Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words

CHAPTER 5: Living the Simple Life

THE SIMPLIFICATION OF LIFE is one of the steps to inner peace. A persistent simplification will create an inner and outer well-being that places harmony in one's life. For me this began with a discovery of the meaninglessness of possessions beyond my actual and immediate needs. As soon as I had brought myself down to need level, I began to feel a wonderful harmony in my life between inner and outer well-being, between spiritual and material well-being.

Some people seem to think that my life dedicated to simplicity and service is austere and joyless, but they do not know the freedom of simplicity. I am thankful to God every moment of my life for the great riches that have been showered upon me. My life is full and good but never overcrowded. If life is overcrowded then you are doing more than is required for you to do.

My life had been bogged down; I felt greedy before I took my vow of simplicity: I shall not accept more than I need while others in the world have less than they need.

You may also have come out of a life where you had too many things. When you have simplified your life, I'm sure you will feel as free as I feel. If your motive is one of giving then you will be given whatever you need.

In my life, what I want and what I need are exactly the same. Anything in excess of needs is burdensome to me. You couldn't give me anything I don't need. I am penniless, but have difficulty remaining so. Several of my well meaning, well-to-do friends have offered me large sums of money, which I of course refused.

I talked to one person who thought I was being deprived of some of the "pleasures" of life. But none of the things I do not use or do not do were taken away from me. I just did not include them when I was choosing a harmonious life. I just had no interest whatsoever in them.

I am not a slave to comfort and convenience. I wouldn't be a pilgrim if I were. We can allow false beliefs to govern our lives and be enslaved by them. Most people do not wish to be free. They would prefer to moan and chafe about how impossible it is to give up their various enslavements to possessions, food, drink, smoking, and so forth. It is not that they can't give them up--they don't really want to give them up.

***

Our physical needs depend somewhat on the climate in which we live, the state of our health, etc. In general we need a shelter to protect us from the elements; a fire, a blanket, some clothing for warmth; pure air and water and sufficient food for sustenance. There are, of course, needs beyond the physical. These often involve little or no expenditure of money, but this is not always so. For instance, there are some people whose lives are not complete unless they can listen to good music or play some musical instrument. While suggestions may be made as to simple living, simplifying our lives is an individual problem for every one of us.

I learned about forty years ago that money and things wouldn't make people happy. And this has been confirmed many times. I have met many millionaires. They had one thing in common. None of them were happy. Look at Howard Hughes with his 2.5 billion dollars. They say he was the most miserable, fear-ridden creature one could imagine! And I knew a woman who inherited 4.5 million dollars. It ruined her life. Because she was one who had always been a giving person, she wanted to use the money meaningfully. But she discovered it was such a burden to her. She would be better off if she did not have it.

I realize that if you don't have enough you won't be happy. Neither are you happy if you have too much. It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest.

***

I remember a dear lady, who was up in years. She was working so hard and always complaining. I finally said to her, "Why in the world do you need to work so hard when you have only yourself to support?" And she said "Oh, I have to pay rent on a five room house." "A five room house!" I replied. "But you're alone in the world. Couldn't you live happily in one room?" "Oh yes," she said sadly, "but I have furniture for a five room house." She was actually working her fingers to the bone to provide a proper home for that furniture! And that happens all the time. All I can say is, don't let it happen to you.

Because of our preoccupation with materialism we often miss the best things in life, which are free.

Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them.

I'll tell you about one more woman. She was liberated, although not in the best possible way. I saw her only occasionally, but I happened to see her about a month after her huge house, in which she and her husband had been living alone since the children were grown, had burned down while they'd been out. They lost everything except the clothes they were wearing. Remembering how attached she had been to that huge house, in spite of the fact that it was such a burden for her to take care of, I started to say a few words of sympathy. But she said, "Don't sympathize with me! Now, you could have the morning after, but not now. Just think, I will never have to clean out that attic. I will never have to clean out those clothes closets. I will never have to clean that basement! Why, I've never felt so free. I just feel I'm starting life all over again!"

She and her husband were living in a sensible size apartment and, indeed, I'm sure they did experience a wonderful sense of freedom. But wouldn't it have been better if they had learned to give and had extended their surplus towards those who needed it? Then they would have been blessed by the giving, and others would have been blessed by the getting. In any case, it was a situation which liberated

***

If you are free, I recommend a hiking trip on a wilderness footpath. How inspiring it is to walk all day in the sunshine and sleep all night under the stars. What a wonderful experience in simple, natural living. Since you carry your food, sleeping equipment, etc., on your back, you learn quickly that unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. You soon realize what the essentials of life are--such as warmth when you are cold, a dry spot on a rainy day, the simplest food when you are hungry, pure cool water when you are thirsty. You soon put material things in their proper place, realizing that they are there for use, but relinquishing them when they are not useful. You soon experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity.

***

From May to October of 1952, before the pilgrimage, I walked the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine, with 500 additional miles for side-trips to points of special beauty.

I lived out-of-doors completely, supplied with only one pair of slacks and shorts, one blouse and sweater, a lightweight blanket, and two double plastic sheets, into which I sometimes stuffed leaves. I was not always completely dry and warm, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. My menu, morning and evening, was two cups of uncooked oatmeal soaked in water and flavored with brown sugar; at noon two cups of double strength dried milk, plus any berries, nuts or greens found in the woods.

I had been thoroughly prepared for my pilgrimage by this toughening process. A walk along the highway seemed easy by comparison.

***

How good it is to eat fruit tasty and ripe from the tree and vegetables fresh and crisp from the field. And how good it would be for the farming of the future to concentrate on the non-use of poisonous substances, such as sprays, so food would be fit to go from farm to table.

One morning for breakfast I had blueberries covered with dew, picking them from the bushes as I journeyed through the New England mountains. I thought of my fellow human beings eating various kinds of processed and flavored foods, and I realized that if I could choose my breakfast from all the foods in the world I could not make a better choice than blueberries covered with dew.

In the spring and summer when the days are long, how good it is to get up with the sun and go to bed with the sun. In the fall and winter when the days are shorter you can enjoy some of the night. I am inclined to agree that there is a substance in the air, left there by the sun, which diminishes after the sun goes down and can be absorbed only while you sleep. Sleeping from nine to five is about right for me.

***

How good it is to work in the invigorating fresh air under the life-giving sun amid the inspiring beauty of nature. There are many who recognize this, like the young man I met whose life had been interrupted by the peacetime draft. While he was away his father, who was in poor health, was not able to keep up the farm and so it was sold. The young man then undertook to do years of distasteful work in order to be able to buy another farm. How good it is to earn your livelihood helping plants to grow to provide people with food. In other words, how good it is to earn your livelihood by contributing constructively to the society in which you live--everyone should, of course, and in a healthy society everyone would.

***

My clothes are most comfortable as well as most practical. I wear navy blue slacks and a long sleeved shirt topped with my lettered tunic. Along the edge of my tunic, both front and rear, are partitioned compartments which are hemmed up to serve as pockets. These hold all my possessions which consist of a comb, a folding toothbrush, a ballpoint pen, a map, some copies of my message and my mail.

So you can see why I answer my mail faster than most--it keeps my pockets from bulging. My slogan is: Every ounce counts! Beneath my outer garments I wear a pair of running shorts and a short sleeved shirt--so I'm always prepared for an invigorating swim if I pass a river or lake.

As I put on my simple clothing one day after a swim in a clear mountain lake I thought of those who have closets full of clothes to take care of, and who carry heavy luggage with them when they travel. I wondered how people would want to so burden themselves, and I felt wonderfully free. This is me and all my possessions. Think of how free I am! If I want to travel, I just stand up and walk away. There is nothing to tie me down.

One outfit of clothing is enough. That's all I've owned since my pilgrimage started in 1953. And I take good care of my things. I can always find a wash basin in a public restroom or a nearby stream to wash my clothes, and drying them is even easier: I just put them on and let the energy from the sun evaporate any dampness.

I wash my skin only with water; soap removes the natural oils. So do the cosmetics and creams most women use.

The only footwear I need is an inexpensive pair of blue sneakers. They have soft fabric tops and soft rubber-like soles. I get them one size too large so I can wiggle my toes. I feel as free as though I were barefoot! And I can usually get 1,500 miles to a pair. I wear a pair of navy blue socks. There's a reason why I chose navy blue for my wearing apparel--it's a very practical color, doesn't show dirt, and the color blue does represent peace and spirituality.

I don't discard any article of wear until it becomes worn to the extent of being unusable. Once when I was about to leave town a hostess said, "Peace, I noticed your shoes were in need of repair, and I would have offered to repair them, but I know so much about sewing that I knew they couldn't be repaired." I said to her, "It's a good thing I know so little about sewing that I didn't know they couldn't be repaired--so I just finished repairing them."

The first few years I used a blue scarf and a blue sweater during chilly weather, but I eventually discarded them as not really essential. I am now so adjustable to changes in temperature that I wear the same clothes summer and winter, indoors and out.

Like the birds, I migrate north in the summer and south in the winter. If you wish to talk to people out-of-doors, you must be where the weather is pleasant or people will not be out.

When the temperature gets high and the sun gets hot there is nothing so welcome as shade. There is a special coolness about the shade of a tree, but unless it is a big tree some shifting is required to stay in the shade. Clouds provide shade as they drift across the sun. A rock provides what I call deep shade; so does a bank early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Sometimes even the shade of a bush is appreciated, or that of a haystack. Man-made things provide shade too. Buildings, of course, and even signs which disfigure the landscape do provide shade. So do bridges, providing shelter from the rain as well. Of course, one can wear a hat or carry an umbrella. I do neither. Once when a reporter asked if by chance I had a folding umbrella in my pockets I replied, "I won't melt. My skin is waterproof. I don't worry about little discomforts." But I've sometimes used a piece of cardboard for a sun shade.

Water is something you think of in hot weather, but I have discovered that if I eat nothing but fruit until my day's walk is over I do not get thirsty. Our physical needs are so simple.

***

After a wonderful sojourn in the wilderness, I remember walking along the streets of a city which had been my home for awhile. It was 1 p.m. Hundreds of neatly dressed human beings with pale or painted faces hurried in rather orderly lines to and from their places of employment. I, in my faded shirt and well-worn slacks, walked among them. The rubber soles of my soft canvas shoes moved noiselessly along beside the clatter of trim, tight shoes with stiltlike heels. In the poorer section I was tolerated. In the wealthier section some glances seemed a bit startled and some were disdainful.

On both sides of us as we walked were displayed the things we can buy if we are willing to stay in the orderly lines day after day, year after year. Some of the things are more or less useful, many are utter trash. Some have a claim to beauty, many are garishly ugly. Thousands of things are displayed--and yet, my friends, the most valuable are missing. Freedom is not displayed, nor health, nor happiness, nor peace of mind. To obtain these things, my friends, you too may need to escape from the orderly lines and risk being looked upon disdainfully.

To the world I may seem very poor, walking penniless and wearing or carrying in my pockets my only material possessions, but I am really very rich in blessings which no amount of money could buy--health and happiness and inner peace.

***

The simplified life is a sanctified life,
Much more calm, much less strife.
Oh, what wondrous truths are unveiled-
Projects succeed which had previously failed.
Oh, how beautiful life can be,
Beautiful simplicity.


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