While planning Cultivating Leadership’s semi-annual meeting this spring, the committee settled on a farming theme and threw ourselves into it—planting, fertilizing, harvesting… and then we came across an enticing metaphor: lying fallow. It’s a technique where a usually active field is allowed to rest for a season so that the land can replenish itself. What if our gathering included a day of lying fallow? Our merry band of 60+ colleagues gathers as a whole just twice a year. How would they feel about spending three of our nine precious hours together doing practically nothing? We decided it was a safe-to-fail experiment and ploughed ahead. There was no agenda beyond poetry, meditation, and quiet conversations. Those three hours on Zoom left most everyone feeling rejuvenated. So now I’m wondering what lying fallow means for me. What might it enable?
I have spent my life DOING things. In school I got great grades and was the president of clubs. I embarked on a non-profit career, working so hard while being paid almost nothing, then working harder while paid a little more. I tracked my unpaid overtime and gazed upon it with pride and exhaustion. At home, I made dinner for my family. I cleaned the house. I threw elaborate parties for my friends and their friends and a handful of people I swear just wandered in off the street.
And then I couldn’t. Can’t, really. Multiple Sclerosis weakened my body and slowed my brain, forcing me to do less. So much of what is written about MS, and well-being in general, is about doing. Take your medications. Exercise. Eat a healthy diet. Even the directive to get enough sleep feels weirdly active. How does one get sleep exactly? I think we could all benefit from a shift in mindset. From a to-do list to a do-nothing non-list. (This may need a rebrand.)
My current favorite way to do nothing is Yoga Nidra, which I seek out with the enthusiasm and joy with which I once pursued sex. When I lie down and a soothing voice names parts of my body “top of head, eyes, the space between your eyes” I find a peace I rarely encounter in life. In those moments I ease into myself in a way that is impossible when I’m upright. My brain only occasionally whispers “don’t forget to text your client” before settling back into my body. Briefly I just am. A body and mind unified for a few fleeting minutes.
That blissful surrender isn’t always possible or practical, though, so I am seeking other, smaller ways to replenish myself, to just be. My colleague Leanne introduced me to the practice of falling still throughout the day, drawn from something her kid’s school does (oh to grow up in New Zealand!). It’s a sort of mini meditation where you simply ground yourself in the moment and breathe. I started to write “it’s a speedy battery recharge,” and, while that is true, it misses the point. It is a moment of rest, perhaps in the middle of non-restful things, to check in on your body and mind and acknowledge their importance. To just be.
So I have shifted from a do-nothing non-list to a being list. It includes massages, which are a necessary part of caring for spastic muscles but also provide a semi-blissful/semi-painful ninety minute break from life. I’ve started two of three days this week with agenda-less conversations with work colleagues, and those chats fed my soul without checking anything off of a list. I’ve realized reading poetry takes less time than scrolling through Facebook and is a beautiful way to just be.
A wonderful thing about MS fatigue, for me at least, is that it’s never forever. Sure, I never truly have pep in my step, but if I am exhausted from overdoing it in the kitchen or on the stationary bike or just in life, if I rest a while, I can recover. As someone recently pointed out to me, the word “rest” comes from “restoration.” It can return us to where we were and where want to be. So how can we seek fallowness without adding “be fallow” to our to-do lists? I don’t know for sure, but I am enjoying more directionless morning conversations. I have several poetry books on my desk at the ready when I need a break. And I am reminding myself of the value of rest.
What about you? How do you find your fallow?
Many thanks to Chantal Below, Cornelis Tanis, and Gayle Karen Young for their input on this piece, which was originally posted at https://www.cultivatingleadership.com/whole-self/2021/05/finding-my-fallow