The Fallow Field: The Virtue of Doing Nothing
I’ve been spending a lot of my evenings lately sitting at home watching Netflix.
Not very romantic, I know. On these evenings, after long days of meetings, teaching, yoga, meditation, writing and all the rest of it, I think, shouldn’t I be doing something more productive with my life—or at least more interesting?
We live in a world that privileges work, productivity, and speed, so when I take the time to do nothing in particular, I feel guilty. I am not carpe-ing any diems here. So why do I feel such a strong need to sit on my couch and watch TV shows from the early nineties?
I think it’s for the same reason growing fields need to sometimes lie fallow. Farmers will occasionally plough a field that normally grows a crop like corn or wheat, and simply not seed it for that growing season. The blank, unseeded space is a “fallow field.”
During this time of apparently nothing, the soil is regenerating, and restoring its fertility so that by next season it will be ready to grow. The farmers don’t treat the soil, inject it with fertilizers, plant better seeds, or poke at it with a magic wand. They just get out of the way.
We want so much to have control over our lives, our health, and our happiness. In the yoga and wellness communities, we have lots of extra tools that we can’t find in conventional medicine. So what do we do? We constantly mess around with our physical issues and mental health—at the expense of the simple, humbling medicine of just getting out of the way.
A yoga teacher friend of mine had a pain in her shoulder, and she had learned all these fabulous techniques to help to release it. She was stretching it, strengthening it, rolling on it with a dowel, lying on golf balls, anything she could think of. After months of incessant pain, she finally went to see her doctor about it who asked, “Have you let it rest?”
We are a culture of human doings, not human beings. We are not in the habit of taking time off to let the body and mind do their mysterious internal work. Have you ever tried going to a coffee shop alone and drinking the coffee—maybe just looking out the window? You feel like a whack-a-mole lifting your head in that sea of noses buried in smartphones, newspapers, and laptops.
It’s hard to trust that just because you can’t see growth or change doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. My writing, for example, benefits greatly when I leave it for a few hours to think about other things. Ideas come to me while I’m walking the dog or taking a dance class. Giving my instincts a chance to talk to me passively can be helpful. Sometimes it’s also a little scary: if I give myself the space to think and feel properly, I might discover that I need to change something.
So sleep late, watch a dumb movie, stare out the window, or go for a walk. Taking the time to lie fallow, whether it’s a few minutes at the end of the day, or months of quiet after a stressful or traumatic event, can regenerate your creativity, energy, and whatever else you may not even know that you need. Trust your fallow field, and it will be ready when the growing season comes.