Sunday, December 09, 2007

Many paths lead from the foot of the mountain, but at the peak we all gaze at the single bright moon. ~Ikkyu, Zen-monk poet, 1394-1481

Friday, December 07, 2007

music sanctuary

I talk of silence, of Spirit First being a place of quiet. It is true; Spirit First is a place to come for quiet, for peace, for the journey within. But silence is not our only meditation. In fact, before I learned how to listen to the silence, I first learned how to quiet myself with music meditation. Music became my place of transition, a space between the noise of the world and the silence of the Universe. I could move from one to the other through the space in between, and for me that was music. A little more practiced now, I can step into silence without the help of music as a transition, but I still have favorite pieces of melody that I enjoy from time to time for inspiration or even meditation.

It shall come to be that Spirit First has a music sanctuary tucked away in one of its gardens, a beautiful small sanctuary with soft light pouring through stained glass windows, a place to sit with music meditation. One can always step into and be surrounded by music in this stained-glass sanctuary.

One is always welcome to slip quietly into the music sanctuary and settle into a comfortable position, perhaps nestled on pillows, or upright in a chair, or cross-legged on the floor. Sometimes it will be simple meditation music that is playing. Other times one might hear a boys’ choir singing an old song such as “Be Still My Soul” or “Panis Angelicus” (two of my favorites). Or it may be a single voice like Josh Groban singing one of those same songs.

At another time it may be Gregorian chants or perhaps a Buddhist chant that fills the music sanctuary. The music might be Jewish or Muslim or Christian or Zen, but Spirit First will always have a place for you to be calmed and soothed by the graceful sounds of
meditative music.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

all at the same time

A friend of mine called a couple of days ago, a builder in Tennessee whom I have not seen in quite several years. We chatted a bit, he told me about the grand new house he is building for himself and his wife, and he asked me what I am up to. I talked to him about my work and then explained to him what I want to create in Spirit First. He seemed fascinated that I have taken on such a big creative idea. The next day he called back, wanted to talk about hiring the best accountants and designers and architects to create my beautiful sanctuaries and gardens (I listened but explained I am not yet ready for this conversation until I build funds). He asked me to explain to him again about having a place of sanctuary, a place of prayer, that welcomes Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish people who meditate. Even atheists and agnostics. He, thinking I would create a retreat center that would invite a Buddhist group on one weekend and a Muslim group on another weekend, asked me then the strangest question. “You don’t possibly intend to have them there at the same time, do you?”

To me it seems so natural a thing to have a place of sanctuary with monks and nuns from every discipline sharing and tending the same land…seems so natural a thing to me that I do not yet have words prepared to make my case.

I’m going to have to get a lot better at explaining what this all means.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

“It is never about how good your voice is; it is only about feeling the urge to sing, and then having the courage to do it with the voice you are given.” ~ Katie in True to Form by Elizabeth Berg

photography by permission
graham jeffery

Monday, November 26, 2007


such a fuss is made
of tolerance
how it's the way
we all should be

but tolerance itself
implies opposition
and making do with how another is
when what we'd really like
is to make him more of the same
of what we are

no, tolerance is not the way to be
but instead
sits in the shadow of something greater
of acceptance and surrender
to the differences we find

but think a bit on acceptance
and you will discover
yet a better way to be
and that of understanding,
not just accepting,
but understanding
the differences we find

leaves no room for reasoning
goes beyond thinking
or of might

understanding puts one
into the space of another
with recognition of one's self

in understanding
and seeing himself in another
his seeing
becomes knowing
and in knowing
he is becoming
two are now one

~ by Diana Christine

art by permission

Saturday, November 24, 2007

message in the music

I imagine a place of sanctuary where a Buddhist monk tends a garden that a Sufi walks through. I see a Hindu teacher presenting yoga to a class of Jewish students. I dream of mountain trails with Muslim and Christian women walking together under a shared canopy of trees. I anticipate a protestant and a Catholic drinking from the same fountain. I imagine an atheist friend feeling at home among the nuns and monks and those who meditate or pray. Ours is a place of beauty, of quiet, of peace, with contemplatives from every discipline, every faith, sharing the land.

Josh Groban has just released his holiday CD Noel and his beautiful brand-new song Thankful (written by Josh Groban). Quietly contained in the lyrics is a message that symbolizes what Spirit First knows and seeks to achieve:

Even with our differences, there is a place we're all connected. Each of us can find each other's light....

I love that Josh expressed it for me (in his exquisite baritone voice). Each of us can find each other's light.... Let us begin to see the light in each other. Let us help pave the way at Spirit First.

photography by permission

Friday, November 23, 2007

what do i want

A portion of my year 2007 was devoted to pondering what it is that I want, what do I deeply, sincerely want for my life. I read the book Eat Pray Love (now one of my favorite books), and its opening pages introduced me to a lesson Rumi taught his students. Rumi advised his students to write down the three things they wanted most in life. He then warned that one is destined for unhappiness if any item on the list of three clashes with any other item--for me this exercise was not for uncovering any contradicting desires (there were none) but was for going deeply within to find and face what it is I truly want. This introspection became one of my most significant efforts this year.

Weeks after discovering the book I watched Liz Gilbert (the author of Eat Pray Love) in a televised interview, and a lesson she left with her audience was for us to begin each day with the question "What do I really, really, really want ...?" (the words really, really, really are required). I was amazed with how much direction this little practice brings (the question relates to this day, for the rest of my days, or whatever comes up).

Both of these exercises helped me in my pondering and in every way that I explored it, I found the desire to create Spirit First.

Our lives are busy and complex, and so much noise and busyness can prevent our hearing the voice within that directs us to our own passion. Then, too, following one's own heart calls for courage (much courage) and strength, and maybe because it is easier not to pursue our dreams, we don't listen deeply. I lingered in my own pondering this year and made a decision to make every effort to honor my dream and bring it life. This, then, led to the beginnning of Spirit First. Whatever may come of it, I will be better for doing everything I possibly can to bring it to pass.

The Articles of Incorporation are now under review by my board of directors and my attorney and soon Spirit First will be legally incorporated. This dream shall come into being.

photography by permission of

Saturday, November 17, 2007

disadvantage of abundance

We in the western world enjoy the experience of abundance. We live with an abundance of sound--sounds in so many forms it surrounds us (giving us tunes even when the telephone rings) abundance of images--colors and forms and creativity that beckon us from the moment we abundance of scents--fragrances that appeal to us beyond our waking hours as even our pillows carry the smell of spring rain or april abundance of souls so much so that we meet new people every day and have no time to get to know the ones we met yesterday.

With such abundance we don't drink deeply, taste completely, or experience fully.

With so many sounds around us, we don't understand the pleasure of a single note and a solitary tone. With an abundance of images and so many colors, we don't hold a piece of art in our hands, sit with it for an hour, fall into it. With fragrance all around us, many of us never close our eyes and spend time traveling on a single delicate scent into the heart of the Universe.

Because we don't drink deeply, we don't become satisfied. Because we are not satisfied, we continue to reach for more. Because we always end up with more, we never drink deeply.

Our work each day is to take a moment and experience one thing as deeply and as fully as we are capable. Touch it, taste it, feel it, experience it.

When you step from your shower, close your eyes and fully receive the embrace of your towel. Feel its softness, its lightness, its texture. Breathe its fragrance. Feel its caress on your face, on your belly, on your ankles. Don't brush it across your skin hurriedly to dry yourself and toss it aside as though it was never an important part of your day (what was the color of the towel you used this morning?).

In another moment stop and look at an image or a work of art and stay with it, feel its presence. When you listen to a friend, stop and truly hear the heart of her. When we take a moment like this each day, our ability to experience fully will deepen and enlarge.

"The soul requires duration of time -- rich, thick, deep, velvety time -- and it thrives on rhythm. Soul can’t be hurried or harried. We may go through many events in the day and experience nothing because the soul has not had the opportunity to feel them from many different points of view." ~ Robert Sardello

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To treat every human being as a shrine of God is to fulfill all religion. ~ Pir-O-Murshid Hazrat Inayat KhanBowl of Saki
Within us is the soul of the whole, the wise silence, the universal beauty, the eternal One. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
photography by permission

our purpose

The purposes for which Spirit First is formed are as follows:

(A) To establish and maintain a spiritual community that encourages the practice of meditation and promotes the development of spiritual awareness and mindfulness.

(B) To welcome and support the contemplative life of every faith, discipline, religion, and tradition.

(C) To build understanding and cooperation between religiously diverse groups and to help increase peace, create equality, alleviate suffering, and encourage freedom through demonstrating and teaching the practice of inclusiveness.

(D) To provide education, tools, and networking that support those on a spiritual path.

(E) To encourage holistic attitudes, healthful living, gentleness with the earth, and compassion with the world.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

checking in

I am helped to stay on my course by checking in, letting you know where we are in our progress to coming fully into being. We are on our second draft for articles of incorporation and bylaws; we continue one step at a time.

When I get tangled in legal affairs, or when I get afraid, sometimes I come to this site to be reminded of the beauty of what we are doing and what we will be. My strength is restored.

"Courage for some is a quiet thing, for others, something that must be preached." ~ author unknown.
True silence is rest for the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.~ William Penn

Friday, November 02, 2007

create the capacity to receive

We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get what we want and, even, quite a lot of time trying to figure out what to try to get. However, perhaps we need to shift our focus from "trying to get" to "being ready to receive." Our real work is in making ourselves ready, preparing ourselves to be able to accept our gifts from the Universe. Open. Willing. Ready. (I know at first it is more difficult than it sounds.)
Sometimes I ask myself the question, "What things would I do if I knew, completely knew, that Spirit First will come to be?"...and then I work on those things so that I am ready. This is my work.
Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.~Rabindranath Tagore
photography by permission

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world. ~ Etty Hillesum An Interrupted Life

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A human being is part of the whole called by us "universe," a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.

~Albert Einstein, 1954

Saturday, October 27, 2007

first donation

Today is a special Spirit First received its first donation, an unexpected $100 donation from my teen-aged friend Emmanuel. Emmanuel's gift is a pure offering, beautiful and inspiring to the dream deep in the heart of me. Emmanuel believes in me, he believes in Spirit First, and he wants to show his support by giving from the money he saved while working part time at a nearby cinema. I am honored, and humbled, by so beautiful a gift. Thank you, Emmanuel.

In about a week I will be opening a bank account for Spirit First and Emmanuel's contribution will be our first deposit. One hundred dollars is the beginning of the incredibly beautiful, peaceful world we seek to create on a Virginia mountainside. There's something about the first donation that makes this all seem so much closer to becoming something very real (it already is real).

I think I am going to cry.
Keep alive within you and bring under wise control
that courage which makes you long to undertake great works,
which others might consider it folly to attempt.
~ St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Thursday, October 25, 2007

God is the friend of silence. See how nature...trees, flowers, grass...grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls. ~ Mother Teresa

photography by permission

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

where we are this week

Not long ago I was teaching a class in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, and as I looked upon the grandeur, the columns and statues and art, the shops and pools and restaurants and elegant sleeping rooms, I thought to myself how all of this, everything that I looked upon, came about from a single idea from a single person. This is how we create. And it shall be the same with creating a beautiful, serene meditation sanctuary in a wood, a retreat center called Spirit First.

This week I am creating the organizational structure for Spirit First. To the six of you who have agreed to serve on the founding board of directors, I thank you. Thank you for your willingness to serve, thank you for your faith in me and what I am doing, and thank you for the gifts you bring to the table. Your presence helps make this dream come true.

This week I am also writing our bylaws and our articles of incorporation. (I think I was supposed to have filed the articles of incorporation prior to being assigned an EIN but it's okay. Those of you who know more about the IRS than I probably already knew that!)

I am also developing an advisory board, a board that will expand during the next several weeks.

And so, we continue to grow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

willing to fall

Many of us struggle with fear of failure. While fear possibly can stimulate one toward working hard and then lead to accomplishment, more often fear paralyzes, preventing us from even making an attempt.

Love seems to me believing enough to do everything to make a dream come true while loving enough to be willing to fall.

I love my dream of Spirit First enough to be willing to fall.

photography by permission
graham jeffery

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Starting something new is scary, taking me out of the safety of my familiar, my confirmed. What if I can’t do this? What if I can’t finish it? Even worse, what if I’m not supposed to be doing this?

I remember the day I first envisioned Spirit First. It was a crisp Saturday afternoon in the month of March. I saw a picture of a labyrinth and in an instant I imagined an entire meditation center holding that labyrinth. I saw gardens and fountains and sanctuary where people from every discipline and every faith gather in peace. I saw a place of quiet, a place of healing, and it called to me, begged me to breathe life into it.

On that same day a quotation fell across my desk, one I had never seen before, and it was written like this: “Never doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.”

Those words became a prompt for me, a reminder in the face of uncertainties that on the other side of doubt my vision remains in brilliant light.

I must admit I have had moments of doubt, whole moments strung together that turned into weeks, but I kept coming back to my vision (or my vision kept coming back to me). I wasn’t sure I can create something so beautiful and build something so big, but I have come to realize that my work is in doing everything possible to make the dream come true, not in worrying about if or how it will work out.

And now, I give Spirit First my best effort. So beautiful a vision as this makes me want to be brave.

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Monday, October 15, 2007

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation. Tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego.
~Jean Arp/Hans Arp

"Cloud Shepherd" by Hans Arp

by diana christine

my purest truth
is found within
this present moment

my most exquisite memory
my greatest expectation
nothing but a thief

my richest gifts
here and now

behind the name

I suppose it shall be from time to time that someone among us will ask how we came to have the name of Spirit First. And I shall, of course, tell them how it came to be.

I have always been drawn to the words in the scriptures that say, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you," and I began to wonder what would my life be like if I always put Spirit first. How much closer would I be to who I really am if I practiced Spirit first?

And thus, the name of the organization came into being.


Sometimes messages come to us from the most unexpected places. I recently saw a magical children’s movie called “Return to the Secret Garden,” and as the story goes, a young girl was unable to get into the special garden because another child had thrown her key into a lake. She was unable, that is, until someone suggested to her the key was not necessary, that she needed “only to open her heart.” As I watched the film, something stirred within me and I realized there was a message here for me. I pondered the message and asked myself, “What have I been thinking is the “key” to creating Spirit First?” That was easy—money, I have believed money is the key (and, perhaps, the obstacle). Now, though, the message was coming to me that money (the key) is not needed, but that I simply need to open my heart. (Not that money is not needed, but that it is not to be worried about. When the girl opened her heart, the key appeared back in the lock and the gates opened for her.)

Several days later I was talking with one of my friends, explaining to her the message I felt from the movie just as I have written it for you here, and her response became another message for me. “Just look at your name,” she said. “The key was written in the name of your organization, ‘spirit…first.’ You don’t create the meditation center, or even the organization, until you first create its spirit.” Oh, my goodness, how could I not have seen what was now so clear?

The key is an open heart, and in that heart the spirit of a thing is created, and so it shall come to pass. We take an idea, nourish it and nurture it, and create its spirit (this, the gestation period). Once the spirit of a thing is created, we then bring it to its birth. The key for all of this is the opening of my heart, opening to the Universe with trust and joy and gratitude, and allowing what will be.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

first steps

This is a sacred moment. Today marks opening steps toward making a dream come true. Today I applied for and was assigned an employer identification number (EIN) for Spirit First. We are not yet given birth, but we are now conceived (and recognized by the IRS).

Sacred moments call for our mindfulness, our quietness, our gratitude. Light a candle. Burn an incense. Feel what it feels like. Drink its nectar. Taste its sweetness. Give thanks.

As with preparing for any tender birthing, my greatest attention is called for in making this dream come true. Let me ponder carefully each step of this path.

And as I mentioned earlier, I may not know everything I need to do to make Spirit First come true, but I know what I need to do next...file with the Commonwealth of Virginia to become a legal corporation. This I shall do in the coming days.

the dream

I have a dream, a dream of a meditation retreat center located in a wood on a scenic mountain ridge in the Commonwealth of Virginia. My dream is a peaceful sanctuary filled with beautiful gardens, labyrinths, mandalas, trickling fountains, wooded walking trails, and quiet oases; I dream of a place of refuge, a place of tranquility, a place of prayer, a place of healing.

I dream of a place called Spirit First.

Spirit First is a meditation retreat center that embraces every discipline, every faith in its devotion to meditation and mindfulness, in its dedication to prayer and the inner life, in its commitment to peace and tranquility. Spirit First is a place of inclusion devoted to honoring our spiritual paths.

Those who come to Spirit First do so to meditate or to study, to think or to reflect, to write or to ponder and do it in a quiet place. Sometimes, though, we gather at Spirit First as a group to meditate or practice yoga, hear a master deliver a message, join a gathering of Sufis in dance. Sometimes we have guest leaders from the spiritual community such as Sharon Salzberg, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sai Maa, Zuleikha, Coleman Barks, Naomi Shihab Nye, Christine Kane, and many, many others.

In the beginning I asked myself the question, "How dare I dream a dream this big? Who do I think I am to dream thus?" Then I looked around me at the universe in all its wealth and I began to realize that with the abundance of the earth that sustains me and the beauty of all that inspires me, the more perfect question would be to ask, "How dare I not dream a dream this big? Who do I think I am to live my life and not work to make a dream like this come true?"

And so, with much courage and equal amounts of humility, gratitude, and trust, I begin the opening steps of bringing Spirit First into physical form. I honor the dream born in me.

photography by permission

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

This is my answer to the gap between ideas and action - I will write it out.
~Hortense Calisher

the beginning of a dream

An idea is a being, breathing and struggling for life, as real as anything you would call “real.” Ideas are gifts from God, precious treasures from the Universe, and must be treated with our greatest honor. Ideas are light, and beauty, and truth. Treat your ideas with your tenderest care. Be attentive. Be gentle. Listen deeply.

I would like to share with you my idea that has become the dream I hold with longing in my heart. I shall write of my dream in these pages and give record to its unfolding. You, in the reading, are made witness to that which I dream.

Dreaming is not for the weak or the faint of heart. Dreams call for valor and beg for bravery, and I am now called to my greatest courage to step into these great waters. I dare to dream but do so with honor for so lovely a vision, with gratitude for so wondrous an idea.

I dare not only to dream but to begin the work of bringing the dream to completion. How scary it is to begin a thing without knowing what my capability might be to bring it to pass. But never you work is to do the work, and it is the work of the Universe to bring it to harvest. It is possible the gift is in the working, not in the having.

While I have images of how I see my dream unfolding, I am not married to an outcome (I will remain open to what will be). I am, however, committed to the integrity of the work. I will not usually know all that I must do on the path to fruition; in fact, I will not likely ever know all that I will have to do to achieve my purpose, but I will always know the next thing I must do. Like driving on a dark, foggy night, I will follow those steps I can see, and when I do, the next steps will appear. One can never complain of lack of direction as long as there remains one more known step that has not yet been taken.

I have dared to dream the dream of creating the sanctuary of Spirit First, and I will share with you every step of this journey.

...let your worship song be silence

What is worship? Who are this man
and this woman bringing flowers?
What kinds of flowers should be brought,
and what streamwater poured over the images?
Real worship is done by the mind
(Let that be a man) and by the desire
(Let that be a woman). And let those two
choose what to sacrifice.
There is a liquid that can be released
from under the mask of the face,
a nectar which when it rushes down
gives discipline and strength.
Let that be your sacred pouring.
Let your worship song be silence

~ lalla
What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous. ~ Thomas Merton

Monday, October 08, 2007

the practice, Yael Flusberg

at the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. -plato

and always remember
that love is

not a feeling
fleeting and random
like running thoughts

not a gift that
visits the lucky
the blessed
the deserving

but a practice
renewed each time you
show up
rehearsing what you want
to become

it will
deepen with time
you will
hold the space

stay at its center no matter
how clear or snowy the reception

our mothers were right when they
told us to keep at it

like anything else
if you practice love regularly
you cannot not
get better at it

that is the secret:
practice love like fluid breaths
practice love like open arms
practice love like child’s play
just practice.

written by Yael Flusberg

photography by permission

our mission

Spirit First promotes the practice of meditation and the development of spiritual awareness and mindfulness. We seek to serve by providing education, tools, and networking that support those on a spiritual path. Spirit First encourages holistic attitudes, healthful living, gentleness with the earth, and compassion with the world.


Welcome to Spirit First...a holy, a gentle, a quiet place. A place for contemplation. A place for acceptance. A place for peace. A place of love.

Spirit First is inclusive and provides a home or retreat for those who seek meditation and contemplation regardless of chosen discipline or faith. If you are Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian...if you are Sufi, Native American, Taoist, something else or nothing else, you are welcome to this place of quiet and study. At Spirit First we practice going within, and we support each other in our efforts to do so.

Within our various disciplines, at Spirit First we honor not only common ground (how usual is it for one to celebrate that which he sees as being like his own self?), but we also honor and celebrate our differences, for every part of every one of us is necessary for the whole.

We work together to deepen our mindfulness, explore our meditations, strengthen our principles and practices, and become more of our authentic selves. May we, as we put Spirit First, open up more deeply to the truth of who we are and discover ourselves in the silence within.