The Benefits of Complete Inner Peace: Who was Peace Pilgrim and Why You Should Know Her?

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Recently I began rereading the book “Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words.”  I have found myself getting away from some of the foundational principles that got me out of the hell that I lived in for decades.  I thought that this is a good time to revisit her and get back to one. If you are wondering what I mean when I say “get back to one” you can read a blog I wrote called “Getting Back To One” to get a better understanding.

Peace Pilgrim was a woman who back in 1953 at the age of forty-five rid herself of all her worldly possessions except for the clothes on her back and her shoes and began walking until there was world peace.  Now I cannot say for sure, but the writer of the “Forrest Gump” novel and/or film must have been influenced by Peace Pilgrims story. The part in the plot when Forrest Gump starts running all across the country just because he felt like running while inspiring others is too close to her story to be a coincidence.  Peace Pilgrim’s story goes much deeper than just wanting to walk for peace. After walking for 25,000 miles, she stopped counting the miles and just walked. Although she began to focus more on speaking about her experiences and what she had learned during her journeys, much of the book is taken from these talks. I believe she was what some would call an “Enlightened Being.”  Why do I say this? I will give you an example. She once said in one of her talks “When I began to live to give, instead of to get what I could,” she began to have true meaning in her life and lived her life with unbelievable physical and mental health. She said that since that shift occurred, she never suffered an ache or pain, a cold, or a headache. She believed that most illnesses were psychologically induced.  If you think that seems unlikely that someone could not experience any pain and illness then consider that up until she was 73 she was still walking and not taking food or shelter for herself unless offered. She stopped at 73 because she was tragically and you could say ironically killed in a head-on collision while she was receiving a ride to one of her speaking engagements. And when you read some of the other events that occurred in her life and how she thought and acted I don’t know of another conclusion you could come to accept that she was an enlightened or self-realized person.

Numerous lessons and stories are shared in the book, but there are two that left the greatest impressions upon me.  These were experiences that most people would label as bad, but I don’t think she called them that. In fact, when she describes the stories, it was from a place of love.  It was beyond just acceptance and forgiveness. It was from a place of complete non-judgment. She saw herself as being a conduit for a higher power which she called “God.” She was a person who experienced complete inner peace, and she maintained that peace no matter what events were happening around her.

After several years of mental and spiritual preparation, she began her pilgrimage.  She would walk until she found shelter often times on the side of a road or under a bridge, or in a makeshift shelter.  She would go without food until it was offered to her. She was not a beggar. She never asked for either of these essential needs.  She would accept it only if it were offered. Now there were a couple of times during those 28 years when she faced real danger. On one occasion, she was close to being assaulted and possibly killed by a man who offered her a few hours of sleep in his car.  On the other occasion, she was severely beaten by a troubled teenage boy but what transpired during and after the incident was a testament to her selflessness and strength she received from obtaining complete inner peace.

The first incident happened during the early part of her pilgrimage when she was walking in the California desert in the middle of the night.  A car hadn’t passed her for hours, and there wasn’t a city or town within miles. As she continued walking, she came upon a car parked on the side of the road.  There was a man in the car who some would consider a rather rough looking character. When he saw her, he called out to her “Come on, get in and get warm.” she said, “I don’t ride.” He said, “I’m not going anywhere, I’m just parked here.”  She decided to get into the car. They began a long conversation, and after some time he said: “Say, wouldn’t you like to get a few winks of sleep?” And she said, “Oh, yes, I certainly would!” And she went to sleep. When she awoke, she could see the man was very puzzled about something.  After they had talked for some time, he admitted that when he had asked her to get into the car, he had meant to cause her harm, but for some reason, he couldn't. He told her “When you curled up so trustingly and went to sleep, I just couldn’t touch you!”

Some may wonder how she could have escaped this situation unscathed.   I’ll use her words to explain why she was not harmed. “No one walks so safely as one who walks humbly and harmlessly with great love and great faith. For such a person gets through to the good in others (and there is good in everyone), and therefore cannot be harmed. This works between individuals, it works between groups, and it would work between nations if nations had the courage to try it.”

For those who see this as impossible or they see the world and people as evil, I will share another story of true love and compassion.  Where the small “self” is not a part of the story. The larger ‘SELF’ is seen as reality. During one of Peace’s later journeys, she met a teenager in a small town who was deeply troubled and violent.  He was so violent that he once beat his mother so badly that she spent several weeks in the hospital. Peace Pilgrim had agreed to go on a hike with this troubled young man who everyone in town feared. As they were reaching the peak of the climb, a huge stormed approached.  The boy for some reason became terrified, and his deep seeded rage found a means of escape. He went after Peace Pilgrim and began beating her. As he repeatedly hit her in the face, she did not react. She smiled. In fact, she felt nothing but love and compassion for the troubled young man.  After a few more blows he stopped. Puzzled he said “You didn’t hit back! Mother always hits back.” She just smiled. After this event, something within him changed, and the change lasted. For this troubled youth was never violent again. We never hear these stories in the news so it is only natural that we wonder how anyone could react that way to physical violence?  The animal instincts within most of us would likely take over. But not for her. As she reflected, “What are a few bruises on my body in comparison with the transformation of a human life?”

I am not what some would call religious.  I am not sure I would call myself spiritual, but I am curious. And I recognize that I am one person among billions.  The billions who came before me, the billions currently living, and the billions to come after I am gone. This human life is made up of mystery.  I cannot pretend to know everything, only a fool or a teenager would do so. So what I believe might be wrong. Peace Pilgrim’s story gives me hope and a model to emulate as best I can.  I hope you take some time to read her book and be as inspired as I am.

Until Next Time,

Rich Decker – Mindful Accord and The Hero’s Journey Podcast