How it’s Done


Some of you have been so kind as to remind me of some of the exceptional experiences shared exactly one year ago when we were in the midst of the Autumn Retreat in the countryside in France. That was a remarkable week for a number of reasons. One of those is the accomplishment of actual evolution within a real communal harmony, something that I believe is much rarer than we presume.

I always prepare for these events with different examples or arguments that demonstrate what I consider to be effective communal harmony – a crucial subject or perhaps the crucial subject for human beings. I recall the laughter, awe, silent recognition, inspired insight and respect generated from a naturally-existing example of effective communal harmony, so I thought I’d share some of my notes here to remind us and rouse our intuition with these inspiring clues for “how it’s done”…

Bees are one of the most industrious and well-organized species on the planet, having existed for more than 10,000,000 years. On average, 60,000 bees live together in a communal beehive, where there are never incidents of conflict or confusion. Each bee has a specific job, which it carries out for its entire lifetime.

Before bees start foraging for food they first explore the region, examining the relation to the sun, spatial relations to specific landmarks, local conditions, and proximity to the hive. Communication for foraging occurs in the release of pheromones and waggle language with encoding for distance, direction, and qualities of available food sites.

When options are identified, female scouts are sent to choose a new food source. Once a scout determines that a good spot has been found, she then returns to the hive and does a waggle dance in variations of figure-eight patterns. The dance conveys a complex code that tells her fellow hive-mates exactly where the new site is located. Distance is described in the length and speed of the rounds of the dance, and the direction of the outbound flight relative to the sun is expressed by the angle of the waggle to gravity. The type of food is signaled by the odor on the dancing bee, and quality is conveyed by the intensity of enthusiasm and duration of the dance.

Other bees move around the scout, carefully observing the dance from different angles and learning from it. The information is integrated into the bees’ specialized spatial memory circuits to allow for new shortcuts to the high-quality flower targets.

Once the scout bees complete their directions, worker bees travel to the site to collect nectar, pollen, and water from flowers, storing it in their honey stomach, which is separate from their digestive stomach. Special enzymes in the bee’s stomach begin to break down and transform the nectar into honey.

Guard bees allow the workers to re-enter the hive, where they begin to transfer the nectar they have collected to the house bees. The nectar is transferred from bee to bee, becoming thicker and more refined in the process. This final stage of turning nectar into honey is called “ripening.”

The honey is then placed into hexagonal cells in the honeycomb, where the house bees fan their wings to complete the thickening of the honey. This is then capped with beeswax by worker bees for long-term storage. The workers use this honey, mixing it with nectar, to feed newborn bees; this special mixture is called “bee bread.” The rest of the honey is used as food by the entire community through winter months when no flower nectar is available.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. original comment says:

    “Thank you for adding all this here, including the very cool diagram up top, which is just mind-blowing if you really take a moment to consider. We humans can sometimes come together into a collective force of singular intent, but (as you say) it’s very rare and almost always only reactive to temporary dire need, such as war or natural disasters (and even then…). To imagine what could be if the collective consciousness and resulting focus of action were streamlined into a single, collectively agreed-upon, direction after two days of consideration, exploration and communication(!) – 3100 waggle runs all headed to the superior source, as it were. Since we humans have only been here for around 400,000 years, maybe it’s just more time needed to figure it all out and eradicate the extraneous. Your whole post here is rife with creative clues, although one could almost reduce the entire body of personal and philosophical directives into ‘quality is conveyed by intensity of enthusiasm and duration of the dance.’ What a fantastic doctrine.” – H. T.

  2. Thank you for such an intelligent and enthusiastic response. Your connecting and expounding the ideas as a guiding solution to our own often wayward, scattered and unproductive social patterns is a kind of waggle dance itself.

    What impresses me perhaps the most in the effectiveness of the bees’ process is the quickness of adaptability; there is no added imposition of friction through arguing, denial or refusal to recognize the superior presentation and what it means. That level of communal intent and streamlined action is way beyond what we’re capable of. As you suggest, perhaps it’s a matter of time to get that 10 million years behind us, although I suspect the reason they’ve been around so long is precisely because they got all this down a very long time ago.

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