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I stand with muskrats

Otis & Friends 3I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

I, Otis, being of sound mind and body, do solemnly swear … I had the bejeebers scared out of me the other day—but in a good way.

I was just minding my own business chasing a buddy around the trunk of a grandmother oak tree, like I’ve done a thousand times before, when all of the sudden he was there, standing right where I wanted to run. I thought about changing directions, but I didn’t want to show him I was scared. I thought about running smack into him, but he was bigger than me. When I was younger, we’d been told about “them muskrats” and how we should keep a safe distance between us and them because they weren’t us and they didn’t belong.

Even though I had a little streak of fear running through me, I just stopped where I was and stared. He had a kind of smile on his face, which took me by surprise. Yes, his teeth were crooked and bigger than mine, but he didn’t lunge at me and take a bite like Scoots said happened to him last summer.

I didn’t want to appear alarmed, so I pulled a peanut out of my cheek and started nibbling, real casual like. Rather than trying to grab my nut, he just leaned over and pulled up some sweet, wet grass to munch on. We just chewed and looked at each other for a while. It was funny, cuz he chewed his food really fast, just like me.

muskratI slowly inched toward him and could smell the wetness in his fur. My hair was flowy and dry from the breeze high up in the tree. He didn’t seem to be too concerned about me, but when I tried to bark a few lines at him, he scrunched up his furry face like he didn’t understand. He worked his nose in little circles like he was trying to write something on the wind. When he did reply, it was a squeak I didn’t recognize. I just nodded a little and made some more noise too, like I got him.

The other young squirrels slowly poked their heads around the tree one by one and joined in the chatter until we were all laughing and rolling on the ground. I don’t know if we’ll be able to be friends, but I have this feeling that if I ever got in trouble, he’d be there to help me, and that’s a feeling I can live with. I can’t wait to tell the rest of the scurry that I stood with a muskrat and lived to tell.

—Otis (as transcribed by Rodney Bluml, Program & Hosted Group Coordinator)

LEED certification & the environmental commitment of Prairiewoods

Otis & Friends 2I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

During this school year, I have become friends with a local college student, Katie Gerhart. She is a student at Coe College double majoring in Environmental Studies and English. (And although squirrels aren’t great at English, we’re proficient in Environmental Studies!) During this school year, Katie is working at Prairiewoods as an AmeriCorps intern. Here are her thoughts on Prairiewoods’ LEED Gold certification …

Part of my internship at Prairiewoods involves doing research on current environmental practices, both at Prairiewoods and in the surrounding community. This fall I was handed a massive binder titled “LEED Application with Documentation: 2012” and was asked to read through it to my heart’s content. My supervisor knew that, realistically, I could not get through the 10-pound behemoth, so she recommended that I skim the technical jargon and spend more time on what interests me. As I began reading it, I encountered an undeniable problem: the binder is full of information that is both extremely interesting to me and pertinent to my studies.

Upon receiving the binder, I was excited to discover how Prairiewoods received its prestigious LEED Gold Certification. As an Environmental Studies student, I had heard of LEED and equated it to environmental excellence in an institution. However, I was clueless about how to become certified, which rankings were offered, and even about what LEED stood for. Luckily, The Binder was full of handy information.

LEEDLEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a certification offered to institutions who apply through the U.S. Green Building Council. The application is quite lengthy and very detailed. It requires documentation on everything from the size of the buildings to the cleaning products used. Often, an engineer is hired prior to submitting the application to help assess the current environmental standard and to offer suggestions to earn points on the LEED application. The points earned on a LEED application are out of 100 and relate to specific environmental techniques reflected in the building, design, and operation of an institution. The final score given to the application is assigned to a certain level of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum (with Platinum being the highest level possible).

The fact that Prairiewoods was granted LEED Gold certification in 2012 is a pretty big deal. Prairiewoods is the only nonprofit organization in Iowa to earn this certification based off of their preexisting building structure. Many institutions are keeping LEED certification in mind as they build new structures because LEED certification showcases environmental values and it can lead to government-issued incentives. However, Prairiewoods was set on becoming as environmentally conscious as possible before it was hip to be green.

LEED Team 2

Sister Helen Elsbernd, Bruce Hamous and Jean Barbaglia Wenisch, the team that secured LEED Gold certification for Prairiewoods in 2012

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration who founded Prairiewoods felt a deep connection to the land and committed themselves to “develop right relationships with all creation and promote sustainability of Mother Earth” (according to their Long Range Land Management Plan). The Sisters worked for a year to develop a common vision for Prairiewoods that revolved around human-Earth relations, and these ideas have been at the center of the organization ever since.

The opportunity to submit a LEED application doubles as an opportunity to physically show the relationship between Prairiewoods and the environment. As I leaf through The Binder, it is clear that years of hard work, dedication, and reflective thought are ever-present at Prairiewoods.

—Katie Gerhart, Prairiewoods’ 2015–2016 Intern

Otis & Friends: Introduction

Otis & Friends 1I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

First, let me introduce myself … As I said, I’m Otis, a resident of Prairiewoods and a member of the menagerie of animals. I will make a few comments and observations about life here through the intervention of St. Francis, who has enabled me to dictate my comments to you. (They were recorded and now are being made available in print.)

I love living on the 70 acres of land at Prairiewoods. The humans here treat all animals and each other with extreme kindness. While many people who come here only get a glimpse of us, we are always watching. The deer, for example, come out to meet some of the humans whom they have come to trust and love, while the red fox stays deep in her den.

When I watch the humans from my perch as they drive their vehicles, I see a very different side of these fellow creatures—much unlike the residents of my small forest. They appear to drive past our enclave and not even notice what a special place it is! I have learned from other squirrels that some humans are rapidly converting land and trees into structures that are barren and lifeless. I am saddened to see our habitat slowly disappear!

Our cousins, the prairie dogs, identify two groups of people: those we should flee from and those we can ignore since they mean no harm. They communicate this information to us, and we follow their lead. Some of the prairie dogs, it is rumored, have been poisoned or shot because they somehow make exploiting their homeland more difficult for humans. This makes all of us feel deep sadness.

Otis close up

a close-up taken by my friend and favorite photographer, Joni Reed Cooley

Our great-great-grandparents passed down to us stories of another type of human who once inhabited a very large part of the land in which our homes now reside. They understood the importance of treating Earth as a sacred place and learned how to use the many plants and herbs for beneficial purposes.

Some of the new humans see Earth as something to exploit for their own benefit. They don’t understand that Earth is alive and must be treated with respect for all of us to survive. They don’t realize that there is much to learn from this menagerie of animals. Even you, perhaps, could learn something from us. I hope you will check back each Friday to hear from me and my friends. (Did you know that I even have some human friends?) Let’s use this year to learn from each other!

—Otis (as dictated to Bill Cooley, friend of Prairiewoods)

Coming Soon: Otis & Friends!

Otis & Friends 5

Throughout 2016, Otis (Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel resident) will be writing a weekly blog. Check back each Friday beginning Jan. 1 for insights from Otis and his friends!

What can YOU do to care for Earth, our home?

Earth as Our HomeDo you struggle with the question of what one individual or family can do to care for Earth? What do you tell the children in your life about the planet and the damage it is suffering? How do you deepen your own understanding of your responsibility to Mother Earth?

Just in time for Earth Day on April 22, 2015, Catholic Sisters for a Healthy Earth released a prayer service to be used with their Earth as Our Home reflection booklet. Together, these pieces can help you and your family honor Earth and deepen your commitment to caring for it.

The Earth as Our Home booklet, released last year, helps you connect each room of your home with the broader context of your Earth-home. The newly-released A Pilgrimage of Blessing prayer service takes the reflection booklet a step further by guiding you through a physical pilgrimage from one room of your home to the next. (Both pieces can be downloaded for free by clicking on their titles above.)

“After a journey, how many of us say, ‘It is so good to be home!’ What if we could say that every day?” reflects Sister Michelle Balek, author of the prayer service. “And not only about returning to the building we inhabit and the relationships there, but the entire environment, the entire Earth Community in which we move every day. It IS good to be here in this home we call Earth.”

The Prairiewoods staff recently used this prayer service to bless the spaces at Prairiewoods, which serves as a home of sorts for many staff, volunteers, guests and creatures. Now it’s your turn: What will you do to care for Earth, our home?

Action Alert

Our Prayers Will Bring Hope. Our Lights Will Guide the Way.
December 2014/January 2015

December 1 to 12, world leaders will try to agree on the fundamentals of a climate change treaty in Lima that will guide the 2015 Paris climate talks. If we are to stop climate change we need a strong meaningful agreement that everyone can commit to. Lima is where our leaders have to “nail down” the fundamentals of the agreement, giving a year to work on the details so that they can agree and sign a climate treaty in December 2015. Thus, success in Lima would be one giant step forward for a robust climate treaty that protects our planet and our future.

When world leaders come together, they need to know that we are holding them in our thoughts, meditations and prayers. Each evening from December 1 to 7, households and communities around the world are invited to light a candle, or solar lamp, and pray, meditate, or offer an invocation for a climate agreement. On Sunday, December 7, from 8 to 8:30 p.m. worldwide, people from diverse faith and spiritual communities will gather for public vigils.

This year the IPCC (the United Nation’s International Panel of Climate Change experts) has released the most comprehensive report on climate change ever made. The conclusions are sobering – our climate is changing at a disastrous rate because of our carbon emissions. We must wake up during this Advent and act now. Humanity is facing the greatest challenge since evolution began.

Why?

• Earth is almost half way to the maximum amount of warming our living Earth can tolerate before its systems become unavailable to support life.

• The ideal amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is 350 parts per million. The current level is 404 parts per million.

The fossil fuel industries have 2795 gigatons of carbon dioxide resources in supply and yet Earth and humanity can withstand only 560 gigatons of carbon dioxide before going over the 3.6 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase.

Reflections and Actions:

• “… this task entrusted to us by God the Creator requires us to grasp the rhythm and logic of creation. But we are often driven by pride of domination, of possessions, manipulation, of exploitation; we do not “care” for it, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a gift that we must care for.” (Pope Francis, 6/5/13, Environment)

• Take a photo at a public vigil you attend; post it on Facebook or Twitter with #LightForLima along with your hopes for the future. Our digital vigils will tell politicians that people around the world are watching and praying for action.

• More information on “Light for Lima” is at http://ourvoices.net/Lima and information regarding the gathering of world leaders is at http://unfccc.int/meetings/lima_dec_2014/meeting/8141.php.

• Read the summaries or reports from the IPCC at http://www.ipcc.ch.

• A prayer is located at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx52-Hz0qRx5bGNkLS1td1FkRmc/view?usp=sharing. Other resources for organizing a vigil are at http://ourvoices.net/lima-resources.

• Sign the Our Voices petition urging global leaders to prevent devastating climate change as part of the vigil at http://ourvoices.net.

• U.S. citizens are invited to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to contribute to the Green Climate Fund that helps developing nations mitigate and adapt to the greatest impacts of climate change at http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/50887/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=11955.

• For signs of hope, read the June 2014 article entitled, The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate written by Al Gore at http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-turning-point-new-hope-for-the-climate-20140618.

• Reflect on what is possible – even if at first the challenges seem insurmountable. What urgent action must be taken in our mission to care for Earth?

“Pope Francis has called human trafficking “a crime against humanity” and “an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.”

The 2015 World Peace Day will focus on human trafficking. The theme is, “Slaves no more, but brothers and sisters.” Do you recognize your brothers and sisters around the world as made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore having “equal dignity”?

Trafficking, which generates huge amounts of income for organized crime, threatens peace because it is based on a lack of recognition of the fundamental human dignity of its victims, the Vatican statement said. Information, resources, and the Pope’s message for the day are at http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/war-and-peace/world-day-of-peace.cfm.

Copyright © 2014 Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, All rights reserved.

Active Peacemaking: My, How I Have Changed

Prairiewoods’ friend Chris Gaunt recently wrote an article for Prairiewoods about her extensive attempts to create peace in this world. Here are her thoughts …

Chris GauntMy Iowa friends and acquaintances from across the country are actively protesting armed drone warfare and going to jail for it. But I am not with them.

My history is one of activism. In 2003 and 2006 I endured jail sentences of three and six months for peacefully protesting the continued existence of the School of the Americas. Since 2002 I have protested war and torture in Des Moines and in Washington, D.C., and traveled with an international peace delegation to Afghanistan in 2011. I have spent almost a year in jail, those two longer stints plus too many one night stands to remember. I have no regrets about protesting or jail time. I learned that in time of war our government does not respect its citizens’ First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and speak out against the violence.

My most notable peace project covered a period of fifteen months in 2010–2011 when I protested with fifty-two weekly die-ins in the Des Moines offices of Senators Grassley and Harkin. I believed my elected officials had the power to end the wars so I lobbied with my body. After holding a NO MORE $$$ FOR WAR sign for hours, I ended the day by drawing a chalk outline of a dead body on the floor and laid down inside of it. Police or federal security often carried me out of the Senators’ offices at the end of the day.

I rarely protest or attend them anymore and haven’t seen the inside of a jail cell since 2012.

My friends across the country ask, “Where’s Chris?”

I laughingly reply, “I’m just sitting.”

I have shifted from total determination to make political changes through activism to disillusionment and a sense of futility. I believe our democratic system has been bought by corporate power and no longer serves the interests of Americans or of Mother Earth. I have changed. My focus is now on things I can change.

I explain why I am no longer involved in protests and tell my friends what hasn’t changed. My core beliefs remain in following the footsteps of the nonviolent Jesus. What I do now is where my spiritual journey has taken me. Learning to meditate, becoming a vegan, joining two vision quests and reading Steps to Knowledge have encouraged my God to get bigger, my heart to open and my life to change. It hasn’t been a sudden shift but began in late 1999 when I became interested in meditation and followed the advice of author Eknath Easwaran. I memorized the words to St. Francis of Assisi’s well known peace prayer. Easwaran advised, “Don’t change the words, and just stick with it.” I thought about what that meant for my life on a daily basis and over a course of many years.

Following my first extended jail sentence, I did edit St. Francis’ prayer to more closely reflect my lived experiences. I dropped the last line ‘And it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life’ and started adding lines of my own. By then I was pretty sure neither god nor St. Francis would mind my tampering with the words.

This is the version of St. Francis’ prayer that became my own:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

 Oh Divine Maker,
Grant that I may seek
Not so much to be consoled, as to console.
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

 It is in surrendering to loving myself
that I have been, by god,
both empowered and transformed.

 It is in “coming alive” to self
that we are free to truly live
here and now.

 Then it is in letting go
of all this
that Spirit brings to us
Supreme Happiness.

 Some call it
BLISS.

Early in 2008 I learned zazen sitting meditation and began to practice sitting still each day. Later that year I read Will Tuttle’s book World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony and realized vegan eating was for me. Tuttle made it clear that if anyone wanted to tap down violence in the world then looking at what is on our plates three times a day during the sacred act of eating would be a powerful way to contribute to that. Reading that my purchase of eggs, milk or meat causes the next animal to suffer spoke so directly to my heart that it scared me. I wanted to change, but I could not make that leap of faith. In fear, I put the book back up on the shelf.

Two years passed and I told my spiritual director that I was still just a want-to-be vegan. She said, “Chris, there are plenty of vegans out there,” and the sky opened up. I converted. Eating vegan makes me happy. Today I understand that many family members and friends have preferences for eating meat that are as strong as my preference for eating a colorful plate of raw vegetables has become. And that is ok.

In July 2010 I traveled to northern California for my first vision quest and finished with an understanding that I am a healer and a rule breaker. I returned from a second vision quest in 2012 with an overpowering thought: “Let it come to me.”

From April 2012 through May 2013 I read daily from Marshall Vian Summer’s Steps to Knowledge: The Book of Inner Knowing. Its readings spoke to my inner knowing and subtly converted my intense acting-out activism to a calmer, more centered and grounded sitting. I have come to accept being with myself and God, which are one and the same, really.

Now it is winter 2014. I am here, now. My daily mantra is this:

What I do
(I sit)
and
What I eat
(not meat)
today
does more for a peaceful world than any other thing

I may appear to be less active in my peacemaking; yet I rest in the knowing that the changes I have made in my life are enough, for now.

–by Chris Gaunt, friend of Prairiewoods

An Intern’s Reflection 11

by Pia Fritsch, Prairiewoods Intern

What Greater Cathedral?
Why are monuments to the
Living God
Made of stone?
I do not comprehend this
Holy Weight.
What greater cathedral could we build than an
Oak savannah?
What taller ceiling than the sky?
What greater columns than the
Trunks of old oak trees?
What purer communion of earth and heaven
Than root and leaf?
What more beautiful mural
Than illuminated foliage?
Once as a child, I perceived the world as a great oak tree
In space, Self-rooted, as the magnetic polar exchange.
As a young adult, I feel like an Ent,
A tree granted freedom to move.
And,
With all my growing heart,
I wish for the old woman I will become,
And for my unconceived children that the churches
Of the future
Will be made of
A Living Wood.

As I was looking out at the restoration of the oak savannah and prairie this weekend I saw the relatively small oak trees and wondered how it would feel to walk in a field of ancient trees. I had the thought that there is great majesty and awe in the presence of towering trees. I feel like that would be the best place to pray, where the earth communes with the sky. When I read the Bible I was confused when I read the phrase the “living God.” To me, I feel like religion has become encapsulated in a restrictive paradigm. It is as if people are ready for something new now, but the doctrinal powers of religion are resisting this change. I have read a lot of books here on this subject. I was attracted to Prairiewoods originally, because it is a place where people can merge their faith with an expanded awareness of spirituality beyond the usual topics in church. So I pondered the term “living God” and thought how that name could be best represented by a living environment. I feel like no building could ever be as expansive as a field or as tall as the oldest trees. When I thought this I imagined myself small in comparison to the trees and space. Then in my mind’s eye I looked up and saw the massive trunk of the closest tree recede into space. I had this feeling of expansion and joy in my chest when I imagined that. This poem is basically an ode to that moment, but as with anything for me there are more questions than answers in this poem. The truth of this moment in history is stranger than fiction. Even though the only reality I have ever known has been based on the logarithmic depletion of an already depleted earth, it still seems strange. There is something inherently wrong with destroying life, even if it’s non-human life.

This Wednesday I was walking through the woods and then came upon the prairie. I saw some Black-Eyed Susans in the field which reminded me of the seeds I had gotten from the dream retreat. It said on the package: “Help us plant the seeds of peace and transformation.” This then reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend when I was telling him that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. He had replied that everyone is a seed. You may not know what seed you are, but the potential is always there. Then I thought about the restoration work on the prairie and I thought: “I just need to find the right environment for my ‘seed,’ and then I’ll be able to grow into whatever plant that is me.” All I need to do is go where I feel most nurtured, emotionally, mentally, physically, socially, spiritually, and that is enough to kick start the potential within myself. I don’t need to force an image of what I think I will do on my life. The ‘plan’ or events of my life will arise organically and in many ways unpredictably. Roger Housden says in ten poems to change your life that “instead of making ourselves, this more ancient tradition would say we ourselves are there in embryo from the start, and we unfurl as we go along, colored by circumstance and climate. Just as an oak tree is there already in the acorn, the baby carries on its brow and in its eyes the mark and signature of its later life” (98). This doesn’t mean that every detail is predetermined, but there is an essence to the “quality of engagement that is unique to him. It is as if our joys and trials are there in seed from the beginning” (Housden 98). Therefore, our essence and potential is within us. All we need to do is “discern that pattern, listen for it, and give room for it to emerge” (Housden 99).

I can feel reaffirmed then, because I do feel like I have listened to myself at least in the area of education. I have taken the route that has no security or even career path, but that I wanted to take for the sake of learning about it. I just need to keep listening to myself, and put myself in the right environment. Prairiewoods has been a great environment for me to continue to grow. I couldn’t have anticipated that I would find a place like this to intern at. I just need to take one step at a time and not get caught up in the need to plan everything, while not forsaking everything to chance.

I have really enjoyed my time here. I’ve met some really fun and amazing people. I’ve had a lot of time to reconnect myself to nature. I feel like I will be able to clearly articulate what this experience has done for me in retrospect, but for now I am just glad to have been here. I’ve more than doubled my list of good books to read. I’ve absorbed some great knowledge from books and activities that I’ve participated in here. I came here with the intention to see how Prairiewoods creates the space for personal transformation. I saw this the most in the Dream Retreat where lectures, group discussions and dancing helped build trust and insight. It was difficult that I don’t know people in the area, so I did get bored sometimes. However this created the time for me to just go outside. That time that I would normally spend with friends became nature time. I wouldn’t say I had any kind of mystical experiences, but I did get something out of that interaction. Mostly I enjoy nature, because it’s beautiful. It brings some balance to myself. I also got a taste for one version of how small organizations can run. Mostly, I think I will sit with this experience and put it into perspective as I go on. I still think it’s funny that I’ve worked with nuns, and even more so because they are basically hippie-Catholics. I think hippie-Catholicism is a great place to start personal and collective transformation.

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.