Philosopher, author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader Howard Washington Thurman once said, “There is a fallow time for the spirit when the soul is barren because of sheer exhaustion.”


Here’s where you ask, “What’s ‘fallow’?”  A fallow field is land that a farmer plows but doesn’t cultivate for one or more seasons.  The practice, which dates back to ancient times, helps the soil recover from being used to grow crops.

Historians believe that farmers in the Middle East practiced crop rotation as early as 6,000 B.C.  Letting the fields lie fallow is commended in the Jewish Torah.

The theory is that when you keep planting and planting and planting the same field over and over with the same plants, those plants eat up all the same nutrients until the field is, well…drained.  The nutrients get depleted.  The land gets “tired” and less fertile, the dirt gets hard and susceptible to erosion.  (Think “Dust Bowl.”)

Besides this the bugs figure that you’ve opened a restaurant for them with their favorite food and they start coming in droves.

You can stave off these problems by rotating your crops, planting different crops in the same patch, and even planting crops that have a secondary purpose of helping the soil recover.  Legumes (peas, lentils or beans) help fix nitrogen in the soil and build it back up.  Planting them in the same ground after the oats or whatever are done helps build up the soil a bunch.

Eventually, though, even that strategy just means that even more nutrients get sucked out of the soil.  So, you just have to let the ground rest.

Landscape Plotted and Pieced – Fold, Fallow and Plow by Ann Fisher via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
You can run cows or horses on the resting land and let the wild critters come and live there for a while.  Their manure and other doings help build up and replenish soil fertility.

As a farmer you can add all kinds of amendments to the soil as well, but letting it rest, letting it breathe and live wild for a season or two does seem to work better.

For a while, until the resurgence of the organic farming movement, the ag scientists and experts pooh-poohed the concept of letting the fields lie fallow.  It was so old-fashioned and not-PC (Politically Correct).

We moderns got obsessed with economics and massive productivity.  We also had a lot more people to feed.  Letting some resource just sit there bordered on heretical thinking.

We’re seeing the effects of that in the lessening nutritional value in some of our foods.  We’re getting lots of not-so-good produce and meats because of our food production practices.  Pesticides and chemicals that force growth are a part of our diet as well.  This is not a good thing.


As Makers and as creative sorts, we humans are also all farmers.  The soil we till is our own selves — our talents, our skills and our hearts.

Sometimes, like the productivity-focused modern farmers, we get carried away, working, working, working to produce more and more and more.  Like the punch-drunk boxer in the ring we keep taking the blows on the chin and getting up time and time again, stumbling on unsure of how to proceed, but standing up anyhow.

Then, one day, you just can’t come up with a single, solitary new idea.  One day you are just tired.

You’re tired of the B.S., tired of all the misconceptions, misunderstandings and mis-thises and mis-thats.  You’re tired of going, going, going.  Your body rebels.  Your brain sits there like a lump.  Your heart hurts.

You just “don’t-wanna” any more.

Kuau Sunrise by Anthony Charles via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that sometimes rest is the most productive thing you can do.  [Slowing down lets your heart catch up with your thoughts….]


That’s the time when you need to remember about the fallow fields.  That is when you need to take a break, rest, and feed your soul again with all the other things that make your life worthwhile.

  • Watching your baby smile and hugging the heart-people in your life are good things.
  • Taking a walk and feeling your feet touch the ground is great.
  • Talking to trees and counting stars help.
  • Collecting rainbows is a good thing too.
  • Whatever works.

It is a harrowing time of great fragility and you will probably be feeling very sore.  Your vulnerability rating will probably be off the charts.

And then one day, after you’ve done this stuff for a while, after you’ve slogged through all of your despondencies, an opportunity will come and the field will be ready to work again.

This moving YouTube video is glass-blower J. P. Canlis’s talk at TEDxVail.  It’s titled “What Is Creativity?” and is nominally about how he put together the stage set for the conference.

The night before the talk, he says, he threw out his first speech.  He got up onstage and went with this talk which details the struggle, breakdown, and breakthrough that led to the rejuvenation of his stalled creative work.

And isn’t that a very good thing?

Here’s a poem:



So many times I have said:

“This is me, I can’t change.”

And time and circumstance

Prove me wrong



So many times I have said:

“This is me, take it or leave it.”

And the tides of change

Come sweeping through.



So many times I have said:

“Leave me alone, I am tired.”

And the paradoxes

Keep on pushing



So many times I have said:
“No, I can’t, it’s too much.”

And the me that’s real

Keeps on growing.


By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Furrow and Ridge by Patrick Dalton via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



(Click on each of the post titles below and see where it takes you….)


Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.











17 thoughts on “LYING FALLOW

  1. Matt's Mom says:

    Love the poem, so true. And great parallel. I think we too, like farm fields, need that time to regroup, rethink, do things differently. Everyone needs that time when they can lie fallow and take a break! We all get tired of certain things, we all need to just stop and go a different direction.

    1. Hey Matt’s Mom: Welcome back. Thank you for your visit and your comments. Please do come again….

  2. Insider Growth says:

    Nice blog, and even nice article. They are right when they say you learn something new every day. I never knew farmers did that to their land after so many crops. I even went through and read a few other blog posts as well. What inspired you to write this?

    1. Hey I.G.: Thanks for your visit and for wandering around in the site. I’ve spent years thinking on developing and including meaning and mana (personal power) in my ordinary life. I like the results of that way of walking and wanted to share my discoveries with other people. I hope it makes others aware of the tools that are available to all of us to live a richer and fuller life. (Thanks for asking…)

      Please do come again.

  3. Loved this article, very inspiring and the poem is great! Having lived a city life for most of my life I certainly find now how it was always about going, going, going and not allowing changes or new opportunities in. Not even rest. I value rest now and listen to my body when it needs it and inspect it when it’s just being lazy – it has definitely allowed me to be more creative and happier.

    1. Good for you, Lidia! Thanks for your visit and your story. Please do come again!

  4. Auntie Jo says:

    Hi Netta,
    What a great Article, I have to say I wasn’t convinced in the beginning (I had no idea what I’d stumbled across) but I stuck with it and it’s a lovely article, full of uplifting and inspiring thoughts! Thank you. I particularly liked the part about “feeding your soul again” and I loved the comparison between farming and life in general. I will watch the youtube video now.

    1. Hey Auntie Jo:

      Thanks for your visit and for persevering through my blather.  I am really glad you enjoyed it.

      Please do come again….

  5. Your site is cool. I like that it is dedicated to helping people understand life better. I also love TEDtalks so its great that you have that on your site. How did you come about making this site? Are you a Psychologist or philosophical? Sorry if that sounds sarcastic I’m not trying to be I am actually curious. I really like your site and I hope it gets really popular.

    1. Hey Marlo:  Thank you for your visit and for your questions.  I do appreciate it.

      I’m just a regular confused person trying to understand life my own self.  I’ve tried many things, spent a lot of time thinking my way through dilemmas and learning all kinds of lessons and finding a few things that work well for me.  

      I’m also quite good at playing with words.

      I like thinking on Life-things.  I like discussing them with others and getting their thoughts on things as well.  The blog’s the result of all that.  

      I’m glad you enjoy it and I thank you for your kind words.

      Please do come again….

      1. I’ve re-read my earlier answer to Marlo and find it unsatisfactory. It is true, so I’ll let it stand, but it’s not the Real.

        The Real is that when I was 12 years old, I lost a dear friend who died in a hunting accident. She had just turned 14.

        I was devastated. I kept asking the adults in my life — the ones who were supposed to have all the answers — WHY?

        Their answers were less than satisfactory to me. So, I went looking for my own answers.

        I grew up. I got married. I had kids. I got jobs of one sort or another. I made good friends and tried to avoid making enemies. My husband died when I was 35. I found more love…and so on.

        I have lived an ordinary sort of life. I did play a lot and I helped other people play as well.

        Through it all, I kept looking for the answer to my youthful question. I tried all kinds of ways of walking, thought deeply on things big and small. I took a million notes and I wrote down all of my own theories and conclusions and where they all went.

        Somewhere in there, I realized that nobody could answer that big question posed by Baby-Me: Why do we have to die?

        At some point, the question had morphed into a different one: Since we are going to die, how can we best live?

        For that question, I did find some fairly effective answers after a lot of empirical trial-and-error, experimentation, falling down, getting up, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera….

        Maybe those answers will be useful to other people too.

  6. I have no experience with agriculture but I often think as an urban child to go to live somewhere in the countryside and forget about the fast way of life and the city noise.

    A wonderful title, a wonderful text in which the works are explained in detail for all those who want to be engaged in agriculture and, a great parallel with life and nourishing the soil with our life, our sincerity both physically and spiritually. 


    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Emaku.  I do appreciate it. 

      Please do come again.

  7. Mason Sieloff says:

    Great Website! I have been getting into poems recently and this website is a great tool for me to look into some great poems. 

    I think everyone should use this website to look into poems as well it is a great tool for that purpose and should be used for that purpose.

    Thanks, Mason

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Mason.  I’m pleased you find the website useful.

      Please do come again.

  8. Thank you for using this analogy about letting the land rest. I imagine that the Jews did not understand the scientific explanation of why they should follow this but there was certainly a benefit. There were periods in their history when they did not let the land rest, and they suffered consequences.

    When we are exhausted, we should rest. Period. That is a good recipe for productivity!

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Abel.  I love finding analogies and metaphors that work to explain old concepts that are still useful today.  

      Please do come again.

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