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Labours of the field. Clearing wood, plowing, etc. Mural from the tomb of Mennah, scribe and field inspector, 18th Dynasty (1555-1350 BCE), New Kingdom, Shaykh Abd el-Qurna, Thebes, Egypt. Image courtest of the Lessing Photo Archive.

Laborers are shown clearing and ploughing farmland in this mural from the tomb of Mennah, scribe and field inspector, 18th Dynasty (1555-1350 BCE), New Kingdom Period. Image courtesy of the Lessing Photo Archive.

“Fallow” is something we all experience at some point or another, in some capacity. But what is it to “fallow,” exactly? In a Modern religious context, it is often used to refer to stagnation, and describe feelings of personal crisis and confusion. It is a time when — at least, for those with otherwise clear and active “Godphones” — God(s) are silent, or absent in our lives, and we feel alone and without guidance. For those with no clear nor active “Godphone,” the fallow season seems more like a perpetual drought.

In simplified agricultural terms, to let a field fallow means to plow and harrow the land, but leave that land unsown for a season or so, in order to restore the fertility of that land, and avoid depleting the nutrients contained in the soil. Poor farming methods, it is well-attested, contribute to soil depletion and desertification. If one farms the same field year after year with the same nutrient-greedy crops, ripping plants out by the root once crops have been harvested, et cetera, one will fast find oneself out of luck as a piss-poor steward of one’s patch of earth.

I personally prefer to use the agricultural definition in a religious context, rather than the Modern abstract. Why? Because the agricultural definition emphasizes that work still needs to be done in order to maintain and ensure future fecundity. It illustrates that it is not truly a period of stagnation where one twiddles one’s thumbs idly as all one’s hard-won progress and potential are allowed to erode, becoming nothing but parched, unusable sand.  Just because one’s orchards aren’t pregnant with fat apples and one’s flowers aren’t in bloom, it doesn’t mean one has no work to do, that said work is all for nothing, that all is somehow lost without the Gods’ constant, fawning attention. We must be responsible for ourselves.

Much like farming and gardening, in religion, rewards are neither immediate nor necessarily easily obtained. While spiritual rewards aren’t quite so obvious and tangible as a bushel of apples or an ornamental garden full of bright, fragrant flowers, it can mean the establishment of internal equilibrium, and the ability to adapt to and overcome less than ideal circumstances.

However, this begs the question: how does one attempt to survive the fallow season?

C L E A R   T H E   D E B R I S   O F   P A S T   S E A S O N S

When the fallow season comes, the Powers seem absent and one’s connection to one’s religion feels tenuous at best. It is at this time of relative spiritual inactivity that very important life questions must be thoughtfully and carefully considered, and personal issues addressed. There is always a reason and a need for the fallow season; the richness of one’s proverbial soil is at risk of being depleted, of eroding from constant abuse and mounting stress. In my experience, many people enduring a fallow season have been pursuing spiritual work at the exclusion of self-maintenance, often as an unhealthy replacement for self-maintenance — it’s not always simply a matter of “my Godphone is going through a tunnel,” or the Gods being busy with matters Cosmic and other individuals at any given time. One must do some extremely honest soul-searching and determine the underlying cause(s):

Is this apparently needed fallow the result of unaddressed past traumas, complications? What is the root of the perceived crisis? What might one be doing (or not doing) to contribute to one’s own stagnation? What is most immediately and obviously toxic and enervating? How can it be healthily cleared away? What needs to be done to restore oneself, and how may it be done? What mundane resources are available that these ends may be met, that one’s relationship with the Powers won’t be used and abused as a crutch? What changes may be implemented to make one’s environment more conducive to a healthy way of life? Which professionals and trusted confidants can healthily and properly help one make the necessary transitions?

The fallow season is often considered to be one of burden and desolation, but one must not look at it as a colossal ball-and-chain to saunter around with lugubriously. This is not a time for self-pity and panic. Rather, this is the time to unburden oneself, and prepare one’s inner fields for future seasons, and devise plans for long-term sustainability. This is the time one needs community, and must not be afraid to ask for human help. The Powers are “away,” so to speak, and this lull should be taken advantage of as an opportunity to work on oneself.

This can take a number of months, perhaps even years, depending upon the nature and magnitude of the ultimate source of crisis. Seeking therapy from a competent LCSW for traumas poorly coped-with is not an overnight process — it doesn’t take forever, with sincerity and determination, but it does take a fair amount of time and effort. The healing process can be a lengthy and difficult one, but the refuse needs to be done away with first before anything may be adequately prepared for healthy growth.

This is not to say, of course, that one should abandon one’s practice altogether. Gentle but meaningful routines should be maintained, but one should take a step back from attempting to “work with the Gods” for a while, and work on oneself. The Gods and other Powers cannot do all the hard work and healing for any individual. That work rests squarely upon our very human shoulders — and, again, that very human work needn’t be done in isolation. As the old saying goes, “no man is an island.” But the work has to be done, and one needs to be willing to do that work.

T I L L   T H E   S O I L   O F   T H E   S O U L

Over-reliance upon the Divine on the part of the practitioner is partly to blame for the difficulty of the fallow season. This is particularly common, I find, among young people. Once they discover and become adamant about their religious life, they find new ways to make it relevant, coming to rely upon it entirely — very much like the inadvisable agricultural practice of planting only a single species of grain exhaustively, without rotating crops and planting nitrogen-fixers to preserve the nutritive quality of the soil. And, when that life encounters its inevitable lulls in activity, when the Powers are attending to matters elsewhere, sufferers no longer know how to function and sustain themselves. They fall prey to grief and inaction, and many sit in puddles of their own tears, crying “woe is me!”

Instead of focusing on the lapse in contact and lamenting over it, engage in other pursuits that are also spiritually enriching, that also build character and engender a sense of personal discipline. Take up martial arts or yoga. Perfect meditative practices. Learn how to garden. Do research in an area pertinent to one’s practice and write about it. Learn the History of something. One should take the time to teach oneself something of value — painting, sculpting, woodworking, metalworking, sewing, animal husbandry. Engage in environmental activism, find a way to help the poor and the homeless and those less fortunate than oneself. Show the Gods that, “yes, I am still a strong, decent, and functional individual when You’re not around. See what I have done while You were away? See how I appreciate what You have given to me by giving to others and trying to make the world a better place? See how I improve my own life for myself? Even when I’m not being given what I want?”

There is no guarantee that any pursuit will bring one back to the God(s) of one’s understanding, that one will have the relationship one desires with Them. But it will undoubtedly lead to the betterment of one’s own life, and be a mark of true accomplishment to be borne with honor. As I have said in the past, the best offering, the best extension of goodwill, is the perfection of an art, the doing of good works for the benefit of others, not solely for one’s own benefit. In words falsely attributed to the great Marcus Aurelius’ The Meditations, though nevertheless wise, relevant, and useful:

If there are Gods and They are just, then They will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are Gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship Them. If there are no Gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

Spiritual or Divine relationships are not simply about what we get out of them; it’s mostly about what we give for them, and for our fellow human beings. If this is taken to heart and applied practically, fallow seasons will pass with far greater ease, and one will have far more to show for one’s endurance of it.

M A I N T A I N   A   W A T C H F U L   E Y E ,   A N D   L E T   I T   L I E

It is of the greatest importance to maintain one’s practice during these times, albeit in a reduced and more relaxed capacity. One must make the time for oneself and the Powers and religion of one’s understanding. Even if it’s only for five minutes a day, one is making time and actively, pointedly demonstrating that the relationship, though in a much-needed lull, is no less important than it ever was. Light a candle, say a prayer, leave an offering at the shrine, meditate in-shrine however one feels comfortable. Do what comes naturally, do not force anything unnecessarily. Even the act of cleaning the shrine daily can be made into a sacred and silent, connective act. If the Gods cannot be heard, it does not necessarily mean They do not hear; if the Gods are not immanently present, it does not necessarily mean They are not aware. Do not set lofty standards that are too hard to meet on a daily or weekly basis, and do not entertain equally lofty expectations.

Beyond this, in a state of fallow, one has nothing to prove to anyone else. One must refrain from comparing oneself and one’s abilities to those of others who are perceived to be “better at this.” One must also acknowledge and reconcile with the fact that everyone’s relationship with the Divine is different, and that there is no “standard-issue, valid relationship” that everyone should aspire to, or feel guilty for not having. One must also realize that being “God-bothered” is just as difficult, albeit in different ways, than not hearing from the Gods at all. Some would positively kill for a moment of silence and self-time. All people have their troubles, though their pastures may appear greener from afar. It’s a matter of making the most of what is given.

What is important is that one is keeping the Gods’ home in a state of preparedness for Their return. It does not speak well of the individual, if the individual lets everything go to shit because that individual got fed-up with waiting. After all, what one gives to the Gods and other Powers, one receives from Them in kind.

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In a word, the key to surviving the fallow season is patience. In another, persistence.

One may be being tested by the Gods. One’s lines of communication may be stuffed-up. One may just be having difficulty maintaining a routine due to uneasy circumstances at home or at work. One may be battling mental illness or physical illness, and struggling to connect and find balance while feeling so very broken. Or the Gods may simply be busy elsewhere, with others, and can’t give Their undivided attention to an individual at all hours of the day and night. But it cannot be stressed enough that one cannot give in to the allure of giving up, or pitching bombastic fits. Ascertain the causes, and devise solutions. Wallowing in the crapulence of childish, unproductive behavior will not make the fallow season any easier, much less make it go away.

Now yoke the oxen, man the plough, and get to work.

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