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.  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 are 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]











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8 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….

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