Peace Pilgrim (1908-1981)
Peace Pilgrim was a one-of-a-kind original American spiritual hero and a long-time dear friend of mine. She belonged to no religion, and always stated that she never had identified with any religion or organization. Her personal development (spiritual evolution of consciousness) was very advanced and she is widely regarded by those who knew her well as someone who most probably lived a permanent state of Self-liberation, ie as someone who was a living saint.
I first met Peace when I was five years old. She was passing through town (San Francisco) on one of her early walking-&-speaking tours across the continent. A local TV station featured a live on-air interview with her one morning. I persuaded my parents to our going to hear her talk at a local hall that night. She was captivating. But I only really began to know her well after I next met her, again with my family, when I was 14, this time at a rural yoga retreat center in Mexico.
After that second meeting, we corresponded regularly and met many times over the years. Many people wrote to Peace, and she always responded to each card and letter with a personal, reflective & insightful letter of her own. It was a big part of her “vocational witness,” in addition to her continuous walking pilgrimage all over the US, parts of Canada and Mexico, and her increasingly almost daily public speaking engagements. Our correspondence was mostly about personal spiritual experience and development, but as I began working intensely with the peace movement, we discussed this as well. Her advice and encouragement was always extremely helpful.
It was only when, at 16, I began formally training with His Holiness Maharishi to become a teacher of his Transcendental Meditation program, that Peace informed me that she also had met and been initiated by my beloved teacher in California during his first world teaching tour. It happens that she had been invited to stay and speak at the same facility where His Holiness was then holding a retreat for a small close group of local & international students. He invited Peace to address the gathered retreatants, and she in turn had asked for and received initiation from Maharishi.
She told me that her experience of their encounter & exchange had been a profound turning-point in her personal growth.
“Prior to meeting Maharishi, I had already awakened in the continuous experience of ‘the kingdom of Heaven within’, what I called the ‘inner Garden of Eden’, the ever-present inner silence and joy of God’s love and light. But though I already always experienced God’s light shining within, whether I was sleeping, dreaming, or outwardly awake, at that point I was still not yet always able also to enjoy it everywhere at all times as saturating and irradiating the ‘outer’ world as well.
“Of course from earliest childhood experience I had always known that God’s light was always everywhere—outside as well as within. But till then I still did not yet always experience it everywhere outwardly as well as inwardly. In meeting Maharishi and receiving his initiation, it was as if an inner gate opened out from the sun-filled ‘Garden of Eden within,’ and I stepped forth into the borderless Heaven of God’s light that is without gates or walls. Or, as if a floodgate connecting, but also partly separating, my inner lake and the sea of Love had given way and I was joyously drowned in the ocean of God.
“This sense of being drowned was so strong that for the next several days I could not easily walk or even talk. But Maharishi continued gently to guide and instruct me in how to adjust so that before long I was able to walk and talk again and function outwardly in a normal manner, even while remaining submerged in the ocean of God’s light. From that point forward I’ve enjoyed no separation between the kingdom of God within and the ocean of God, between the inner light and the light of God always present everywhere. And as you know, I have no aversion to walking and talking.
“You ask if I still meditate according to the instructions Maharishi gave me with the initiation. Yes, naturally I do, but only on occasion. His advice was to sit in meditation in that way only when I felt drawn to do so, and otherwise to practice a modified version he recommended of the walking meditation I had already made the core of my daily routine. This is my preferred daily practice, but sometimes I also do the sitting meditation he taught me with the initiation. I enjoy it very much.”
Not too long after this discovery of our mutual connection with Maharishi and his TM teachings, Peace was once again traveling through my area. I had helped start a residential retreat facility in the mountains of California. Peace came and stayed with us at the ashram for a few days, and again later on the return arc of her tour that year and again the next year.
It was lovely to spend extended personal time with Peace. I’m not sure she ever really needed sleep. Perhaps a few hours now and then. No matter how late Peace was up the night before, talking to groups and with individuals, she was always up and out the door each morning well before dawn, in order to enjoy the pre-sunrise half of her morning walking meditation session.
Several years later, Peace began spending less of her time walking and speaking across the land, and more time leading peace-themed ocean voyages-&-guided-walking-tours to Hawaii and Alaska. In this new mode of spiritual teaching and shift to a less vigorous life-style, she begin sitting in meditation again on a regular daily basis, practicing Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation each morning and evening. This was the first time since beginning her pilgrimage when she had a scheduled private room of her own for days at a time even when engaged in daily speaking schedules. She was also older and found that morning and evening practice of TM helped keep her physical energy battery fully charged.
Peace still did plenty of walking on the land and on the deck as part of those guided group tours she conducted. But being able each morning and evening to sit and let the focus of her conscious thinking mind sink into the silent depths of the ocean of God within, while at the same time, of course, always remaining fully saturated with the divine light, regardless of whether she was waking or sleeping, walking or sitting in silence, etc., was something she appreciated greatly.
At one point after beginning the guided cruises phase of her vocation, Peace had not written for a while. I was about to write to her again from my side and ask how she was doing (though she was always fine, and as far as I knew had never been ill in all the years I’d know her), when one day I walked into a small town bookstore in the Midwest. There was a display table up near the counter, with lots of Peace’s pamphlets spread out and available (for free). It was the first time I had ever seen her literature publicly available like that outside her own speaking events. When I expressed my happy surprise to the owner, mentioning that Peace had been a friend & mentor since my childhood, he told me she had just died in a car accident a few days before, not very far away. This was the reason for the special display of her booklets—his modest memorial to her great life and work.
Of course I was somewhat stunned. Though on some level I feel I’d already received the news without quite fully realizing it at the time.
I’ve never met anyone quite like Peace Pilgrim.
The video record somehow just does not do justice to how wonderful Peace’s presence was. This is true of so many (all?) great spiritual beings (and even ordinary people); something vitally impressive is just missing on film. Nevertheless, something wonderful also is conveyed.
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