Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

Compassion & self-awareness on the Spiritual Trail

The latest walk of the Indy Spiritual Trail, June 25, discussed compassion … just in time for the talk about compassion by the Dalai Lama later in the day. Felix Rippy reports.


Saturday June 25, 8:30-10:00 am
Indiana Interchurch Center 100 W. 42nd St. Indy, IN 46208.

Dr. Jim Lemons, together with the Create Freedom Arts Projects, and Ian McIntosh.

Titled the “Compassion Spiritual Trail hike,” the stated goal of the event was to be a “journey of meditation, awareness, and personal growth in the great outdoors,” but really there was less meditation and personal growth and more networking and information on what the Spiritual Trial was and where it went and future hopes for what the Trail was to become. There was, as will be discussed below, a discussion of compassion at the end of the hike while the hikers awaited a ride of over a mile back to the Interchurch Center.

compassion spiritual trail ianApproximately 30 people attended this even. Although Dr. James Lemons was nominally in charge of the 6-25-16 walk, Ian McIntosh (complete with his walking stick) actually led the walk, beginning with a complete walk of the Labyrinth. There were at least a dozen members of a dance troupe, although they did no dancing and were there to learn where the Spiritual Trail goes and how to navigate over 2 miles between the canal and the river without getting lost, and to learn what might be gained or learned from such a navigation. Certainly, getting 30 people out to hike in the heat on a Saturday morning shows that the event was rather successful. I think everyone who was there will return, and likely bring someone with them.

The first learning experience that all the participants had was about the Labyrinth. Although I had personally walked the Labyrinth with Matea Gelic previously, and thus I knew that it was evocative of life’s journey where sometimes you move closer to your goals (the center) and sometimes your path leads you farther away, there were at least 5 new facts that I learned from Ian McIntosh.

  • First, the Labyrinth is modeled on the famous labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France, which makes labyrinths like this one a Christian invention, contrary to what I would have guessed.
  • Second, there is only one path to the center and out, meaning that every inch of the Labyrinth is walked every time.
  • Third, the Labyrinth is meant to mimic a Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and thus the center is Jerusalem or death (the end of the journey) and thus the journey is not meant to be rushed but rather savored. It is not, apparently, a race.
  • Fourth, Buddhist and Hindu traditions also do have labyrinths, but the often lead nowhere and are more of a maze than evocative of a journey.
  • Fifth, and finally, as a Christian invention, the Labyrinth can be walked backwards from the center out to create an opportunity to reflect on resurrection…a journey back to the beginning and toward birth as opposed to a journey towards death. In fact, to emphasize the savoring nature of the trip, the Labyrinth can be crawled instead of walked, to force meditation and deliberation as opposed to rushing and racing through it.

spiritual trail crawlThe next learning experience was the walk on the Spiritual Trail itself. Even before coming to the wishing tree or the wishing rocks, the hikers passed a geocaching spot, geocaching being an outdoor scavenger hunt type activity, in which participants use a GPS receiver and other navigational techniques to find containers, which have inside messages telling why a spot is special to whoever hid the containers, which are then replaced to await finding by the next geocache enthusiast. Apparently, a geocacher enters the date they found the container and signs it and then the cache must be returned exactly where the person found it. Apparently the canal and the area between the “towpath” and the White River is a special place to geocachers worldwide.

compassion spiritual trail treeAs previously mentioned, the next part of the Spiritual Trail was the wishing Tree/Wishing Rocks along the White River. The Spiritual Trail diverts from the canal towpath and down a muddy trail to the White River. Trail walkers have tied ribbons to a tree and piled rocks on the bank, and then proceeded to make wishes, but apparently the belief of some Trail walkers is that for the wish to come true the rocks must be thrown into the White River, so the pile of wishing rocks is somewhat diminished. Further down the White River bank is a “Buddha Tree” which used to have a statue of the Buddha in its trunk, and the meditation spot along the rapids on the White River. At this point the trail goes through what Ian McIntosh refers to as the “place of trust,” where a winding and difficult part of the trail heads to Holcomb Gardens on the Butler campus. It is at this place of trust that our class will likely turn around and retrace our steps on July 26, because the Holcomb Gardens endpoint is still a mile from the Interchurch Center and required a car ride back.

compassion trail walkAt the Butler/Holcomb Gardens endpoint Dr. Lemons lectured on compassion and reconciliation. Certainly the overriding theme was the inter-connectedness of all things and all people, from the geocaching (which brings people all over the world to the Spiritual Trail to treasure hunt) to the Spiritual Trail itself, for which the hope clear is to adorn it with arches and artwork and draw people together along the banks of the canal and the White River. Dr. Lemons mentioned that his newborn intensive care unit treats 10,000 children a year, and that his belief is that compassion can be taught, because compassion is really simply self-awareness. If someone is really self-aware, then he or she will realize the interconnection he or she has with others and compassion will be the result. Because Dr. Lemons believes that compassion can indeed be taught he said that as he ages he admires kindness more than cleverness, and the impression was that kindness is the end result of years of the combination of cleverness and experience/selfawareness.

This event will have an effect on the individuals involved, as some expressed interest in geocaching and others in bringing friends and family to the Spiritual Trail. Individual self-awareness is really the goal of the Spiritual Trial, because both Dr. Lemons and Ian McIntosh believe that self-awareness results in compassion, which then results in the translation of that compassion into the outward lives of the individuals, many of whom then influence political policies, either through their activities in nonprofits or governments or simply through their own behavior in private. Interestingly, one of these private behaviors is voting, of course, and again, Governor Mike Pence’s name came up in the context of Dr. Lemon’s saying what a nice person the Governor’s wife was personally, but that the “Pence or Compassion” comparison really just meant that the Governor was not yet aware of his interconnectedness with people, say, as far away as Syria.

The Trail is destined to have artwork along it and more stopping and meditative points, but at this point the trail has no real amenities except the slightly overgrown labyrinth at the start. Sculpture and/or signposts or various thought provoking art along the trail, or all of the above together, would undoubtedly increase interest in walking the trail, and again, if the goal is to create individual self awareness and thus individual compassion, which later will translate at the proper time into policies of compassion, then there simply must be increased useful or desirable features along the trail in order to increase individual awareness of the trail and individual participation by the world’s future policymakers. The Trail is obviously nascent and just needs more marking, more features, and more marketing so that more compassion can be taught through more self awareness of life’s interconnectedness on the part of more Trail using individuals. It really is a fabulous location; it just needs to be improved in the sense of publicized and utilized.

yoga trail july 9

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