Local sign in Egg Harbor City, NJ, tells the Mildred's story as the Peace Pilgrim
For the entire decade of the 1940s, even while married, Mildred Ryder searched diligently for the service she felt she was called to undertake. First she worked with senior citizens and those with emotional problems. Then she volunteered in peace organizations, volunteering for the Quaker American Friends Service Committee, the Philadelphia Fellowship Commission and the United Nations Council of Philadelphia. She stayed at the Jane Addams House and worked there for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. For a time, she was their Washington, DC peace lobbyist. Sometime in the early forties, she also met and worked for Scott Nearing, a radical economist and staunch pacifist, who had been a Professor of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Mildred helped distribute his newsletter World Events.
In this same period, she began radically simplifying her life. She decided to get rid of unnecessary possessions and frivolous activities. She became a vegetarian, disciplined herself to live on ten dollars a week, and reduced her wardrobe to two dresses. She joined the Endurance Hiking Club, and undertook wilderness treks, to increase her physical strength and to gain experience in simple living. She said that she wanted to practice putting material things in their proper place, "realizing that they are there for use, but relinquishing them when they are not useful." She said she wanted to "experience and learn to appreciate the great freedom of simplicity."
During her 15-year inner preparation, she discovered the difference between the willingness to give of herself and the actual giving. She described this period as a time when she was engaged in a great struggle between ego and conscience, or between her "lower, self-centered nature," and the "higher, God-centered nature." She said:
The body, mind and emotions are instruments which can be used by either the self-centered nature or the God-centered nature. The self-centered nature uses these instruments yet it is never fully able to control them, so there is a constant struggle. They can only be fully controlled by the God-centered nature. When the God-centered nature takes over, you have found inner peace.
She cautioned vigilance over the formidable enemy the "self-centered nature" represents:
The self-centered nature is a very formidable enemy and it struggles fiercely to retain its identity. It defends itself in a cunning manner and should not be regarded lightly. It knows the weakest spots in your armor...During these periods of attack maintain a humble stature and be intimate with none but the guiding whisper of your higher self.
She believed that overcoming selfishness and gaining release from its power were key to attaining inner peace and spiritual maturity. She believed that when she attained that maturity - physical, mental and emotional - she would be in total harmony and know what to do.
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.