Decluttering, Purging, and Peace Pilgrim

It’s February now, but my New Year’s resolution to declutter my life drastically has not trickled off as steeply as other resolutions such as to lose weight and get up at 5:00 a.m. to make the most of the day. So, I’m still thinking about the concepts of letting go, clearing out, releasing back to the universe, and doing some serious purging.

The first time I took the idea of purgation and purification seriously was a few years back, while reading about Peace Pilgrim. Peace Pilgrim was a woman who walked well over 25,000 miles from coast to coast spreading her own rendition of the Golden Rule and living a life of peace and simplicity. Her message is so basic and pure, uncluttered by religious dogma, nationalism, or any other –ism, that I have become deeply inspired by it.

“This is the way of peace. Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.”

Love is The Thing. So often, that message is so cluttered up and sabotaged by a variety of meaningless things. But she simply got rid of those things in her own life and was left with the Big Thing. She owned one outfit, a toothbrush, a pen, note cards, and stamps, making Thoreau somewhat of a Vanderbilt in comparison.

In her short pamphlet called “Steps Toward Inner Peace” she talks about the 4 Purifications:

• Purification of the body
• Purification of thought
• Purification of desire
• Purification of motive

Another word for purification is purgation. While purgation might have more religious or ritualistic overtones, I find the word “purge” or “purgative” to be so cleansing. It’s the deep to-the-bones version of declutter. It’s simplicity of the spirit—sometimes manifesting itself in the purging of material things, but always manifesting itself in the soul, attacking that very territorial Ego of ours. A cleansing, a clearing of the part of our selves that blocks us from the ability to just Be without attachments or conditions or fears or ambitions.

Here’s kind of a funny story. A few years back I went online to The Friends of Peace Pilgrim and ordered a bumper sticker with a peace message. I’m not much of a bumper sticker person. I’m a little too introverted and nonconfrontational to emblazon my beliefs where everyone can see them and form an opinion, but I figured, who could argue with peace? So I put it on the bumper of my Sentra, and forgot about it.

It seemed to me that after I did that, other drivers on the road were behaving really rudely—even for New Jersey drivers. I’d be in the middle lane, and people would be flashing their headlights at me. They’d drive by me, and flash their lights at me. In response, I did what any self-respecting New Jersey driver would do—I’d glare at them and gesture spastically—I’m sure they could read my lips, which were not quite mouthing the words “Peace be with you, brother.”

One day as I was walking behind the car it hit me—the bumper sticker. I stared at it and thumped my forehead with the palm of my hand, recalling all those drivers who had ticked me off daily with their headlights flashing. The bumper sticker said:

“Shine a Light for Peace.”

And there they were, shining all kinds of headlights for peace, and getting me in response, a lunatic contorted with pure road rage. It’s funny that I don’t recall seeing in their faces any confusion at the cognitive dissonance of this peace-loving Friend of Peace Pilgrim responding to their overtures of goodwill with body language that would make George Carlin blush.

Anyway… kind of a Buddhist lesson in how sometimes the first thing that we should purge is our own perceptions.

Peace Pilgrim is not as well known as many who have carried the same banner of peace—perhaps people find her a little too kooky—a woman walking if or until offered food or shelter? Is that relevant at all in our society where everything has a price unless you’re too stupid to ask? Or perhaps her actions have not brushed shoulders with a large enough segment of society in the way that Martin Luther King, Jr touched millions who were in need of the hope of civil rights for all, or the way that Gandhi touched the millions of Indians in need of self-determination. But that doesn’t diminish her life as a torch-bearer for peace and understanding—not just to and from the coasts that she covered in our Continental United States, but as a beacon of light in our unified, global collective consciousness—shining a light for peace to pierce our lack of compassion, our faulty perceptions, and our road rage.