There’s something about a Wednesday afternoon. When I was a student this midweek time was given over to sports and leisure: you would wander round during fresher’s week signing up for boxing and ice skating and generally end up by week three hanging out in the coffee bar with your friends. But this tradition seems to have gone by the board now, so that, instead of being a fallow period, Wednesday afternoon is a slump, a time when the enthusiasm of Monday has waned and the fun of Friday seems a long way away.
I’ve come to the conclusion that fallow periods are important. Quakers, for example, traditionally don’t celebrate Christmas as every day is supposed to be special: and that’s fine, except that Christmas and New Year for many people are times of hibernation; a period when you can legitimately disconnect from everything and everyone.
In farming, too, it used to be the tradition to leave land fallow every fourth year in order to rest the soil – but that seems to have gone by the board now in favour of more and more fertilisers (there’s an evolving story on The Archers at the moment where Home Farm seems to have poisoned the River Am with nitrates.)
Then there’s the principle of Sunday as a day of rest (it doesn’t have to be Sunday but it’s convenient to have a day when nearly everyone’s off work.) This morning on Thought for the Day Giles Fraser talked about the boringness of church being a good thing, as it’s important to allow time and space for the mind to wander. I agree with him up to a certain point (though as a child my mind was never allowed to wander because you were supposed to pay attention.) But there’s an important principle at stake here, which is that boredom is not some kind of disease to be eradicated but a fallow state which can be a prelude to great creativity. When our kids said they were bored, instead of entertaining them we’d say ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do.’ And they usually did.
I am more and more aware of the need to allow my mind to lie fallow. It’s all too easy for the work ethic to sit on your shoulder and crack the whip, so that if you haven’t produced a certain number of words, you’ve done nothing. This is not the case. When the mind is in that fallow, ‘dreaming’ state, there’s no way to tell what you’ve done, because it’s happening under the radar – just as the regeneration of the fallow soil is happening in subtle, invisible ways.
Even so, on days like today I can feel a sense of futility. What have I achieved? What am I doing? Where’s it all going? What is the point? These questions bump around in my head like particles in a Large Hadron Collider.
But if I stop trying to ‘work’ and just let things be, something interesting will happen. I’m not sure what, but I’ll keep you posted.
The final thought for today is that there are parallels between the First World War and the state of the NHS – not in the severity of the situation, but in terms of the leaders and those on the ground. Doctors and nurses working in the NHS today truly are lions led by donkeys – and the sooner we get rid of this government, the better. So now that we’ve arrived at the First World War, here’s a taste of true futility: