Tesshin used this week’s talk to consider some of the dramatic events occurring in the country. Specifically, he shared with the group a discussion he had with his family over the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis. He asked his children for their reaction about the recent police killing of a black citizen and what it meant in terms of justice, how we treat each other, and inequality. More importantly, what can a single individual do about this? The children knew that the situation was clearly “wrong,” but became quickly frustrated because there was nothing that they could immediately do to fix it. “What are we supposed to do about it? I am just a kid, after all!!” As the conversation progressed, one youngster became very uncomfortable and wanted to leave the table. Others sort of froze and seemed to be waiting for guidance from their father. On top of this, his wife was upset as the situation was presented “un-sugarcoated.” She asked if this line of conversation was fair – especially for the youngest ones? Tesshin noted that he was not after a right or wrong answer, but rather was trying to create an experience of discomfort and tension. He noted that in order to solve a problem one must be present with discomfort, confusion, frustration, and perhaps even helplessness.
Tesshin next noted that he keeps bees. One issue with bees is that the hive needs to be regularly treated for mites in order to keep the colony healthy. Although, he uses organic treatments, this activity still has a significant effect on the bees. It is normal that during the treatment, the bees flee the hive, and usually straggle back over time. This time, for some reason, the bees did not return quickly. On top of this, there was a big rain storm after the treatment. Bees caught in the rain would be killed by such a violent storm. Sure enough, the next morning Tesshin found a bunch of dead bees scattered around the hive. What was very interesting, however, was how the remaining live bees behaved after the crisis. At first, young bees emerged from the hive. These were clearly very small and immature. They sort of wandered around, bumped into each other and even fell off the hive edge and hit the ground. It is clear that they were confused, disoriented, and clearly not helping anyone. Other more mature bees – just stood around and did nothing. They were not falling over the edge, but they were mostly inert and apathetic. Lastly, what looked to be the oldest and most mature bees were dragging the dead bees and debris outside the hive. They would carry dead bees far away from the hive. This behavior, known to bee keepers – is called “Righting the Hive.” The older and mature bees knew that in order to survive the rain and mite-treatment “crisis,” it is most important to right things as quickly as possible. Tesshin asked, what are we to make of the confused, apathetic, and diligent bees? Can the bees teach us anything about ourselves and how best to “right our own hive?”
Tesshin noted that most of us fall into that middle category of seizing up and becoming apathetic when challenged with a crisis. What can a single individual do anyway? This is a defense mechanism. We feel as there is nothing to do, so we watch the news, read the newspapers, and comment on how terrible the situation is. Then we get distracted with another thought and we jump to that. However, even if we don’t have the perfect answer, can we at least slow down and be present with this problem – right here and right now? Can we avoid the temptation to distract ourselves? This is what Tesshin was trying to teach his children and what he was teaching the group during the talk. We practice mindfulness in order to be ready for situations like this. The practice teaches that we must face reality as it is and not how we would want it. Reality is not sugarcoated! We must not run away by becoming apathetic in the face of problems.
Even worse that apathy are the individuals who fan the flames through their own delusion. Tesshin likened these to the immature bees falling over the edge of the hive. Buddhism talks about a “raging elephant mind” stomping around and causing more damage than helping. To combat this, we must look deeply inward. We must come face to face with our own delusions and how they manifest in our actions. Is the step I am about to take really going to help or will it only magnify the pain? Am I prepared to do nothing rather than to cause harm? Is this action about how I feel or is it about the injustice I am trying to combat? Again, this level of reflection comes with deep practice. It comes with sitting with suchness and not grasping at what we want reality to be. We must be willing to sit with pain and hurt. Sometimes action is not the answer. It does not help the hive to jump headlong over the edge and smash into the ground.
Tesshin likened the diligent bees to those who solve problems. These are typically the ones who just get in there and start skillfully fixing things. These are the ones who normally do not get the attention. They calmly and quietly get to work. These are the front-line health workers during the Covid outbreak. These are the religious leaders in Minneapolis endeavoring to get all sides to talk and see each other as people and not monsters. Human nature naturally looks for the dramatic. We look at the bees falling over the edge. What we need to do is look at the centered ones getting the hard work done. How do we become like those bees? We do it with practice. We practice year after year so that when crisis hits, we are sure, stable, and prepared. Only then can we make real progress.
Tesshin is exhorting us to practice for our country, our communities, and ourselves. This is the vow we take to save all beings. Practice is “righting the hive.” Once we can control our own delusions, we can take the next step and the next step after that to fix problems.