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.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.
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.
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.