whatever comes will be a surprise! Yes!

Afterwards, the kids want to play a game. I say okay, and they ask which game. I say, surprise me! And they do.

On expectations and blessings

This morning while sitting in silence with the Quakers, I began to explore the extent and impact of expectations in my life. What are the kinds of events/things/people/relationships we expect in our life? How do they steer our daily existence and our opportunities? Do they give us hope or do they limit our happiness?

We are a goal-oriented society; we all must to some extent have an idea of what we want, or we likely won’t get it. At least this is true for material things like jobs, cars, houses, or fitness. But is this the right frame of mind for experiences like relationships, people, and opportunities?

It seemed to me that the more detailed and complex my vision for my life was, the less space there would be for surprises (otherwise known as blessings) to occur. I explored that for a long time, thinking of each expectation, goal, or plan I had for my present life.

To me, blessings are a stealthy thing. They sneak up on you and wait for you to notice them. They probably won’t impact your life for the better unless you see them and let them in. And if you’re focused on the script for how your life is to play out, maybe you won’t see them at all. I visualized myself at the center, sitting cross-legged on a folded towel on a packed dirt surface. Blessings and love shone toward me from all sides, but between me and them was a round brick wall tightly encircling me. Each brick was actually an expectation of how my life should proceed, as in:

I will work for a marketing department.

My house should be clean.

There should be plenty of food in the fridge which everyone in the family can eat.

I should have friends.

My dog should behave herself.

My car should always work.

My man should treat me well at all times.

I should be a healthier weight.

My hair should not be gray.

Each of the kids should have a nice birthday with a cake I bake myself.

My cat should not puke on the floor or meow too loud.

The kids should always help clean the house.

New Jersey should be nice to me.

I should get over my mom’s death.

And so on – try this exercise yourself and you will begin to see how many you have too! I was amazed. It became clear to me that every expectation I had could obscure a blessing waiting to come to my life. And some of those blessings might actually help me with many of my goals and dreams, but what they required was serenity and trust.

I’m a type A from way back, so this is not an easy task for me. In fact, I immediately began to think of new goals that would help me get more blessings into my life. Aha. More bricks in the wall, not fewer. Okay, breathe, Sylvie.

Lacking in answers, I did a little positive visualization. I imagined myself punching out those bricks one at a time, after visualizing the expectation first. I give up my attachment to a constantly clean house. Kaboom. A little ray of sunshine sneaks in and bathes my shoulder with warmth. Another one – I give up my expectation that my man provide me with attention at every opportunity. Crunch. A little bird flies in through the opening and sings a pretty song to me.

I visualized punching out every brick and walking out into the world to be buffeted by chance and opportunity. I realigned my view of the world – now I was a leaf in a stream, spinning and swirling downstream past rocks and other obstacles, sometimes floating with other leaves and sometimes rushing past. Now it’s a journey and you take the impermanence of it along with the joys. I read that the Buddhists say change is the only constant. Also: If you can accept that inevitability, you can begin to be content.

So have I completely transformed my existence from this exercise? Heck no. That would be too easy. But this gives me some more information and some more questions to work on.