Ottawa Honey House

Know your honey

Meaning, madness or meditation?


Fig 1. Hive inspection

There is so much more to beekeeping than providing the bees with a box and inspecting them periodically. There are also the social and philosophical elements of beekeeping. A local beekeeper, Kurt Streckeisen, lent me his well-loved beekeeping book “The How-to-do-it book of Beekeeping” by Richard Taylor. Not only is it packed full of useful information on the keeping of bees but it’s also playfully written with sections titled:

  • “37. How to avoid giving the impression of lunacy”
  • “101. How to unite beekeeping and zen” and
  • “151. How to become happy”

Fig 2. 501st trooper

Within our society we are constrained in our behaviour and appearance by what is deemed “normal” and “acceptable”. Sociologist call these constraints social norms and mores. Just because our society says something is normal and acceptable, however, doesn’t mean it’s healthy or makes people happy. I’ve even heard it said that the only people in our society with true freedom are the children and the insane. I’d like to add beekeepers, AFOLs and members of the 501st legion to the list; if only as a sub-categories of insane. Anyone that steps outside of society’s expectations in the pursuit of happiness could be labelled “insane” by our society.

“A society, on occasion, can be the worst possible describer of mental health.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

Filling one’s time with the care of venomous insects for little to no financial gain doesn’t seem like a sane thing to do but it can bring great joy. Beekeeping well involves concentration and a union of movement and mind. Bees are sensitive to the beekeeper and will become agitated if the hive is knocked sharply or if the beekeeper becomes flustered enough to move jarringly. The focus needed around bees is reminiscent of the mindfulness involved in meditation and can have the same benefits. An excellent beekeeper is aware of the bees around them while they work but doesn’t get sidetracked from the task at hand.

The search for happiness isn’t a particularly easy one as there are many aspects of happiness and they aren’t necessarily the same for each person. The psychologist Martin Seligman, however, came up with five components which correlate to higher levels of happiness:

  1. Physical pleasure
  2. Engagement (a.k.a ‘flow’) describing the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity
  3. Relationships and presence of social ties
  4. Meaning as described by the sense of serving something bigger than one’s self
  5. Accomplishment felt when tangible goals are realized

The activities involved in beekeeping can contain many of these components; especially flow. The locations in which hives are kept also contribute to the sense of well being as they are often both beautiful and tranquil.


Fig 3. A peaceful place for bees

What activities do you do that contain these components? What aspects of your life bring you happiness and not just escape? How can you incorporate more of them into your life? Is there anything keeping you from fully engaging in your life and spending the hours you’ve got left in pursuits that increase your happiness?

“Why be timid? Death is coming.” – Simon Amstell

It’s been a quote laden post today but I’d like to leave you with Richard Taylor’s words on becoming happy:

“The pursuit of happiness is for most people a desperate chase, an ever increasing getting and spending that knows neither satisfaction nor surfeit. It must, on the contrary, continuously outdo itself in the sheer determination to escape boredom. Of course not everyone can escape such desperation and meaninglessness through apiculture. It is equally certain that others find genuine fulfilment otherwise; but for someone possessed of the right temperament, one whose spirit is attuned to nature, apiculture offers a way of life that is unique and totally fulfilling. It challenges both body and mind, rewarding the earthen element in us with the loveliest and most delectable of foods and rewarding the spirit with the sense of competence, skill, of challenge met and purpose achieved. Perhaps those philosophers and mystics are right who have described happiness as the absorption in something other than oneself. Perhaps beekeeping, then, without promising anything so extravagant as happiness, nevertheless does point one’s footsteps in the direction of it.”

One comment on “Meaning, madness or meditation?

  1. westernwilson
    February 19, 2014

    My teacher lent me that book in beginning beekeeping class…and I loved the bit on how to both be a beekeeper AND stay happily married! Searching for a copy myself; they are rare these days.

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This entry was posted on February 14, 2014 by in Bee Philosophy, Bee Trivia and tagged , , , , , , , , .




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