Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peace Pilgrim

A decade ago, I was walking on the Appalachian Trail, and I came across a little book about a woman who called herself Peace Pilgrim. As I learned more about her, she has become one of my heroes. Each of my heroes exemplifies a different quality that I respect, and for me, Peace Pilgrim exemplifies faith.

I know the word "faith" has some religious implications that turn some people off. Let me explain. I don't necessarily mean faith in God, though Peace Pilgrim did believe in God. I mean faith in life, faith in other people, and perhaps most importantly, faith in oneself. 

I could use the words "trust" or "confidence" instead of faith, but I like faith because it packs more punch. To make bold changes to your life requires stepping out into the unknown, and this requires faith.

Peace Pilgrim, born Mildred Norman Ryder made a bolder change than most. At the age of 44, with only the clothes on her body and the possessions in her pocket, she left home on a pilgrimage, vowing to wander until mankind had learned the way of peace. She walked for peace for the next 28 years until her death. 

She walked until she was given shelter and fasted until she was given food. Most of the time, she was given both by people she met. She wore a sign on her shirt that said "Peace Pilgrim" and on the back read "Walking Coast to Coast for Peace". 

She walked 25,000 miles before she stopped counting. All told, she likely walked over 44,000 miles. She crisscrossed the US, east to west, seven times. She was the first woman to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in one season.

She did not approach people, but waited to be approached. She would then talk to people about peace - inner peace, peace between people, and peace between nations. Her message was simple and clear. Its central tenet was to "overcome evil with good, hatred with love and falsehood with truth." 

She was not affiliated with any religious or political organization. She laid out her ideas in a pamphlet she wrote called Steps to Inner Peace. You can read the pamphlet and more about her life here.

I have learned a lot from her ideas about peace, but what inspires me most about Peace Pilgrim is the example she set. You might think that renouncing all your possessions and setting out on a lifetime pilgrimage for peace is crazy or perhaps fruitless. But you cannot argue with the fact that this woman had balls. This woman had conviction. This woman was living her life one hundred percent according to her values.

It is one thing to say, "the universe will provide". It is quite another to put this belief to the test and set out penniless with only your clothes and a "Peace Pilgrim" sign and just start walking. She braved weather, thirst and hunger, loneliness, dangerous people, and the possibility that maybe it wouldn't work out. This was a woman who had tremendous faith in God, in the goodness of others, and in her own abilities.

I can safely say that I will never undertake something so outlandish as Peace Pilgrim's pilgrimage. But in my own life, I have walked into the unknown in smaller ways. Sometimes at my own choosing - quitting my job and going into private practice. Sometimes not at my own choosing - the end of a relationship

Either way, I look to Peace Pilgrim to remind me to have faith. Faith that things will be ok, faith that my friends and family will be there to support me, faith in my own resilience, energy, strength, and abilities. 

Who are your heroes, and why are they your heroes? How do you keep the faith, especially when you are starting something new or life throws you a curveball?