Entering the Cave of the Heart: A Contemplative Pilgrimage to India
Led By: The Rev. Matthew Wright & Br. Aidan Owen
Suggested Donation: $3,500
Join the Rev. Matthew Wright and Br. Aidan Owen for their second contemplative immersion trip to India, where you’ll have the chance to immerse yourself in heart-centered Christian teaching and practice with other like-minded seekers!
Time: 16 days
Dates: Sunday, 31 January 2021 to Monday, 15 February 2021
Cost: $3,500, all-inclusive (scholarships are available)
The Heart of the Matter
“I have been on pilgrimages where the curtain has cracked, the unexpected light dazzling me with raucous joy. This trip to India was different: it held a glow of soft embers, burning, burning, in a way that didn’t flip me off my centre, but instead seemed to stabilize me. There in Tamil Nadu, I felt a peace and happiness I hadn’t known in ages. Relaxing into another way of being helped me to remember that our first responsibility is to allow love.”
Paula Pryce, “No Question”
The Rev. Matthew Wright and Br. Aidan Owen invite you to enter the cave of your heart while you walk the pilgrim path in Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state in India and a major center of heart-based, contemplative Christian and Vedanta spirituality. During this two-week contemplative immersion, we will pray, walk, chant, and learn our way into a more grounded and open spirituality formed through the teaching and living communities of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Bede Griffiths, and Blessed Thomas the Apostle.
Why the heart?
From the heart radiates a tenderness that’s not separate from life, but rather makes us more present to the web of life in which we’re interwoven. This center is at one and the same time your heart and the heart in which we’re all held. Living from the heart awakens humility, gratitude, simplicity, and love. Turning to the heart—first in formal practice, and gradually with every breath—is a training in sensitivity. It sensitizes our being to the pain of others, to our own pain, and to the plight of our planet. It also opens our eyes to beauty, wonder, and awe.
Ancient Christian contemplative teachings and the wisdom traditions of India both have much to tell us about our hearts. The heart was a central focus for Bede Griffiths when he came to India seeking the other half of his soul. There he refounded the community of Shantivanam, taking over from Henri LeSaux and Jules Monchanin who were themselves heavily influenced by Sri Ramana Maharshi’s community at Thiruvanammalai. Through the heart Griffiths found the place where Christianity could meet other streams of contemplative teaching and practice.
Our pilgrimage will take us to the communities these prayerful men founded. We will pray where they prayed, eat where they ate, and learn what they taught. We will allow our own yearning for God to hollow us into hearts that have enough space to love as Jesus taught. And we will allow that love to carry us home again to our communities and families.
We will begin our pilgrimage at Holy Cross Monastery, a loving community of Episcopal Benedictine monks on the banks of the Hudson River where Matthew and Aidan both live. There we’ll have an evening to begin to learn some chant and lectio practices that will carry us through our pilgrimage together.
From Holy Cross, we’ll journey (a LONG time) to Pondicherry, a beautiful former French colony on the Bay of Bengal, where we’ll spend two days allowing ourselves to adjust gently to the time change and the rhythm of a very different place than we come from. From Pondicherry we’ll travel to Ramana Ashram in Thiruvannamalai at the foot of Mount Arunachala, an incarnation of Shiva. While at Ramana Ashram, we’ll continue our rhythm of prayer and teaching, visit the cave where Ramana Maharshi received enlightenment, and have a tour of Arunachalesvara Temple dedicated to Shiva.
The heart of our pilgrimage will be our week-long stay at Saccidananda Ashram, also called Shantivanam, where Bede Griffiths lived, taught, and prayed. While there we will settle into the round of daily offices and Eucharist, learn from the brothers at the ashram, and visit two local temples, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, dedicated to Vishnu and another at the top of a nearby mountain.
From Shantivanam, we’ll head to Chennai, formerly Madras, and the site of the cave where St. Thomas the Apostle lived and was martyred.
The focus of our trip will be to pray and to settle in to the places we are visiting. We are not out to see as much as we can see. Rather, we will seek to come to a place of stillness where we can breathe the literal and figurative atmosphere around us, and where we can–hopefully–discover parts of ourselves we didn’t know already.
Throughout the trip we will have regular Eucharist and lectio using the Gospel of Thomas. As well, Matthew will oversee our teaching on the spirituality of the heart; interspiritual practice; the life and teaching of Ramana Maharshi, Bede Griffiths, and St. Thomas; the Gospel of Thomas; and cosmic Christianity. He will be joined by Aidan and some of the local community at Ramana Ashram and Shantivanam. Our guided visits to local temples will help to provide the popular devotional context and ethos in which Ramana and Bede’s teachings took their form.
For those who prefer a list:
Day 1 (Sun, 1/31): Arrive at Holy Cross Monastery, meet the other pilgrims, and begin to learn our prayer and lectio forms.
Day 2 (Mon, 2/1): Depart Holy Cross.
Day 3 (Tue, 2/2): Arrive in Pondicherry.
Day 4 (Wed, 2/3): Pondicherry.
Day 5 (Thu, 2/4): Depart Pondicherry & arrive at Ramana Ashram.
Day 6 (Fri, 2/5): Ramana Ashram.
Day 7 (Sat, 2/6): Depart Ramana Ashram & arrive at Shantivanam.
Day 8 (Sun, 2/7): Shantivanam.
Day 9 (Mon, 2/8): Shantivanam.
Day 10 (Tue, 2/9): Shantivanam.
Day 11 (Wed, 2/10): Shantivanam.
Day 12 (Thu, 2/11): Shantivanam.
Day 13 (Fri, 2/12): Shantivanam.
Day 14 (Sat, 2/13): Depart Shantivanam & arrive in Chennai.
Day 15 (Sun, 2/14): Depart Chennai.
Day 16 (Mon, 2/15): Arrive in New York.
Accommodation and Logistics
This trip is intended to be a contemplative immersion, much closer to a moving retreat than to a vacation. As such, our accommodations will be simple, as will our meals. In Pondicherry and Chennai we will stay in modest hotels. At Ramana Ashram and Shantivanam we will stay at the ashrams, in very simple rooms. Both ashrams have a variety of accommodations, and we cannot know until we arrive in which block we will be housed. These accommodations often include concrete beds with thin mattresses (with mosquito netting) and shared bathrooms. There are Western-style toilets.
The food on the trip will be almost exclusively vegetarian (the exception is in Pondicherry). The food at the ashrams is simple, filling, and nutritious. While it is customary to sit on the floor at the ashrams, and to eat with your hands, utensils and chairs are available for those who need them. There is a decent amount of walking involved in this trip, and we ask that pilgrims be in good walking shape.
We will fly all together to and from New York City with one or two connections. While in India we will charter local busses.
Please check with your physician about recommended vaccinations. For most this will include a typhoid vaccination.
The trip is limited to 17.
Registration and Finances
Please call our Guesthouse office at 845-384-6660, ext. 3002 to register. A non-refundable deposit of $500 is required to secure your place.
We will ask for two payments toward the pilgrimage: $1,500 due August 1 and another $1,500 due November 1, 2020. If you need to work out a different payment schedule, or would like to request scholarship assistance, please contact Aidan at [email protected].
The $3,500 cost of this trip includes airfare; meals and accommodations during the trip; transportation for group outings and transfer from one site to another; guided tours of local temples; teaching fees; and administrative costs. You are responsible for transportation costs to Holy Cross Monastery (at the beginning) and from New York City (at the end); optional travel insurance; snacks or meals apart from the group; and souvenirs.
Want more information?
A pilgrim from our first group to India has written a beautiful reflection on her pilgrimage experience. You can read that here. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Aidan at [email protected]. We’re grateful to another pilgrim from our first trip, the Rev. Mike Angell, for providing the beautiful photos of our first trip that fill this page.
Rev. Matthew Wright is an Episcopal priest and retreat leader. He serves as priest-in-charge at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Woodstock, NY and as a teacher for Northeast Wisdom (www.northeastwisdom.org), a non-profit dedicated to the renewal of the Christian Wisdom tradition. Matthew and his wife, Yanick, live alongside the brothers of Holy Cross Monastery.
Br. Aidan Owen is the Guestmaster and Groundskeeper at Holy Cross Monastery. He is a fiber artist, gardener, and lover of the earth, and he teaches and writes frequently on contemplative Christian spirituality. He has a great devotion to Thomas the Twin.