Greater than the Sum of Its Parts: Depth Psychology and the Honeybee Hive
(The Story of Depth Psychology Alliance)
Originally published March 5, 2015 on the
Pacifica Graduate Institute Alumni Association web site
One glorious late spring day on Pacifica’s Ladera Campus I witnessed a humming, writhing, vibrant swarm of honeybees on a bougainvillea bush. It stopped me in my tracks, entrancing me with the sheer number and proximity of bees buzzing around what seemed to be a living, breathing organ that almost pulsed with power—what turned out to be, in the end, a mass of bees itself. It is no wonder that the beehive is known as a superorganism, more than the sum of its individual parts.
I have been fascinated by honeybees since the first warning signs of an alarming phenomenon taking place in the natural world—a problem that came to be called “Colony Collapse Disorder.” In 2006, a significant number of beekeepers began reporting finding their hives unexpectedly empty, except for the queen and a handful of her attendants. To the great bewilderment and concern of scientists, the majority of the bees appeared to be vanishing without a trace.
Captivated as I was by this inexplicable disappearance of the honeybees, I set out to research it in depth, ultimately writing my Master’s thesis in depth psychology about the symbolic nature of bees and the significance of Colony Collapse Disorder, a theme I expanded to the notion of Culture Collapse Disorder when it came time to write my doctoral dissertation at Pacifica. My conclusions ultimately focused on the problem of separation and its implications. In Colony Collapse Disorder, bees seem to become disoriented and unable to go home to the hive. Their failure to return is a virtual death sentence for the individual bees, who are unlikely to live through the night when their wings grow too cold to carry them, and they are left alone, vulnerable, and unable to fend for themselves. It is also signals a death knell for the hive which, as more bees go out to forage and fail to return, grows empty and cold, no longer able to sustain itself as a buzzing, vibrant lifeforce—both a container for and a source of life.
In contemporary western culture, humans, too, suffer from separation—the loss of connection to a larger web of meaning embodied by nature and enlivened by our now-forgotten ties to the sacred that was once the domain of our ancestors. While Jung, Hillman, and others have gone to great lengths to illustrate that there is no separation between us and the sacred; that we are an integral part of the profound patterns of nature and soul, the often unconscious but profound sense of grief and anxiety we experience has left us to our own devices as we attempt to cope with perception of being separated from the divine source that sustains us. As a result, our culture has collectively tried to mitigate our despair through denial and dissociation, with many of our numbers turning to coping mechanisms such as consumerism, addiction, or the pursuit of power to try and fill the empty void and numb our pain of being lost from the hive.
When I landed at Pacifica, I felt I had come home to a hive of sorts. The concepts of depth psychology, the remarkable courses and excellent professors that opened my mind more with every session, and my amazing cohort all served to provide a container where I felt I truly belonged. It was as I was sitting in a pivotal discussion with my cohort somewhere in my second year of coursework that I recognized there was a need for a hive with a global reach, a place that could serve as a hub for depth psychology ideas and activity, where people could step into a role in a community that had meaning for them, be sheltered, welcomed, enlivened, and fulfilled as they sought, with others, to peel the layers of ego and cultural conditioning and come to a greater understanding of self and world. There was a need for a place to go where we could all make sense of the pervasive chaos and disorientation; the sense of impending planetary and cultural crisis. There was a call to create a homeplace where we could each belong where-ever we found ourselves on the journey. There was a need for a place that would serve as both a container and a lifeforce where we could respond to the call of the depths, whether discovering them for the first time or pursuing a vocation in the field. With that, Depth Psychology Alliance was born.
Since I founded it in late 2010, over 5300 members have joined the online community of Depth Psychology Alliance, each with a unique set of curiosities, offerings, and contributions to make. Like bees in the hive who each fulfill a role (nurse bees, worker bees, guard bees, honeymakers, and attendants to the queen, among them), some members post blogs, many offer or post events so others can find them, others post their art, or share links to meaningful articles they find on the web. Many, many more come for inspiration, connection, and to immerse themselves in the hive energy. Bees in the hive work together to warm the hive by fanning their wings; so too, I believe, we can collaborate together as likeminded souls to generate the alchemical heat we need to help us each thrive in our respective roles and keep the depth psychology fires burning. It was with this vision that I embedded a subtle image of the hive in the logo, and invoked the bees to sanction the endeavor.
When I first set up the Alliance, it was quiet. My cohort members joined, but little happened for months. In spite of having a vision of what the Alliance could be, I identified myself as an fairly extreme introvert. Ultimately I realized that stepping out from the shadows and allowing myself to be “seen” was eventually the only way to start generating content and discussion on the site. There was a role I needed to fulfill to help the hive thrive, and I had to trust something bigger was at work. Once I stepped over the threshold, others joined in and the hive began to hum.
Not long afterward, I created Depth Insights scholarly eZine, which also features the symbol of a bee in its logo, so the hive could have a voice for those who feel called to contribute their ideas through essays, poetry, and art. I started interviewing authors and depth psychology practitioners and made the podcasts available to the community. I instigated a book club where, for a full year, a different author tended the online book club each month via a written forum. I put an invitation out and was rewarded with a board of extraordinary people who have engaged wholeheartedly in listening to this new hive, to find out how it wants to grow. Moving forward, I feel ideas coalescing, swarming, ready to be recognized and welcomed so the Alliance can truly serve as a shelter and an incubator in which people can both tend to the mission of increasing their own consciousness, but also support others in the call as soul stewards who have much to offer but could use some support, insight, collaboration to build their offerings in the world.
I had never heard of depth psychology years ago when I first “discovered” it, yet it rapidly and irrevocably changed my life. Imagine how it can thrive in a community of likeminded others, perpetuating its reach far and wide as we individual bees bring the nectar of our daily foragings for knowledge and experience home to the hive, collectively make honey to nourish each other, and then go back out again in an eternal cycle where each foray that pollinates new blooms. Our indigenous ancestors and earth-based peoples certainly know something about the power of community. Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh suggested that the next Buddha may be a community and not an individual.1 In the end, what better way to tend the soul of the world than working, learning, and dreaming together where our individual wisdom can be so much greater than the sum of its parts?
1Thích Nhất Hạnh. Tricycle, 2008. Retrieved from http://www.tricycle.com/insights/fertile-soil-sangha
Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, a free online community for everyone interested in Jungian and depth psychologies, Depth Insights, a media production company that offers a scholarly eZine, radio podcasts, and educational webinars. She holds M.A. degrees in Psychology from Sonoma State University and in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA, where she also recently completed her PhD. She finished a 2 1/2 year training with African elder Malidoma Somé in Technologies of the Sacred, graduated from a 2-year certificate program in Archetypal Pattern Analysis via Assisi Institute, and has trained extensively in the Enneagram and in Holotropic Breathwork.