Steps Toward Inner Peace

Introduction: Inspired by Peace Pilgrim

After a deeply life-altering experience while walking in a forest one day, I was moved to reorder the priorities in my life. I was yearning to find a greater purpose than the aim of “living the good life” that had been my focus. In following a conventional path any sense of real fulfillment had eluded me. My desire at that time was to meet, in the flesh, an individual who was actually living the ideals I wanted so much to believe in, yet I was still skeptical that the living of such ideals was possible. I wanted tangible evidence that it was possible to know God from within. I wanted to believe that we come into the earth life on purpose and with purpose. I wanted guidance in finding my authentic path.

In the spring of 1976 my search led me to the Theosophical Society in Wheaton, Illinois. I met Peace shortly afterward, when she arrived, on foot, as a guest. The first time I heard her speak was in the formal library on the evening of her arrival. As I listened to her I felt a confirmation that my prayer had been answered. It was my great fortune to get to know her intimately as she became my beloved friend and mentor. Her Steps Toward Inner Peace are the framework that led to her extraordinary life of inspiration and example:

“As I looked about the world, so much of it impoverished, I became increasingly uncomfortable about having so much while others were starving. Finally, I had to find another way. The turning point came when, in desperation and out of a very deep seeking for a meaningful way of life, I walked all one night through the woods. I came to a moonlit glade and prayed. I felt a complete willingness, without any reservations, to give my life, to dedicate my life, to service. “Please use me,” I prayed to God. And a great peace came over me. It was a point of no return. After that, you can never go back to completely self-centered living.

“And so I went into the second phase of my life. I began to live to give what I could, instead of to get what I could, and I entered a new and wonderful world. My life began to be meaningful. From that time on I have known that my life work would be for peace, that it would cover the whole peace picture: peace among nations, peace among groups, peace among individuals, and the very important inner peace. However, there’s a great deal of difference between being willing to give your life and actually giving your life. For me fifteen years of preparation and inner seeking lay between.”

Peace’s Steps Toward Inner Peace:

Four Preparations

First Preparation: Have a Right Attitude Toward Life.

Be willing to face life squarely and get down beneath the surface of life where the verities and realities are to be found. There’s the whole matter of having a meaningful attitude for the problems that life may set before you. If you could see the whole picture, if you knew the whole story, you would realize that no problem every comes to you that does not serve a purpose in your life, that cannot contribute to your inner growth. When you perceive this you will recognize problems as opportunities in disguise. If you didn’t have problems you would drift through life, and you would not gain inner growth. It is in solving problems in accordance with the highest light we have that inner growth is attained. Now collective problems must be solved by us collectively, and no one finds inner peace who avoids doing his or her share in the solving of collective problems, like world disarmament and world peace. Let us always think about these problems together and collectively work toward their solutions.

Second Preparation:

Bring Your Life into Harmony With the Laws that Govern This Universe

Created are not only the worlds and the beings but also the laws which govern them. Applying both in the physical realm and the psychological realm, these laws govern human conduct. Insofar as we are able to bring our lives into harmony with these laws, our lives will be in harmony. Insofar we disobey these laws, we create difficulties for ourselves by our disobedience.

If we are out of harmony through ignorance we suffer somewhat, but if we know better and are still out of harmony, then we suffer a great deal. I recognize that these laws are well-known and well-believed; therefore they just need to be well-lived.

So I got busy on a very interesting project. That was to live all the good things I believed in. If I was doing something that I knew I shouldn’t be doing, I stopped doing it, and I made a quick relinquishment. And if I was not doing something that I knew I should be doing, I got busy on that. It took the living quite a while to catch up with the believing. And now, if I believe something, I live it. As I lived up to the highest light I had, I discovered that more light was given.

Third Preparation: Find Your Special Place in the Life Pattern

If you do not know yet where you fit, I suggest you try seeking in receptive silence. I used to walk amid the beauties of nature, just receptive and silent, and wonderful insights would come to me. You begin to do your part in the Life Pattern by doing all the good things you feel motivated toward. You give these priority in your life over all the superficial things that customarily clutter human lives.

There are those who know and do not do. I remember one day a man stopped and said to me, “How wonderful that you are following your calling.” I replied, “I certainly feel everyone should be doing what feels right to do.” He then began telling me what he felt motivated toward and it was a good thing that needed doing. I got quite excited and assumed he was doing it. I said, “Isn’t that wonderful! How are you getting on with it?” And he answered,” Oh, I’m not doing it. That kind of work doesn’t pay anything.” I shall never forget how desperately unhappy that man was. But in this materialistic age we have such a false criterion to measure success. We measure it in terms of dollars, in terms of material things. But happiness and inner peace don’t lie in that direction. If you know and don’t do, you are a very unhappy person indeed.

Fourth Preparation: The Simplification of Life

Bring inner and outer well-being, psychological and material well-being, into harmony with your life. Just after I dedicated my life to service I felt that I could no longer accept more than I needed while others in the world have less than they need. This moved me to bring my life down to need level. I thought it would be difficult. I thought it would entail a great many hardships, but I was quite wrong. I discovered this great truth: unnecessary possessions are just unnecessary burdens. I don’t mean that all of our needs are the same. Yours may be much greater than mine. If you have a family, you need the stability of a family center for your children. What I do mean is that anything beyond need – and need sometimes includes things beyond physical needs - anything beyond need tends to become a burden.

It's because as a world we have gotten ourselves so far out of harmony, so way off on the material side, that when we discover something like nuclear energy we are still capable of putting it into a bomb and using it to kill people. This is because our inner well-being lags so far behind our outer well-being. The valid research for the future is on the inner side, on the psychological side, so that we will be able to bring these two into balance, so we will know how to use well the outer well-being we already have.

Four Purifications

First Purification: Purification of the Body

This has to do with your physical living habits. I used to eat all the standard foods. I shudder now to think of what I used to put into this temple of the spirit. I did not take care of my body when I was very young, this only happened later in life. It was five years after I felt a complete willingness to give my life that I began to take care of my body. Now I eat mostly fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains – preferably organically grown. Perhaps a bit of milk or cheese. This is what I live on and walk on.

I began to realize that I was disobeying my rule of life which says: I will not ask anyone to do for me things that I would refuse to do for myself. Now I wouldn’t kill any creature – I wouldn’t kill a chicken or a fish – and I immediately stopped eating all flesh. I haven’t eaten flesh for many years, not meat or fish or fowl. I have since learned that it is bad for your health but at the time I just extended my love to include not only all my fellow human beings but also my fellow creatures, so I stopped hurting them and I stopped eating them.

In my eating and sleeping habits I have the closest contact with nature as I can. I want to do much of my living out-of-doors and be a part of the landscape. Rest and exercise are important. When possible, I go to bed at dusk and get eight hours of sleep. I exercise by walking and swinging my arms which make it a complete form of exercise.

You’d think purification of the body might be the first area in which people would be willing to work but from practical experience I’ve discovered it’s often the last, because it might mean getting rid of some of our bad habits, and there is nothing we cling to more tenaciously.

Second Purification: Purification of Thought

If you realized how powerful your thoughts are you would never think a negative thought. They can be a powerful influence for good when they’re on the positive side, and they can and do make you physically ill when they’re on the negative side. I don’t eat junk foods and I don’t thing junk thoughts! Junk thoughts can destroy you even more quickly than junk food. Junk thoughts are something to be wary of.

If you’re harboring the slightest bitterness toward anyone, of any unkind thoughts of any sort whatever, you must get rid of them quickly. They are not hurting anyone but you. It isn’t enough to do right things and say right things, you must also think right thoughts before your life can come into harmony.

During the preparation period I was just learning. I was very forgiving toward others but I was very unforgiving toward myself. If I did something that wasn’t the highest I would say to myself, “You ought to know better.” Then one day as I was combing my hair I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “You vain thing! Why do you think you know better when you forgive everyone else for not knowing better?” You must learn to forgive yourself as easily as you forgive others. Then take a further step and use all that energy that you used in condemning yourself for improving yourself. After that I really started getting somewhere because there’s only one person you can change and that’s yourself. After you’ve changed yourself, you might be able to inspire others to look for change.

Third Purification: Purification of Desire: Living the Simple Life

What are the things you desire? Some people have come out of a life where they had too many things. As you look around, how much do you really need? Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. If you have them, you have to take care of them. 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. Because of our preoccupation with materialism we often miss the best things in life, which are free.

Since you are here to get yourself in harmony with the laws that govern human conduct and with your part in the scheme of things, your desires should be focused in that direction. It’s very important to get your desires centered so you will desire only to do God’s will for you. You can come to the point of oneness of desire just to know and do your part in the Life Pattern.

Fourth Purification: Purification of Motive

What is your motive for whatever you may be doing? If it is greed or self-seeking or the wish for self-glorification, I would say don’t do that thing. Don’t do anything you would do with such a motive. But that isn’t easy because we tend to do things with very mixed motives. I’ve never encountered a person who had purely bad motives. I do encounter people who constantly have mixed motives. Good and bad motives all mixed together. I met a man in the business world and he admitted that his motives were not the highest, and yet mixed in with them were good motives – providing for his family, doing some good in his community. Mixed motives!

I talk to groups studying the most advanced spiritual teachings and sometimes these people wonder why nothing is happening in their lives. Their motive is the attainment of inner peace for themselves – which is a selfish motive. The motive, if you are to find inner peace, must be an outgoing motive. Service, of course. Giving, not getting. The secret of life is being of service.

Four Relinquishments

First Relinquishment: Relinquishment of Self-Will

Once you’ve made the first relinquishment you have found inner peace, because it’s the relinquishment of self-will.

You can work on subordinating the lower self by refraining from doing the not good things you may be motivated toward. Not suppressing them, but transforming them so that the higher self can take over your life. If you are motivated to do or say a mean thing, you can always think of a good thing. You deliberately turn it around and use the same energy to do or say a good thing instead.

Second Relinquishment: Relinquishment of the Feeling of Separateness

We begin feeling very separate and judge everything as it relates to us, as though we were the center of the universe. Even after we know better intellectually, we still judge things that way. In reality, of course, we are all cells in the body of humanity. We are not separate from our fellow human beings. The whole thing is a totality. It is only from that higher viewpoint that you can know what it is to love your neighbor as yourself. From that higher viewpoint there becomes just one realistic way to work, that is for the good of the whole. As long as you work for your selfish interests, you’re just one cell against all the other cells. You’re way out of harmony. But as soon as you begin working for the good of the whole, you find yourself in harmony with all of your fellow human beings.

Third Relinquishment: Relinquishment of All Attachments

No one is truly free who is still attached to material things or to places or to people. Material things need to be put into their proper place. They are there for our use. It’s alright to use them. But when they’ve outlived their usefulness, be ready to relinquish them and perhaps pass them on to someone who does need them. Anything that you cannot relinquish when it has outlived its usefulness possesses you, and in this materialistic age a great many of us are possessed by our possessions. We are not free.

There is another kind of possessiveness. You do not possess any other human being, no matter how closely related that other may be. No husband owns his wife; no wife owns her husband; no parents own their children. When we think we possess people there is a tendency to run their lives for them, and out of this develops extremely inharmonious situations. Only when we realize that we do not possess them, that they must live in accordance with their own inner motivations, do we stop trying to run their lives for them. Then we discover that we are able to live in harmony with them. Anything you strive to hold captive will hold you captive, and if you desire freedom you must give them freedom.

Associations formed in this earth life are not necessarily for the duration of a life span. Separation takes place constantly, and as long as it takes place lovingly, not only is there no spiritual injury, but spiritual progress may actually be helped.

We must be able to appreciate and enjoy the places where we tarry and yet pass on without anguish when we are called elsewhere. In our spiritual development we are often required to pull up roots many times and to close many chapters in our lives until we are no longer attached to any material thing and can love all people without any attachment to them.

Fourth Relinquishment: Relinquishment of All Negative Feelings

One negative feeling which the nicest people still experience is worry. Worry is not concern, which motivates you to do everything possible in a situation. Worry is a useless mulling over of things we cannot change.

Another thought about negative feelings which helped me very much at one time and has helped others, is that no outward thing, nothing, nobody from without, can hurt me inside, psychologically. I recognized that I could only be hurt psychologically by my own wrong actions, which I have control over; by my own reactions – they are tricky, but I have control over them too; or by my own inaction in some situations, like the present world situation, that need action from me.

When I recognized this, how I free I felt! And I just stopped hurting myself. Now someone could do the meanest thing to me and I would feel deep compassion for this out-of-harmony person, this sick person, who is capable of doing mean things. I certainly would not hurt myself by a wrong reaction of bitterness or anger. You have complete control over whether you will be psychologically hurt or not, and anytime you want to, you can stop hurting yourself.

These are my steps toward inner peace. There is nothing new about this. This is universal truth. The laws which govern this universe work for good as soon as we obey them, and anything contrary to these laws doesn’t last long. It contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. The good in every human life always makes it possible for us obey these laws. We have free will about this, and therefore, how soon we obey and thereby find harmony, both within ourselves and in the world, is up to us.