In Praise Of The Ebb Before The Flow

If you are lucky, a wise person might have told you that life is all about ebb and flow.

We live in a world where we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can flow all the time, anywhere, anyhow, regardless of how you’re physically or emotionally feeling; or that we “are allowed to stop just long enough to get back on the treadmill of extreme productivity”.

We are made to feel that if we need to stop, we’re ineffective, useless, worthless.

We can take coffee, sugar, energy drinks, ginkyo biloba, caffeine, guarena, water, low GI foods, iron supplements, any supplement, get exercise, get massages, rebalance your chakras…to keep going, to fill us up with fake fuel and trick our minds and bodies into carrying on.

When did we lose our respect for pulling back and resting?

Life on this planet is largely dictated by the cycles of the seasons, moon and tides – an ebb and flow, not an unending summer – but even nature would prefer an unending summer, to continuously grow and reproduce.

When I motorbiked across Europe and into Austria to be with family in August 2013, one of our last stop-offs was at my sister-in-law’s beautiful farmhouse in the countryside outside Vienna.  Our brother-in-law asked us to help him pick the plum trees from a neighbouring farmer’s land because the farmer wasn’t looking to harvest them and they would otherwise go to waste.

Plum picking in Austria. Yes, that is an Elder Scrolls Online hoodie - bring it on!

Plum picking in Austria.
Yes, that is an Elder Scrolls Online hoodie – *I got there first!*

The summer of 2013 was very hot and long, and these plum trees were in the full sun all day, all through the season; consequently, the four trees were groaning under the weight of globular, soft and extra-sun-sweetened plums.

One tree had no cover from the sun whatsoever, no shade cast by the nearby buildings to hide in, so it sat in 360 degrees of sunshine all through that summer.  And it showed – the branches were heavy with plums…so heavy that the tree broke in half!  It fractured right down the trunk under the sticky sweet masses it had produced!

We got to this tree and unburdened its fruits – all 75kg of it from just the one tree! – but it was too late, the tree was dying a quick death in the continuing scorching sun, its life purpose entirely fulfilled.

The other trees that had shade, amongst themselves and from the buildings at the right angles from the sun, probably produced about 50-60kg of fruit each and lost the odd branch, which is still a huge harvest, but they survived that beautifully gruelling summer and lived to bear more fruit in the coming years.

Even nature prefers unending summers, and might not like trying hard to survive the winters, but without autumn and the  survival of winter into spring, deciduous leaves wouldn’t fall and create the mulchy beginnings of compost to bring the cycle back around – all the nutrients of the soil would be taken in continuous growth, unless or until it kills itself in growth.

A species set on endless growth is unsustainable.

We must rest in order to grow and produce – we must ebb in order to flow.  It’s part of the cycle.


“The courageous life is the life that is equal to this unceasing tidal and seasonal becoming: and strangely beneath all, stillness being the only proper physical preparation for joining the breathing autonomic exchange of existence.”

Whyte, David (2015-04-08). Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaningof Everyday Words


When did we lose our respect for pulling back and resting?

We lost our respect for the ebb when “being productive” became the mantra for society.

If you’re not being productive, you’re being lazy, which has many negative social connotations, as I’m sure you well know.

The darker side of this is that “being productive” became “generating money”, and “being lazy” became “not generating money” over time.  Time and effort exchanged for money.

Before unions, it was beaten into us that this was the case.

But there is a difference between being lazy and being idle.

Being lazy is when you don’t put in the necessary hard work but expect to get the same results, and expect to feel the same way at the end of it.  Being lazy is when you just don’t care about what you’re doing, or want to be doing it in the first place, so you put in only a fraction of the effort needed, but still expect to get the same results as if you did care and did put the work in.

Being idle is when you deliberately rest, ease back into yourself, knowing and probably anticipating with glee the next flow.


The tricky part is that, on the surface, it looks no different to “laziness”, but underneath it really is very different.

And deep inside, you know the difference – you know when you can’t be bothered to do something when you really need to, and you know when you are collapsing in a heap because you’re exhausted and can’t give any more.

Honour that.



In Hope,


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2 thoughts on “In Praise Of The Ebb Before The Flow

  1. Becky

    Catherine, I think that what you have written here is so important. I think that all of us are always in “productivity mode” that even when we “rest” it has to be built in as an action to aid productivity (and your point about effort and money and time interchanging is so true)! I certainly do that and I am exhausted right now.

    I have spoken to a number of friends at the moment who are feeling particularly in an “ebb” state right now and instead of accepting the change of seasons and transition as a time to pull back until we are charged enough to let loose.

    I also think that we are very good at understanding that other people (or plum trees) need to pause, rest and reload but we are more judgemental on ourselves.

    I hope you are respecting your own ebbs and enjoying life xx

  2. Pingback: Time for transition | Becky Sage

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