Beesnest • 5 July 2010

Bees in the eves. We smashed up their nest, which appeared in the corner of a high gable the same evening I read Nick Flynn’s cycle of bee poems.

Narasimhan says insect homocides describe the margin of violence natural to householding, so there’s no reason to get dramatic about it. But destroying the nest felt cruel, like forced relocation. I thought of the Trail of Tears, which always comes up the first week in July, one way or another.

The bees rebuilt inside the walls. So much for walls.

Now they appear in the bedroom, navigating whatever microchannels the cold uses to find me in winter. If we stop the killing, which I often do because they’re harmless and beautiful, there are a dozen crawling on the globe light by evening. Flynn’s third bee poem, Hive goes:

Once we filled an entire house with it/ built the comb between floorboard/ and joist, slowly at first, the constant/ buzz kept the owners awake/ then louder, until the honey began to seep/ from the walls, swell/ the doorframes./ Our gift./ The had to burn the house down/ to rid us.

I notice it like this this, and don’t fight it, because I am also feeling benignly infiltrated by Owl Whisperer. More than the familiar few ounces’ weight of a teacher on my shoulder, this is like having my over-all boundary of self palpated or even tickled until I feel the whole membrane of me. By bees? Bark beetles? I don’t know, some hive-minded creature. I could experience this as torture, but instead it’s a little bit freeing.

We had a talk about method, Whisperer and I. How much backstory should I give when I introduce a new character or theme? Even though I’m learning to relax in to a stream of consciousness to expose channels I myself can’t see, it still feels rude to drop new material without preface. This is how narcissists and Advaita-people talk, because they don’t recognize the subjectivity of others—because they operate as if their little subjectivity is Consciousness Itself.

Still, I don’t want to fall in to preparing for session. Turns out It’s normal to rehearse a persona to offer to your therapist. Sometimes, analysands do this to try to care for the therapist (care for themselves) on an existential level. Consistency of persona is a gift to others: It’s ontologically gauche to change up your personality midrelationship.

But preparing solidifies my rationales and makes the work too slow. I hate working hard instead of smart. For now, what seems to be most efficient is to put my emoting, projecting, planning, remembering, ultimately defensive and selfy mind at bay for a few hours until Owl Whisperer says the invocation. “Is there anything you’d like to talk about today?” No. I mean yes.

Another strategy. Karen and I have been talking about what to do when you come to a block in relationship. About mechanisms to create space when point of view and negative emotion are becoming solid. What if, just before you turn to stone, you reach in and find some really vulnerable thing? If I get really curious in a moment of anger or (more often for me) extreme impatience, very good information is available. Sometimes just by offering the other person a bit of that information—giving up something true rather than closing off the fight—the interaction softens up.

Anyway. The Fourth of July is like Purim this year. Much of the professorate has family cottages—Martha’s Vineyard, Mackinaw Island, Telluride. But a few of us have other kinds of high summer associations. Today, among PhDs from humbler backgrounds, I will put vegan corn dogs on our tiny grill, and one of the greatest economic minds of her generation will match them with the low-brow no-bake cookies that are Iowa’s idea of a family recipe. There is firebrand sex researcher who’s inherited a Ford extended cab truck that she usually keeps hidden: later we may take it to Ypsilanti for the Camaro Superfest. No irony, no satire. Just a little honest Americana. One day in 360, that mostly unfelt part of me loves to express itself.

When it’s hot around here, the air is so heavy. For now we’ll sit under the trees crunching ice and talking slow until the fireflies and firecrackers switch another Fourth of July over to night.


  • Posted 5 July 2010 at 3:00 am | #

    I couldn’t tell if you meant teaching ‘talk’ or therapy ‘talk’! I like very much the idea of using something vulnerable, it has been a two month practice for me. It is unusual in its unforseen bounty. Though I would not use it in teaching so readily, I do use it in relationships, as long as hard anger has not entrenched. Then it’s a bitter struggle. That then needs therapy! 🙂

  • Posted 5 July 2010 at 12:15 pm | #

    That most recent Buddhist Geeks episode addresses the intentions of eastern practices vs. western therapies (hint: the former are not designed to sort out the self that gets all gummed up in interpersonal relationships). Really interesting to think about it that way! Yes, you can have a great practice and still be a pain in the ass (and/or cause yourself all kinds of suffering). I guess this is kinda good news/bad news — all those pains in the ass running around; but on the upside, just says no to false piousness (i.e., zen lobotomy).

  • R
    Posted 5 July 2010 at 1:49 pm | #

    You ARE esoteric! You operate on a 360 day calendar?!?

  • Posted 5 July 2010 at 4:38 pm | #

    Just put 600-odd pages of filtered Yogananda in my head, so the Vedanta bit about “their little subjectivity for Consciousness” is positively electric! Everybody’s gone but me, now THAT’s Consciousness, baby! Yeah, back to your existentialism post, eh? It would be a challenge to get things more precisely inside out :O

    Recently I rediscovered that what other people believe is actually TRUE (for them) and so truth debates are all silly. “Why can’t I blah blah my interpersonal blah blah?” Because that’s an attempt sometimes to make one truth true for two people and it doesn’t work that way. Ok, talking to myself. Must sign off.

  • Posted 5 July 2010 at 4:56 pm | #

    No, RPK, this makes sense. And it relates to whan Karen said. And to what ESJ said at the end of the penultimate post. (There’s an abridged ver. of Autibiography read by Ben Kingsley on abt 20 CDs, btw. Highly amusing. Public libraries have it.)

    I only got to listen to the first 15 min of Welwood’s podcast discussion so far, but his provisional, practical typology of selves is simple and feels accurate. Basically, he sees his therapy patients falling in to three broad definitions of self. 1. Myself = subjective interiority, the psyche. 2. Myself = my relationships, i.e., intersubjectivity. 3. Myself = my spiritual life or transcendent experiences. Individuals tend focus on and cultivate one or two of the three. Thus people get highly developed on one dimension, but a bit retarded in the others. For example, Ashtangis are great at 3 and relatively clueless at 1. Academics are quite good at 2 but usually think 3 is for idealists and 1 is somewhat terrifying if examined too closely. 🙂

    R, oops. Years SHOULD have 360 days though. Then they would be more like circles. I forget they are elliptical. And that our years actually have 417 days each.

    I’ve only been able to see how the vulnerability practice works because people have used it successfully on me. Showing your aces is a bold damn move.

    Here is more from Blind Huber. There is so much poetry and good metaphor about bees (my favorite), but this is some of the most grotesque, affecting, erotic and lastingly beautiful bee imagery ever. Reading these poems, I saw how bee sexuality and worklife are kind of the same process. Flynn gets in to the “mind” of the bee queen in the creepiest way. Reading the poems is even more affecting than waking up to clumps of bees crawling all over each other in the nooks of my bedroom.

  • Posted 5 July 2010 at 7:17 pm | #

    This bit on bees is the email signature of a beloved of mine:

    To Make a Prairie it takes
    One Clover and a Bee,
    A Clover and one Bee,
    and reverie.
    The reverie
    Alone will do
    if Bees are few.
    Emily Dickinson

    Mystical graffiti? For me, where both psyche and poetry are concerned, ED permeates the walls as your bees do.

  • Posted 6 July 2010 at 2:56 am | #

    I had a therapist who said that one doesn’t go to therapy in order to eventually write a book. I still believe she was wrong.

  • Tara
    Posted 6 July 2010 at 10:36 am | #

    I love Nick Flynn

  • Posted 6 July 2010 at 2:14 pm | #

    Ahh! Too little time before taking off tomorrow for places far away and new adventures, BUT:

    Hell yes to that comment you pointed me to; that bit about tranquilizing and feedback from the social? Is freakish spot-on! I have so much crap in my head about Gita, gunas, action, and so much re-envisioning of my own writing/being since 2008, and no time in which to do any of it. Pfft!

    Yes: ashtangis good at 3, academics good at 2. I wonder if parenting makes one good at 1. In a way, that’s the whole question right there. Later I’ll get verbose and try to hit this.

  • Posted 6 July 2010 at 3:38 pm | #

    I’m gonna enrage the anti-shrink contingent, I’m sure, but to get good at #1, you work with a very good shrink (and yes, I am tempted to go for broke and stipulate it be a psychoanalyst…). Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between, if you really look around.

  • Posted 6 July 2010 at 11:24 pm | #

    The bees, usually buzzing all around the windows during the day, were nowhere to be seen today. I wonder if the heat has chased them in to the little forest behind the house?

    Kara, that is hilarious.
    Sara, I think the answer is yes.
    Tara, nice emoticon!

  • Posted 7 July 2010 at 2:02 am | #

    Ok, I wrote this huge comment but then had a spontaneous nervous system freak-out due to the way that the house fans were making the whole building and my body vibrate. For some reason, the vibration and sound of fans is like fingernails on a blackboard to me. Anyway, I sort of lost my composure for a minute there, and with it went all these thoughts about cognitive behavioral versus psychoanalytic stuff, my non-interest in counter-analyzing owl whisperer, and how much I enjoy Karen’s bold statement.

    I have argued in the past that it doesn’t matter if a therapist is smart. We flatter ourselves to believe we’re all so terribly complex that it will take a genius to tease out our canny psyche, or so the argument goes. Rather, I’ve tried to say, any idiot following a method can get us to sort out the really major projections and neuroses and stuff, the same way any idiot can do successful ethnographic research and any idiot can teach a very effective Bikram yoga class… if they all just faithfully follow the method.

    Is this complete nonsense on my part?

    It is interesting that Welwood – an insightful, empathetic but somewhat heartbroken guy, from the sound of him – also says that good therapists are hard to find. Is he being cynical? I don’t have any idea what he means by that. But… I have heard about a lot of therapists whose method is to listen, give practical advice and tips for self-care, and maybe satisfy basic emotional desires for encouragement or sympathy. That seems very good— my only personal objection is that it would be boring.

    Is it more than an aesthetic value that I prefer something extremely challenging and focused on results? Isn’t any therapy good therapy, insofar as subjects use it intelligently to generate feedback? Or are dumb therapists actually doing some sort of disservice?

    I actually have no idea. Would be interested in more discussion of what it takes for therapy to foster personal growth.

  • Posted 7 July 2010 at 2:04 am | #

    Oh. Welwood podcast. And classic book, now in reprint.

    Late night, fireflies, wake-up before 5 tomorrow for a trip up to the stealth shala. Excited to be a student in a Mysore room for the morning.

  • Posted 7 July 2010 at 2:18 am | #

    I’ve always done all my own therapy except for about three weeks in January 2003 that left me so underimpressed that that’s all I’m going to say about it. The main thing that I’ve learned is that I am an exceedingly slippery patient and that my capacity for self-deception is freaking MASSIVE.

    For me the best stimulator of active and actual personal growth has always been immense, incredible pain. The kind you can still see when you close your ears and shut your eyes. An experience that forces one to MOVE, to get out of language.

    That, of course, sounds like it doubts the talking cure, but in the same way that one can bend into emotional tense spots, one can talk into them too, revisit something in new language and suddenly have dug in too deep (and productively so). But that language has to come either by accident or by exceptionally well-guided purpose.

  • Karen
    Posted 7 July 2010 at 2:46 am | #

    Ooh, just checked: I said “good,” not “smart.” Smart’s nice, but the good I’m thinking about involves the ability to be still enough to be a mirror. Not the mirror of a friend or mentor or lover or even the self — those reflections are busy with beliefs and biases and investments in outcome. The stillness of a good shrink leaves you to tell and listen to the stories that come out of your mouth. Deeply intimate and deeply impersonal.

  • Wombat
    Posted 7 July 2010 at 4:43 am | #

    I agree w Karen. It takes a “good” therapist to create a space where you are forced to speak and listen to the stories you tell about yourself. And, while I think certain aspects of it are mechanical, I suspect there’s more to it.
    I’m amused, Owl, (esp with Karen’s pro-psychoanalysis bait) that you consider yourself results-oriented and yet have chosen analysis, rather than more “modern” modalities. Is this really results-oriented? It strikes me as process-oriented. I’ve only done problem-oriented, cognitive-behavioral-ish therapy myself. My impression of analysis is that it’s much more open-ended and, therefore, scarier.

  • Posted 7 July 2010 at 5:04 am | #

    So jealous.

  • Posted 7 July 2010 at 1:25 pm | #

    like the sequencing of asana, i find the order in which one offers one’s “stories” in the presence of a therapist revelatory as well.

    there is also something crucial in the way a skillful, “good” therapist extracts the essence behind the stream and holds it back out for you to see. i don’t think an idiot is necessarily capable of this.

    fireflies: they levitate without effort AND their asses light up!

  • susananda
    Posted 8 July 2010 at 8:19 pm | #

    Hahaha… thank you Sara for the new perspective on fireflies..

    Bees seem to be the creature of the moment. My mother upset some in the garden the other day and got 4 bites in about a second, had to see the doctor. My not-boyfriend is becoming a beekeeper, under a free scheme (because they are endangered in London). And apparently a swarm made its home under the mosque the other day, across from my hangout. People keep talking about bees to me, and now you! Personally I am just looking forward to some local honey, very beneficial : )

    I’m so envious of your therapy. I always wanted to get analysed, but the thought of ‘counseling’, for instance makes me cringe and want to run.. I also have the belief that the therapist has to be smart.. smarter than me.. shouldn’t be that difficult, lol. And yet I still have this fear of listening to some idiot have opinions on my life and spout platitudes! Torture! I really think that shouldn’t happen with psychoanalysis though, it has a method and rigourous training. Rambling… but glad you’re having a good experience with it and hanging on every word.

  • Posted 9 July 2010 at 2:46 am | #

    Yes, for godsakes their asses light up!

    I’ve been walking most nights at the asslight hour – 8:30-9:30. So impressed by fireflies. I keep trying to put a lid on the rapture, but even amid what’s been an emotionally raw few days (access to previously unknown feeling all at once), the beauty of these evenings is permeating.

    On the way out this evening, I ran in to the Editor on the street in front of our house, his blue eyes blazing like in the baby pictures. Told him this place has never been more gorgeous than it is tonight. He shrugged. But I maintain: I’m not just projecting. These evenings are beyond compare.

    Anyway. Access to stronger emotions is freeing up verbal expression quite a lot. Because I’m surrounded by people who won’t judge me for that (thank you), and because of the yoga training in not taking myself so personally, this is ok. (Otherwise I’d probably feel disoriented.) I can’t imagine going through this week without (1) moral faith in the good of equanimity (radical acceptance of whatever experience) or (2) the basic method of self-soothing the nervous system. Those who have gone through analysis without yoga background both practical and philosophical… that might be excruciating. I enjoy a challenge, but not that much of one, honestly.

    Bees. I keep remembering that line above… if bees are few. That they are few makes them all the more romantic, so it is good that your not-boyfriend is not your boyfriend, Susan. That would be almost as adorable as dating a lighthouse-keeper. Obviously lighthouses have the special benefit of phallic associations (will therapy make me even more aware of words and shapes evocative of penises?), but bees are also very sexual. All those phermones and queen worship, drones whose only act in life is bee-copulation. Wait… do the endangered bees need sex therapy? It’s all coming together.

    Wombat, Karen, about good therapists. Whisperer does not make any kind of prescription. I didn’t expect that. There’s no fixing. It’s almost as if trying to identify and solve “problems” would be a distraction. Problem-solving is the default conceptual framework for most things we do in the world now, but that’s not the orientation for therapeutic method. Odd.

    So… I guess I crassly identified traditional analysis as results-oriented because I expect it to generate self-knowledge. But, I agree it’s a stretch to slot understanding back in to the results/problem-solving framework. As for behavior, will I still be a compulsive gum-chewer next year? No idea.

  • Posted 9 July 2010 at 3:47 pm | #

    Good = NOT prescriptive 🙂

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