Or the art of doing nothing

For the past few weeks, I’ve been laying fallow. Just sitting back and doing nothing.

Okay, not completely nothing. I still went about my business, consulting and designing for clients, but about a month, I have not blogged. I eased up from writing, I even eased up from personal development (more on that in another post).

And as weird as that can sometimes feel – not constantly creating and publishing, doing nothing and disconnecting from your usual patterns is an important part of the overall creative and living process.

There’s a farming practice dating back to ancient times of leaving a land fallow after years of cultivating and using it. You would work a piece of land for a while and then leave it alone to allow it to rest, recover, and replenish its nutrients. This gives the land the chance to bounce back and be as fertile as ever when you begin to farm again.

Like the seasons, like farming, we have similar rhythms and cycles.

We spend a ton of energy creating things – writing that book, curating that exhibition, making that movie, executing that project. This creative process takes a lot out of us. And once we are done, we take a break, we rest. Then we pick things up and begin again. Sort of like our 5 days of work and 2 days of weekend.

But sometimes, a little rest is not enough. Sometimes we need a vacation. Sometimes we have to pause,disconnect.

Sometimes we even have to lay fallow.

Where we deliberately refrain from creation. We allow ourselves the extended rest, the extended break. It might seem a bit counter intuitive. It might seem self-indulgent and lazy. But there is a space for this practice of doing nothing, and it comes with a couple of benefits.

It allows you to recover

Our world and culture is mostly of busyness, of always being ‘on’ and available. If we are not productive, we feel guilty. We feel the pressure (and material need) to always be doing, so we jump from thing to thing, from project to project often without being able to take the step back to even think.

The path to getting what you want is a marathon, a lifetime of work and creation, of battles and challenges to overcome. It takes a lot out of us.

We get tired, then fatigued, then we begin to burn out. But the show must go on. So, we keep at it. Soon, we hate the thing we have created, we despise the work we do, and we begin to rebel in small ways. We lash out, we turn to whatever coping mechanism appeals to us. We spiral.

Our creative well dries up, and we take damage, our bodies and minds battered over time in the bid to produce and create.

The art of doing nothing, of laying fallow is an important antidote and counter balance to this ‘always on’ culture. It allows us to truly disconnect. To actually rest. To allow the body and mind to repair itself. To re-embrace rituals. To heal.

It cultivates empty space

Laying fallow allows us to cultivate empty space. An increasingly important and useful thing in a world so full of stimuli.

Our days are usually noisy. There are things we have to do just to sustain life, errands and work to be done. And then there are the relationships to attend to, the requests, the messages, the noise of the world wanting or needing things from us.

Over time, this noise, the ever urgent din of the world around us crowds out the truly important things. Going the opposite way, taking a break, laying fallow allows us to recover from the noise and eliminate it. It allows us to return to a blank slate, to begin anew.

It allows us to be bored.

It gives us the permission to live, to move around, to do something different, out of the usual.

It is this space of nothingness, of absent-minded play that allows us to collect new material, new inspiration, new points of view to integrate into our next work.

It is the space that allows creativity to happen again.

It allows us to see again

The forest for the trees.

Active creativity requires complete immersion in whatever we are making. Our work, our lives become our whole world. We become like the fish who can’t see the water it is in.

Laying fallow gives us some much needed distance.

To reconsider. To appraise and judge our work, our efforts, even our goals.

The empty space we cultivate in the fallow period allows us to be even more deliberate. To put our efforts where they are most effective. To design our lives, routines and affairs more skilfully, so we can accomplish a whole lot more with much less.

There are insights and perceptive breaks that only occur in a relaxed state. In the space where we have let go of active work and our subconscious can drift.

It is the time where we can integrate the experience we just had, the results, the lessons learned. In the empty space, the fallow period, these things settle and forge the essence of our new transformed self.

Be fallow, not lazy

The concept of being fallow is not an excuse to be completely lazy. Otherwise our fields become permanently overrun with weeds and we never return to productivity.

While we rest, we must maintain a balance.

The point in being fallow is to do nothing for a while in a bid to recover, gain some perspective and new inspiration, not to let our creative muscles wither completely.

In this period, we may be at rest, but we still do drills, we still practice techniques, we still study. We explore.

Until finally we are ready…to begin again…

A new challenge rises up, a new idea takes a hold of us, a new curiosity…and then we dive back into the creative space, refreshed, replenished, reequipped and ready for the new adventure.

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