Peace Pilgrim II

October 15, 2008

Continued from previous post: Peace Pilgrim.

The most intriguing aspect of Peace Pilgrim’s story for me is: Exactly what kind of changes have to happen within the life of a middle aged woman living a conventional life of material comfort to propel her to set out  to walk across a vast country alone and penniless in the name of world peace?

In her book she tells of a fateful night when, filled with deep yearning, she walked through the woods until dawn asking God (substitute a word you are comfortable with- ‘ Higher Self’, ‘Universal Intelligence’ etc) how she could be of service. She did receive a clear indication of what she would do; but between that moment and the one in which she left her old life to set her first step for peace, were 15 years of rigorous psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical preparation.

On the hour long video about her life on You Tube I can understand her family’s puzzlement about the transformation of their ordinary sister, ex-wife, relative, ‘Mildred’, into this powerful spiritual teacher. When asked they just can’t figure out where the impulse came from to make her cut her ties so irrevocably and become this unrecognizable person.

Peace Pilgrim, from her book:

When I started out my hair had started to turn silver. My friends thought I was crazy. There was not one word of encouragement from them. They thought I would surely kill myself walking all over.  But that didn’t bother me…There was much pressure to compromise my beliefs but I would not be dissuaded. Lovingly I informed my friends of… two widely divergent paths in life and of the free will within all to make their choice.

There is a well-worn road which is pleasing to the senses…but leads nowhere. And there is the less travelled path, which requires purifications and relinquishments, but results in untold spiritual blessings.

So when I am feeling bogged down by all the clutter in my life, both mental and material, I reach for Peace Pilgrim and drink deeply of the purity of her teachings. I feel that her preparation to take on her pilgrimage plus the nearly 3 decades of walking  ceaselessly for world peace created a truly enlightened being.
Her family may be bewildered by the power and authority of her words, but for me they are genuine, healing and empowering:

Who am I? It matters not that you know who I am; it is of little importance. This clay garment is one of a penniless pilgrim journeying in the name of peace. It is what you cannot see that is so very important. I am one who is propelled by the power of faith; I bathe in the light of eternal wisdom; I am sustained by the unending energy of the universe; this is who I really am!




Peace Pilgrim

October 15, 2008

from the book,’Peace Pilgrim, her life and work in her own words’. ‘photo taken by Jim Merrill, courtesy Linda Ann Scott’

Mildred Norman Ryder, AKA Peace Pilgrim
Spiritual teacher, Non-violence advocate

Peace Pilgrim crossed the US on foot 7 times, covering 25,000 miles before she stopped counting. 


While I’ve been in bed sick this past week, I’ve picked up my old Peace Pilgrim book. I have always been  intrigued by this incredible, joyous woman who at age 44 set out alone across America to walk for world peace. 

When I lived in Pittsburgh in the late 60’s and 70’s, everyone knew who she was.  I may have actually seen her walking along the highway there, I’m not sure. I do know I carried a newspaper clipping about her with me wherever I went for years.

The thing is, I have something about Peace Pilgrim; there is a part of me that secretly yearns for the courage to do even a fraction of what she did- ie trade a self centered cluttered life for a clear, one pointed, spiritually centered one.  Oh, we all do it theoretically in parts, but she unequivocally chose a path of service, and the difference between that choice and half-measures is exponential.  

She walked briskly along America’s highways and roads carrying no baggage except the few items she could fit in the pockets of her tunic like a comb, a pen and paper. She followed the warm weather north in the summer and south in the winter. Everyone she came in contact with was touched by the simplicity of her message and the commitment of her pilgrimage to,

‘remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food’.

Just imagine this small elderly woman walking next to highways day and sometimes night – often sleeping out in the open on the ground, or going without meals!

She confided to a good friend  on the eve of leaving her old life, that she was doubting whether she could really give up all her physical comforts for the kind of impoverishment she was about to undergo. But she admitted that even though she had all the outer signs of comfort and success, she felt impoverished in that life. As it turned out, impoverishment is the last thing she felt:

When I began my pilgrimage, I left the Los Angeles area without a cent, having faith that God would provide me with everything I needed….Without ever asking for anything I have been supplied…When you have spiritual security you no longer have need for material security. I don’t know anybody who feels more secure than I do- and of course, people think I am the poorest of the poor. I know better. I am the richest of the rich. I have health, happiness, inner peace- things you couldn’t buy if you were a millionaire.

So how does a middle aged woman, living a conventional life like you or me, arrive at the point where she sets out penniless without even a blanket or coat, to walk alone across a vast country? See next entry.