From 1953 to 1981 a silver haired woman calling herself only “Peace Pilgrim” walked more than 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace. She vowed to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until given shelter and fasting until given food.” In the course of her 28 year pilgrimage she touched the hearts, minds, and lives of thousands of individuals all across North America. Her message was both simple and profound. It continues to inspire people all over the world: “This is the way of peace: overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”
She believed that world peace would come when enough people attain inner peace. Her life and work showed that one person with inner peace can make a significant contribution to world peace.
Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words
I HAD A VERY FAVORABLE BEGINNING, although many of you might not think so. I was born poor on a small farm on the outskirts of a small town, and I’m thankful for that. I was happy in my childhood. I had a woods to play in and a creek to swim in and room to grow. I wish that every child could have growing space because I think children are a little like plants. If they grow too close together they become thin and sickly and never obtain maximum growth. We need room to grow.
We begin to prepare for the work that we have to do and customarily we have no idea what we are preparing for. So as a child I had no idea what I was preparing for. And yet, of course, I was in many respects preparing. I was preparing for the pilgrimage when I chose my rule of ‘first things first’ and began to set priorities in my life. It led to a very orderly life and it taught me self discipline – a very valuable lesson, without which I could never have walked a pilgrimage. I carried it right into my adult life.
I received no formal religious training as a child. (It would be less that I would have to undo from my mind later on!) My first view inside a church was when I was twelve years old and I looked through the doorway of a Catholic church to watch janitors clean the cathedral. When I was sixteen I entered a church for the first time to attend a wedding.
When I was a senior in high school I began to make my search for God, but all my efforts were in an outward direction. I went about inquiring, “What is God? What is God?” I was most inquisitive and I asked many questions of many people, but I never received any answers! However, I was not about to give up. Intellectually I could not find God on the outside, so I tried another approach. I took a long walk with my dog and pondered deeply upon the question. Then I went to bed and slept over it. And in the morning I had my answer from the inside, through a still small voice.
Now my high school answer was a very simple answer — that we human beings just lump together everything in the universe which is beyond the capacity of all of us, and to all those things together some of us give the name God. Well, that set me on a search. And the first thing I did was to look at a tree, and I said, there’s one. All of us working together couldn’t create that one tree, and even if it looked like a tree it wouldn’t grow. There is a creative force beyond us. And then I looked at my beloved stars at night and there’s another. There’s a sustaining power that keeps planets in their orbit.
I watched all the changes taking place in the universe. At that time they were trying to keep a lighthouse from washing into the sea. They finally moved it inland and said they had saved it. But I noticed all these changes and I said, there’s another. There is something motivating towards constant change in the universe.
When I reached confirmation from within I knew beyond all doubt that I had touched my highest light.
Intellectually I touched God many times as truth and emotionally I touched God as love. I touched God as goodness. I touched God as kindness. It came to me that God is a creative force, a motivating power, an over-all intelligence, an ever-present, all pervading spirit — which binds everything in the universe together and gives life to everything. That brought God close. I could not be where God is not. You are within God. God is within you.
I was working in the five-and-ten-cent store between my junior and senior year in high school. I just loved the work, especially fixing up counters so they would look pretty. They even let me fix up the windows because I liked to do that. Well, you know, I was cheaper than a window decorator!
I had two registers at my counter. One day I didn’t have the proper change in one register so naturally I went over to the other and rang “no sale” and took out the change. Then I discovered I had committed a cardinal sin. I heard them whispering, “She rang ‘no sale’!” The male floorwalker came over and said, “Come with me.” He put me at a counter in a corner that needed fixing up. He left me there, and then came back and said, “Why did you do that?” I replied, “I still don’t know what I did. I just took change out of the register — I didn’t steal any money.” He said, “You were instructed never to ring ‘no sale’.” I answered, “I wasn’t instructed at all.”
Then he went to the female floor walker who was supposed to instruct me. I was reinstated. But, because of the incident, she then hated me. I knew that something needed to be done about it. Then I passed her desk and noticed a few faded flowers there. The next morning I brought her a beautiful bouquet of flowers from my garden. I said, “I noticed those faded flowers. I know you love flowers and here are some from my garden.” She couldn’t resist them. At the end of the week we walked out of there arm in arm!
I feel sure I was being prepared for the pilgrimage when I read the Golden Rule in history, “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you” — expressed in a lot of different ways and pointing out that every culture had one. It got an inner confirmation from me. It affected my entire life. In fact, there were certain offshoots of the Golden Rule which carried over even into the pilgrimage. When I was in high school I had a little saying, If you want to make friends, you must be friendly. If you analyze it, that is an offshoot of the Golden Rule. It is the recognition that people react according to the influences brought to bear upon them. I have it in my life today with my little saying, If you want to make peace, you must be peaceful.
I put the Golden Rule into practice just beyond my student days. I was given a job that one of my girl friends wanted, and I was elected to an office in a community club that she also wanted. I thought she hated me. She said all kinds of mean things about me. I knew it was a very unhealthy situation. So I hauled out the Golden Rule — I thought of and said every possible kind thing that could be truthfully said about her. I tried to do her favors. It fell to my lot to do her a significant favor. And to make a long story short, when she was married a year later I was maid of honor at her wedding. See how a little bit of spiritual practice goes a long way?
I know I was being prepared for the pilgrimage when I made certain choices. For instance, I was in grammar school when I was offered cigarettes from a package, which I did not smoke but my friends did. In high school I was offered all kinds of alcohol, which I did not drink but my friends did. Then just after my student days I was faced with a kind of test because all my friends at that time used both alcohol and tobacco. There was such a push towards conformity in those days — they call it peer pressure now — that they actually looked down on me because I didn’t do these things. And gathered in someone’s living room I said to them, “Look, life is a series of choices and nobody can stop you from making your choices, but I have a right to make my own choices, too. And I have chosen freedom.”
I also made two very important discoveries as time went on. In the first place, I discovered that making money was easy. I had been led to believe that money and possessions would insure me a life of happiness and peace of mind. So that was the path I pursued. In the second place, I discovered that making money and spending it foolishly was completely meaningless. I knew that this was not what I was here for, but at that time I didn’t know exactly what I was here for.
It was really the realization that money and things would not make me happy that got me started on my preparation for the pilgrimage. You may wonder how in the world I got involved with money and things in the first place, but you see, we are taught these sets of opposites which are extremely confusing.
I was very fortunate in that I was only confused by one of these sets of opposites; most people are confused by both.
On the one hand I was trained to believe that I should be kind and loving and never hurt anybody, which is fine. On the other hand I was trained to believe that if so ordered it is indeed honorable to maim and kill people in war. They even give medals for it. Now that one did not confuse me. I never believed there was any time under any circumstances when it was right for me to hurt anybody.
But the other set of opposites confused me for awhile…
I was trained to be generous and unselfish, and at the same time trained to believe that if I wanted to be successful I must get out there and grab more than my share of this world’s goods. These conflicting philosophies which I had gathered from my childhood environment confused me for some time. But eventually I uprooted this false training.
[reprinted from the Friends of Peace Pilgrim website: “Friends of Peace Pilgrim is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to spreading Peace Pilgrim’s message. In the tradition of her pilgrimage, all materials on this website are offered free of charge. Anyone working for peace, spiritual development, and the growth of human awareness has our willing permission to reprint non-copyrighted materials in whole or part.”]