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An Intern’s Reflection 10

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

One of the exercises that we did that stretched people the most was the animal embodiment workshop. In this workshop we had to enact an animal that represented who we are. We were split into groups of three that Sister Marj and Sister Joan had tried to mix introverts and extroverts. We were all a bit wary of this activity since it pushed us so far out of our comfort zone. However, naturally when we started the extroverts volunteered to go first. I think that this was the plan the whole time, because the music that was set in the background for this was quite slow. This created a different dynamic than the extroverts would normally like. The first person to go in my group started with some playful scratches with her “paws.” She then got down on all fours and went through the cycle of a day: eating, playing, and sleeping. During this she let out a few howls which played off of another person who was also howling. Once the music stopped we got together in our groups and reflected to each other what we observed. The two people who weren’t acting described what we saw first. We both guessed that she was being a wolf and that she was being playful. Then the actor got to speak. She was being a wolf, but she said that the music made her slow down. It really brought her attention to self-care, and she seemed quite touched by that experience.

Then it was my turn to go, and I started with some trepidation. We had been instructed to close our eyes during this experience which helped to get into the spirit of the animal. I hadn’t thought much about what animal I would choose, but I have always felt close to deer. With a doe in mind, I got down on all fours but found that that didn’t feel right. I got back up to a standing position keeping my hands out to indicate legs. Then I wondered what deer do. They seem like they just stand around and take a nibble every now and then. So I stood and moved a little. Then I’d lift my head up and “look” around then stand and move a little. After a little while I galloped a short distance away and repeated the process. Finally, the music stopped. We got together in our group to discuss, and I was surprised what my group members said to me. The woman who had chosen the wolf said that she was unsure of what animal I was but that I had a deep inner well of strength and peace. She and my other group member thought I might be a deer but also maybe a horse or a cat. I had thought of those animals while I was acting, and I thought it was surprising that they picked up those signals. I thought that my discomfort had been the most obvious thing, but I was surprised that they both told me that I held a kind of grace and presence that I wasn’t even aware of.

The last person in the group had some slightly more upbeat music to move to. She started out with her hands and feet tucked under her and her head curled in as well. She slowly pushed out her “flippers” and moved around the floor space. Our other group member gently guided her away from some chairs and other things she might bump into. She would move a bit then return to her closed position, then start out in a slightly different direction. We got into our discussion group, and I started by saying that she seemed very deliberate and contemplative. She was very internal which I can relate to. I thought it was interesting how, though we have similar qualities, we chose different animals to represent ourselves. I felt like this exercise showed how every person has unique qualities that can be represented by animals. Through the act of “becoming” that animal it was like all of our different qualities were honored. I often admire and wish I could be more like a “wolf” person, but I know those are not the traits that I embody. I have also been reading this book called Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pincoles Estes. I love that book. A lot. As I’ve been reading it though, I just think: “I’m not a wolf.” I just know that is not the animal that most accurately represents myself, yet I know I have that earthy, intuitive, wild aspect of myself. It just so happens that I am wild like the deer instead of the wolf. It was also funny to see how I am drawn to people who personify the positive “wolf” characteristics, and deer and wolves are natural opposites. We reflect more of nature than we even realize.

I also recognized a connection between this exercise and the dream that I shared with the group. I had a critical character personified by a news man. I do have a critical voice in my head, but after the animal workshop I realized that there isn’t any reason to criticize a doe. It just is what it is. I just am what I am. There are beautiful traits to a deer. I’ve stopped many times just to look at them and to think of myself that way is encouraging. Wolves are beautiful as well, and I still admire friendly yet independent and vocal people. Now though, I can remember the beauty of a doe when the “news man” tries to spread some bad rumors through the rest of my psyche.

In addition to this exercise we also watched Into the Woods which was a modern take on several classic fairy tales. It had us all laughing and also explored unseen sides of archetypal characters. The witch was not good or nice, but she was right. The princes were charming, but they weren’t sincere. I saw in the credits that the same actor who played one of the princes also played the wolf in the part based off of “Little Red Riding Hood.” I thought that was quite profound in itself. Sometimes the same person who is so charming can also be vicious. In the first half the princes wanted their damsels, because they ran away. In the second half when they were married, they yearned after other unattainable damsels. Other than being amusing because of the duet “Agony,” these characters represent the part of ourselves that always wants what we can’t have. There is a great truth in that.

We ended our retreat with a closing circle where everyone brought to the table, metaphorically and literally, the experiences and understandings that they had gained throughout the week. Many people seemed quite touched by their experiences and had a lot of positive feedback and new insights. Some people made drawings, some poems, one a trash can full of prairie flowers. That was mostly just to fit the flowers, but it brought a smile out from everyone. I just shared how I felt supported by everyone in the group to follow my heart even though a philosophy degree is not the most practical thing to pursue, albeit a philosophy of sustainable living degree. I also shared how I could now look at myself as a doe and have more self compassion.

An Intern’s Reflection 9

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

Delving further into the hero’s journey we looked at the archetype of Parsifal as presented by the movie “Search for the Holy Grail.” Robert A. Johnson, the speaker in the film, tells the story of this archetype as it reflects his life journey and the journey of many modern day men. This archetype is based mostly off of the Arthurian tale of the Knights of the Round Table as interpreted into the hero’s journey by Joseph Campbell. At first the hero sets out in homespun cloth and by a stroke of luck defeats a grand knight. Parsifal then stumbles upon a wounded fisher king who points him to the grail castle. Parsifal stays there one night but he never asks the pertinent question: “To whom does the grail castle serve?” Therefore, Parsifal travels for twenty more years fighting dragons and rescuing maidens until he is tired of his gallivanting as a knight. Then he stumbles on the castle again, and this time does ask the question. The answer follows which is: “The grail castle serves the grail king.” This, Johnson states, is “a thinly disguised reference to God.” We must note that the grail castle does not serve the wounded fisher king which represents the wounded aspect of our selves, but it serves the higher power, God, or our higher selves.

Johnson stumbled on a mystical experience when he was sixteen. He had lied about his age and gotten a night job at a factory. He was so shocked at the amount and harshness of the work he had to do all night that when he was done the only thing he wanted more than a warm shower and sleep was to see something beautiful. So we went to go see a sunrise, and he never experienced a sunrise so magnificent. He experienced that moment with all of his senses. It was as if the sunrise reached out and touched his soul. He spent over forty years looking for that experience again. He did eventually have that experience of the numinous sunrise, but he had to experience much more life before he did.

This type of journey can easily represent modern men. The homespun cloth represents a mother complex and the inability to let go of that nurturing force. This most often happens when the father is absent as he is in the Parsifal story. Johnson points out that many fathers are absent for the youths today. This is either because they are physically not there, or not emotionally mature enough to play the role of father. Beyond that, it could also simply be because the structure of society takes the father into the work world and away from the home. I think this is striking, because I know many people who didn’t have a father figure due to any one of these reasons. Many people come from broken families, particularly with absent fathers. It is curious that this is an endemic result of a hyperindividualistic, patriarchal society. One would think that a patriarchal society would create strong father figures, but we can see from our own lives that this is not the case. Clearly, the type of patriarchal society does not create healthy patriarchs to lead this society. Even when fathers are present, they can often work so many hours a day that they have little time left to spend with their children. That is why so many modern boys embody the Parsifal story. I do not know what the equivalent would be for girls, but this story seems particularly centered around the male developmental model. Women with a strong masculine side might also embody this archetypal story.

Without proper guidance of fathers or elders many people stumble upon numinous experiences with no clear understanding of how they got there or how they could get back. Yet, there are instructions. The grail king tells Parsifal to “go down the road a little way, turn left, and cross the drawbridge.” There he will find the grail castle. In the language of symbols, this represents continuing on your current path but turning left, to the unconscious, and over the drawbridge, the division between our outer and inner worlds. Our dreams, like the grail castle, are there every night. We only have to inquire as to the origin of our dream symbols to find the healing and meaning offered by “the grail king,” or the higher self. The numinous can come to us in experiences that touch our core or through the mythic journeys we create every night.

My own dream group process session was really enlightening. It is one thing to interpret a dream and its symbols yourself, and it is another to have many people work on a dream with you. There are so many more levels to a dream than we can see in our own dreams no matter how good we are at interpreting them. There are always different ways of looking at it that other people offer.

In the dream that I shared I am standing in the foyer of my home in Maryland. I look out the open front door and see what appears to be a cat but then I realize is a kid. It is walking by slowly and I know that its parents are not around. It seems as if it is hanging out there, because it wants me to pick it up. I take it inside, but I am very bothered by a newsman standing outside my living room window. I feel as if he will report me for kidnapping this child even though I know I was just helping it out. I feel as if he is invading my space, and I am very annoyed at him. So I close and lock the front door, the blinds, and the back door which was also ajar. The dream cuts to me standing on a side deck with fifteen to twenty friends. We are standing around having fun and eating three flavored, chocolate covered popsicles. These are the most delicious things I have ever tasted.

The interpretation that I started with was that I tend to lock myself away when anyone bothers me. Once people started offering their projections many other aspects came out. For example, the foyer and front door are thresholds of the familiar and comfortable to the outside. I have to go outside to retrieve the child. We did a section during the retreat on the inner innocent and inner orphan the two main archetypal representations of children. The child in my dream represented my inner child which wanted nurturing. Cats can represent independence yet also deep affection, so maybe I need to reclaim that part of myself. The harsh reaction to the reporter could also represent a fear of being known for accepting my inner child. I also can’t stay locked in the house forever. Yet, the part of the dream on the deck is a comfortable space attached to the house but also outside. Maybe I need to find that space in my life and enjoy it like I do in the dream. Three is also a very significant number which could represent the trinities of maiden-mother-crone or/and father-son-holy spirit. It could also be a play on the word “pop” sickle which hints at a positive relationship with masculinity to counterbalance the negative perception of the news channel man. That scene also just shows the sweetness of life, and maybe I shouldn’t worry about things so much.

It’s amazing how other people’s perceptions can be so spot on. I think when you have an outside perspective from the dream it helps to see the greater depth of meaning. Even after the session I got more from people’s interpretations as I sat with the meanings and integrated them more.

An Intern’s Reflection 8

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

On Monday as part of the Dream Retreat we watched Finding Joe. This was a really touching and illuminating movie. I have looked at the hero’s journey before, but it was communicated in a novel and heartfelt way in this film. A lot of people appreciated how it expressed religious and spiritual themes but in psychological language that didn’t have any ties or connotations attached to them. I liked how the people talking about Joseph Campbell’s model had lived that story, each in their own way. They had each followed the calling of their own heart. I particularly liked the speaker who had dropped out of college then started coaching basketball. He then created a company that hired the law firm he would have worked for if he had continued college. That really showed the full circle of events. It was also encouraging, because it shows that you don’t have to take the traditional or “safe” route. Yet, you can still support yourself. Then the next morning we were asked to take a card from the center table. I felt drawn to this orange colored card and picked it up. The message of the card was that there is a point when it is more painful to resist the inner tide of events than it is to take that leap of faith. “No one can give you a blessing for the leap other than your own inner God.” That was really powerful that I drew that particular card. It held exactly the message I needed to hear. As I read the first sentence I doubted if it meant anything. Then I read on and it had exactly the right message for me. Sometimes I feel like cards can have a message that applies but is not particularly pertinent. In this case it could not have had a more fitting message for me in this moment.

The process of dream analysis is more elaborate than I have done before. It takes longer, and sometimes I feel like the questions about the dream details can go on for a really long time. However, once the projections are expressed and the dreamer tells their story it seems like everyone gets a lot more out of it. At other times when I’ve interpreted dreams in a group it seems like too short of a process. There isn’t enough exploration of the dream, so this is good to get all that you can get out of a dream. I really like the quote I’ve heard which is that dreams are “unopened letters from God.” There is a lot more to a dream than the surface level. Sometimes it seems like a dream is just about a worry related to work, but then it also shows the neglected parts of yourself and ties in to other personal relationships. The deepest theme of all of the dreams we have interpreted so far is diminishment and aging. I can relate to some of the other things in the dreams, but this aspect is just part of a different time in life that I am just not a part of right now. I am actually on the opposite side of that hill where I am learning to take on responsibilities and become an adult rather than relinquish responsibilities. I think it would be useful to do the dream process with people my age to get to the deepest feeling among us and share that experience. I think people are getting a lot out of sharing their feelings through their dreams, and it would be useful to do this in different groups of people to see the root theme with the different people.

I have gotten a lot out of the shadow-work discussions. Lately I’ve been having difficulty with my best friend. It really opened my eyes to see him as an embodiment of the rejected parts of myself, both the dark and the bright shadow. I can see that we both have a lot of personal development to do to be our best selves with each other again. In Romancing the Shadow Connie Zweig expresses that “the Shadow is at work attempting to recreate early childhood relationships with a secret mission – to heal old wounds and feel loved” (148). This quote really hits the nail on the head. I often reject the idea that our parents are to blame for all of our personality flaws, because to me, that feels as if we were not taking responsibility for our own shortcomings. However, I can see myself unconsciously recreating childhood dynamics with my best friends. This is a crazy thing to realize. Another aspect of the shadow is that the people we are most drawn to can become the people that infuriate us the most. It’s like we’re magnetic. The people we’re drawn to have the opposite polarity which we have the capacity both to adore and despise. I find that the people who are closest are the only ones who are close enough to get under our skin. Yet we still crave that closeness. It is only once we truly love our shadow that we can truly love another person. This is something that never seems to be completed for anyone. This can be good in that there is always greater depth to achieve, but negative in that we will never summit this particular mountain.

We also watched Groundhog Day. It was surprisingly representative of the hero’s journey. At first Phil is miserable and seeks only short term benefits for himself, but he eventually tires of this. He is still unhappy, so then he puts all of his effort into pursuing Rita. When that doesn’t work he turns suicidal. This is a darkly funny part of the movie, yet it coincides with the hero’s journey in that the ego must undergo a death in order to transform. Then he slides into a deep depression which represents the underworld in the hero’s journey, or rock bottom. Eventually he decides to delve into the arts simply for the sake of doing it. This seems to be the turning point. He also starts helping people just because he can. In doing this he attracts Rita towards him, because he has become a man that she can admire. I really like the set-up of the movie. People can feel like they are living the same day over and over again. We tend to attract the same people into our lives who react the same way and will continue to do so until we change ourselves. We have to learn to love our shadow as Phil does in this film as is represented by the groundhog, Phil, seeing its shadow. If we do that we can love where we are now and only by loving that place can we finally move on.

An Intern’s Reflection 7

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

I sat in on the facilities meeting this Thursday. Since I’ve never sat in on a facilities meeting at any other place it’s difficult to have perspective on this, but I am pretty sure that it is run slightly different here. The meeting started with a gong to the singing bowl. Then someone read a short poem which lead into a reflection on the two types of impulses, to put together and to break apart, as personified by Christopher Columbus and Carl Jung. After that was another short poem and a country song reflecting on how we are “growing houses” where the corn fields used to be. I appreciated how the meeting brought attention to the big picture of the world right now through the artistic forms of poetry and music. I personally love poetry and poetic music so that in itself made the meeting better for me, but I also think that it is a good idea to draw the attention to the global-historic context before going in on the details of Prairiewoods. The cinnamon rolls Nancy made helped everyone enjoy the meeting more as well.

Once discussion of Prairiewoods started, we started with the positive aspects. Someone lead a short prayer then staff members were given the chance to say something that had gone well in their area of ministry. This gave people an opportunity to say something good that they had accomplished recently and be recognized for it. Then the agenda gave people the space to say something good that they had noticed in other people’s areas. This approach helps open people to the next question which was “What situations have you experienced or noticed that ‘pulls us apart.’” I particularly like the way that this is phrased, because it doesn’t put blame anywhere. It actually points to the root issue which is the stresses that disintegrate relationships. This is a really important distinction between singling out people for the times when they didn’t act in the most beneficial ways and pointing to the situations that don’t bring out the best in us. People were ready to answer this question once it was raised. This is a small organization that does a big job, and that can be stressful. Prairiewoods seems to work because people really do love their work and the environment that it creates here. There is really no better foundation than that. From there, everyone can come together to give feedback on the positive aspects and constructive criticism on the areas that could be improved.

From that question, it went back to how we could improve Prairiewoods by ‘adding wings’ as continued from the theme of the first poem. This answer was usually included in the constructive criticism. I felt like on the whole the facilities meeting and the way it was led created space to work on continuing to improve the functioning of the whole of Prairiewoods. It is reaffirming that I don’t see any things, from my relatively outside perspective, to improve upon. This means that there aren’t any glaring problems, but like any relationship, there is always room for improvement. Prairiewoods is an organization that thrives on the collection of relationships that makes Prairiewoods what it is. This meeting helps those relationships stay strong.

In addition to the facilities meeting I got the chance to have spiritual direction with Sister Betty. We started off with the question of “How do I see God?” It was then that I realized for all of my scripture reading and all of my spiritual discussions and environmental philosophy. I really don’t have a clear answer for this question. I have a few images of how I perceive God, but none of them really express a divinity I can relate to. I have several very intellectualized perceptions of God, but nothing I feel connected to on a deep level. Sister Betty reflected back to me that I am still searching for a representation of God, and I am. It made me realize once again that I have so many unanswered questions in my life. For the past three years I have continually had to come to grips with the profound realization that I know nothing and that I can predict nothing. I know nothing, because every new book and class and situation in my life keeps changing the way I look at the world. I can predict nothing, because so many surprising things keep happening. In my reaction to those things, I keep surprising myself. This happens so much that I have no way of saying what will happen in the future, let alone the present. I like to think that I am ok with this. In that meeting though, I had to admit that I don’t know what I’m going to do once I graduate, and that makes me scared. I desperately want to do something meaningful, but I don’t know what that thing is. I am motivated both by the fear that I won’t be able to support myself or make a difference doing something I love and also the fear that I will only ever do what is expected of me and nothing more.

This relates deeply with the first Thomas Merton meeting I went to. The reading was on acting on your deepest passions. It said that your deepest passions are what the world needs and are in fact what God is calling you to do. I have always resonated with this idea and have used it as a guiding principle for major decisions. However, now that I am faced with this time when I have to shift from being a student my whole life into the working world I am particularly frightened. There is no guarantee that there is a place that needs me. I still don’t even know what exactly it is that I want to do. It’s more like an inkling than an irrevocable dedication as the reading described it. Even so, I found the spiritual direction helpful, because I could express what was going on inside, see it from another angle, and start to look for the places where the God-figure was acting in my life.

An Intern’s Reflection 6

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

Monday I got the chance to witness the Day of Self Renewal retreat. I spent almost all day walking and sitting outside. There were a lot of animals out there that day. I saw the mother deer with her young. I saw a few other deer as well. A groundhog came walking up behind me but it got scared when I moved. In the shaded alcove where I was sitting there was a chipmunk building a nest and a hummingbird that stopped by. The squirrels were also really active that day as well. They might have been really active that day in anticipation of the storm that night or maybe it was something else. I also observed that once you are outside you enter into the circle of life as there were several mosquitos who got their dinners from me. I feel like there are messages in nature though I don’t know how to interpret them. I feel like earth-centered peoples knew how to communicate and understand the messages in nature. Now though, there is little nature left to communicate with us, and we are so out of touch that we don’t usually understand the message it is giving us. I guess the best thing to do would be to just spend more time outside. I think it’d be best to have a reason and a structure to do that. I find that if I am slightly exposed to nature then I am more likely to go into it. If I am completely isolated from it then I don’t even think about it. Ecocities and ecoliteracy programs would be great to help create more relationship with nature.

In Fields of Compassion, Judy Cannato proposes that “if all life is fundamentally connected, then we cannot be anything other than in relationship” (68). I have heard and discussed how all life is interrelated, but I hadn’t thought about it as an inevitability. I guess different ways of saying things have a different impact, and this way of saying it made an impression on me. We live in a hyperindividualistic culture that actively teaches the opposite of that. I have to catch myself from thinking out of an isolationist perspective rather than the perspective that everything is interrelated. We are related to everything whether we like it or not. No one can really exist without impacting other people and the environment. Cannato brings this point out from the scientific discovery of morphogenic fields. People in England in 1921 first observed that the bird, the blue tit, would tear off the cardboard caps off of the milk containers delivered to people’s doors. The bird would then sip the cream off of the top. Some people even reported that the birds would follow the milkman around his route. This habit spread hundreds of miles away despite the fact that blue tits don’t travel much farther than fifteen miles from their nests. “By 1947, the habit was ubiquitous throughout Britain and had also spread to Sweden, Holland, and Denmark” (Cannato 27). However, between 1939 and 1947 milk deliveries were stopped in German-occupied Holland. Yet, once milk deliveries started again the trait returned within months despite the fact that the period of no deliveries lasted about five years longer than the life span of the blue tit. Rupert Sheldrake recorded these stories and proposed the concept of morphogenic fields. This idea says that traits like the blue tit’s milk dabbling are not in the brain or genetics but within a field of energy associated with a form or system. Each person has a morphogenic field as well as each group of individuals. “There are morphogenic fields of atoms, cells, molecules, rabbits, elephants, petunias, oak trees, communities, and so on” (Cannato 30). The morphogenic field holds on to characteristics and memories.

To me, this seems to be the scientific explanation for auras. Both auras and morphogenic fields are non-material bodies of concepts, emotions, images, and stories centered around individuals and also shared between groups. It also relates to Carl Jung’s concept of the universal unconscious. The morphogenic fields show that non-human life has, essentially, the equivalent of the universal unconscious. Jung’s idea did not distinguish between different groups of people though. He focused on the universality of images, archetypes, and myths. The universal unconscious is usually the most esoteric thing you can talk about in a science classroom. The morphogenic field theory connects spirituality and science even more than that. Since it is a scientific theory though, people can put it into whatever terms they feel most comfortable with. I am comfortable with the term aura but others may not be. The scientific terminology frees the concept from any religious terminology that often carries too many different associations for people to openly and authentically have a discussion with those words.

In addition to reading I spent time in the office on Tuesday and got acquainted with what usually goes on in there. I was working outside today on weeding non-native plants out of the prairie islands in the parking lot. It got to the point that I would see the stems of the weeds when I closed my eyes. When I focus on any particular image or sight for several hours I tend to see it when I close my eyes. This time was amusing, though it isn’t always fun. It feels strange to kill some plants in order for others to grow, but it has to be done to cultivate the right environment here. If there was no intention I’m sure the land would find equilibrium eventually, but we can speed that process along.

An Intern’s Reflection 5

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

Since helping get things ready for the Garden Party I’ve realized how much work goes into creating those events. I never really thought about how much work goes into that, but somebody has to set the tables out and wrap the baskets. I felt like I could see a lot more of the behind the scenes work that goes on for these events. When there are that many guests even making name tags and table posters can become a big task. It made all of the difference that we got in the day before to set up. That really helped the day of the event go a lot smoother and keep people from getting too wound up from all of the rushing around. It seemed like the event went over well overall. I was at the raffle table which was a little slow at first but when someone made an announcement for the “dough for dough” option all of the bread sold right after that. The auctioneer was funny and hooked people in. He talked with people directly to get them bidding which seemed to make some people uncomfortable to have everyone’s attention on them while he was negotiating a deal with him. It did get people to bid higher though. It was good to see that whole process happen to have as a reference point, but I also know now that event hosting, particularly of that size, is not something I want to deal with often. It went well, but I just can tell that that is not where my highest excitement is. I prefer to talk with people one on one in less crowded environments. It’s good to have a variety of people who provide different talents and also to be versatile in order to meet the circumstances.

There was also a Native American flute concert Friday that I got to watch. I really liked the woman who did the introductory songs. She sang one song that she had written for her teenage daughter on becoming a woman which really struck a chord in me. Her chorus line came back to me a few days after I heard it. “I am a strong and powerful native woman. I am who I’m supposed to be.” She introduced the song by saying how she came from a part Native American family. Native American communities are still repressed within our culture and time, and women tend to bear the brunt of that repression. I am definitely not Native American or repressed. In fact, I am very privileged, and I am aware of that. But her song kept coming back to me later. I really appreciated it as an anthem for women. We need to embrace our strengths, whatever they may be, and be proud of that. The rest of the flute concert was nice, though the finer points of music tend to just wash by me. I appreciated how the flautist told us stories about himself and his songs. He really developed a relationship with us as the audience with his open, interesting, and humble persona.

I have also been reading ten poems to change your life. It starts off analyzing Mary Oliver’s poem, “Journey.” The poem calls for a kind of madness to start your journey. You need to leave rational thinking and other people’s expectations and embark on your own journey. This action is based in faith which arises from gnosis, “the knowing that has no need of information” (Housden 18). I love this term, because it so accurately describes this feeling. Sometimes people do surprising things which don’t make sense from the outside, but this is because they are responding to an inner tug. We live in a culture that values rational, linear thinking, but most of my decisions come from a gut feeling. Part of the paradigm shift that our global culture has to embrace is the recognition of the intuitive knowing. That knowing is where our soul is communicating with us. That is our inner compass telling us what we need to do. For example, playing Native American Flute for a profession might not make sense to a lot of people, but that artist made it work for himself.

Gardener’s Paradise Retreat at Prairiewoods

Gardener's Paradise RetreatJulian of Norwich said, “Be a gardener! Dig a ditch! Toil and sweat, and turn the earth upside down, and seek the deepness and water the plants in time. Continue this labor and make sweet floods to run and noble and abundant fruits to spring. Take this food and drink and carry it to God as your true worship.”

Are you ready to be a gardener? To toil and sweat and seek deepness? Select a week this summer or fall and come to Prairiewoods (120 East Boyson Road in Hiawatha) to nurture your greening spirit!

This retreat is for those who find God’s grandeur in the beauty of living close to the earth. Spend a blissful week working in one of Prairiewoods’ gorgeous gardens, lush with flowers, produce or herbs. Your week in paradise includes sacred space where you can reflect by the pond, unwind on a hammock or sky chair, soak up the sun, weed, water, prune, fertilize or harvest to your heart’s delight. No formal training is required. Whether you’re a seasoned green thumb, an avid gardener or just someone who loves to play in the dirt and help things grow, this retreat will refresh your soul! Gardener’s Spiritual Reflections will guide you through the week to make your gardener’s heart dance!

The cost is $250 and includes Gardener’s Spiritual Reflections, five nights lodging and all meals. The commuter fee is $115 and includes Gardener’s Spiritual Reflections and daily lunch. (Holistic services and spiritual direction are available for an added cost.) To check lodging availability and register, contact Prairiewoods at 319-395-6700. (Online registration is not available for this retreat.)

An Intern’s Reflection 4

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

I’m getting a better picture of how Prairiewoods functions more and more. It takes quite a few people to get everything ready for guests. A lot of times that just means rearranging furniture and wiping down tables, but these things need to get done. During the facilities meeting I saw how people can look calm and collected. This is because all of the details are worked out ahead of time down to how many chairs and tables to put out for a certain group. These meetings take time out of everyone’s day, but it allows everyone to know exactly what the plan is for the upcoming week. If they didn’t do these meetings it would be easy for some information to be lost, and there would be a lot more last minute running around trying to get things ready. That would negatively affect the environment here which is what attracts people the most in the first place. It also takes a lot of scheduling and saying who will do what, when to make everything run smoothly.

I think it’s nice that there are so many volunteers who help out here. It creates a strong community. I can also see how having volunteers do important things can be challenging at times. Sometimes people don’t think they’re needed and don’t show up. Then other people need to do those duties. It is also nice that the staff share responsibilities for a lot of different tasks that need to get done here, but I also see how those added tasks can sometimes prevent people from getting enough time to do their main job. Then there are always unexpected things that happen like a stuck vacuum chord, or someone’s car breaks down, or printer malfunctions. You just have to learn to go with it, and make it work. And don’t forget to laugh. Honestly, I think the humor and positive affirmations is what makes it work. It makes all the difference that people thank you for what you’ve done.

Part of what I did in the past few days has been to help organize the auction items. It was good to see how that process happens. I’ve seen different giveaway baskets and things like it, but I never appreciated how much work goes into all of that. Then I helped a group of volunteers wrap the finalized baskets and make them look presentable. I also worked in the garden a bit. That was fun to mix it up. I wouldn’t want to do that all of the time, but it’s nice to have a variety of activities. I also started to read It’s Time: Challenges to the Doctrine of Faith by Michael Morwood. The main point it tries to make is that we need to bring the Catholic Doctrine into the current era by questioning the worldview in which the biblical texts were written and reevaluating their values with that context. This parallels what I have learned in class about how this time in history is tremendously important and also very tenuous. This is based on the consensus that this time period is a transition between paradigms, or stories. Our cultural story of the division between science and religion is ending. We have to create a new paradigm which unites the two. It’s Time argues this point. It also sheds light on Paul’s Christology, the historical reasons for his changes, and the consequences of them. One important clarification the author pointed out was that Jesus’s teaching about the fatherly love of God was not describing God himself but rather the unconditional love that God gives (47). Jesus taught this to redefine God as loving and merciful, not a God as a deity “who withheld mercy and forgiveness” (47). Morwood also clarifies the concept of salvation. He says it is not a salvation from sin or damnation but “salvation is about saving ourselves from the misery we humans inflict on ourselves” (36). Maharishi talks about a similar concept which is that suffering is not necessary in life. Life and spiritual experiences are about bliss and unity. I appreciate this redefinition of salvation, because it reframes a seemingly dark concept into a lighter and more applicable concept in today’s world. Sometimes I feel that scripture can be read as rather dark, because at the time it was presented, people wouldn’t have been receptive to the kind of light and blissful concept of spirituality that Maharishi presents. Sometimes I can’t even handle talking about bliss and joy as much as we do. However, many people’s world views are based in scripture and Morwood calls for a needed reevaluation of the origin of scripture and a reinterpretation of it. I wondered before I came here how scripture could fit into the modern world. Within the text there are great morals and insights, but my experience reading it was that you have to sift through a lot of dark and strange stories. Books like this are part of the process of making scripture more digestible and relevant to people’s lives today.

Fields of Compassion by Judy Cannato also discusses the importance of story. She says that story guides the meaning in our lives. Stories, according to Cannato, “are powerful containers for energy in our lives” (14). Story directs our focus, and what we put our attention on grows. Like It’s Time, Fields of Compassion suggests that a new story which marries science and religion needs to be born. This is important for both of the fields. Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” I never saw why the two had to conflict with each other, but the story in which many people have been brought up says just that. Reconnecting the two will help re-sacrilize the universe and the way we see it. The problems of reductionism and mechanism will be neutralized once reverence and appreciation of the divine is once again appreciated in all things. I have had more than one existential conversation with my brother about the futility of life if there is nothing more than the physical world. I have always believed that there is more, though I can’t say exactly why I feel that way. He doesn’t agree however, and that belief creates the feeling that life is meaningless. Then there are issues with blind faith as well. That excludes the ability to truly question and engage all thoughts and possibilities. That is why the New Universe Story is so important. The integration of the two will heal those schisms.

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.