The universe hears your heart

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Earthways Art Shadow KissWhen I backpacked in South America years ago with my friend Susan, I never worried. We got warnings from the US State Department about traveling in Peru, landed in Lima to a reception of armed soldiers, and were two gringas wandering alone in a country besieged by guerrilla warfare.

People thought I was nuts. But I wasn’t listening to them. Instead, I was guided by my heart.  I know It sounds like a corny New Age mantra. Yet it was one of the first times in my life that I walked the Earth in a way that I felt connected to something greater.

With no itinerary, we climbed into the clouds on the Andes, trekked the lush jungle, roamed tiny inland villages, then headed for the coast. When we happened upon a wild-animal rescue center and archeological dig, we spent days sifting for Incan pottery shards and feeding droppers of milk to an abandoned baby ocelot in return for a room, running water and meals. Oh sure, we had bug bites, stomach woes and our share of grumpiness. But not once in all those miles did we feel fear. Every stranger we met showered us with kindness – from the young man who shared his cuy so Susan could try this roasted delicacy [yes, it’s guinea pig], to the shaman who blessed my surprise pregnancy.

It was as if the universe laid lanterns for our safe passage.

I’d love to report that my “walking the Earth” connection stayed with me when I returned to my life in New Jersey. Truth is, I lost it quickly after I started changing diapers and swirling in the pressures of motherhood, money and moods. I tried to wish it back. I tried to meditate on it. I tried to forget about it.

Yet that taste, that touch of being in sync with my heart, would fill me like a burst of sunshine when I least expected:  while body surfing with my kids; while doing my digital art; while walking the beach with my old lab, Scout; while talking about Peace Pilgrim.

And it just happened again, on this full moon Valentine’s Day.

Normally when I run, I listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers or an audio book. But today I was mulling, once again, over what I’m doing with my life, and for some reason I instead hit “shuffle.” Suddenly Loggins & Messina’s Peace of Mind burst through my earbuds. I smiled, thinking “this is cool,” and started to jog. No sooner had it ended when the notes began for the Eagle’s Peaceful Easy Feeling. Wow! Now I was paying attention. My music library has over 1,000 songs. Funny to get two in a row about my most passionate topic, peace, especially as I’m wondering whether my efforts on behalf of Peace Pilgrim are making any difference.

When the next song shuffled on, i could hardly contain my joy. I can’t remember the last time I heard Peace Train by Cat Stevens, who isn’t even Cat Stevens anymore. But I rode that train all the way back to the knowing I had in South America: that the universe hears our hearts. And even when we’re too busy, distracted or unsure, it paves the way with lanterns.

Happy Valentine’s day!

iPads over World Peace?

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Imagine Peace on Scallop ShellWhen 1,200 Brits were asked what they wanted most for Christmas, iPads trumped world peace almost 2-to-1.

Ok. It was right before the holidays. And the survey sponsor is the Consumers Electronics Association. But really?!?

Perhaps the delighted iPad owners never used their devices to read about another annual survey of 1,200 people –– this one by the Center for Preventive Action. Only instead of cool tablets or sports cars, this ranking includes Syrian unrest, China-India border clashes, Jordanian turmoil, and a deadly terrorist attack on the U.S.  As The Atlantic modestly observed, “the findings are alarming.”

Granted, the Preventive Priorities Survey asks experts to rank global conflicts that might pose the greatest threat to the U.S., so I shouldn’t dis the Brits for missing it. (Although I can’t imagine that our once-motherland is immune from these potential crises.)

Yet this isn’t about who chose an iPad over world peace. I have relatives who’d do the same thing. It is, however, a stunning reminder that coverage of Sudanese atrocities or videos of Ukrainian unrest register in our inundated brains sort of like a streamed episode of House of CardsWe bemoan the dark side of human nature. Then we move onto something else.

You know. Cancer. Floods. Job loss. Heck, even diaper dilemmas or doggie tales. The “story” doesn’t matter. Only when we are directly affected, only when it is our story, do we really care.

That’s why I love Peace Pilgrim. She knew this better than anyone –– that peace is an inside job. She spent 28 years walking across the U.S. with only the clothes on her back meeting people face-to-face, making peace personal. How? By talking about inner peace, by helping people let go of hate, anger and judgment in their own lives. Because, she knew, world peace will only happen when enough of us find inner peace.

So, maybe the CEA can learn from this when they plan their next survey. World peace is a tall order for someone simply jonesing for a little holiday happiness. But I bet if they pit iPads against inner peace, the outcome might be different. What do you think?

Peace now, you idiot

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Storm Cloud PhotoIt was the 1960’s and college students screamed “RIGHT ON” and “YEAH MAN” as silver-haired Peace Pilgrim stoked the anti-war energy at campuses across the country.

When she asked if they felt like shaking the congressmen who voted to send more soldiers to Vietnam, their cheers reached a deafening crescendo.

Peace let them shout for a while, then simply said, “Oh, you would act the same way as those who make you angry?”

Talk about a silencer!

It was then that she was able to bring home her message of inner peace; that when  enough of us truly feel peaceful within, the ripples will spread outward. Only then will our families, our communities and our countries naturally “operate on a philosophy of peace.” 

Whew. What a wake-up call – then and now. How many of us say we believe in peace, support peace efforts or even, like me, write a book in the hopes of promoting peace? Then, without thinking twice, we badmouth those we disagree with, mistrust those we don’t know, yell at our kids, curse out crazy drivers.

Human nature? Need for group allegiance? Maybe. But just look around: Congressional discord’s at fever pitch. FOX vs. MSNBC is a team sport. Taking sides is the new black.

So I think Peace Pilgrim’s words are more relevant than ever. Perhaps the only way to find a silver lining in these clouds of chronic conflict is to start within.

I’m trying to do that in my own life now. It isn’t always easy and it doesn’t always work. But I know that unless I attempt to walk my talk, I am a hypocrite with a capital “H!” So my new mantra reminder is, “Peace in = peace out.”

How about you? What can you do today to be kind to yourself and, in turn, share that kindness with others?

(For a free copy of Peace Pilgrim’s wonderful booklet, “Steps Toward Inner Peace,” available in 29 languages, visit PeacePilgrim.org)

422/365 + Kindness

Earth from SpaceIn an earlier writing life, I penned an eco-column, EarthWays, that offered some simple how-to’s. You know, stuff like switching to safer cleansers, avoiding the perils of pesticides and lessening our load on landfills. It was well before chemicals connected with cancer or islands of plastics floated in our seas. So my columns were a mix of emerging science and common-sense caution. And in those pre-internet  days, I got thousands of snail-mail letters from readers across the country asking how to protect their health and the planet.

Fast forward 20-plus years, and we have eco-products, eco-energy, eco-cars and even eco-travel. Green info is a click away. But so are unimaginable mountains of trash, dramatic species extinction, alarming piles of nuclear waste, smog-driven gas masks, unprecedented drought and heartbreaking floods.

Yet who can even concentrate on this planetary peril when we’re repeatedly one-two punched by pointless acts of violence? Appalling rapes in India… heinous murders in Newtown… horrific bombings in Boston… and countless cruelties that invade our collective (and constantly connected) minds every day…

After walking for a few years across the U.S., Peace Pilgrim changed her mission from urging world peace to promoting inner peace. She realized the first couldn’t happen without the second, and she wound up changing tens of thousands of hearts, one step at a time.

Similarly, in the wake of Boston’s horror, old words from the beloved, cardigan-clad Mr. Rogers went viral reminding us that when bad things happen, lots of good people always come to help.

So, as we mark the 43rd annual Earth Day on April 22, 2013, I’ll still promote the trademark slogan, Earth Day, Every Day (or 422/365 for short), but I’m going to amend it a little and also mention kindness.

Even the tiniest acts of niceness help create inner peace, and that’s our real ticket to a better world. Here’s to Earth Day, Every Day – with lots of Kindness. 

They are our sonshines!

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2013SeanBdayCollage My youngest turns 17 today.
Well before he fell in love with his first shin guards (I adored the purple socks), his smiles lit continents, his giggles shook treetops, his hugs melted my moods. (And yes, his beanie babies filled my bed.) From Lincoln Logs to driver’s license, he’s been a star in my universe and I’m filled with gratitude at the young man he’s becoming. LIke inner peace to our souls are sons to our hearts. Happy Birthday ShawnieBee!

If you’re hungry enough, break into the fridge

scoutporch  So we have NO idea how he does it. But Scout opens the fridge and helps himself. To left-over pizza. Pints of Ben & Jerry’s. Pounds of turkey and cheese. No carrots or celery for him.

We come back home to remnants of his binges strewn across the living room floor — shards of foil, ripped ice cream containers and scattered mounds of drool. He puts his tail between his legs before we even start to yell and slinks into his crate. Of course, it’s usually only five minutes after we pick up the mess when we start to hear him retch. There goes the feast! He wags happily as we come in for the next round of cleaning.

Between our profanity and “if-I-eat-another-bite-Monty Python” references, we marvel again at his canine prowess. How in the world does a 12-year-old yellow Lab open the refrigerator? It’s not even a normal model with easy access. To fit into a cramped space with stairways on either side and a counter just a foot in front, we had to get a side-by-side with sleek, curved handles that I can barely maneuver my tiny hands into. Does he use his paws? His snout? A combo? Each time we swear we’ll set up our Flip cam.

But, you know what? I don’t even really want to find out. Because Scout’s break-ins are legend now. And they’re also inspiration. My big old dog wants something bad enough, and he goes for it.

I’ve finally published my first book, but now the scary work begins. The marketing. The outreach. The social media platform. The black hole of countless hours  trying to figure out book bloggers and permalinks and tags. But I want to share my story of Peace Pilgrim as much as Scout salivates for fried chicken. I crave community as an author like he drools for donuts (preferably chocolate covered.)

So I’m going to do as my dog and break into my dreams whenever I have the chance.

Celebrate Peace (…or happy Women’s History Month!)

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Peace  March is Women’s History Month and there’s no better time for everybody to know Peace. Peace Pilgrim that is!
Meet Mildred Norman Ryder, the amazing New Jersey farm girl and former flapper who was the first woman to walk the Appalachian Trail in one season. Then at age 45, when most women stayed home to cook, clean and help raise grandchildren, Mildred gave up everything she owned (including her name) and started walking across the country to promote peace. Over the next 28 years, Peace Pilgrim crossed the U.S. on foot seven times. With only the clothes on her back and no money, she reached tens of thousands of people, one joyous step at a time.
So, as blogs and clips and media reports bemoan the lack of female role models during Women’s History Month, we all should celebrate Peace Pilgrim — and Peace!

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“I have walked 25,000 miles as a penniless pilgrim.  I own only what I wear and what I carry in my small pockets.  I belong to no organization.  I have said that I will walk until given shelter and fast until given food, remaining a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace.” 

 

98 and waiting for the “BIG Party!”

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2013Feb17_Helene-Merry
Peace Pilgrim’s baby sister, Helene Young, is 98 today! Yes, that’s her, looking beautiful, young and healthy — enjoying her surprise birthday party yesterday afternoon.

Of course, in the morning she went miles on her daily bike ride, even though 30 mph wind gusts made it feel like 16 degrees out! (I was afraid my Honda Fit would get blown off the Garden State Parkway, but she thought nothing of hopping on her bike!) The trick, she explained, is not to worry. “I fall all the time,” she laughed. “Just relax and nothing will happen.”

Unlike her wandering sister Peace Pilgrim, who walked across the U.S. for more than 28 years spreading her message of peace, Helene remained in the southern New Jersey town where they grew up, and where their great-grandfather was a founding settler and first mayor. She married her brother Al’s friend and started working at Renault Winery when her sister was employed there. (She often jokes, “I got my job through my sister, and my husband through my brother.”) She raised a family and has treasured photographs of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren decorating her home.

But as different as their paths may have been, the siblings shared a deep desire to live peaceably. Helene has done much on her own and through her sister’s legacy to promote peace. She remains active with the Friends of Peace Pilgrim as well as in her community. When she retired from the winery after 50 years, she received a gift of her first bicycle, and hasn’t stopped spinning those wheels since.

Walking into a loud, gleeful chorus of “SURPRISE!” yesterday, Helene was truly shocked — she figured her family and friends would save the special gathering for her 100th. “I’m sticking around to have the BIG party,” she announced. And with that, her son Dale officially invited all the attendees to that one too. I’m just so happy to be among them. Happy, happy birthday Helene!

Published my Peace!

PeacePilgrimCover  My ebook is on Amazon! Click here to see it.

I’m so excited to finally be sharing the story of this amazing woman, who gave up all her “stuff” and walked across the country to promote peace for 27 years! Right now it’s available for Kindle, Kindle Fire, iPad and iPhone. The print version of the book will be ready in a few weeks. While it’s aimed at ‘tweens and teens, older readers will enjoy and be inspired as well!
All proceeds will go to Friends of Peace Pilgrim, a group that sends Peace’s booklet, “Steps Towards Inner Peace,” for free to tens of thousands of people around the world (it’s available in 22 languages.)
Thanks to all who have already helped me share this  news —  and to those who now know Peace Pilgrim and LOVE HER — I told you so! xoxo