Hearts at Work
A Column by James Tipton
"This is the only moment that one can live…."
Last month in this column I wrote about the indefatigable Peace Pilgrim, Mildred Lisette Norman, who in her forties began what would become 26 years of walking across the United States, crossing it seven times, walking well over 40,000 miles, a distance equal to over one-and-one-half times the circumference of the Earth. Before beginning her wanderings on foot she had already reduced her life to two dresses and had become a vegetarian. She had been learning to “appreciate the great freedom of simplicity.”
She was experiencing the freedom of simplicity through eliminating whatever things were unnecessary in her day-to-day life, but she was also eliminating in her mind and heart whatever was not in harmony with her new sense of self. She writes in Steps Toward Inner Peace (free at www.peacepilgrim.org), “If you’re harboring the slightest bitterness toward anyone or any unkind thoughts of any sort whatever, you must get rid of them quickly. They aren’t hurting anyone but you. It is said that hate injures the hater, not the hated. It isn’t enough just to do right things and say right things, you must also think right things before your life can come into harmony.” This step is part of her purification of thought.
There are three other “Purifications.” The first is purification of the body, which includes sensible eating habits (vegetarian…fruits, whole grains, vegetables, nuts), sensible sleeping habits, and “plenty of fresh air, sunshine, exercise and contact with nature.” The second purification is the already mentioned purification of thought, which “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.” The third is the purification of desire. To bring your life into harmony, what desires would you have? The fourth is purification of motive. Ask yourself, “What is your motive for whatever you may be doing. If it is pure greed or self-seeking or the wish for self-glorification, I would say Don’t do that thing.” Indeed, if you are to find inner peace, Peace Pilgrim says your motive “must be giving, not getting.”
Closely related to the Four Purifications, Peace Pilgrim recommends four relinquishments. The first of these is the relinquishment of self-will. She is very clear about not suppressing our less noble inclinations: “You can work on this by refraining from doing any not-good thing you may be motivated toward, but you never suppress it! If you are motivated to do or say a mean thing, you can always think of a good thing. You deliberately turn around and use that same energy to do or say a good thing instead.”
Second is the relinquishment of separateness. “We are all cells in the body of humanity…. 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 is the relinquishment of attachments. Many of us in this materialistic age “are possessed by our possessions.” (This reminds me of Thoreau’s reprimand…”Men have become the tools of their tools!”)
And last, the relinquishment of all negative feelings. These are not necessarily toward other people…“one negative feeling which the nicest people still experience…is worry.” We seldom worry over the present moment, which is all there really is, but instead worry about the past, “which you should have forgotten long ago,” or the future, “which hasn’t even come yet.” Here are a few words to tape to your mirror: “We tend to skim right over the present time. Since this is the only moment that one can live, if you don’t live it you never really get around to living at all.”