Dorothy MacLean and Bill McKibben: Bee the Change

By conference convener, Stephanie Mines.

Dorothy on her 99th birthday (left) and with Stephanie (right).

In honour of the Findhorn community’s co-founder, Dorothy MacLean who celebrated her 99th Birthday on January 7, 2019, I feel moved to acknowledge her prophetic voice and inspiration for Climate Change & Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth. Dorothy’s advocacy for practical, common sense environmental activism reminds me in its tone and vigour of Bill McKibben’s no-nonsense mentorship. Dorothy and Bill share the recognition that bees, both in their vulnerability and in their perseverance, are dynamic signposts for what we need to catalyse in this sliver of time that we have to insure a habitable world for future generations. The bright productivity and insistent sounds of bees and their intense sweet hibernation make them the poster insects for a climate changing world.

“Bees have a history of being interbred,” Dorothy MacLean wrote, “of being moved around, of being treated in ways that are helpful to humans but inconsiderate of whether the bees themselves are being supported. They have been given pesticides which have proved lethal to them in various ways; some chemicals, for example, prevent them from remembering their colony’s location and cause them to get lost. Fungal growth has been found in bees’ guts which may produce toxins strong enough to kill young bees.” Bees are the insect refugees of the world and like other climate refugees their fate mirrors the fate of all of us.

CCC19 presenter Bill McKibben, author of Oil and Honey, and Dorothy MacLean walk their talk, simply and directly. They are both storytellers. When I saw Dorothy at Findhorn in the autumn of 2018 I asked her how she remained so buoyant and resilient. “I have fun with words,” she replied and I burst out laughing. What a perfect answer, I thought. I noted that it reveals how akin to Bill McKibben, another wordsmith, she is.

Oil and Honey was inspired, in part, by a man named Kirk Webster who Bill met serendipitously and who educated him about bees. Bill identifies strongly as a writer but the environmental crisis switched the emphasis in his self-understanding from writer-activist to activist. Kirk Webster offered Bill respite from the gruelling demands of activism through beekeeping, He also ignited Bill’s decision to purchase land so that Kirk could continue his meditative occupation with a thriving, stable apiary and beyond that, teach beekeeping to young people. Bill made this purchase just as stepped into organising the seminal protest of the Keystone Pipeline.

“I was pretending,” he says in Oil and Honey, “to be a writer who helped with activism. But then I picked a tough, visible fight with the strongest possible adversaries on the biggest political stage of the world. I miss, sometimes desperately, the other me; the one who knew so much about reason and beauty and very little about power; the one with time to think. But time, I know, is what we are lacking.”

By telling Kirk’s story in Oil and Honey, Bill McKibben provides a moving iteration of the classic tale of how hardship paves the way for awakening. This is our repeated cautionary tale. From poverty and injury Kirk found beekeeping and now beekeeping sustains him, sustains future generations, and even sustains Bill McKibben who finds sanctuary amongst the bees on the farm that he purchased for Kirk and which Bill’s own daughter will someday inherit. “The sum total of these kinds of small shifts,” Bill points out, “will be a different civilisation; one that honours, as the bees do, teamwork and solitude.”

While Kirk was able to build the barn and the apiary on the land that Bill McKibben purchased, Bill himself was building another hive:  the activist movement that is now Bill harvested a different kind of honey from his human hive: the sweetness of speaking truth to power. Power, Bill McKibben teaches us, is not in money but in the currency of a movement that operates with passion and creativity and that is not afraid to work relentlessly. “If you build a movement,” Bill says, “you have to put it to work.” This is the rich, nitty-gritty juice that spells motivation.

There are many forms of activism that we can engage with passionately and creatively at this unprecedented time. We need all of them. Bill is the master teacher of environmental political activism; Dorothy MacLean is the queen of subtle activism. When I attended the Co-Creative Spirituality Conference at Findhorn in September 2018 I met Gelda MacGregor who tends the bees, including Dorothy’s hive. Gelda maintains the tradition that Dorothy articulates of attuning to the bees. She sings to them in Gaelic, names each one and talks to them about everything she is doing. She learned this from Dorothy’s model. Dorothy’s instructions for subtle activism for bees can be incorporated and fused with political activism as the two can easily co-exist.

Dorothy MacLean’s Subtle Activism for Bees

“The core of this meditation for the bees is a particular sentence, an invocation.  You could even call it a mantra. When I do this meditation in the mornings I often vary the sentences. On your own, you will of course find your own natural expression.”

“The mantra I repeat is ‘The successful functioning of bees on the planet is a vital need.  Let us choose to invoke and send the vast loving power of our inner divinity to bring about the successful functioning of bees here and throughout the world…. spreading joy everywhere.’”

“It needs a miracle to bring about the successful functioning of bees in the world.  As we humans are the initiators of change, we can choose to evoke miracles. Let us choose now to evoke the miracle needed to help the bees.”  

The uniqueness of Climate Change & Consciousness: Our Legacy for the Earth is that it is a synthesis of all the forms of activism that are needed today. It is a synthesis of sectors, voices, people, nature spirits, emotions, human and subtle energies, animal, insect and spiritual worlds, and every aspect of being that has faith in our potential. The miraculous abilities that are synthesised both on the ground and through what I call the life-streaming (aka live-streaming) communities that will assemble during Climate Change & Consciousness is an uprising of active hope to demonstrate what Anne Frank, whose spirit survives catastrophe, told us: “Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness.”

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