Posted October 7th, 2008
Years ago when I first began my corporate career, I was eager to stay busy and constantly hungry for new learning and challenges. Insatiable, really. I worked under the guidance of a wise crone at that time. I used to run into her office (literally) and lament, “I’m bored! I need something to do!”. She then gave me the most sage piece advice I dare say anyone has ever given me, “Lael, you need to learn how to lay fallow.”
Now, at the age of 39, I so get that. Am I good at it? Nah. It doesn’t come naturally to me, nor will it ever, I suspect; I am a sprinter by nature. I do, however, have the wisdom to know better. And as I settle back into my life post-retreat, I am acutely aware that laying fallow is just what is needed.
“Laying Fallow” as I understand it is an agricultural term referring to fields that are cultivated, but then intentionally not planted, so that they may rest. Because fallow fields are not growing anything in particular, the soil is able to nourish itself for the season; sort of a “time out” or a “get out of jail free” card for crop world. In the human context, this means a time of rest, rejuvenation, and for me, deep reflection.
This past weekend, forty-one amazing women gathered at Kingsley Pines camp on the shores of Panther Pond in Raymond, Maine for the entire weekend. As the host of this event, called Homecoming: A Women’s Retreat, I felt like a proud “birth mother” and was moved to tears at the beauty of women saying YES to themselves, the side-splitting laughter that emerged around the fire and at meals and the community that was formed as a result of sharing this experience. It also explains why I now feel rather post partum – that indescribable mix of sheer gratitude, awe and exhaustion. Not unlike after the births of my sons, I am rendered speechless and have the urge to crawl in a corner, wrap myself in warm blankets and sip hot tea. This is how I lay fallow.
During these times, I have this uncanny ability to remain present – something I struggle mightily to do during most days of my life. I resist the urge to make sense of what just happened, because it just seems too daunting a task to define magic. I clear my calendar and stare vacantly at whatever is in front of me; resting my eyes, redefining what “vision” needs to be for me just now. I put off making decisions, and instead make lists of my questions.
Yesterday, as I returned from dropping my eldest son off at Kindergarten, I found myself heading home pushing the stroller with my youngest son in it. I had that familiar sensation – the one that has been with me for months now – saying, “okay, now what?” Instead of rattling off the impossibly long list of to-dos and then prioritizing what is needed most, I smiled as I heard my own voice say, “Now, we push the stroller”. Yes! That was the indicator my field was about to lay fallow. Then I cried with relief. And panic.
The panic comes from a realization that for me, laying fallow can be a lonely place that is filled with wide open spaces and not a lot of distractions from my ruminations – a dangerous combination. It also means making myself available to the “elements” of my emotions – grief, gratitude, pride, fear, joy and hope – as they buck and weave with the wind across my field. I hearken back to the “Red Tent” that I created as part of the retreat this past weekend and the energy of women it contained within it, and I am fortified by that image.
Many, many years ago, the Red Tent wasn’t just a construct to symbolize a place of women’s wisdom and community as it was at my women’s retreat – it was a real place, used monthly by women in their communities. Because menstruating women were considered by many to be “dirty” or “impure”, they were forbidden to cook food, carry water or do other traditional tasks that women of that time were assigned. Left to their devices, they created a place for women to retreat during these times – a Red Tent. Over time, places like these came to house all things sacred and special to women – menstruation, birth, grief, storytelling, nurturing and comfort. It was a place only women could enter, a place women could comfort other women and wisdom could be passed along. It was a place where women could be known without explanation and needs could be met without asking. It was literally a place to “go fallow” and let your fields soak up the nutrients from the fields of other women who’s own were abundant and rich and overflowing. There was a reciprocity inherent in the Tent; in taking care of other women, women were actually taking care of themselves, knowing that we are all connected and soon enough, they would be the one seeking care.
At the retreat, I literally draped yards and yards of various types and shades of red fabric across the beams of this massive lodge, invoking the wisdom of our ancestors and tapping into ancient ways of being that many of us didn’t even know we possessed. I watched as women sat by the fire and shared their stories, gathered around a bowl of beads, draped a blanket or rubbed the back of another woman nearby, moved their bodies in Belly Dance or stomped and roared their primal songs during Journey Dance. It was powerful and beautiful and so very good.
I heard stories that weekend of women who were experiencing shifts happening for them – the woman who finally understood what it felt like to nourish herself with food, the woman who felt herself loving herself, the woman who rejoiced upon getting her period for the first time in almost four years. I heard their songs and laughter. I smelled the bowls of soup and the mugs of tea and the chunks of chocolate. I saw women returning home to themselves – and to ourselves collectively – and it made me weep as I did the same. Although I have not yet found the words to begin to describe what I took away from that experience, I do know I returned home with a conviction to do more of it (whatever “it” is…) and was thoroughly fortified to stand century in my fallow field for a while so that I may replenish myself for when that time comes.
I was touched deeply by our connection to nature as women. From the regal and proud grandmother oak (aka “Big Mama”) to the cry of the loons, the lapping of the water, the crescent moon and the bald head eagle that circled the camp six times at the conclusion of the retreat – nature supported and blessed our gathering in so many ways.
And like the waves in the ocean, I am reminded that there is a lull after each big wave. There is a natural quietness and retreating that gathers after such an event that, however disconcerting or jarring (for me, anyway), is quite necessary and part of the natural order of things. And so I head into my fallow season, wrapped in the blanket of this experience and a new, stronger commitment to tend to my own soil so that I may help other women do so for themselves. Like the yoga posture shavasana that concludes each session, I am intentionally making the time to lay down and relax into this post-retreat time, and in doing so, am beginning to re-integrate this new experience into who I am.
Thank you to all those who made this retreat a reality – my gratitude knows no bounds.