For the Honeybee, winter is a time of turning inward, protecting and caring for the queen, and long periods of stillness. Even on the coldest and darkest days of the year, hidden away within their hives, the bees are still one of my greatest teachers.
For most people, what happens inside a beehive in the winter is a complete and total mystery. I hope to give you a window into their world and help you begin to decipher the wisdom the bees have to offer us, and to our own Inner Hives.
First, the facts…
When the days become darker and colder, there are no longer flowers to pollinate or nectar to drink, the bees must draw into the hive. The thousands of bees that make up a colony form a tight cluster around their queen, to protect and care for her all winter long. They must ensure she survives the winter, at all costs. The future of the colony depends on it.
While clustered together the bees rotate from the outside of the cluster in, taking turns warming themselves then returning to the outer protective layer. The more the temperature outside drops the tighter the bees will huddle together to prevent heat loss. At their most condensed formation of the cluster, the outer most layer of bees is nearly as insulated as a bird’s feathers.
When bees are on the outside of the cluster where it is coldest, they can at times become virtually motionless as their organs slow down, and they may appear to be dead. However, while there is no visible movement, metabolic activity continues to turn honey into energy causing the bees flight muscles (which at this point the bees have intentionally detached from their wings) to shiver. Because bees have the ability to unhook their wings from these flight muscles while in the hive, their wings lay flat along their bodies despite the pumping of their flight muscles. For a healthy, good sized colony, this contracting and relaxing of the flight muscles has the ability to generate enough warmth to keep the center of the cluster at about 90-95 degrees. Keeping the colony, and most importantly, the Queen alive even when the air outside is frigid.
In order for the bees to continue generating heat all winter long, they need to have access to enough honey. When the temperatures in the winter remain low for long periods of time, the bees risk eating all of the honey close to their cluster and due to the low temperatures cannot break up their cluster (the risk of losing heat and freezing is too great) in order to reach fresh honey stores. For this reason is very important that the bees conserve their energy in case the air temperature should remain low for weeks at a time. To achieve this, the bees will alter the O2 and CO2 content with in the cluster which lowers their metabolic rate. As humans, we could not survive in this environment. It is also believed that bees will hold their breath for up to a day at a time to limit the amount of water their bodies lose through respiration. This is important because the bees do not have a source of water in the winter and they need to conserve as much as possible.
While bees have the ability to generate heat with their flight muscles they are actually cold blooded and therefore their body temperature is influenced by the ambient temperature in the hive. If it gets so cold in the hive, that a bees’ body drops below 44 degrees Fahrenheit the bee will enter a chill induced coma. If a bee remains in a coma, after a few days the be bee will die. However, if the temperature warms soon enough the bee will regain her normal functioning and seemingly appear to come back to life.
In the late winter as the earth begins to thaw, and it is weather is warm enough in the hive, the colony is able to break up their cluster and move around their hive freely, and the bees will begin to prepare for spring. The queen will even start to lay eggs again and new life is brought to the hive.
Wisdom for your Inner Hive…
For the honeybee, winter is a time of turning inward, and long periods of stillness.
As humans we draw inside our homes but I believe it’s important that we take it a step further and go within, that we allow both our bodies and mind’s to become still. When we become still we rejuvenate, and we reflect. We quiet the chatter and clear away the distractions that may be pulling our focus away from what is most important, nurturing the core of who we are, which I lovingly refer to as our Inner Queens.
Stillness is definitely something a lot of us struggle with, I can admit that I do. It’s easy to mistake stillness for stagnation but just like the bees who are completely motionless, something is still happening. Energy is flowing to their flight muscles and providing just what they all need, heat. When we go into stillness, intentional, purposeful stillness, it allows energy to flow without effort, just like it does for the bees and in doing so they protect their most precious asset-the queen.
In order for the colony to protect the queen it is imperative that they conserve their energy and literally their breath. In the winter our Inner Queens need us to do the same, to conserve our energy so that some of it is reserved to care for her.
One thing I do want to be clear on is that stillness is different than freezing. Freezing is out of our control, it’s out of the bees control and being frozen too long can lead to death for the bee. We want to be in the space where, while in a space of mental and or physical stillness, subtle energy flows effortlessly and we not immobilized.
During the winter the queen bee allows herself to be totally and completely cared for. How many of us ever allow ourselves to be completely taken care of? It’s an art and a skill worthy of mastery. The rest of the year the queen gives everything of her body, laying as many as 2,000’s of eggs a day, but in the winter it is her time to rest and be nurtured by her daughters, which she gracefully accepts. For us, maybe being taken care of doesn’t even mean being cared for by another, maybe it’s that we just take total and complete care of ourselves. That we, and the Inner Queen become the ultimate priority even for an hour or two at a time.
Allow yourself to consider what this would mean for you to totally and completely care for yourself even a hour a day?
At this time of stillness and deep care for ourselves it is important to consider your surrounding, both physical, energetic, as well as the people you choose to have around you. Just like the cold-blooded bee who is completely at the mercy of her surrounding temperature-energetically we are not so different.
In these moments of deep care where do you want to be?
What do you want to have surrounding you?
Who do you want to be with?
The underlying question to be asking is what would feel the most nourishing, loving and delicious to my Inner Queen!
When the queen bee and the Inner Queen are nurtured they emerge from this time of stillness, strong an vibrant. The queen who allows herself to be cared for is then ready to bring her purpose into the world. By the end of winter, before spring has even begun she is ready to bring new energy and new life into the hive and in doing so she ensures the survival of the entire colony.
If you too allowed yourself this time of rest and care, what might you have the energy and the strength to bring into the world?
A good friend of mine pointed out, that while many of us are impacted by the seasons and the weather, the time that we may need this wisdom from the wintering hive of drawing inward, into stillness, and deep care for ourselves may be in the spring, or summer or fall. It’s important, regardless of the season, to listen to our bodies, our Inner Hives and our Inner Queens and honor whatever it is we need at this moment in time.
Hello, I’m Caitlin Bosshart! Life coach for the multi-passionate at heart and wedding coach for couples planning non-traditional weddings! I believe that no one should settle for less than a life that lights them up, ignites their passions and allows them to be, their most vibrant authentic selves.
To learn more about how we can work together, visit: CaitlinBosshart.com
To schedule a free discovery session for multi-passionate coaching or wedding coaching, email me at LifeCoaching@caitlinbosshart.com !
This is so beautiful – the imagery evoked from the metaphor of the inner workings of the hive help put some things in perspective for me! I definitely want to do a session!