Walking Journal / Walking

Walk 18 – Contemplative Garden at Spalding University

. 3 min read . Written by Russell Smith
Walk 18 – Contemplative Garden at Spalding University

Stillness, walking, writing and speaking

The Contemplative Garden contains a labyrinth and a Buddhist stupa. The Garden commemorates the meeting between the Trappist monk, mystic and author, Thomas Merton, and His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Interestingly, not far away, at 4th Street and Muhammad Ali Blvd (formerly Walnut St), Merton had his epiphany of love for all people. He wrote in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers … There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

In Walk 4, I also walked a labyrinth, at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This walk offered an entirely different experience. The Contemplative Garden resides in a busy area of town. Entering the Garden, I heard, in the words of the Grinch: "oise, noise, noise!" Two large AC units nearby twirled and spun clamorously. Planes flew overhead. A man yelled into his phone.

Unlike the first labyrinth, with its distinct brick path separated by min-walls of grass, at this labyrinth, both the path and the walls were made up of brick. Different colors, but still brick. Early on, I could tell I would lose my way if I didn’t pay attention to my steps.

So I had to focus. I had to narrow my hearing and my vision, listening only to the voice of the labyrinth, if it spoke to me, and to my inner workings, and seeing only a step or two ahead on the path.

It became an oasis of quiet and solitude amidst the bustle and cacophony and moving sights of the city. Once I stepped into the labyrinth, it became my beautiful oasis. Nothing pierced the veil.

Step. Step. Step. Step. Concentrate on the next step. On the next step. A labyrinth twists and turns all about – left, right, quick turns, long straightaways. I saw none of that. I didn’t perceive the center until I stepped into it.

I sought clarity about my path in life, about which I have felt so much angst and confusion and frustration. I came into the center of the labyrinth. I turned around. At the top of the stupa, I viewed the golden Buddha. And the realization hit me that whatever my path, it would include stillness, walking, writing and speaking. Stillness, walking, writing and speaking.

Even that simple realization gave me comfort and confidence. It felt like a refreshing rain coming down, washing all over my body, my mind, my life. A new life, in a way, a new path. New steps.

Can one man or one woman or one child bring peace to a city? I doubt it; I disbelieve it; I almost despair. But can one person bring peace inside? I believe that. I have witnessed that. I am struggling to prove that to myself. Can that person’s peace help bring peace to another? Yes, I believe that. And may that person’s inner peace help bring peace to yet another? Yes, I believe that too. Will that cascade happen? I don’t know; it may not. It very well may not. But I believe it can. I will not despair. I do not despair. In walking and in stillness, I do not despair.