On bees, fear, and healing

Honey Bee, 2021 (paper collage) © Gabriela De Golia

I used to be terrified of bees. Even harmless bumblebees would send me running in fear.

At some point in early childhood, I was told I was deathly allergic to bee and wasp stings, even though I’d never been stung. Then one day I was walking on a beach in Tahiti and stepped on a wasp and got stung. I went into a complete panic, thinking I was about to die because it would’ve taken at least an hour to get medical attention. A teacher I was on the trip with came running up to me after hearing my panic and said, “if you were allergic you’d already be showing signs of that, but you’re not — I think you’re going to be ok.” Indeed, I ended up being ok, and I admittedly felt embarrassed by how paranoid I must have appeared. I’ve been stung more times since then and have been ok every time. I’m not allergic to bees or wasps, it turns out. Yet my fear of them was planted deep in my psyche.

Bees are just one thing I learned to fear. Despite living a very comfortable life, I picked up on the explicit and implicit messaging that there was always something to be afraid of in this world. A Zen Buddhist nun I used to live with once reflected, “you were taught to fear a lot, Gabriela.”

I have come to understand that those who encouraged me to fear so much were doing their best to help me survive in a world where there truly is a lot to fear. I also accept my own role in solidifying those fears in an attempt to survive in this world. But surviving is not thriving, and I eventually started to realize one doesn’t thrive on fear.

This year, I began taking classes with women who practice shamanism in a tradition that views bees as important totems. One of them is also a beekeeper, and both teachers simply adore bees. I wasn’t sure the classes would resonate with me given my fear of these beings (even though the topics didn’t require me to physically interact with bees). But I trusted my instinct and signed up for the courses.

The decision to learn from the bees (and some of their human friends) has been a truly sacred gift, one I never expected to offer myself but am so glad I did.

In seeing other people treat bees as friends and messengers, even healers and medicine-givers by virtue of their capacity to sting, I was witnessing a new way of relating to bees I’d never considered possible. Rather than view them as pests that could kill me, I started seeing bees through my teachers’ eyes. I developed a sense of awe for their resilience in an ecologically devastated world. I began to appreciate the magic of honey so much more. And I started to trust that stings might not be as worrisome as my mind always told me they were.

In seeing others live without fear when relating to bees, I have become more trusting and friendly towards these beings. In an even broader sense, I have begun to ease my hyper-vigilance towards the earth and its holy creatures. Even wasps have become less scary, and many other things I used to panic at the sight of no longer phase me as much (this includes spiders, snakes, and more).

Part of my journey towards learning to live with and heal from various traumas has been the practice of regaining a sense of enchantment, trust, and pleasure in a world that previously felt (and was at times) truly threatening to me. Not everything one perceives as threatening has to (or should) be befriended. But in the instance of bees, learning to relate more lovingly to that which I previously feared has opened up a whole new spectrum of joy for me. I can walk outside and feel excited instead of scared at the sight of a bee now. While the impulse to run appears sometimes, it is much less potent than it used to be. And I can trust, in an integrated and embodied way (not just in an intellectual manner), that even if I get stung by a bee or a wasp I’ll be ok, just as I have been ok before.

The bees are inviting me to trust them more, and in doing so, they are inviting me to trust myself more. I feel my entire nervous system, body-mind, and spirit recalibrating themselves in magical and healing ways thanks to these invitations.

Many thanks to Ariella Daly of Honey Bee Wild, Gabriela Gutierrez of the Virtual Temple, and the bees for helping me shed fear-based narratives to make room for more awe and joy.