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!
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.