One of the biggest lessons I am taking away from my fiftieth year is that the years we spend in fallow, or indeed Wintering are just as important as those years in which we experience the kind of growth that sprinkles joy over our future. That there are indeed periods in our lives that if cannot get around, we must get through, but that there is huge difference between fallowing and going to seed in the meantime.
When a field is allowed to fallow, it rests in order to regenerate. Wikipedia says that “the goal of fallowing is to allow the land to recover and store organic matter while retaining moisture and disrupting pest life cycles and soil borne pathogens by temporarily removing their hosts“. While I say that the goal for those of us who find ourselves in the midst of a year that feels barren, lost, devoid of all that should be at the root of our happiness, is to ask ourselves what it would feel like if we believe that the life we want is not lost to us for always, we are merely pausing, gathering strength, soothing our furrowed brows, searching for equilibrium, regenerating, ready to rise again. Renewed and hopeful that what is for us, what won’t pass us, will in our tomorrows have a chance to thrive on healthier ground.
My own fallow year started with crisis. A raging fire that quickly ravaged the beautiful crops of my life. But not all fallow years do. Some come to pass when the farmer surveys her land and knows it isn’t healthy enough to produce thriving crops. That what it will produce will not be good enough. Others happen when it is clear that what is predicted for the future will actively destroy whatever is planted and there is no way to convince Mother Nature otherwise. Not all fallow years are the result of crisis. Some are borne of foresight and an understanding that what is now, cannot be for always, and that we need to grant ourselves permission to rest and to mindfully choose better nutrition of mind, body and soul in the meantime. While still others come to pass when those who are weary declare their own need for fallowing and we have no choice but to follow suit, hopeful always, that the land can be worked again in our tomorrows.
What fallowing isn’t necessarily is depression. While we might indeed experience passing clouds and no doubt seem to others to be deep in the trenches, those doing the work of the land, the work of the heart, know otherwise, and even when they don’t, they are wise enough to be capable of re-imagining it as more than the flooding of a soul that once embraced the light, as Andrea Gibson so delicately explains in her heartening poem “Instead of Depression”:Instead of depression try calling it hibernation Imagine the darkness is a cave in which you will be nurtured by doing absolutely nothing. Hibernating animals don’t even dream. It’s okay if you can’t imagine spring. Sleep through the alarm of the world, Name your hopelessness a quiet hollow, a place you go to heal, a den you dug, Sweetheart, instead of a grave. –ANDREA GIBSON, You Better Be Lightening
So yes, Fallowing. Wintering. Hibernation. All of it for the purpose of stitching ourselves back together to whatever degree we know deep inside to be necessary. For we know ourselves as the farmer knows her fields. We know, but do not always act in good time on the need to rest and allow pests and pathogens to reside in us for too long. And so too we know when the fallowing is coming to an end. When the choice to live again, to plant seeds in our now enriched soul has come.
For me the fallowing of the past ten months has been a little topsy-turvy. I didn’t choose it but I should have done. I waited too long to dig up what was and plough it in readiness for enrichment. And it is only now, only since a few days before the Christmas just gone, that I have been able to strip away the burden of hope and expectation and simply allow clarity to settle. Only now that I have finally stopped digging. Only now that I see what an incredible present, the charring of my field was.The Uses of Sorrow (In my sleep I dreamed this poem). Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift. – MARY OLIVER
I am more myself than I ever was. Truer than true now and in possession of a big, fat, wild and wonderful idea that may or may not come to pass in its original vision, though that hardly matters, for it is the ability to visualise it at all that is important.
I am more myself than I ever was. Writing again. Letting the words slip through my fingers like the sandiest of soil and not trying to censor them for I know now how much I was trying to control each and every aspect of our lives because that is what exhaustion does: it rules out impromptu possibility and forces us to keep on planting the same old crops because we are too scared of failure to experiment with anything else.
I am more myself than I ever was. Finally able to look at my own face. And today sharing a picture of who I am without the wild hair, the lips, or the foundation. Stripped back. Stripped bare. Letting myself be seen for the first time in almost fifty-one years. Because a Renaissance has to start with the bare bones of who we are doesn’t it, freckles, bags, grey hair and all?
This then is me. Not scared of myself anymore. Willing to be seen. Willing to recognise that I don’t have to try so very hard and will be accepted just for who I am. Because I have had myself convinced that I am not good enough. That I have made no impact on this thing we call life and it isn’t true, it isn’t true at all and it has taken my own fallowing to see it. In the past eight years I lost myself trying to save someone who would eventually give me the gift that was my own Wintering. And I do not regret a single moment of it. How could I? Though the farmer who puts a field to fallow may be seen as foolish for not ploughing on regardless, those who love the field see what is needed and put a stop to the relentless churning of exhausted soil.
I told you here, a few days ago, that dating again at fifty is hard. And it truly is. It is at times grim. And often laughable. The men on dating sites so scared, so ridiculous, so arrogant, so sad and sometimes so entitled that it has exhausted me and shown me time and time again that I know what I need and I will rarely be seen for who I am in the empty conversations struck up over and over again. It isn’t what I want. I want to see and be seen. To know and be known. I want conversation that challenges me. Even argues! Forces me to reflect on my occasionally ludicrous opinions and ideas. Someone with whom I can talk into the night about all the things that fire us both up. Someone unafraid of being undone by my relentless questions and need to know. And those with the ability to do that are so rare, exotic, precious that I have known it only once. But dating is also something that forces us to expose those parts of us we might well have carried on hiding and while I can honestly say I despise the drama of it all, it is has been as much a part of my own fallowing as my weight-loss, my education in Integrative Nutrition, the nurturing of my empty nest and my big fat, wild and wonderful idea. But it is a part of my Renaissance I am giving up, because what I am searching for isn’t there and I know that now. So this is I suppose a surrender of sorts: trusting the universe, Mother Nature, the Gods that be, myself , that the fallowed field of my silly heart is ripe for whatever might be next.
That indeed what is for me, won’t pass me. The most important lesson my Mum ever taught me. That and the importance of blessing my days with daffodils when Wintering is coming to an end.