Monday, January 7, 2013

Relinquishing for Peace: The Peace Pilgrim Project, Part 4

In previous posts, I've summarized and commented on Peace Pilgrim's steps toward inner peace, covering the four preparations and the four purifications. Though it unfortunately breaks the alliterative string of titles, this post will look at four relinquishments that she believed were necessary to attain spiritual maturity and inner peace.

Again I want primarily to let Peace Pilgrim's words stand on their own so readers can get a sense of her tone and spirit. During her lifetime though she gave many talks and interviews, she wrote little. Since most of her comments were transcribed from her talks, they retain an informality but also the freshness of the spoken word. Peace Pilgrim could not be called a rhetorician or stylist by any means, yet I find in her words a simple elegance and a depth of meaning that reminds me of the best classical spiritual writers.

1. The relinquishment of self-will

Peace Pilgrim calls this the most important step to finding inner peace. She believed that humans have the choice of following the lower self or the higher self. She writes:

You can work on subordinating the lower self by refraining from doing the not-so-good things you may be motivated toward--not suppressing them, but transforming them so that the higher self can take over your life. If you are motivated to do or say a mean thing, you can always think of a good thing. You deliberately turn around and use that same energy to do or say a good thing instead. It works!
She makes it sound so easy!  I'm thankful that elsewhere she acknowledges that "Spiritual growth is not easily attained . . . . It takes time, just as any growth takes time. One should rejoice at small gains and not be impatient, as impatience hampers growth."

2. The relinquishment of the feeling of separateness

Peace Pilgrim begins by noting that our human tendency is to feel very separate and judge "everything as it relates to us,  as though we were the center of the universe." But she suggests that the reality is quite different:

In reality, of course, we are all cells in the body of humanity. We are not separate from our fellow humans. The whole thing is a totality. It's only from that higher viewpoint that you can know what it is to love your neighbor as yourself. From that higher viewpoint there becomes just one realistic way to work, and that is for the good of the whole. As long as you work for your selfish little self, you're just one cell against all those other cells, and you're way out of harmony. But as soon as you begin working for the good of the whole, you find yourself in harmony with all of your fellow human beings.
 I read somewhere that the Dalai Lama begins many of his speeches with this phrase: "We are all connected." I sense that same spirit in the Peace Pilgrim's words. This passage also reminds me of some of the discussions in our last, contentious, presidential election. I suspect one of the reasons the election turned out as it did is that Romney and the Republicans presented a message of "every man for himself" while Obama and the Democrats were able to communicate a theme of "let's all work together and help one another to achieve the common good." I would like to think that more Americans resonated with Peace Pilgrim's vision that we are not separate from each other and that things tend to work better and more harmoniously when we work for the good of the whole.

3. The relinquishment of all attachments

Peace Pilgrim begins the discussion of this relinquishment with what was, for me at least, a very provocative statement:

No one is truly free who is still attached to material things, or to places, or to people.
She begins by discussing material things, noting that material things have their value and they are there for our use, but that "Anything that you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions."

She then addresses another kind of possessiveness. I want to share a lengthy quote here because I found it so insightful:

You do not possess any other human being, no matter how closely related that other may be. No husband owns his wife; no wife owns her husband; no parents own their children. When we think we possess people there is a tendency to run their lives for them, and out of this develop extremely inharmonious situations. Only when we realize that we do not possess them, that they must live in accordance with their own inner motivations, do we stop trying to run their lives for them, and then we discover that we are able to live in harmony with them. Anything that you strive to hold captive will hold you captive--and if you desire freedom you must give freedom.

Associations formed in this earth life are not necessarily for the duration of the life span. Separation takes place constantly, and as long as it takes place lovingly not only is there no spiritual injury, but spiritual progress may actually be helped.

We must be able to appreciate and enjoy the places where we tarry and yet pass on without anguish when we are called elsewhere. In our spiritual development we are often required to pull up roots many times and to close many chapters in our lives until we are no longer attached to any material thing and can love all people without any attachment to them.
This spring I read C. S. Lewis's novel Till We Have Faces with one of my classes. Peace Pilgrim's first paragraph here could easily serve as a summary of a major theme of the novel. The main character of the book, Orual, loves her sister, Psyche. In fact, Psyche is her whole world. But as Lewis makes clear, Orual's love is possessive, controlling, and, from her sister's perspective, feels a lot more like hate than love. Lewis's other fiction including The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters is populated with selfish, possessive lovers. Peace Pilgrim and C. S. Lewis seem to be on the same page here.

As a parent of three, I have seen Peace Pilgrim's words played out in my relationship with my children. One of the most difficult roads I've walked as a parent is seeing my child make what I thought were poor decisions and resisting the temptation to try to control. Also, as someone who grew up in church environment where biblical interpretations of the authority of the husband over the wife do, I'm afraid, encourage controlling love, I find Peace Pilgrim's reminder that we don't own other human beings extremely important. I can't help but think that many partnerships and marriages would flourish if each partner took these words to heart.

4. The relinquishment of all negative feelings

Perhaps since she had covered this point earlier in the purification steps, Peace Pilgrim's discussion is brief. She mentions only one negative feeling, worry, which she suggests is common to many people. She notes that "worry is not concern, which would motivate you to do everything possible in a situation. Worry is a useless mulling over of things we cannot change."

She concludes with section with some helpful comments about who controls our emotions:

No outward thing--nothing, nobody from without--can hurt me inside, psychologically. I recognized that I could only be hurt psychologically by my own wrong actions, which I have control over; by my own wrong reactions (they are tricky, but I have control over them too); or by my own inaction in some situations, like the present world situation that needs action from me. . . . Now someone could do the meanest thing to me and I would feel deep compassion for this out-of harmony person, this sick person, who is capable of doing mean things. I certainly would not hurt myself by a wrong reaction of bitterness or anger. You have complete control over whether you will be psychologically hurt or not, and anytime you want to, you can stop hurting yourself.
So these are Peace Pilgrim's steps toward inner peace: four preparations, four purifications, and four relinquishments. She freely acknowledges that these steps are not new and she is not revealing new truths but talking about universal truths in terms of her own personal experience with them. She writes:

The laws which govern this universe work for good as soon as we obey them, and anything contrary to these laws doesn't last long. It contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The good in every human life always makes it possible for us to obey these laws. We do have free will about all this, and therefore how soon we obey and thereby find harmony, both within ourselves and within our world, is up to us.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Purifying for Peace: The Peace Pilgrim Project, Part 3

Peace at Mirror
"One day as I was combing my hair at the mirror, I looked at myself and said, 'You vain thing! Why do you think you know better when you forgive everyone else for not knowing better? You're not any better than they are." Peace Pilgrim

In the last post, I noted that Peace Pilgrim spent 15 years preparing for her cross-country pilgrimage for peace. As she reflected on these years, which she called her "spiritual growing up" period, she later identified three categories of practices: preparations, purifications, and relinquishments. Under each of these categories, she identified four specific attitudes or practices. This post will focus on the practices of purification.

1. The Purification of the Body

Peace Pilgrim focuses here on physical living habits, noting that it was five years after she received the vision for her life before she began to take care of what she refers to as her "bodily temple." Specifically, this involved changing to a diet of "mostly fruits, nuts, vegetable, whole grains (preferably organically grown) and perhaps a bit of milk and cheese."

Was Peace Pilgrim ahead of her time? Consider that she began her pilgrimage in 1953, so the time period she's referring to here would be roughly 1943. I wasn't around then, but I was around a decade later, and I know the standard American family diet was radically different than the one she describes. But there's more.

In the following passage, Peace Pilgrim describes her decision to become a vegetarian:

I began to realize that I was disobeying my rule of life which says: I will not ask anyone to do for me things that I would refuse to do for myself. Now, I wouldn't kill any creature--I wouldn't even kill a chicken or a fish--and therefore I stopped immediately eating all flesh.

I have learned since that it is bad for your health, but at that time, I just extended my love to include not only all my fellow human beings but also my fellow creatures, and so I stopped hurting them and I stopped eating them.

Then I learned from a college professor . . . that it takes many times the land to raise the creatures we eat as it would to raise fruits or vegetables or grains. Since I want the maximum number of God's children to be fed, that also would make me a vegetarian.
In describing her eating habits more specifically, Peace Pilgrim notes that whenever she learned that certain substances were bad for her health, she simply stopped eating them. This included white flour, white sugar, and all processed foods. The list of substances she quit also includes caffeine and highly seasoned foods. I'm going to exercise my editorial privilege and skip over those, however, because I am not ready to give up my coffee or my spicy foods!

Peace Pilgrim sums up her dietary habits by describing her attitude toward food:

I enjoy my food, but I eat to live. I do not live to eat, as some people do, and I know when to stop eating. I am not enslaved by food.
Included in her discussion of physical habits, Peace Pilgrim recommends getting as much "fresh air and sunshine and contact with nature" as we can as well as getting sufficient rest and exercise.

2. The Purification of Thought

Peace Pilgrim begins her discussion of the second purification noting how powerful our thoughts are and states:  "I don't eat junk foods and I don't think junk thoughts!" She notes that positive thoughts "can be a powerful influence for good when they're on the positive side, and they can and do make you physically ill when they're on the negative side."

Peace Pilgrim identifies two specific actions we can take to purify our thoughts:

  • If you're harboring the slightest bitterness toward anyone, or any unkind thoughts of any sort whatever, you must get rid fo them quickly. They are not hurting anyone but you.
  • You must learn to forgive yourself as easily as you forgive others. Then take it a step further and use all that energy that you used in condemning yourself for improving yourself.
She illustrates this first principle with a story of a 65-year-old man who was still harboring bitterness toward his father, who had been dead for many years. The man's bitterness sprang from the fact that the father had paid for his brother's education but not for his. As she listened to the man's story, Peace Pilgrim was able to help him see that his father had done his best under the circumstances and had not intended to harm or create a disadvantage for his son. Once the man was able to release the bitterness he had been harboring toward his dead father, the man's chronic illness faded  away and eventually disappeared.

Her second principle reminds me of C. S. Lewis's discussion of forgiveness in Mere Christianity. Lewis suggests that a key to understanding the dynamics of forgiveness is the biblical phrase "Love your neighbor as yourself." His point is that I continue to love myself even when I don't like the things I've done and suggests that we should extend this same attitude of love and forgiveness to our neighbor. Peace Pilgrim's point is different. She found that it was relatively easy for her to forgive others, but that she was often very unforgiving toward herself. I suppose each of us will have to decide which approach speaks to our condition: Peace Pilgrim's or Lewis's.

3. The Purification of Desire

Here Peace Pilgrim asks a hard question:

What are the things you desire? Do you desire superficial things like pleasures--new items of wearing apparel or new household furnishings or cars?
Well, yes, I do. And perusing my friends' Facebook posts, I'm fairly certain most of them would be right there with me. But Peace Pilgrim offers a different path:

Since you are here to get yourself in harmony with the laws that govern human conduct and with your part in the scheme of things, your desires should be focused in this direction. It's very important to get your desires centered  so you will desire only to do God's will for you. You can come to the point of oneness of desire, just to know and do your part in the Life Pattern. When you think about it, is there anything else as really important to desire?
4. The Purification of Motive

This purification involves more hard questions and sayings from our spiritual teacher:

What is your motive for whatever you may be doing? If it is pure greed or self-seeking or the wish for self-glorification, I would say, don't do that thing. Don't do anything you would do with such a motive. But that isn't easy because we tend to do things with very mixed motives. I've never found a person who had purely bad motives. There may be such a person, I have never encountered one. I do encounter people who constantly have mixed motives.

I talk to groups studying the most advanced spiritual teachings and sometimes these people wonder why nothing is happening in their lives. Their motive is the attainment of inner peace for themselves--which of course is a selfish motive. You will not find it with this motive. The motive, if you are to find inner peace, must be an outgoing motive. Service, of course, service. Giving, not getting. Your motive must be good if your work is to have good effect. The secret of life is being of service.
Peace Pilgrim tells another story to illustrate this practice of purification.

I knew a man who was good architect. It was obviously his right work, but he was doing it with the wrong motive. His motive was to make a lot of money and to keep ahead of the Joneses. He worked himself into an illness, and it was shortly after that I met him. I got him to do little things for service. I talked to him about the joy of service and I knew that after he had experienced this he could never go back into really self-centered living. . . . A few years later I hardly recognized him when I stopped in to see him. He was such a changed man! But he was still an architect. He was drawing a plan and he talked to me about it: 'You see, I'm designing it this way to fit into their budget, and then I'll set it on their plot of ground to make it look nice. . . .' His motive was to be of service to the people he drew plans for. He was a radiant and transformed person.
She concludes this section by remarking that while some people may need to change jobs in order to change their lives, more often people merely have to change their motive to service in order to change their lives.

One of my colleagues noted about a previous post in this series that Peace Pilgrim's practice of waiting and preparing for her pilgrimage reminded her of Advent and the waiting associated with that season. As I was writing this post on New Year's Day, it struck me that Peace Pilgrim's four purifications may be particularly appropriate for this season, a time when we often make personal resolutions for a new year. I don't know about you, but, for me, many of her practices challenge me in areas of my life I spend a lot of time thinking and even stressing about. Peace Pilgrim's words challenge me, but they don't make me feel defeated. They resonate with some of my deepest longings, but they don't produce guilt in me. They give me some simple and true rules to follow, and her tone gives me hope that I might just be able to make some progress in this "spiritual growing up" process. And, finally, her words remind me of this essential truth:

There's only one person you can change and that's yourself. After you have changed yourself, you might be able to inspire others to look for change.
Happy New Year, fellow pilgrims. May it be one of growth and peace for us all.