A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Being a Peace Pilgrim, or, An Explorer searching for the Mythical Fountain of Peace

The Cake Worthy of a Sultan

NOTE: The following is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance of the characters in this story to living persons is merely in the wild ımagination of the reader.

Ingrid and I are in Constantinople, in the kitchen of our most generous host.
Though we are merely pilgrims from lands far to west, our host has given us an apartment worthy of a Sultan.
She has also given us dates, fıgs, cakes, and an assortment of foods to sustain us before we continue our respective pilgrimages. Ingrid will be traveling with the caravans on the Silk Route to the Celestial Empire, while I head southward to the Holy Land. Though I am traveling to the Holy Land, I do not travel with any crusading order, as I follow the injunction to love my enemy.
But presently, in the kitchen of our host, I am taking advantage of our host's kindness by filling myself with dates. Though there are servants, Ingrid is tidying up. Her movements suggest that I am in her way.
She spies an ornate cake, also worthy of a Sultan, that has been left exposed to a few desultory, wintertime ants.
" Are we going to do something with this cake?" she asks testily, " Or are we going to leave it out forever for the ants to devour?"
"We are going to share it with the ants," I say, as I am annoyed by the tone of her voice. My response, of course, is meant to intimidate.
"Do you not think that when our generous host arrives, she will be offended by our having left a cake worthy of a Sultan out for the ants to devour?"
"Then I will throw the cake out," I say sharply.
"Do you not think it is an insult to our generous host to throw out a cake worthy of a Sultan?"
"Then I will eat the cake," I shout mockingly, as I take a knife to cut a slice of the cake peppered with three or four sleepy ants. "You see? It is neither satisfactory for you that I leave the cake, or dispose of the cake, so I will simply eat it all myself!" I say this with my mouth already full of cake.
"A curse upon you!" says Ingrid.
"I am eating the cake! I have solved this weighty problem!" I shout, opening my mouth to show Ingrid the cake, as she disappears into her bedchamber.

Peace Pilgrim with an Attitude

I am walking for peace, yet I have had personal struggles on this walk that don't reflect the peace message that I carry.  I have had  many doubts;  I am at times bitter or angry or lost.  Get to know me, and you'll find more restlessness than calm. So what kind of a peace pilgrim am I anyway? What peace pilgrim doesn't possess a palpable inner peace?

Take, for example, the Peace Pilgrim www.peacepilgrim.org who constantly radiated joy and peace while walking for decades around the United States. Take the anonymous Russian pilgrim from the 19th century classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, who, with nothing more than a rucksack filled with bread, wandered happily through Russia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_of_a_Pilgrim
Better yet, take two fellow peace pilgrims; Thomas, the peace pilgrim whom I met in a village on the way to Istanbul, and Stephan, who is also walking for Masterpeace.org.
Both of these men are like happy Taoists, in harmony with the universe, and flowing effortlessly like water around obstacles that most of us butt heads against. While they both have destinations, they seem to be wandering aimlessly, immersed in the present moment. During my brief meeting with Thomas, I sensed that what we have in common, our walking for peace, was overshadowed by the great difference between us; "being peace", in the case of Thomas, and "wanting peace" in my own case. And though I haven't met Stephan personally, what he communicates to me and the world through Facebook is joy, peace, and equanimity.

Not that I don't ever find peace. I insist on taking some time during the day to center down, to sit in silence and to pay attention to the Light within. I sometimes find myself in the present moment, in harmony with all around me, and seeing unexpected difficulties to be on equal terms with pleasant surprises.
But most often I see this walk as a challenge. I am too often thinking about basic survival, long term and short, asking: Where will I sleep tonight to keep out of the rain? Can I get food and water here? Where can I find internet? How can I get a little more money? How will I get to Palestine? What will I do once I get to Cairo?

The Competitive Drive

I often walk through driving rain because I have set a goal for the day that I want to reach, even if the goal is arbitrary. I left a host in Sofia knowing I would be camping in -20 degrees C because I felt I had to move on ("Must... keep...moving!") I went through the Balkans in the winter because I felt that following the coast would be too much of a holiday after the relatively easy summer that I had in the north of Italy.
Even in the north of Italy, though, I pushed hard through the heat to get somewhere I really didn't have to be.
Sometimes I feel I am competing, not with other people but with myself. Can I break my record for distance in a day? For consecutive days walking? For kilometers in a month? For number of days wilderness camping  without a host?  I sometimes feel I am better suited to be a 19th century explorer than a peace pilgrim.

A Student of Peace

Many of the people I have met who know what my walk is about seem to expect of me an example of peace that they can look up to. Some of them seem to be a little disappointed when they find otherwise. They never show their disappointment in a tangible way; they remain as hospitable and supportive as ever, but their initial questions, as from a student to a teacher, often end in words of advice, as from a teacher to a student.

Well, I am a student.

I have already been a student of my hosts, fellow pilgrims, Quakers, peace activists... I have learned from those who suffered in war and those who are making efforts at reconciliation... I am daily taking lessons from  friends and people I meet.

There is a Buddhist prayer that I find helpful:

When someone whom I have helped
With much hope and expectation
Hurts me, deeply and unjustifiably,
May I regard hım as my sublime master.

Of course, I interpret the role of sublime master to be one who tests your equanimity, and not one whom you obey. And I have expanded the definition of what makes a sublime master to anyone who riles me.
So when the little boys in a frozen village in Bulgaria threw snow balls at the man walking for peace, the man walking for peace, after an initial pause and feeling of being the master, ready to teach the students a thing or two, relaxed, and thought, thank you, you sublime little masters.
Okay, it didn't really happen that way. I stopped angrily, glaring at them, and I nearly slipped on the ice. They laughed, and I stomped off cursing under my breath.
The cursing may have been loud, now that I think about it.
Nevertheless, sublime masters are what they were. Shouldn't I have laughed with them?

Anyway, henceforth, rather than calling myself a peace pilgrim, I'll call myself an explorer, searching for the Fountain of Peace.

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