She had her share of what most would call "dangerous encounters," but which she called "tests" and "opportunities," no different than all life experiences. She was arrested twice for vagrancy, but when jailed, found receptive female audiences for her philosophy and songs. She also convinced the arresting officers that she was a true pilgrim, and was released. On another trip, a disturbed teenager began to beat her, but she was able to contact what she called "the spark of good" in him, and convinced him to stop. Occasionally, when drunks accosted her, she would spend time with them, sharing her life with theirs, calming their aggressive behaviors. She put into practice her faith in nonviolence, her belief that everyone has good in them that can always be reached, producing only good in return.
Her faith in the power of the mind was unshakeable. She believed that people constantly create through their thoughts. "If you are fearful," she said, "you will attract the thing you fear! I fear nothing - I expect only good - so to me, only good comes." She believed that all life's problems are learning and growing experiences, and that with "the right attitude - you can solve anything." Her fearlessness was a source of awe and inspiration, especially for women, who could not imagine themselves walking alone through the desert at night or the inner cities either. Her positive attitude and undaunted faith in human goodness attracted converts. It acted as a spiritual chain reaction that empowered others.
Peace Pilgrim seemed to drink from an endless source of energy that she tapped effortlessly in her walks across America, and which she claimed was available to everyone. The source, she said, was her own inner peace. She was also in robust health, and said that she never "suffered a cold or a headache" after she found inner peace. She walked with sparkle and verve and a serenity that had no match. Those who met her immediately noticed the sense of calm she conveyed, as though she was free from all burdens. Some even felt that she seemed to live in another dimension. Combined with her wit, physical stamina and mental discipline, she commanded the admiration of even the most skeptical. Her boundless sense of joy and freedom often disarmed audiences.
Some people 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.
Those who knew her said that she "gloried in the richness of her inner life and the richness of her connections" with people. Audiences felt that connection instantly, and individually, people were moved to change their lives. Thousands were influenced to work for peace, and thousands more were influenced to change themselves and their personal relations. "Begin in your own life, then move out to your surroundings, and finally this will affect institutions," she would say.
The Uniqueness of Peace Pilgrim
She has been called a prophet, a mystic, a saint, and a person who walked her talk. Her message was not new, but practicing it was. Here was someone who had relinquished all earthly possessions to live a focused life based upon spiritual truths and immutable principles. Hearing her message was like hearing any one of the world's great religions. Those who were Christian were sure she preached the beliefs of Jesus Christ. Those who were Jewish, felt she represented the way of Yahweh. Buddhists, Bahais and Jains were sure she spoke their religions. And those who were Muslim were certain that she preached the teachings of Islam.
In her message, she combined the teachings of all the world's great religions. She was original in the sense that she gave her message only after she had tested, verified and demonstrated its efficacy in her own life. She had found the "kingdom within" and lived to share it with others. She has been described as "a gentle, soothing, spiritual tornado" whose simple, direct message delivered a compelling challenge to conscience. A friend from India wrote that "it was not the scholar's erudition that spoke through her, but the saint's imprisoned splendor, released in its full effulgence for three decades."
What was also unique about the Peace Pilgrim was that she was the living example of the potential that can be unleashed when someone is fully engaged in doing what they believe is the most important thing in the world for them to be doing. She believed people only scratched the surface of their real potential. To everyone who came in contact with her, she was living proof that changing your life was possible. She lived the change she wanted to see. Her own life said, "You can do it too!"
She lived by faith, and by the energy of her own Inner Light. In our time, and certainly in our country, no one else was like her. She has been called a 20th century St. Francis of Assisi, and is often compared to Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Like them, she had "a peaceful heart, and a warrior's spirit." But unlike them, she had no political organization, no religious institution, and no specific cause or people to champion. The whole world was her cause and wherever she walked, she called it home. She felt at ease everywhere she went because of her "homelessness" attitude, and because she lived so completely in the present moment. She is probably the 20th century's most underrated and least known spiritual leader and peace activist.
Source: Peace Pilgrim's story was written by Marta Daniels, and is reprinted here by permission of the author. It is adapted from Daniels' extended biography of Mildred Norman Ryder (Peace Pilgrim), first published in short form in Notable American Women, A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. V, Harvard University Press, 2005. The full story ("Peace Pilgrim: Spiritual Teacher, Non Violent Advocate, Peace Prophet") can be found on the Peace Pilgrim web site at: http://www.peacepilgrim.com/htmfiles/mdppbio.htm Reprint of this story in part or whole must have the permission of the author. Contact the author through the Voices website.