The Swarm.

The honeybee swarm has been the inspiration for several of the early murals for The Good of the Hive Initiative. I don’t claim to be the expert on bees- I am learning as I go- but the idea of the swarm captivates me because it is a leap into the unknown for the bees (Something I can easily identify with these days). Also, it is a behavior that is misunderstood by many humans as something to fear.


Nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, the swarm is one of the most elegant and sublime experiences in the natural world. The bees place themselves and their precious queen in an extremely vulnerable position for the possibility of growth. It is the natural expansion of a healthy, thriving, hive. Since there is no honey or brood to protect while they are in transit to their new home, they are actually at their most docile.


The swarm is a symbol of a new beginning.


There is a burst of change as approximately a third of the bees leap from the hive and swirl through the air (usually 30 to 300 yards) and then reconnect in a collective ball around their Queen on a branch of a tree, fence or a car tire. This stop is temporary, so they are not quite as picky as they are with the new permanent home.


Now what?


A process of exploration begins. The eldest of the bees scout out their next home. Possible new locations are found and shared with the others. The incredible waggle dance communicates the locations of the options. More bees go and check out the potentials. And when enough bees agree on a site (some say it is when 51% of the bees agree!), there is a second pulse of movement toward the permanent new home.


The artist in me has been on fire about the bees since the first mural in LaBelle, Florida last year- I couldn’t NOT paint bees even if I tried. Artists don’t really choose what we paint. Something calls to us and we answer. Inspiration and creative growth are not planned. We prepare, but when it comes, we simply go with it. I’ve noticed that my own faith is expanding by painting bees. It occurred to me recently that I believe so strongly in this work that it is actually making me believe in my capacity to expand how deeply I believe! Maybe the Queen leaps to expand the hive’s capacity to believe? Not the most scientific thought I’ve ever had, but whether or not she has expanded the hive’s capacity, she has expanded mine.


I’ve been fascinated with the idea of faith since I was 10 years-old. I wrote an entire screenplay about it in my 30’s… not religious faith… but rather the experience of feeling -and at times ‘knowing’ - that there is something beyond the body that we are all connected to. To figure out faith, one must hover in the vulnerability and  uncertainty of it. The ability to hover in the not knowing- to suspend the practical mind long enough to let another, less grounded, idea take flight- is where faith kicks practicality’s ass every time. I see the bees as tiny connectors between me and the mystery and complexity of the rapidly changing world we live in. Faith, like bees (and art), can be put in a box, but their nature remains unpredictably wild and free despite any type of structure.


The bees, like us, are having a tough time these days. And I see that beautiful flight… that explosive, harrowing leap of expansion… as one of the natural world’s best examples of faith. We all have to take leaps like this in our lives in order to grow… a kid jumping into a pool for the first time… asking someone on a date when rejection is highly possible… going back to school at 40 for something that is not based in money or status... We all leap in our own ways when we are ready to grow.


It has been a year and a half since I started painting murals about bees and it has required a series of spine tingling leaps toward the unknown. I mean, really, paint bees for a living? Who was I kidding? Yet here I am. The thing about a leap of faith is that one might not be enough. Like the bees, the first one may just be necessary to get away from where you were. It may take a second or third leap to see the change you were seeking. I haven’t always landed where I wanted to be this past year… But in hindsight, I keep landing where I need to be(e).


And when I find myself in a clean, lovely room (like right now) where I can sleep and meditate and write and dream about where the initiative should go next, I simply say ‘thank you’ and try as hard as I can to build a hive where I am. And when it is time to move again because another mural is complete, I will take a deep luscious breath of vulnerability, and leap… knowing that although I cannot see the new home yet, it is out there ready and waiting for me.



Matthew WilleyComment