Beyond the experience of duality

Going Beyond: The Sangha Autumn Retreat


The Shrine created for Going Beyond at Holland House (Photo by Mel Cross


Going Beyond

The Sangha 2020 Autumn Retreat held at Holland House 

‘Who sees the many and not the One

wanders on from death to death’

(Katha Upanishad)


This autumn Sangha members John Ryder and Jane Lichnowski were invited by the Reverend Ian Spencer to facilitate a retreat at Holland House. Despite the pandemic the retreat went ahead as a ‘blended event’ – participants who were unable to attend in person ‘zoomed’ in. This moving report by Mel Cross captures the deep sense of spiritual peace and community encountered by those who took part:

Driving through grey mist and drizzle, flooding, swirling leaves, whipping winds, and with the shadowy, impending, spectre of a potential further lockdown, I wondered how this weekend would be.  Inside me, a gnawing hesitancy, I suspected we would all feel, from stepping out of an uncertain COVID-19 world, and into something different.  Escaping for a little while from the weary, relentless, ongoing, prodding that reminded us daily that things were just not ‘normal’.

This hesitancy was soon lessened by Rev Ian and team at the beautiful Holland House, who welcomed us warmly and settled us in.  After the sanitising and Covid rules were explained to us, of course.  And before the parade of delicious vegetarian meals, and cakes, which continued throughout the weekend.  (I was glad of my elasticated trousers!) Nonetheless, I sensed uncertainty was gently carried in by all of us that weekend; various, shapes and forms and sizes of it perhaps, but no-one came unladen. The ‘Going Beyond’ retreat had been carefully and thoughtfully created by Jane Lichnowski and John Ryder, who are founder-members of the Bede Griffiths Sangha, with Jane holding the space virtually on Zoom, and John holding and guiding the weekend in person at Holland House.

And, despite the ever-changing goal-posts and complications, they stepped boldly into the unknown, creating an amazing blended, virtual/physical retreat, within a Covid-distorted landscape.  Their hard work and dedication really shone through, bringing a rejuvenating virtual and physical oasis to the spiritually curious and energetically depleted.

Inspired by the teachings of Fr Bede Griffiths they integrated insights of Indian Spirituality with contemplative Christian faith to create a flowing, nourishing narrative of great depth and inspiration.  Working together they held us gently as we immersed ourselves into a deepening process of spiritual understanding through an exploration of the Katha Upanishad.

John’s deep, thoughtful, sharing and heart-centred wisdom held us by the hand and guided us gently as we explored the Hindu scripture; opening up within us questions of life and death, and journeying us into the ultimate nature of who we are.

The days were structured as “ashram time”, working to the Benedictine rhythm of the day as at Shantivanam. There were times of meditation, prayer, silence and sharing, centred around the twinkling of the candle-lit shrine which held our focus during our togetherness.

But within this togetherness there were also the sometimes-disconcerting, barriers between physical and virtual.  This brought occasional problems with technology, visuals, sound, distractions, and, added to this, masks, blocking the smiles and unspoken communications of the human face.  This ‘blended’ adventure had its unavoidable bumps, and human contact and communication were, on occasion, fractured by circumstance.

But what began as frustrations which fragmented us, gradually became unifying glue which bonded us.  Through flowing love, and a relaxation into generous acceptance and understanding, we began to reach out, across the masks, the distances, the technology, and silent fears.  Humans reaching out to each other, supporting each other, unloading our bags from the year which was 2020, and dissolving things that we had brought with us.   The shared experience and journeying, and the longing for deep contemplation and exploration of wisdom, unified us, becoming, for that moment in time, one heart; in spite of everything.  The unifying One heart, the heart that gently beats at the centre of All; all people, all religions, all things.  We had, for that moment, through adversity, and in uncertain times, experienced a tangible taste of ‘Going Beyond’;

separate; together; One.

As I drove back home, through the piercing darkness, swirling, howling wind, and lashing rain, back to the new lock-down and ongoing uncertainty, instead of withdrawing and separating, I felt expanded and part of whatever lay ahead; unified with all and ready for whatever shape it took. And, as I journeyed onward through the darkness, I carried with me a little warm lantern of hope, deep within my heart.  Through the richness and depths of our weekend’s explorations an illumination burned within me, showing me that the very thing which initially conspires to separate us, in the end, if we follow the whisper of our hearts and reach out to the other, is the very thing which ultimately points us towards togetherness;

towards becoming a unifying One.

Mel Cross