The Fallow Season- How to let things die, without dying

August 29, 2022


We are all aware of the idea of seasons. Everywhere we look on planet earth and the galaxies of outer space we see rhythm of seasons play out. Flowers bloom, then die, then bloom again. On a galactic level, stars are born and shine bright then eventually fade away. The timeline of these seasons can vary greatly, but there is no denying that everything has a season.

Since the industrial revolution, humanity has become increasingly disengaged with the rhythms of the earth. Thanks to light bulbs, 24-hour restaurants and news cycles, and a myriad of other modern inventions we are no longer tethered to the seasons of the earth. We no longer plan our days activities around the sunlight or eat according to the produce of the season. Apples are always available for us to pick from large produce bins lit by neon bulbs. Fallow seasons no longer effect our daily life. Produce and productivity are seemingly always available, and one of the insidious consequences of this is we believe that we too are meant to always produce.

We were never made to produce continually. Our bodies are made to go slower and get a little chubby in winter as we eat less fresh produce and more meat and fats. In summer we are made to work longer, more strenuous hours nourished by the extra sunlight and abundance of food. As we have lost touch with these natural rhythms, we have built societies and cultures that demand a constant output of productivity. When a fallow season inevitably strikes, we can believe it is going to be the death of us.

We are so unaccustomed to these fallow seasons that we can suffer immense mourning when we experience the death they bring. Fallow seasons are simply not built into our plans. A gardener does not beat herself up when her tomato plants die at the end of a season. She does not expect the tomato bushes she plants in the spring to produce all winter longer and continue to produce the following year. A tomato plant will produce abundantly through the summer but will die before winter comes. This is the life cycle of a tomato bush and there is nothing to be done for it. Yet we chastise ourselves and feel immense pain and grief when we inevitably come to an ending in our life and enter a fallow season.

I have recently been weathering a fallow season. I turned 40, and almost like clockwork, my whole world was rooted out. The things that were once beautiful became scraggly and needed digging up. Areas of my life that were unbelievably abundant became dry and shrivelled. Over the course of the last year it felt like every part of me was razed and levelled to the ground. On the surface it looked like nothing was left. 

I can tell you that there were days that I thought I was dying. I truly believed that I was never coming back from this destruction. There have been moments where I believed that I had achieved everything I could and my life moving froward was going to be a spiral of ever-increasing disappointment. However, with time I slowly began to accept this new reality and adopted a renewed perspective. I realised that I had very little control over a great many things, and all I could do was nourish my seemingly dead soul.

On reflection I can see that there were four stages of nourishment during this fallow season.

  1. The first thing I did was lay a cover. When a farmer lets a plot go fallow, one of the first things they will do is sow a cover crop or cover the land in mulch. When we go fallow, we need the comfort of a hidden world. We need privacy to do the deep work, because it is messy and ugly and can’t be done when we are trying to keep it all looking pretty. We need the safety of cover. What this meant for me is that I revoked access to me and my life to everyone except my very nearest and dearest. I went dark on social media. I cleared my calendar. I didn’t return a lot of phone calls. I didn’t reply to emails, just because they happened to be in my inbox. I gave myself the gift of privacy.
  2. I stopped planting fake flowers to make it look like I was still blooming. I took a break from doing my make up each morning, and getting “ready” each day. I probably wore the same 3 pairs of comfy jeans, 3 jumpers, and a couple of t-shirts for 6 months. I did the “big chop” and cut my curly hair into a style that was super easy to maintain. There is a fine line to tread with this one. Sometimes getting dressed nicely and doing yourself up is a real pick-me-up. The difference is that when I did do those things, I was doing it for me, not for social acceptability or routine. 
  3. I did nothing. It’s really difficult to do nothing in our culture. Every minute of our day can be filled with something- social media, Netflix, phone calls, meetings, appointments. I had to be so intentional about actively doing nothing. I fasted from all media including books, television, news, Instagram, Facebook, even music. I embraced the power of saying “no”. It was unbelievably difficult, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were still moments during that time where I “cheated”. While I was doing “nothing” I had the time to do important work. Some of the work I completed during that time will have ripples in my life for months, or even years. I needed to do nothing, so I could finally do the things that were the most nourishing to me and my future.
  4. Lastly, I dug deep. When the ground has been laid fallow for a season, the farmer will dig it all up and then let it rest a little longer before replanting. After months of laying hidden and doing nothing, I began journaling. Every day for 12 weeks I wrote 3 pages of handwritten journaling. I probably skipped less then 5 days the entire 12 weeks. Why was this so important? Showing up to the page every day for three months gave me a safe place that I could unearth what was really going on. Those 3 pages reflect to me what is happening in the deep parts of my soul. My daily journaling helped me bring the stones to the surface so I could clear them out. It also brought the rich soil that had been hidden in the darkness to the surface too.

It’s been almost 12 months of a fallow season, and I am starting to see little green shoots of new life pushing up through the soil. I had to let a lot of things die, but I did not die. I’m still here even though there were times when I thought my body would continue to exist, but I wouldn’t. I am renewed by this season, but I am also tender. I still need to move with care. These are the gifts of fallow season. The fallow seasons of our life keep us soft, and remind us to stay humble, and this too is its own kind of produce. They might not be as delectable as the produce of other seasons, but just as necessary.

3 thoughts on “The Fallow Season- How to let things die, without dying”

  1. I love this so much. As a gardener, there comes a point where you have let things die and you discover that it is actually a relief. There is grief, but there is also rest and release because you’ve let go of the watering, tending, upkeep, etc. I do try to honor my plants and allow them to complete their full cycle and let them go to seed instead of just uprooting after their harvest is done and they’re no longer useful to me. But even then, there comes a time of knowing that it’s truly over and it’s time to allow things to expire. I’ve felt like that in seasons of my life, too.

    • I love that perspective Cale- Letting life complete it’s lifecycle instead of ripping it out when it stops being productive. That is not something we do well in our culture.

  2. The word ‘fallow’ came to me in my meditation time recently. My family gardened lots and plots and acres of land years ago in Mississippi. I’ve traveled to Tennessee and now Missouri with a gardener’s heart but an urban landscape beneath my feet. But, to find myself in a fallow season in a particular ‘ field’ of my life is refreshing. I’m burnt out in that area and look forward to this. Your list of 4 stages of nourishment are in point and in effect. I’ve been web searching articles like yours and they are so helpful as I allow this process to unfold in me. Thank you.


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