Give Your Mind Fallow Time

The following is a guest post by Anabelle Fournier. Anabelle is a web copywriter and a blogger at Writing in my Head, where she mostly explores the writing life, sometimes reviews books and maybe experiments with themes a little too much. She’s still looking for the perfect work-life balance but has perfected the art of using her cat as a reason to take a break.

In our decidedly busy times, it’s easy to let our minds get caught up in the constant chatter of work, family, social media and anything else that demands our time. With our hands almost fused to our smartphones, we are never far from devices that beep, alert and pop up. Now it’s not only people–spouses, children, friends, bosses and colleagues–that clamour for our attention; our things demand it of us too. But human energy and attention has not increased with the amount of attention modern life requires of them. There are still only 24 hours in a day, we still need to eat and we still need to sleep.

There’s an old concept in farming that has been used for thousands of years to improve land productivity before the age of artificial fertilizers: fallowing. Fallowing means leaving a piece of land untouched for at least one season (often more) to let it replenish itself. When land has been sucked out of all its nutrients, it’s no use trying to grow anything on it.

It’s easy to see how our bodies work in this analogy: we lie motionless for about a third of every day to replenish our energy. But is there a way we can think of our minds as finite resources requiring shutdown and replenishing as well, beyond that of sleeping?

This analogy came to me after reading Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam. After a difficult fall season with lots of work, stress and exhaustion, I ended up spending the Christmas holidays in pretty much a single way: on the couch with my cat and Netflix. It seemed like lazy indulgence at the time. I barely bothered to cook food and only left the couch for the bed. I wrote nothing, thought of nothing but how to satisfy thirst and hunger and did not much physically either. You could have called me a lazy slob, and I probably would have agreed with you.

But it’s only when January came that I realized that this wasn’t at all a bout of laziness. I am a generally ambitious person who likes to do things when she has free time. I may not always make the best of that time, but I try my best. But this time, it was different. My mind needed an extended shutdown, the kind of shutdown that can only be achieved with mindless television and maybe a little help from wine.

By the time January rolled, my mind felt fresh and ready to take on new challenges. I was filled with ideas and projects. I let my mind go in fallow; I let it rest undisturbed for new seeds to grow stronger in the new year.

But you don’t need to wait until your mind is completely devoid of nutrients to enjoy the benefits of fallowing. Meditation is one way to let your mind rest undisturbed a little while every day. Exercise can also shut our minds down long enough to get great benefits.

Mike often reminds us of the importance of taking breaks, of saying no, of making time outside of work. Land cannot be constantly growing things–neither can our minds.

Next time your drive to work goes down, your goals don’t seem as shiny and interesting as they seemed a month ago, your mind just yells “stay in bed!” when your alarm rings… maybe it’s time to plan some fallow time.

Have you ever experienced the need to fallow? How did you know you were ready to go back to work? I’d love to hear your stories.

Photo credit: alvarjuan via SXC.HU