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An Intern’s Reflection 3

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.

An Intern’s Reflection 2

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

I appreciate how everyone participates in the small chores of keeping the facility clean. I’ve seen different staff members doing dishes, wiping tables, and folding cloths regardless of their position here. I think this is a really great way to run a hospitality center, because since everyone willingly does those tasks it makes it feel like we are all participating in the common good. It also makes the company structure more unilateral rather than hierarchical, because those tasks don’t get delegated. This approach also makes those tasks more enjoyable, because if it’s not delegated, it doesn’t feel like a chore. There’s even something contemplative and satisfying in small tasks. Teamwork also makes small things more fun because companionship helps things move along and stay interesting and fulfilling. I’ve started to do a lot of things that I haven’t done before like doing commercial dishes and greeting guests. I’m not really the outgoing type, but even guests are really approachable here. I think people respect and appreciate the space that is provided, so when they come here they are their best selves. This is interesting, because my family owns a hotel. I have heard more than one horror story of guests who were not acting from their higher selves. It is also ironic that I have avoided getting pulled into the family business until now, yet I have come to intern at a place that is essentially a hospitality center. It’s just a funny twist of fate I guess.

Yet, there are key differences between Prairiewoods and a regular hotel. It attracts people who are already interested in developing their higher selves, and provides a space for them to do that no matter where along the process they are. The group that was here working on peer support had a lot of interesting characters, but everyone appreciated and respected the space. I thought it was sweet how the smokers made sure to clean up the smoking area, because they wanted to be able to come back to this place. When I was taking a vacuum from the guest house to the main building a man whose face I recognized but who I had never spoken to said: “I know I haven’t talked with you, but thank you for your services.” I was quite surprised, because I hadn’t interacted with him at all. Yet, he was expressing gratitude towards me for simply being part of Prairiewoods. I have never been at a place where so many people, staff and guests continually express so much gratitude. It’s really incredible to be around.

I think it would be ideal to create spaces and organizations that bring out the best in people. For one, it’s easier and more enjoyable to work with people while they are their best selves, but also because “Leading from the Emerging Future” frames the global sustainability crisis as a fight between our lower and higher selves. I really agree with this, because we have talked a lot in class about the ethical issues at the root of the crisis. We are at a point in history where we have to question what ethics really are and argue for the rights of the tree and deer and mountain. In order to stop the overwhelming destruction of the earth we must collectively act from our higher selves. Jim Carrey even said in his graduation speech that he felt blessed that he could travel all around the world, and people continually present him with their best face. He does this by making people laugh, and as a result he sees them at their best. Prairiewoods brings out the best in people by creating a welcoming and nurturing environment. MUM and the Transcendental Meditation movement create this environment with the Maharishi effect where if one percent of the population meditates there is a measureable decrease in violent activity in the area. Also, if the square root of one percent of the population practice the TM Siddhi’s program then there is a measureable decrease in crime and other violent activity in the are.This increased coherence creates a more peaceful environment. A good action plan to create a better world would be to create more spaces, settings, and environments that bring out the best in people.

I also like how time is not stressed much here. I’m sure people do sometimes, but I haven’t seen anyone checking their watches or phones at all. If a meeting starts a few minutes late, it’s totally fine, and stuff still gets done. I took one class called Cross Cultural Communication where we learned how there are two conceptions of time. Cultures with extreme focus on time tended to be industrialized nations. Cultures with a very loose focus on time but a strong focus on relationships tended to be less developed countries. The two extremes both have issues. Prairiewoods seems to really focus on relationship building and also maintain a good balance of productivity. This is nice for me, because no matter how hard I try, timeliness is always my weakness. Arriving at a particular time always feels forced to me. It’s nice to be in an environment where exact timeliness isn’t an issue. Even though people are definitely busy around here, they don’t seem rushed or stressed. This is particularly important to create that environment for the retreat center, but any organization would do well to have people acting out of that place. It would prevent burnout and breakdowns that happen when people are too tense or overworked without enough time to relax and have fun. Another thing I noticed is that everyone here has a sense of humor. It surprised me the most to hear some of the sisters joke around. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it, but people here are really playful.

Spiritual direction is a really interesting idea that I only just learned about. It seems to be like therapy, but with a spiritual focus. The approach is different as well. The pamphlet I read, “What to Expect in Christian Spiritual Direction” by Thomas Hart, described the spiritual director as someone who is still very much a spiritual seeker who has “not arrived.” This is a really great concept, because therapy seems to create a divide between therapist and patient. The therapist has to act separate from the situation rather than approaching their patient on a human to human level. I always thought that therapy could be replaced by a good friend, because relationships are healing. Unfortunately, there isn’t always someone who can be that person in your life. I guess that’s where therapists and spiritual directors come in. Spiritual direction also brings in the element of observing the sacred acting in your life. I felt like this understanding was missing from regular schools of psychology, though Jung’s theories are inherently spiritual. This human to human healing seems to be what I wanted therapy to be. It’s about one person caring about another, listening, and asking questions to further discover the self. It doesn’t see the other person as a problem. Instead, it sees the other person as one who is already spiritual and on the path to self-discovery. “If it were not so you would not have sought me out” (Hart 3). It also approaches life as a continuous co-creative experience that is never done. This description just feels really resonant and right with me. Spiritual direction seems to offer the missing elements that I perceived in traditional western therapy.

Prairiewoods Welcomes New Intern, Reflection 1

This week, Prairiewoods welcomes our fourth summer intern, Pia Fritsch. She is a student at Maharishi University in Fairfield and is passionate about issues of sustainability. Several times a week, Pia will write a blog about her experience at Prairiewoods. We will post them here and would love to hear your feedback!

Pia FritschReflection 1

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

Everyone at Prairiewoods has been exceptionally friendly and welcoming to me. This is probably because hospitality is such a focus at Prairiewoods but also because everyone seems to genuinely love their job. Everyone said that they were happy to have found Prairiewoods and that they enjoy going to work. This in itself is pretty exceptional. Andi explained that a lot of the reason they love their job is because of the work environment. It is committee run which allows everyone’s voice to be heard. Rather than being micromanaged to produce results there is a sense that everyone is trusted to get their work done. This attitude creates more trustworthy people as well. They are self-motivated rather than doing their work diligently simply because they don’t want to get in trouble. It creates a totally different atmosphere than most work environments. When I was talking with two AmeriCorps volunteers outside they said this was the most relaxing nonprofit they worked with. Even though they were working just as much as any other place, it was still relaxing just because the environment is so peaceful and welcoming.

Something else that is really evident here is that the people at Prairiewoods value relationships, and that is built in to the way it is run. I was given time as an intern to just get to know each of the staff members individually. I was kind of surprised that I got the chance to do that. It just goes counter to the mindset of productivity, but it actually increases productivity. I am an introvert, so for me, getting to know people individually helps me to feel more comfortable interacting with them. That policy even caters to a wider variety of people. I always felt that American culture and work spaces are made for extroverted people. Somehow I feel like people are less likely to understand the gifts of an introverted person, because the environment is not well suited to bring out their strengths. This policy helps bring out the best in all people. In my meeting with Laura I mentioned offhand that I have an art minor, so then she asked me to make some decorations for a celebration this Friday. I didn’t even know that I could use my art skills here. I guess the idea that art degrees are useless got ingrained in me without me even knowing it, so I didn’t even think to mention it as a skill that I have. It is nice to be in a place that does value art as well. At another place, hand-made decorations might not really be a priority. Now I get to make these drawings that no one else felt inspired to make but that will be fun and easy for me to do. Also, I can now understand everyone on a deeper level. By being able to see where people come from it makes it easier to understand them and relate to them. It would be really easy to go about my day to day activities without ever getting that understanding of people if I didn’t have this change to sit down with everyone one on one. Ultimately, it deepens everyone’s experience here. Prairiewoods is definitely a place that starts creating a better world starting with the self. The people here are happy and inspired by their work and relationships so that spreads to the people that come here.

One book Laura recommended for me to read is “Leading from the Emerging Future: from ego-system to eco-system economies” by Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer. I have never come across a book that covers so many of the main points I have learned in my classes at MUM in such a short and succinct way. The overview ties some of the main teachings of Maharishi and of sustainability. It frames the problems with the world today as ‘systemic disconnects that give rise to symptoms” (5). A disconnect between the infinite growth imperative and the finite resources of Planet Earth, a disconnect between governance and the voiceless in our systems, a disconnect between gross domestic product (GDP) and well-being are some of the structural disconnects that handicap the way society relates to the world. It essentially creates systems that have delayed feedback loops that “prevent decision-makers from experiencing and personally feeling the impact of their decisions” (7). Without feeling the ramifications of those choices institutions rarely change their destructive practices. Something I noticed with people at Prairiewoods was that a lot of them had been implementing sustainable practices at their previous places of employment, but there was no other support for them to continue doing that. They did it because it felt right as individuals. However, the institutional structure they were in didn’t value that at all. This is why the environmental crisis is systemic and not simply an individual responsibility. It is individual to an extent, but it is also much more than that.

The book also talks about how the transformation that needs to occur to prevent the collapse of the earth’s life support systems is a shift “from ‘me’ to ‘we’” (16). This is the same concept that deep ecology promotes, which is a shift in identity from the limited ego-self to include other people and the natural world as well. Scharmer and Kaufer say this comes in three parts: “(1) better relating to others; (2) better relating to the whole system; and (3) better relating to oneself” (16). All of this focuses on relationships. One article in the magazine Human Development said that the root of the word religion comes from the Latin word that means to connect. So if we go to the roots of religion it is about connecting ourselves to the community, to the Divine, and to our Selves. I feel like Prairiewoods creates the space to begin that exploration by helping create those connections to other people, the natural world, and our higher Selves. The book talks about how we need to shift the source from where we operate. This is the same idea as expanding the identity that deep ecology talks about. It is also the same idea that consciousness based education focuses on. Maharishi said that education that does not promote better understanding of the self is like building a castle in the sky because there is no foundation for the knowledge. Therefore, in the knower (rishi) is missing from the knower (rishi), known (devata), and process of knowing (chandas). This book seeks to address the same issue by illuminating the blind spot in the source to process to results outline of action. The source is the self. This is the blind spot for most people. These two models are essentially mirrors of each other. They both recognize the lack of reflection and introspection in our society and identify that as the root of the matrix of crises confronting the world right now. I would love to explore those parallels in further journals.

Spirituality in the 21st Century

with facilitators
Miriam Therese Winter
& musician Sara Thomsen

Friday, April 27, 7–9 p.m.
& Saturday, April 28, 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m.

at St. Ludmila’s Catholic Church
211 21st Ave SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52404

Spirituality in the 21st Century welcomes theologian Miriam Therese (M.T.) Winter and musician-of-the-earth Sara Thomsen to the center of the fray of emergent consciousness. What does a planetary spirituality look like today? M.T. notes:

“The signs of the times are challenging those of us within established faith traditions and the many who self-identify as seekers to wrestle with contemporary issues in a whole new way: from the perspective of an emerging cosmology that is affecting life on planet Earth more than we realize. During our time together we will explore how transformative energies are redefining our approach to the Sacred, encouraging us to move beyond established separations and to open ourselves to new approaches to living life meaningfully in these tumultuous times.”

—M.T. Winter

M.T.’s book Paradoxology: Spirituality in a Quantum Universe will provide the framework for exploring a newly emerging global consciousness and more authentic ways of living faithfully in a constantly evolving universe. And Sara’s inspired accompaniment will offer music for the soul to hold us all in rhapsodic orbit. We hope you will join us for this epic two-day journey into the heart of planetary spirituality!


Miriam Therese Winter, MMS, PhD, describes herself as a metaphorical theologian with a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary. She is on the faculty of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut and is the director of the Women’s Leadership Institute and the master’s program in transformative leadership and spirituality. Committed to celebrating the liturgy of life, she promotes an awareness of the Divine rooted in the quantum reality permeating the world in which we live. She also is a celebrated liturgical musician, well known for songs like Joy is Like the Rain.


Sara Thomsen is an artist of the melody, whose music touches the soul and invites us to respond for the good of the global community. Sara’s gentle, soulful and uplifting acoustical renderings celebrate the beauty of the cosmos and call us into fuller communion with the global family. Visit Sara’s website at


Come see how the art of creating feeds the spiritual imagination and reflects the dynamism of the emergent universe!


Conference Registration

The cost of the two-day conference is $75 and includes Saturday lunch. (After April 1, the cost is $80.) Friday only is $25, and Saturday only is $50, including lunch.

Limited lodging is available at Prairiewoods for $55 per night or $80 for a double (includes breakfast). Lodging is also limited at area hotels this weekend due to a sporting event. However, some rooms may be available at Comfort Inn & Suites (319-378-8888) or Country Inn & Suites in Cedar Rapids (319-294-8700.) Please call early to inquire about a room.


Spirituality in the 21st Century welcomes hundreds of spiritual seekers each year, so don’t wait to register!

Compassionate Action

Rooted in Compassion 1

What makes Cedar Rapids a compassionate city?  What compassionate movements are you connected with in the corridor, in the Midwest, in the United States or around the world?  Please share your insights below.

Connect with others focused on compassion:
Green World Campaign
Planetize the Movement
Wake Up For Your Rights Movement
Trees Forever
Matthew 25
Indian Creek Nature Center
Cedar River Garden Center
The Tapestry

Click here to see a recap of the Rooted in Compassion conference that sparked this conversation.

Rooted in Compassion 4

Creative Compassion

Rooted in Compassion 2How does your creativity inspire you to be compassionate, and how does compassion inspire you to be creative?  Please share your poetry, photographs, art and reflections below.

Click here to see a recap of the Rooted in Compassion conference that sparked this conversation.

Rooted in Compassion 3

2014 Spirituality in the 21st Century Speakers Announced

Rooted in Compassion: Cosmology, Eco-Justice and Empathic Wisdom
March 28–29, 2014

Rooted in Compassion

Come and be energized by Marc Ian Barasch and Drew Dellinger as they inspire, challenge and accompany us in our spiritual journey to renew the face of the earth!

Marc Ian Barasch is the award-winning author of The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness, a national bestseller that inspired the film I Am. He also founded the Green World Campaign on principles of “green compassion.”

Drew Dellinger, Ph.D., is a performance poet with literary acclaim across six continents, known for his love letter to the milky way. He studied with the late Thomas Berry and celebrates the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is part of Prairiewoods’ Spirituality in the 21st Century series and will be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids on Friday evening, March 28, and Saturday, March 29, 2014. For more information or to register, contact Prairiewoods at 319-395-6700.

Get in the Spirit of the Season at the Holiday Bazaar

Holiday Bazaar 2013The holiday season brings with it a sense of wonder, gratitude and generosity. Welcome the spirit of the season at Prairiewoods’ annual Holiday Bazaar on Saturday, Nov. 23. It will be a great opportunity to cross items off your holiday shopping list!

Our doors will open at 8 a.m. so that you can enjoy a wide selection of baked goods and gifts for family and friends. You will have until 1 p.m. to fill the Christmas stockings and the space under your tree.

Prairiewoods will offer special items from its Gift Shop and kitchen. Other vendors will offer an array of goods prepared by local artisans. You will have your choice of freshly baked breads and pies, Trappistine caramels, scarves, handcrafted aprons, jewelry, bags, baby blankets, mittens and much more. You also can enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee or cider, a homemade baked good or a made-rite at our Coffee Corner.

We hope you will join us for the official start of the season at the Holiday Bazaar!

Barasch and Dellinger Speaking at 2014 Spirituality in the 21st Century Conference

2014 PresentersPrairiewoods is pleased to announce that we will welcome Marc Ian Barasch and Drew Dellinger to the 2014 Spirituality in the 21st Century conference March 28–29, 2014. Marc and Drew will talk about compassion, eco-justice and hope for the world today.

Marc Ian Barasch is an award-winning writer, editor and producer. He is the founder of the Green World Campaign and author of The Compassionate Life: Walking the Path of Kindness (2009). Marc’s work on compassion inspired the documentary I Am by Tom Shadyac. (Learn more about Marc at

Drew Dellinger, Ph.D., is an evocative speaker, poet, writer and teacher who has inspired minds and hearts around the world, performing poetry and keynoting on justice, ecology, cosmology and compassion. He also is a consultant, publisher and founder of Planetize the Movement. (Learn more about Drew at

Welcome the Marginalized

“Every single person has capabilities, abilities and gifts. Living a good life depends on whether those capabilities can be used, abilities expressed and gifts given. If they are, the person will be valued, feel powerful and well-connected to the people around them. And the community around the person will be more powerful because of the contribution the person is making.”  —John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight

When we befriend those on the margins of society by practicing hospitality and welcome, we create communities where justice can be lived out. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

Circles currently forming (If you would like to join a circle, click the contact to send an email request.)
A Place of Grace, 
contact Joe Kruse
Catherine McAuley Center, contact Gregory White
Cedar Rapids Metro Economy Alliance, contact Quinn Pettifer
Des Moines Contingent, contact Denny Coon
Four Oaks, contact Jim Kirks
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church,
 contact Randy Kasch
House of Hope, contact House of Hope staff
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, contact Christian Roth
Johnson County Social Services, contact LaTasha Massey
Metro Catholic Outreach, contact Christin Tomy and Barb Kane
Neighborhood Transportation Service, contact Mike Barnhart
Northwest Neighborhood Association, contact Linda Seger
People’s Church, contact Rev. Tom Capo
Progressive Theology, contact Joann Gehling, FSPA
Shelter House, contact Kafi Dixon
Shelter House, contact Crissy Canganelli
Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, contact Gary Hinzman
St. Cecelia’s Parish in Ames, contact Tom Primmer
System Thinkers, contact Ellen Bruckner
Third Avenue Churches, contact Heather Hayes
Unity Center, contact Jan Griffith
Wellington Heights Neighborhood, contact Sherrie Ilg