In the Bookshed: Meditation & the Art of Beekeeping

Meditation & the Art of Beekeeping
Mark McGill
Publisher: The Ivy Press (October 31, 2010)

Meditation and the Art of Beekeeping is a charming little volume (only 144 pages) that works on the theme of observation. That is, observation as developed through meditative practice, and observation as used in connecting to the world of bees as an apiarist (beekeeper). Connected through anecdotes and character sketches of his teachers, Mark McGill layers instruction in both beekeeping and meditation throughout, using the structure of seasons both literally (in the case of bees) and figuratively (in the case of developing mindfulness).

Brief and yet reflective, this tract does not attempt to provide a “how-to” for the beginning beekeeper, but an approach to the responsibilities of those who tend to earth’s creatures.

In the first chapter, McGill lays out this thesis:

For a bee-keeper, the challenge is to avoid causing suffering, for both the bee-keeper and the bees. As a bee-keeper, there is also a question of accepting responsibility for the welfare of the bees under my care. How do I avoid causing suffering and carry out my responsibilities? I face the same questions as a father, a husband, a son, a citizen. One way would be to understand why our best-laid plans often seem to go wrong……

Like any task, bee-keeping requires attention, observation and a willingness to learn. From that comes knowledge, skill and accomplishment. What then stands in the way of that? On one level it can be inattention, a lack of observation and a closed mind….. This is where meditation comes in.

This theme, and this tranquil writing style, carries the reader through the four seasons to understand some of the perils and pleasures in beekeeping, and what various observations might tell the beekeeper about hive health and productivity. The zen parables throughout underscore the importance of training the mind, while the meditation instruction gives some practical insight into how to cultivate this state of being.

Really, it’s an interesting instructional combination, guiding the reader towards increasing understanding and appreciation of the natural world, its critters and its cycles. The book itself is attractive and approachable, making it a precious gift for the beekeepers and Buddhists alike.

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