THEY’VE PLANTED the rice fields again. I take this as a good omen. After the October rice harvest, the fields were filled with a torrent of water, aimed here through a complex, invisible irrigation system. Algae grew on the surface: a luminous, otherworldly film. Then the duck herder came with his wing-clipped charges waddling and cackling. The ducks cut curvy lines through the algae, ate all the insect larvae and left lots of poop and a few feathers in the muddy water.
Just as the ducks were leaving, the frogs moved in. Their songs got so loud at night that we had to close the windows to sleep. Large snails appeared on our porch. Migrating herons stopped by for drinks. One moved into a bush to have its babies. We couldn’t see the nest through the density of the brush, but we heard the chicks chattering for food.
It seemed an eternal process, this fallow, wet, muddy lake and all the beings it fed. I forgot how it had looked when we first arrived, with its undulating sea of surreal, bright green tufts that extended in an endless ocean to the distant mountains. But then, the main farmer who tends these fields—the father of our landlord, with his confident stride and round, peaked sun hat—came one day with a companion, a pile of bamboo poles and lengths of white cloth. They cordoned off the smallest field and spent the day in there, planting. The white incubator did its quiet work for a few weeks. Then early one morning, we left for town, and when we came back in the evening, the fields were filled with bright green tufts, like stitching in a dark quilt. The baby plants had such an intensity of life, it took our breath away.
All of this got me thinking about my own consciousness. I too, had been fallow—full of algae and droppings—for what felt like an eternity, confronting old ideas of who I thought I was, feeling dormant and halted in my movement toward the next phase of my life. I was beginning to worry. Maybe I’d stay a muddy, shit-filled lake from now on. But coming home to the planted fields reminded me that the shit-filled lake phase is absolutely essential—no less important or creative than the times of obvious beauty and growth. Without the fallow time, the fields would quickly become depleted and unproductive, with no food for the new seedlings, and the growth would be weak, the harvest thin.
We are conditioned to identify with the results of our efforts—did we succeed or did we fail, and what can we call ourselves as a result? But we are so much bigger than that: not just the seed of possibility, or the plant, or the harvest, but the field that holds the whole process, and all of our algae and difficulties are the fuel for creation. The cycles of dormancy and mud are part of the creative movement that we are. The mud and the harvest are not separate: the harvest cannot exist without the fallow, muddy field.
So if you are in a long phase of feeling like a muddy lake, take heart. The little seedlings are incubating. Meanwhile, enjoy the ducks, the snails, and the exuberant song of the frogs.