Two Articles about Peace Pilgrim
The Living Legacy of Peace Pilgrim
- by Mary Newswanger
And Interview with John Robbins
The Living Legacy of Peace Pilgrim
Marking 50 Years
by Mary Newswanger
|Mary Newswanger is a member of Monteverde
Friends Meeting in Costa Rica, where she lives with her husband
and children. She coordinated the Peace Pilgrim project in Costa
Rica in 2000. She worked many years for the American Friends
Service Committee, on both staff and committee, and later joined
the staff of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, as
secretary of the Wider Quaker Fellowship.
Peace Pilgrim embarked upon her remarkable twenty-eight
year pilgrimage for world peace fifty years ago, in 1953. She set
forth, giving her life as an active prayer for peace and an example
that peace is possible. The year prior to that, in preparation for
her undertaking, she became the first woman to walk the entire length
of the Appalachian Trail. She wrote,
"I began my pilgrimage on the first of January 1953. It is a spiritual
birthday of sorts. It was a period in which I was merged with the
whole. No longer was I a seed buried under the ground, but I felt
like a flower reaching out effortlessly toward the sun." (1)
Peace Pilgrim had also been a member of the Wider Quaker Fellowship.
Peace's brother-in-law, Eugene Young, was something of an archivist,
and over the years he carefully compiled a scrapbook of her pilgrimage.
Her WQF membership card is there; the name "Mrs. Ryder" neatly typed
and signed by Rufus M. Jones, the founder of the American
Friends Service Committee and the Wider
Quaker Fellowship. A copy of the scrapbook now resides in the
College Library Peace Memorial Collection, which houses all of
the Peace Pilgrim materials.
In a letter to her family January 22, 1953 she wrote: "When I
last wrote you I was Mildred Ryder. Now I am Peace Pilgrim. As far
as my affiliation with peace organizations is concerned, I have now
no affiliation whatsoever, but I have worked with the American Friends
Service Committee, the Fellowship
of Reconciliation, and the Women's
International League for Peace and Freedom."
Out of the tumult of years the American Friends Service Committee
was created, 'To try what Love will do.' Out of the tumult of years
Peace Pilgrim stepped forth. During the first eleven years, Peace
walked 25,000 miles - the equatorial circumference of the Earth. After
that she stopped counting miles, but never stopped walking and talking
until her death in 1981, when she was killed in an automobile accident
while being driven to a speaking engagement. In all those years, her
message never varied; her commitment never wavered.
the newspaper, freely offering Peace Pilgrim materials in Russian, both
the book Peace Pilgrim and the Steps booklet, to anyone
who would like to receive them. The ad received a response from 21,500
individuals! With assistance from Friends of Peace Pilgrim in California
all these requests were filled.
Serguei Badaev and family
|Fifteen years ago (1988),
Steps Toward Inner Peace
was first sent to WQF Fellows (then "members"). Its message is
clear and timely, then as now. I was secretary of the Wider Quaker
Fellowship at that time, and I received notes of appreciation
from many people. I remember corresponding briefly with Serguei
Badaev, a young man from Russia, who was especially interested
to learn more about her life. Years later I was delighted to learn
that, shortly after receiving Steps, Serguei had started
a little Peace Pilgrim Center in Moscow. He placed a small ad
In 1991, I moved to Costa Rica, a country that abolished its army in
1948, over fifty years ago. Costa Rica has actively worked for peace
in both politics and education. In 1987, former president Oscar
Arias received the Nobel Peace Prize for his Central American peace
plan that helped to end war in the region. The United Nations University
for Peace (UPAZ) is also located in Costa Rica. Around the world, the
year 2000 saw a flurry of activity promoting peace, with Costa Rica
deeply interested and involved. Costa launched an energetic program
called Costa Rica 2000: A new millennium of peace - designed
to send a strong message to the global community that the next millennium
should be a time of peace.
invited to Costa Rica to play the part of Peace Pilgrim. Years before,
Jemila had portrayed Peace Pilgrim for school children in the States
as part of a Living History project, and she would do the same in Costa
Muller, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations
and chancellor emeritus of the UN University for Peace, suggested
the idea of recognizing Peace Pilgrim's life work for peace by
having a life-size bronze statue of her walking placed on the
grounds of the University. Instead of honoring military generals,
Muller has tried to honor and lift up the work of those who have
given their lives for peace.
Fernando Calvo, a well-known Costa Rican sculptor, spent the year
creating a beautiful statue of Peace Pilgrim, and preparations
were made for the dedication at UPAZ. An actress from the United
States, Jemila Ericson, was
Mary Newswanger and Robert Muller
The dedication was to be a vibrant event, full of joy and life - not
a dusty footnote in history. As Peace Pilgrim would have done had she
been alive, Jemila traveled around Costa Rica with Mayte Picco-Kline,
who translated the Peace Pilgrim book into Spanish. They spoke
jointly and separately to hundreds of school children and to various
groups, as well as all the national media. So it was that in the year
2000, Peace Pilgrim was introduced to Costa Rica. With Peace Pilgrim's
old shoes and worn tunic - complete with the little comb and folding
toothbrush that had been in its pockets at the time of her death - Jemila
arrived in Costa Rica a week before the statue's dedication and embarked
on a whirlwind of activity. Peace Pilgrim would have smiled. She would
have seen the humor and fun in this project.
Among those who traveled to Costa Rica for the statue's dedication were
John and Ann Rush, founders of Friends of Peace Pilgrim, who were recognized
for their work of nearly twenty years spreading Peace's message throughout
the world; and Bruce Nichols, who created and maintains the Peace Pilgrim
website, www.peacepilgrim.org, which now
contains the entire Peace Pilgrim book in English and Spanish,
as well as many other resources available electronically. The Steps
booklet has been translated into over twenty-seven languages and the
book into eleven.
The Statue and Jemila
|Of her experience in Costa
Rica, Jemila wrote, "Of all the incredible things that happened,
my favorite was when I returned to my hotel after a full day of
performing; at the exact moment I walked up, Helene Young was
just arriving from the airport. When she saw me for the first
time, her face lit up and she cried out, "Hello, sister! How are
you?" Any concern I had about how she might feel seeing me dressed
as her sister simply evaporated. I grinned and crowed, "Great!"
She threw her arms around me and said, "That's just what my sister
would have said." Jemila entitled her article, "The
Power of YES - Working for Peace."
The keynote address at the dedication was given by Rodrigo Carazo, former
president of Costa Rica and founder of the UN
University for Peace, who said in part:
"When we make a thought a reality, we realize
that all human beings, in one way or another, converge in God. As
we prepare to unveil an extraordinary statue of a great peacemaker,
we know that utopia is the goal of the visionary. We understand
clearly that whoever desires to be a leader must dream. Yes, Peace
Pilgrim is here. And she, who never asked for anything, who gave
everything, walked throughout the countries, speaking of a new way
of peace - saying that in order to overcome evil we need to do good;
in order to transform falsehood we need to elevate the truth.She
told us that love is the instrument that can contradict hatred.
Welcome, Peace Pilgrim. BenBienvenida, Peregrina de Paz."
Peace Pilgrim's sister Helene Young,
Rodrigo Carazo and children.
Like the legendary American John
Chapman, known as "Johnny Appleseed" for freely giving apple seeds
to pioneers moving West, Peace Pilgrim has scattered the seeds of
peace well. Elise
Boulding is a noted Quaker researcher and author, and has served
on the board of UPAZ. In her book, Cultures of Peace: The Hidden
Side of History, she notes: "The great humane nurturer-leaders
of the past have always come walking. They do not sit either on thrones
or horseback but engage in dialogue at eye level. [...And] they have
always sought solitude and privacy in alternation with their work
in the public arena."
Robert Muller collected soil from Pennsylvania, the U.S. state of
'Brotherly Love', and sand from Santa Barbara, California, from the
shores of the Pacific Ocean, the 'Peaceful Ocean', to sprinkle at
the feet of Peace Pilgrim's statue on the day of the statue's dedication.
He encouraged others to join him, bringing soil from around the world,
as prayers for world peace.
A Quaker couple from Canada wrote afterwards, "We are just beginning
to reflect earnestly on the Peace Pilgrim and Costa Rican adventure
that we undertook. We call it a spiritual adventure, and it was every
bit fulfilling in that inner way. The Peace Pilgrim weekend, with
the seminar and dedication of the statue, stood alone as a treasured
opportunity to be present with all these wonderful travelers and workers
Peace's sister Helene
at the dedication.
1908 - 1981 Let us all be Peace Pilgrims...
Some of Peace Pilgrim's own words:
"Do you know God? Do you know there is a power greater
than ourselves which manifests itself within us as well as everywhere
else in the universe? This I call God. Do you know what it is to know
God, to have God's constant guidance, a constant awareness of God's
presence? To know God is to reflect love toward all people and all
creations. To know God is to feel peace within - a calmness, a serenity,
an unshakeableness which enables you to face any situation. To know
God is to be so filled with joy that it bubbles over and goes forth
to bless the world." (2)
"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
(1) Peace Pilgrim. Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and
Work in Her Own Words. 1991,
Ocean Tree Books,
Santa Fe, New Mexico. Page 27.
(2) Peace Pilgrim, page 87.
(3) Ibid, page 31.
(Return to TOP)
Reflections on Peace
by John Robbins
What follows is an excerpt of a 1998 interview with well-known
author, John Robbins, conducted by the documentary film crew
in filming material for the new documentary about Peace Pilgrim’s
life, Peace Pilgrim: An American Sage Who Walked Her Talk. Robbins
shares some of his own insights on the importance of Peace Pilgrim
to our life and times. For those who are interested, the documentary
will be translated into Spanish and equipped with a sound track
in Spanish, thanks to generous grants and donations from Friends
The state of peace in the world right now is not very peaceful. In
the United States, we face these questions: How do you find inner
peace? What is the meaning of self-realization, as a member of a society
which produces most of the world’s weapons? How do you express
your conscience, in the face of a war machine that spends a billion
dollars every twenty-four hours on destruction—money that could
have gone to basic human needs that are going unmet?
In the United States today, the reality is that teenagers are carrying
military assault rifles. We have more gun dealers than gas stations.
And those of us who feel called to give our lives for peace, to see
peace develop at every level—in people’s individual lives,
in relationships, in communities, and in the greater political sense—are
faced with a very challenging time, a very difficult time. That’s
why we’re here, because it is so difficult. Love is needed in
the wounded places, in the dark places. We’re not here because
it’s easy; we’re here because it’s important.
Our peace has to come forward in the arena we’re given, where
we find ourselves. However confusing or agitating or aggravating the
situation is—and it can be very difficult—that’s
how much we have to work to bring a quality of peace, a quality of
mental coherence and clarity, a quality of emotional peacefulness
and acceptance, a quality of spiritual presence to the situation so
that we don’t become part of the problem, by not reacting to
the problem in a way that’s just perpetuating it. Instead, we’re
bringing a quality of peace, of love, of creativity, of positive responsefulness
and responsibility to a situation that is in such dire need of adults—people
who can lift the situation and hold it.
Peace Pilgrim’s example inspires everybody who contacts her
because of the depth of her commitment and the depth of her inspiration.
She was not in any way a shallow human being. We need people who live
deeply, who live fully, who sense the predicament that the human race
is in and recognize how dire it is; recognize that the violent aspect
of our natures has now been amplified by a technology that can do
so much damage, and that is doing so much damage, and could do even
Now what she did was to go on a pilgrimage. That won’t be the
form that the commitment to peace will take for most people—except
as in so far as all of our lives are pilgrimages.
Peace Pilgrim’s life is of extraordinary importance to our times.
She was in many ways ahead of the times. She was not recognized as
widely as she certainly deserved to be, and as we would all benefit
from if she was. I don’t think she needed to be recognized more
widely for herself. But for the benefit of life, that we
can acknowledge and honor her work, and her example; it’s very
She taught continually by example, and through her words and teachings
as well, that the end does not justify the means. In that sense, it
harkens back to Gandhi, who spoke continually about the means being
the seed and the end being the tree—and, to Martin Luther King,
I had the privilege of working with Dr. King, and marching with him,
and following him, and listening to him in the 1960s, and loving him
very much—both in the Civil Rights movement in this country,
and also in the anti-war movement to try to put an end to the American
shenanigans in Vietnam. He was adamant also about the critical importance
of remaining nonviolent at all times. His message and Peace Pilgrim’s
are totally integrated with each other. You can oppose what someone
is doing, oppose the act, without letting your opposition to that
act get in the way of your love for that person—for that soul,
for the underlying experience. Then you’re working with that
person, even if they may not know it.
So Martin Luther King would be working for, and with, Bull Connor,
the sheriff of Birmingham, Alabama, who was releasing attack-trained
German shepherd dogs on innocent people. He was also using fire hoses
with such tremendous force that they could easily break bones in the
bodies of peaceful demonstrators. Yet even while he was doing that,
those of us who understood Dr. King’s message and Peace Pilgrim’s
message, understood that this poor man is acting out conditioning
and fear—that lives in our culture, that lives in all of us—racism
in that case, violence in another. It’s all of the same kind
of quality, and our job is to transform that energy. Not to fight
against it, not to antagonize the person, not to be rude, not to violate
their sensitivities—but to uphold a higher standard and principle,
one that they too will in time recognize. In the meantime, the greater
public will certainly recognize the moral quality of that effort.
So, I don’t think we’re going to generate peace by going
to the Pentagon and screaming at the generals, and calling them names,
and saying they’re bad people. We can recognize that their actions
are things we want to change. Then we can say, “What is the
most peaceful, authentic, creative, inspiring, powerful way we can
come up with to mobilize community support to acknowledge the good
in all beings and change things in a peaceful way?” I’m
not someone who thinks I have the answer to those questions. I let
those questions live in me and direct my actions. We all live with
these questions: How do you live nonviolently? How do you live peacefully?
How do you understand the universal wisdom that is inherent in all
beings? How do you respect the inherent dignity and worth of all people,
in a society that is so alienated from the laws of nature and the
wisdom of the human heart?
Someone once said, that amongst friends, sorrows that are shared are
halved and joys that are shared are doubled. In that spirit, it’s
very important that we befriend each other, and share the burdens
that we carry, so that we don’t carry them alone. We need to
understand that we’re in this with each other, and we can support
each other and become friends in the Quaker sense of the word—friends
of life—friends of the community of beings that are
working to bring the human spirit alive, and to respect, and to live
with reverence for life.
For me, living with reverence for life means watching what I eat.
It’s all one web of interconnected life. I try to understand
how my choices and actions impact and influence other people and other
beings. I try to ask whether that influence and impact is what my
soul would want. Is it in alignment with my values? Is it peaceful?
Is it life affirming?
As for Peace Pilgrim, I feel that she and I have been allies for a
long time. I first came across her work in the very early 1980s. Someone
gave me Steps. I could hardly believe that this little booklet
carried so much power and potency and caused so much deep feeling
in me. I felt that here was somebody who had really forged the trail
that I was walking. I hadn’t even known about her until then,
but I could feel that on some deep spiritual level, she had made it
possible and easier for me. It took someone of her strength to do
it, so that then those of us who aren’t so strong can also do
it—because she had led. At workshops I’ve led I have often
shown videos that were made of her speaking at various colleges or
churches. In these videos, you get a sense of this older woman with
white hair who spoke so passionately about something she clearly loved,
with such gusto, that it absolutely shreds your idea of what
aging is and of what peace is. Peace is not simply the absence of
war. No, no, no! Peace is the presence of a
power of Love, and it’s so vital, and it’s so joyful,
and it’s so meaningful to people to contact that, that people
just love it.
The only thing that they don’t love is comparing their own lives
to an example that may be beyond their reach. They can feel guilty,
thinking “I’m not doing enough.” Or you might think:
“Well, I know how many flaws and inconsistencies and superficialities
there are in my life!” So a person like that can, people can
react with that. But that’s really just the surfacing of their
own difficulties, and that’s okay because we all need to accept
where we are. Not all of us are intended by the greater life pattern
to stand out. Some of us work in more quiet ways. It is very important
for people to recognize and respect their particular form of love.
It’s so important that we accept where we are and not put ourselves
down by comparing ourselves to something that we’re not. Each
of us is unique. The special and individual ways we have of loving
and of respecting life and of cherishing life are our own and are
very important. I think of Martin Luther King, and it would be easy
to say, “Wow, he was such a stupendous, spectacular human being,”
and he was! Yet, there were all kinds of other people that made it
possible for his light to shine.
Peace Pilgrim is of the same nature as people like Mother Teresa,
and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi, and many, many beings whose
names have not become so prominent that we can gesture to them and
remember them and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s that kind of
people.” There are people who generate a feeling of respect
and reverence for live in every walk of life. There are people at
every level of prominence and notoriety, from the most well known,
as those we’ve just mentioned, to the least well known that
no one knows their names, except the people that live with them. Yet,
their message is their life; they have the integrity that comes with
the courage of their convictions. They lead by example. Their life
is a statement of who they are; it is a testimony to what they believe
in; it is an offering to the great Heart of life. As far as I’m
concerned, these are the people that keep us afloat as a society.
These are the people who balance the negativity, the violence, and
the destructiveness that can also occur in people’s lives. These
are the people who have the willingness to “walk their talk.”
There is no discrepancy between their words and their deeds. This
is a very powerful thing for those of us who meet them to experience,
because it speaks to that possibility in us to be whole—to be
honest people, to be caring people, and to be part of a community
of caring and a community of respect that is capable of bringing peace
to this planet so that life will thrive.
Peace Pilgrim loved the natural world; she loved life. She saw the
connection between human life and the web of life. Her way of living
was stunning in its lack of consumption of resources. In America,
we have this distorted idea of success. We define success as the acquiring
and consuming of material things. It really is “Shop ‘til
the planet drops,” and it’s sad. It’s very destructive.
But she showed another way. Peace Pilgrim lived in a different way
where we minimize our material needs in order to maximize our spiritual
richness and maximize our sense of heartfelt connection to life. There
was nothing ascetic, in the sense of deprived, about her. She didn’t
go around feeling sorry for herself, or feeling like she didn’t
get to have what other people did. She gloried in the richness of
her inner life and the richness of her connections with people—because
that’s where true richness lives.
I was born into a family that became extraordinarily wealthy, and
I had the opportunity of very first hand experience that money doesn’t
buy happiness. It is very important for our time and our
culture to understand that the pursuit of money, as an end in itself,
is destructive. It’s really insane. The pursuit money as a means
to support life and to give one’s gifts, however, is totally
The impact on the ecosystems that our level of consumption has reached
is so disastrous. We are chewing up the planet. We are so good at
converting paradise into merchandise—at selling the world and
at exploiting and dominating the life support systems—that it’s
a tragedy. It’s a tragedy that is amplified by the great numbers
of people; it’s amplified by our technological prowess; it’s
amplified by our mediums of communication which are so fast now, and
all this is multiplied out. The result is a frightening one to somebody
who loves the simple earth and the good earth, and who respects its
ability to sustain life.
Peace Pilgrim led the way to understanding that by living more simply,
others may live. By eating more simply, more others may eat.
Not over consuming things. Just taking our fair share, and being happy
with that and being grateful to share with others. Then we create
a way of living that’s sustainable.
There’s enough on this Earth for us if we don’t get greedy
and selfish—and all of us do at times get greedy and selfish.
The funny thing is that when we get greedy and selfish, those are
our least happy times. No one enjoys being greedy and selfish. No
one enjoys being destructive. They may get short-term pleasure and
release and compensation out of it. But there’s a great difference
between short-term pleasure and abiding joy, fulfillment, and peace.
Peace Pilgrim stands as human being who found her way of living by
honoring life, and speaking and honoring for peace. Her every breath
became a call, to those of us who would hear it, to move to a way
of living and a way of thinking and a way of connecting with each
other that is truly and happily and creatively peaceful. It’s
a way that doesn’t undermine each other, doesn’t put anybody
down, that doesn’t violate anything, that doesn’t seek
advantage. But instead, it’s a way that seeks the highest good
She was the ultimate example of somebody who had found the joy of
living for the good of all. And all of us can learn from that and
become more ourselves and more fully capable of being responsible
to that possibility. That has been her gift to so many of us. I would
not ever try to estimate the impact of a person like Peace Pilgrim.
Who can say how much good is done when someone lives so deeply in
themselves, and shares so fully, and so easily, and so happily, and
so generously with others?
In our little minds and in our restricted way of thinking, we tend
to assess a person’s influence, or the impact of a life, by
worldly values. We say, “If someone was well-known, or widely
read, or had a great deal of exposure in their lives; then their life
had greater influence.” But that’s not the truth. I think
the truth of a person’s influence stems more from the degree
to which they’re anchored in the universal Truth of life, the
great Truth of all of our lives—and she, Peace Pilgrim, was.
Peace Pilgrim was one of the truly great leaders of this century.
We’re approaching the millennium (1998), and there are going
to be all kinds of discussions of who were the most important people
of the century. There are some who’ll say, “Well, it was
FDR, or JFK,” or whoever they’ll think it might have been.
And all these people have played a part. But it’s been the people
like Peace Pilgrim—and there aren’t too many at her level—who
are the true leaders, who are the guides of the human spirit, and
who are our true spiritual mentors.
Peace Pilgrim has helped me in a variety of ways. She expanded the
boundaries so much that I found I was a person who had a legacy; I
had a lineage. I saw her as someone who had really made it possible
for me to feel comfortable with what I was doing. I think the essential
thing was that I felt in my own soul that what I was doing was respectful
and appropriate. I felt very validated, in a sense, by her.
Her understanding that violence is never a means to anything good
is really important. We can’t hear that enough. Our movies other
media influences are always showing fighting as a way of resolving
conflict. It’s no way of resolving conflict; it only leads to
more conflict. Resolving conflict involves understanding each other,
understanding where the other person is coming from, and understanding
our own motives and the pressures that are at work within ourselves;
self-understanding so that we’re not acting out unconsciousness
as much. That’s what resolves conflict. Not who’s mightier
or more powerful.
This whole idea that might makes right—that you can resolve
human conflict by force—is an old way of thinking. We’ve
seen, again and again in history, the outcome of that way of thinking.
This is the time, and we’re the generation that’s taking
responsibility for transforming that way of thinking into a different
way of thinking and a different way of living. We can resolve conflict
through appreciating our differences, and through respecting our differences.
The symphony, the harmony, the coherence, and integrity of life emerges,
not from somebody imposing their will on somebody else, but from all
of us surrendering to the great Will, and the great Love that comes
through us when we do live with peace.
I have been working my whole life to understand this and to surrender
to it. At a certain point you get to a place where you don’t
say, “Not my will, but Thine.” You say, “Make
my will Thine!” so that I can be an instrument and a demonstration
of what we’re all called forth to answer to. I lose the ability
to talk about these things at a certain place because my mind can’t
really get a hold of it, but my heart sings with it, and my soul vibrates
with it. And when I see somebody like Peace Pilgrim—with every
cell in her body clearly given over to it—I just fall in love
What I understand of Peace Pilgrim’s diet is that she was a
vegetarian. And that’s really remarkable because she was staying
wherever she was offered shelter and eating, presumably, what she
was offered. I can imagine that that took a lot of commitment on her
part, being in the various social situations that she would find herself
in, and I respect that very, very much. Here again, she was ahead
of her time.
Philosophically, to not eat meat was totally consistent with her attitude
for respect for life. Why eat food that stems from violence if you’re
trying to create a peaceful world? It’s that old prayer: “Let
there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” When you
take responsibility for your part in the great peace and the great
healing that our times require, then you ask of each of your life
choices, “Is this consistent with a peaceful way of being, or
is this not?” If it isn’t, you chuck it! It becomes very
simple, really. Your choices become dictated by what generates more
peacefulness, a higher quality of consciousness, greater life and
vitality, and a greater ability to contribute to the well-being of
others. That becomes the criteria of your life.
If you’re thinking about your food choices, you’re not
thinking, “What would taste better to me?” You’re
thinking, “What would serve the unfolding of my Spirit? What
would serve the unfolding of Life on this Earth?” It
includes your pleasure in living, but it isn’t limited to a
narrow definition of what that pleasure is. It allows for a greater
pleasure. The pleasure of living in a healthy body, the pleasure of
living with a conscience that is affirming the way you’re living,
is so much greater than the pleasure of eating a broiled piece of
cow flesh—I don’t care how many mushrooms you put on it!
To me, it’s really a very clear choice. I find it’s socially
easier now than it was when Peace Pilgrim was paving the way.
Peace Pilgrim knew intuitively the connection between our diets and
the level of violence in the world. I certainly sense that when we
are drawing our energy from violence, the probability of us acting
out violence in our own lives is increased. We’ve simply got
to outgrow war as a way of living and resolving conflict, as a way
of strutting our stuff, a way of displaying our egos, a way of trying
to be better than other people, or rising to prominence or glory.
I just think there are other forms of glory than war.
To me, the glorious thing about life is our ability to learn from
our experience and to share with each other in a way that all of us
are able to grow in wisdom and understanding and joy. To me, that’s
the glory of life. I don’t think military conquests are glorious;
I think they’re tragic, because they always involve a great
deal of suffering and death and destruction. Peace Pilgrim understood
this. She understood that to live in harmony with life, one needs
to live as nonviolently, and eat as nonviolently as possible. I think
that’s a recognition that’s part of the growth of awareness
that will allow us to move away from military, violent, and exploitive
ways of trying to resolve conflict to much more compassionate and
The level of violence in our world is so great that sometimes it takes
somebody who is really radical, somebody who really challenges all
the assumptions of the culture, someone who steps outside of the typical
ways of dressing and behaving and talking and conforming, and who
just grabs the situation by the throat, and says, “I’m
going to be different! I’m going to live a life that is so peaceful,
and so happy, and so joyful—that I’m going to do my part.
I’m going to find inner peace, and I’m going to share
it, and that’s what I’m going to do!” They
don’t have any other purpose. They don’t have any other
thing that they’re about. They don’t have any other game
going. They’re not trying to impress anybody. They’re
not trying to be seen as important. They don’t really have any
interest in how they’re being seen!
They have an interest in upholding, inspiring, and supporting the
part of each of us that knows what is right, and is capable of good,
and is responsible to life. All of us benefit from that. All of us
can become a little bit more respectful of others. All of us can become
capable of expressing the joy, the love, and the peace that is in
our hearts. All of us can become a little less stressed, a little
less caught up in the reactivity of our culture, and a little more
connected to the timeless and the universal. Peace Pilgrim understood
what was truly important.
War is a failure. Even if we “win” there is tremendous
destruction, tremendous cost and tremendous suffering. It’s
the failure of diplomacy. In a sense, it’s the failure of civilization.
It’s the failure of us, as civilized people—which we certainly
like to think we are—to find a way of living with each other,
to find a way of resolving our differences and our conflicts that
minimizes the damage and maximizes the value to life.
Some of us have sensed, as Peace Pilgrim certainly did, that “business
as usual” all too often leads to war. We have in this culture
a war machine. We have industries profiting enormously from
the production of weapons and having the political power that that
economic clout implies. The result is in our defense budget; the result
is in the lack of spending in meeting basic human needs. The people
who are employed in the defense industries could be employed in environmentally
beneficial industries. There are other forms of employment. There
are other forms of industry. There are other ways of being economically
I don’t think that safety, in the global sense, comes from having
more guns than all the other people. Our guns have become so powerful.
In 1945, we dropped bombs on two Japanese cities, and we saw a level
of destruction that was historically unprecedented. Yet, what we can
do technologically today, a half a century later, makes those bombs
look like ping-pong balls. We have to recognize that, because we have
to be responsible to the power that we now hold. Are we going to use
it in a destructive manner and obliterate life on this planet? We
might. That question remains to be answered.
But isn’t it part of our possibility as human beings to do everything
we can—each of us within the scope of our lives—to see
to it that the energy shifts, and the direction of life on this earth
shifts, so that we don’t blow each other, and ourselves, to
kingdom come? Wouldn’t it be better to uplift each other, than
to destroy each other? That’s the simple question that Peace
Pilgrim asked, by virtue of the way she lived. That’s the question
all of us have to ask. We can’t escape it! We can try. But on
our death bed, it’s going to be right there in front of us.
How did you live? You lived in this particular time, in this particular
culture. Given these particular circumstances, was your life an answer
or was it part of the problem? And for most of us the answer is a
mixed one. There are ways in which we were part of the answer and
ways in which we were part of the problem.
What I would like to see is that that balance shift. So that, sure,
at any given moment, I can list a thousand ways in which the way I
live is environmentally destructive and ways in which I don’t
live up to my own ideals. But I can also make a list, and hopefully
one that’s growing longer as I live and learn, of the ways that
I am living that are environmentally and socially responsible, and
that are contributing to peace. It’s that shift, so that the
list of the damage that we’re doing gets shorter, and the list
of the good that we’re doing gets longer. You don’t have
to be perfect; you just have to be responsible. You just have to be
honest with life. Then you’re connected. Then you’re fed
by life. Then the energy that’s available to you is so much
greater—energy that enables you to take more responsibility
and live with greater clarity and greater purposefulness and greater
What impressed me about the Steps booklet was that this woman
had lived so simply. She had stripped her life of all the distractions,
and of all the amusements, and of all the conveniences, and placed
herself in the hands of a higher power. She had a level of trust,
a level of faith if you will, in life that was so inspiring and made
me reflect on my own levels of anxiety and fear and defensiveness
about life in a way that made it hard to perpetuate them. I saw how
petty I was in so many ways, in contrast to her grandeur. For me,
she was the epitome of a great human being. She wasn’t great
in the sense of political power, or like some military general. She
was the ‘inner general’ who, by virtue of her principles
and her commitment to them, and her willingness to give of herself,
was a leader on the inner plane. She was a leader for those of us
who hunger for a way of living that is in harmony with the greatest
powers of life. So that was what touched me.
I appreciated what Peace Pilgrim said in that booklet: “I discovered
that making money was easy, and that making money and spending it
foolishly was completely meaningless.” And I thought, “Yes!
She has dealt with the money issue that runs our society.” It’s
not like she was choosing her lifestyle because she was incapable
of making money or incapable of making it in society. She was speaking
for a higher possibility for all of us. And to me, there’s always
been something wonderful about Veterans for Peace, or business people
who then go on to represent generosity and compassion, because clearly
what you’re talking about then is an inclusion: “I’ve
been there.” I understand it. It’s not that I’m
rejecting it; I want to love it, and embrace it, and take all the
people who are there to something better.
She had been married. She had gone through the things that a woman
growing up goes through, in order to be a powerful, dignified, self-actualizing
person. She grew up in a patriarchal culture which was very limiting
to women—still is of course, but it was even more so in those
days. Yet she emerged from that with the idea to go on this pilgrimage
and to eliminate all these distractions from her life. She chose to
eliminate all the ways that we have of keeping ourselves busy and
occupied, and unable to attend to what’s really important.
She was able to concentrate on peace and to generate a quality and
a power of inner peace that was phenomenal, and to share that with
people. I don’t think she talked very much, in her conversations
with people, about what clothes were in style, and what hairdos were
in style, and what new cars were fashionable, or what was the latest
stock to invest in. Not that she wasn’t human and kind and congenial
with people, but she always was returning to the central issues of
life. She did not lose track for one minute of the deep powerful issues
around which our lives truly revolve. Not the things with which we
distract ourselves, but the things with which we fulfill ourselves.
The things that make our relationships work. The things that make
our lives feel inspired and inspiring.
To people who are engaged in a form of livelihood that is very destructive,
Peace Pilgrim is a reminder of their own conscience. We need to honor
life in the way that we live, or else we will cause great damage to
ourselves. You can drink to try to dull your experience of that damage.
You can try to avoid actually experiencing it. But it’s going
to come up and get you—in terms of ill health, in terms of bad
relationships, in terms of a feeling in your soul of wretchedness,
of cheapness, of death. Peace Pilgrim is a ray—a shot of light,
saying, “You don’t have to be this way. There are other
ways of being. Look! And it doesn’t take a lot of money. I don’t
have any! And you don’t have to be young and beautiful. I’m
not! I’m old and beautiful. You don’t have to
play into the culture’s ideas of what success and power are
about. There are all kinds of other ways.
Then you realize that there are people that will meet you more than
half way when you take the steps to become a more responsible person,
a more loving person, a more honest person, and a more generous person.
Then life meets you, and people meet you and make it easier for you.
That’s the wonderful thing that you learn when you take steps
towards inner peace. You learn that other people are taking those
same steps, and the feeling of connection is really wonderful.
Peace Pilgrim promises, and her life exemplifies, a path that leads
to true fellowship, reconciliation, forgiveness, and companionship—all
the good things in life that we want. The way we lower the level of
violence—in the world, in our culture, in our lives—is
by reducing the amount of fear and by increasing the amount of trust.
By choosing love, rather than fear. By choosing to support people,
rather than put them down. By choosing to be honest, rather than withholding.
By choosing to be creative and expressive, rather than stagnating
and stifling of our energies. To be alive—with a sense of respect
for life. Each of us will go about that in our own unique ways. But
the net result is that everything we do to reduce the level of fear
and the level of violence reduces the idea that you can get somewhere
in life by pushing others around. It’s a whole different way
of life that honors the idea that you get places in life by respecting
others and what they need and want. I think that we’re finding
this path now as a culture. I think this is the time to do it, and
we are the generation that is taking responsibility for doing that.
There is within us a power that is up to the challenge. It is greater
than any of us can identify with, or comprehend or grasp. It is something
so immense, that when we are filled with it we know. We know what
our place in life is. We know what our role is in the unfolding of
love on this planet. We know what we’re to do. We know how we’re
to go about it. We know the next step—we may not know too far
in advance—but we know what’s in front of us, and we know
what we need to do. If we give ourselves joyfully to that step, then
the next step, and the next, unfolds. We take responsibility for who
we are. We live with as much peace and trust and joy and love as possible—then
we know that action will lead to the unfolding of the next step.
We do both inner and outer work at the same time. One of the fabulous
things is when you get involved in social change, in political change,
you have many opportunities to react, and to see your own reactivity,
and to see your own agitation, and to see your own violence. You get
a lot of opportunities to work with that, and face that, and resolve
that. Then doing that work—that inner work of contacting inner
peace and referencing to inner peace—what that does is it then
gives you greater energy and capacity to do more work. So it’s
a cycle that continues to fulfill, at both a personal level and in
a sense of the greater contribution.
John Robbins is one of the world’s leading experts on the
dietary link to the environment and health and is the founder of EarthSave
International, a nonprofit organization that supports healthy food
choices, preservation of the environment, and a more compassionate
world. He is the author of Diet for A New America and other books.
He is a recipient of the 1994 Rachel Carson Award. Website:
A version of this has been made into a WQF pamphlet
Printed with permission of Friends of Peace Pilgrim August 2003
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