Do you ever think about a time when you feel fully alive, fully aware of your surroundings?
Some years ago two colleagues and I conducted a study about awareness, of what makes women feel fully alive. The overarching question that we asked was“ What brings you to life?” Music, dancing, sunrise at the ocean, water rippling over rocks, planting flowers, newborn babies, spending time with good friends, loosing weight, a glass of good wine with dinner, telling family stories and grandchildren, were some of the replies. I confess that most of the responses were no surprise. However one woman, a former English teacher, currently a freelance writer in her early sixties did surprise me. Her answer was “fallow time. ”
I may have expected that answer from a farmer. For the farmer fallow time is a time to let the land rest, a time when no crops are planted. The earth is left completely dormant so that it can restore itself and regenerate the nutrients that make it possible for new life to be planted and spring from it. For the farmer fallow time is cyclical.
The idea of allowing land to lay fallow is not a new idea; the Hebrew Bible enjoins it. When I returned home from my interview with the writer, I checked for the biblical reference. I found it at the beginning of Leviticus 25. There God speaks to Moses telling him to instruct the Israelites: “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field, prune your vineyard and gather in the yield, but the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest….”
But the woman that I interviewed was writer not a farmer. I was intrigued that she told me that fallow time was what brought her to life. I continued to think about her words. Certainly she was aware of the biblical injunction. Surely when she told me that fallow time brought her to life, her statement was a metaphor. Perhaps she takes a sabbath, a time to stop writing, in order restore herself and by restoring self , create new ideas to pour into her next piece of writing. Stopping our for a time may lead her to new pathways for her work and for her life. Without allowing herself time to recharge she might not be able to write at all, at least not for a while.
There is something called an internal landscape. It is something that is in us, but beneath/beyond the body and all of us have one. A song with that title has been written about it, and you can hear internal Landscape on YouTube. It is our internal landscape that knows and benefits from the stillness of fallow time. It knows that in fallow time we can de-stress, reignite when we feel burnt out, and dispel that which deadens.
Since the conclusion of our original research, which the Paulist Press has since published in a book with the title of the original question: “What Brings You to Life, “ I have interviewed a number of creative individuals, visual artists, singers, writers, musicians and actors, all professionals. I asked them about their need for fallow time and defined it as a time when no work gets done, when everything stops, or when they stop doing for a time that which they usually do. I asked them if they see it as time wasted. Almost to a person they replied that it is a time when they begin to feel most intuitive. It seems that with artists as with farmers, fallow time results in greater creativity and increased production.
Things happen when things slow down. We actually may be doing something very important when we a stop doing anything at all. Call it refueling. call it restoration, call it a sabbath or just call it fallow time, it is a time when we are not slaves to the daily grind, doing what we do to earn a living or “just to keep it going. ” It allows us to identify and move away from the things that kill us, like unjust anger, lack of forgiveness, dullness and self-centeredness. And when we move away from that which deadens we clearly see the poetry that is in our souls. Fallow time, it seems, is what gives us the space to hear the music, dance the dance , play with grandchildren, and savor the friendships and the wine, and all those other things that bring us to life.
Lee J. Richmond, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in the State of Maryland. She is a professor emerita of Loyola University Maryland. and former professor of counseling and human development at the John Hopkins University. Additionally, she has been a human resources consultant and leadership development trainer for national and international organizations including the United States Postal Service and Recruit Ltd. Japan. She is widely published in books, monographs and journals. Dr. Richmond is known for blending her interest in the nexus between psychology and spirituality, Dr. Richmond holds a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.