by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

It was interesting to be here during the silence retreat, because it felt like we were backstage at a show. We had to whisper to each other and do the behind the scenes work to make things happen for the guests. The silence creates the feeling that you are in a sacred space. It reminded me of all the different times in which people are silent. For example, you are silent in a cathedral and just before a show starts. People are silent in recognition of a lost loved one and in meditation. It creates the feeling that something special is going on. Yet at other moments it could also just feel like a quiet day at home. Either way, it creates a different kind of space and it was good to see how people responded to that.

Another time this past weekend, I was folding hand towels with a volunteer. We were talking about different current issues like the state of the environment and also the rise of mental disorders. That conversation brought to my attention how sustainability is an intergenerational concern. Whether or not people identify their concerns as “sustainability issues” or not we are talking about the same things. Also, most people here are a generation or two older than me. I am used to talking about these things with people my age or with professors and guest speakers, but this experience has made me aware that people of all different backgrounds and ages are interested and concerned in the same things that I am. I knew that on an intellectual level, but there is a difference in the degree to which you integrate knowledge from the intellect verses that of experience.

I also got time to go outside for a while over the weekend. I found that being outside when no one else was around brought out my playful side. I thought who needs playgrounds when you’ve got nature? I kind of felt like fraulein Maria from the sound of music. I had this blue/grey dress on that day that reminds me of her dress in that film, and I was playing in the woods behind a Franciscan Spirituality center. I have short blondish hair like she has, and I might have been wearing a cross that day too. So that similarity struck me as really funny. I went for a walk in the rain too. I saw two wild turkeys walking in the rain and thought that was a crazy sight.

I read quite a bit of The Wisdom of Wilderness by Gerald G. May. May describes his experiences in nature that, to me, reflects the same state of consciousness as people report experiencing in transcendental meditation:

“It frees me from bondage to mind-thoughts. It liberates me from agendas, strategies, conditionings, and preconceived images. When Nature-Power is strong, I no longer have to follow my mind away from the present moment into the abstract unconnected territories it wants to construct. Instead, I sense my thoughts and emotions in the same   way I appreciate sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch: all cleanly, right here, right now, just part of what’s going on. (46)”

In this passage May experiences his awareness in the moment and observes his thoughts as they happen rather than becoming engrossed in them. This is the same type of awareness that practice of transcendental meditation cultivates, but May has reached this state through his experience in nature. I can see how this would happen, because when I am out in nature there is always something to call your attention back to the moment whether it’s the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or bugs that won’t leave you alone. I often find myself caught in my mind, but I can’t really do that in nature. Something always calls my attention back. May went deep into that experience and transcended his usual mental state to a state of pure awareness. He simply observed the moment and himself in it.

May explores this idea more when he talks about the contemplative state all animals must be in. They have to be aware of their surroundings at all time. The prey has to be aware of all signs of a predator and the predator must be aware of all signs of the prey. Yet we humans have created an artificial environment where we must only focus our attention on one thing. He argues that people with ADD are better suited for life outside where your attention must be on all things at once. In this way, it is our creation of this artificial environment which has further separated ourselves from nature and our natural contemplative state. I agree with this sentiment, however I know that it will be a long process to get ourselves reacquainted with life outside. Just after that paragraph, May muses that “even though cats look deadly serious when stalking, they are really only playing, as human beings play, expressing only a fancy of their buried wildness” (63). I love how he ends that. I feel like we all do have a buried wildness, and this moment in history is when we have to collectively revive that part of ourselves.