on fallowness

The laundry sat in a large pile in my office for months. A large yellow and blue tablecloth bunched up on top of three new bedspreads. All I had to do was walk the pile down a flight of stairs, put it in the washing machine, and hit the start button. But there it sat.

It was in good company. There was a huge cardboard box with a new kitchen pot the size of a bird bath, all shiny grooved aluminum wrapped loosely in a plastic bag. One day, in an effort to tidy things up, I put the tablecloth in the box. So now I had a large box, dirty tablecloth overflowing its banks, and also a pile of bedspreads. Oh, and there was the stack of archival photographs of the monastery that had been sitting in the corner, on top of a plant caddy, for over a year. And the radeon gas test on my desk. I think that one had only been sitting there for a few months. And the plaque for my father’s place in our columbarium. That one was there for closer to a year.

You get the idea.

I don’t know where the energy came from. But one day, I realized I’d had enough with the laundry. I gathered it up in my arms, walked it down the stairs, and stuffed it into the washing machine. I put in the detergent. I hit the start button, which looks like a play button. I walked back up the stairs. I took the birdbath pot out of the cardboard box, cut the sides of the box, and put it in the recycling dumptster.

Then I really got the cleaning bug. I dusted. I took out the trash and the recycling. I returned the archival photos to the archive. I vacuumed.

I spent a few hours watching videos on YouTube about cable management. Then I cable managed. I asked Tim about the radeon gas test, and we made a plan. I called my dad’s sister to find out his birth year, then I took the plaque to the engraver. I made a plan to immure my father’s ashes, and I actually let told my brothers that it would mean a lot to me if they could come to the brief service.

By now the energy had begun to really flow. I got on the treadmill and the spin bike and the yoga mat. I felt that itch in the my pit of my stomach and behind my knees calling me to the garden. The itch would have to wait. The garden was under a few inches of snow. But the itch–how I had missed it!

I decided I wanted to write about my father’s immurement, just so that I wouldn’t forget it. I wrote out the scene. The monks standing in a long line, all in white, each taking his turn to sprinkle holy water on my father’s ashes. The irony of it all. The delight my father would have felt to know that after the life he had lived fifteen monks would be tending to his remains and offering prayers for him.

And the words haven’t stopped. After months–two years really–of nothing, I’m once again sitting down, almost every day, to write.

Now that the energy is flowing again, I can call it fallowness. But for the last two years, and the last nine months in particular, it has felt like the desert, like the wilderness, like the arctic. It’s been dry and cold and dark.

It’s not like I didn’t know what was happening. Though I guess I didn’t really know what was happening. But the experience of fallowness was not like rest or sleeping. I was constantly restless and lethargic both. I’d defined so much of my spirituality and my monastic life around my creative output. I knit. I sewed. I wrote. I gardened. I blogged, I vlogged, I posted all the time on Instagram. And all on top of being a monk and running a guesthouse. No wonder I needed two years of rest.

Sometime during the last two years, I stopped restlessly searching for my mojo. The frustrated lethargy didn’t abate, exactly, but I decided to make my peace with it. I didn’t have the energy to do much more than read in my spare time, so that’s what I did. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d read so much. I’d forgotten how much I love books. I started looking at the River again, at the deer, at the way the incense smoke lingers in the church after Eucharist on Sundays, how it curls in the light.

Something is different now. There’s less of me, and more, too. My problem is, I’m always looking to fix myself, always convinced that the next project will save me or make me. I find it hard to steer the middle course: engaged and relaxed at the same time. I’m trying to learn that obsession isn’t freedom. That’s a hard one for me.

So, I’m writing again. Most days, but I’m not making a requirement of it. I’m reading a lot. I’m beginning to dream of the garden. I’m exercising often but not every day. I’m keeping my office clean. I’m washing a lot of dishes and counters and floors. These small and tangible tasks feel so good to me right now. And with it all, I’m practicing my trust, because underneath all the activity, that’s what’s really going on. Do I trust God?

I find myself saying, a lot, that God is good and that is everything. It’s a reminder to me that this life is not about my perfection. I won’t ever get there. And while conversion and growth in holiness are good and noble aims, they’re not really about me, either. A holy life is a life that points with all its being toward God and God’s goodness, not toward its own.

I’m not there. But I’d like to be someday.

21 Replies to “on fallowness”

  1. Thank you for your honesty. Having been in shielding here in the UK since March 2020. I have gone from a very energetic person to one spending a lot of time staring out of the window at the birds. I’ve learnt this is no bad thing . I now see it as storing. Storing up energies, ideas for the time when I fly out myself. Hopefully a little more relaxed and replenished than I was in March 2020 . It’s not been easy, but has has been very rewarding in a strange way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Aidan. Like you, I’ve had a similar struggle finding that middle ground between busyness and fallowness, the high of being totally engaged in something, then tiring and moving to the next thing to be consumed in. I’ve always been somewhat guilty about this movement from one activity to another be it digital painting, flight simulators, wood working, video editing, etc. I then discovered something about myself. I found that whenever I began to tire of something or my interest began to wander to take some time away from it – maybe a few weeks, maybe months and in some cases as much as two years. I would then find myself desiring to return to a former interest but this time with a deeper, quieter, more reflective interest that both sustains and nurtures me. Perhaps, as in the world of nature, we humans also need periods of fallowness to refresh and renew our spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know exactly the experience you’re describing, Wib! I was expressing my guilt to my spiritual director, who said to me, “So you like to learn new things. That’s a gift!” And, as you say, when I return to the old things, it’s without the need to perform or demonstrate skill that was a part of the experience the first time around.

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  3. Restless and Lethargic. Yes, been there done that! It’s strange every time I go past one of those things “that need to be done” and then don’t do it I feel guilty but still resist. Then at some point, as you say you just couldn’t stand it anymore, I just up and do it and then wonder “why didn’t it do that all those months ago when it took such a small amount of time and attention and it would have been done and over with?, no guilt, what wrong with that?”. It’s just odd.

    Fallowness to me seems to indicate that the resting state accomplishes something that activity just doesn’t provide——-a positive something somehow.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Aiden – perfect words for this time. Yesterday was Imbolc. It’s the cross quarter in the yearly cycle between the Winter solstice and the spring equinox and it represented by the seed under the frozen ground and snow gathering its strength waiting to emerge when the sun and warmth return. That’s what your word “fallowness” summarized for me. And I know it’s something I always need to remember – that’s it’s not about always pushing forward, that in the cycle of life the dark, fallow time is necessary to gather the energy for the next movement ahead.
    I hope to see you when we can emerge in the spring.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. so nice to hear your words again. Especially liked your sharing the lethargy and restlessness at the same time. I’ve been feeling that a lot too, but also in that an expansion into spirit.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a relief to read this! I’ve been in that “state” you described so vividly. I keep praying that I won’t get sick…that I won’t die…before I can do something about “the stuff” I just look at every day and can’t seem to address! “It is what it is.” Thank you for your honesty. I, too, have missed your writing. Sending love.

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  6. “But the experience of fallowness was not like rest or sleeping. I was constantly restless and lethargic both. I’d defined so much of my spirituality and my monastic life around my creative output.”

    Thank you for sharing this! I have been struggling to put into coherent thoughts/words what the last two years has been like for me. I was a teacher and had lots of creative endeavors and even had a schedule for it all! Then events I couldn’t “schedule/control intervened. I had cancer treatments and just as I was released to enter the world again , it was shut because of Covid. I often felt like Burgess Meredith in the Twilight Zone zone episode. The character only wants time to read, there is a nuclear bomb and he is freed from all his responsiblities to finally read and then breaks his glasses.
    I had always dreamed of unlimited time for my spinning, quilting, hand work, and reading. Now that I had it I couldn’t seem to get motivated.

    I feel like my fallowness, like yours, has produced a new view and a decluttering of my “Things to do List”.

    I am glad you have found the ability to share your writing again. It is always thoughtful and gives food for thought.
    Merri

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Merri,

      Thank you for sharing this.

      May your lack of motivation return in time and allow you to do the things that normally give you joy.

      I agree, it is great to have the gift of Aidan’s writing again.

      Fondly,
      Suellen

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Amen. I live in endless shame of all that I have left undone. Nice to accept that the next project will not perfect me.

    Like

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