What can we learn from a penniless pilgrim who walked for 28 years across America?


Peace Pilgrim in the late 1970s. She had walked 25,000 miles by 1964, and continued for almost two more decades. She carried only a pen, a comb, a toothbrush and a map.

Recently I was at my local library looking for a good read, perhaps something to escape the weight of pending bills and a prolonged sense of penny pinching … when I overheard this conversation.

I’ve just come from a lecture about Peace Pilgrim, I’m so inspired .. have you heard of her? 

No, who is the peace pilgrim? 

She walked across America for 28 years promoting peace… she renounced money and material positions and simply walked until offered shelter and fasted until offered food. Between 1951 and 1964 she walked 25,000 miles and gave lectures about peace along the way.

After hearing this curious dialogue I found myself looking up The Peace Pilgrim rather than a light escape novel as originally planed. What I found was nothing short of fascinating and her teachings couldn’t have reached me at a better time.

The Peace Pilgrim, was a an American non-denominational spiritual teacher, mystic, pacifist and peace activist. At the age of 45 she she set of on a walking pilgrimage across America to promote inner and outer peace. Her only possessions were the clothes on her back and the few items she carried in the pockets of her tunic which read “Peace Pilgrim” on the front and “25,000 Miles on foot for peace” on the back. She vowed to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walk until given shelter and fast until given food.”

Whilst some may see this as freeloading off the generosity and charity of others, the Peace Pilgrim saw her mission as “work” as she explains in her book Steps Towards Inner Peace

“I work for my living in an unusual way. I give what I can through thoughts and words and deeds to those whose lives I touch and to humanity. In return I accept what people want to give, but I do not ask. They are blessed by their giving and I am blessed by my giving.”

Part of her work included giving lectures at universities (see talk below at California State), and often people would offer her food or a place to stay in exchange for experiencing her teachings or good deeds. For those times where people didn’t offer her food or accommodation she said she trained herself to sleep rough, in parks or at bus stops and just went without food for days at a time. However she said she never went more than 3 days without someone offering her food and that in the end God always took care of her.

So what can we learn from this curious and eccentric character? Although I don’t plan on renouncing my material possessions or sleeping rough in parks any time soon her story challenged a few of my limited beliefs about basic needs and happiness.

What you will quickly see if you watch her videos or read her material is that she’s exuberant; brimming with vitality and zest. For many of us the risk of homelessness might be a terrifying thought, something to be avoided at all costs but for The Peace Pilgrim it was part of her unique mission and purpose.

This is one of the greatest exercises in “trust” and pushing the boundaries that I’ve ever come across. To give up everything and put your faith in the goodness and generosity of others requires a level of trust that most of us simply don’t have.

But what would happen if we took a leaf out of the peace pilgrim’s book and trusted a little more in living our own version an inspired life?.. even if that looked a bit unusual? If she was happy with essentially nothing but a toothbrush then what are we waiting for? What’s stopping us from having that same inner peace? What are we using as an excuse to not be happy?

Perhaps the answers to those questions might be found in her book, which is of course available at no charge here.




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