Monday, December 22, 2008

Peace comes not from the absence of conflict,
but from the ability to cope with it.

photography by permission

Monday, December 15, 2008

“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”
~Taylor Caldwell

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I believe in going away from Christmas as the wise men went: "another way." I want to be different when these days are past—more centered, more thoughtful, more caring.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rumi and Rassouli

The mystical art of Rassouli graces many of our pages
throughout this Spirit First website, and we are grateful for
such breathtakingly beautiful art.

You can now enjoy the beauty of Rassouli along with
empowering messages of one of our greatest mystics
in a Rumi 2009 wall calendar: Rumi, The Journey of the Heart.

Spirit First has several copies of this recently released calendar, so we will be giving one to supporters who donate $50 or more during the next month. Please let me know if you are interested in receiving the calendar.

Thank you, Rassouli, for your beauty and your grace, and for the light you share with the rest of us.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Silence is the language of God...
all else is poor translation

art by permission

Friday, December 05, 2008

Try pausing right before
and right after

undertaking a new action,
even something simple
like putting a key in a lock
to open a door.

Such pauses take a brief moment,
yet they have the effect
of decompressing time

and centering you.

~A life practice from Br. David Steindl-Rast

photography by permission

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Only one thing has to change
for us to know happiness in our lives:
where we focus our attention.
- Greg Anderson

photography by permission

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Spirit First seeks to provide a home...

Every one of us needs a home. The world needs a home. There are so many young people who are homeless. They may have a building to live in, but they are homeless in their hearts. That is why the most important practice of our time is to give each person a home.
~ Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

more on thanksgiving...

On Thanksgiving Day I posted a writing of my experience with giving thanks, and I pondered the appropriateness of my post in light of present difficult economic times. I went ahead with the posting despite its reference to our living in abundance because, as it seems to me, most of us even in stressed financial times have far more than most others in the world. For many our life is one of abundance by simple comparison.

Again and again in my life I have turned to the practice of giving thanks when I have faced difficult circumstances such as financial stress, depression, loss, et cetera. When I feel undone I begin to say aloud the many things I am thankful for. It might be while sitting at a red traffic light, lying in bed in the sleepless hours of 2 and 3 a.m., or walking several miles on a day's trek. "I'm thankful for my car that runs well...I'm thankful for the breakfast tea that still feels warm in my belly...I'm thankful for the scent of lavender on my skin...I'm thankful for my warm coat on this cold day...I'm thankful for..." and I would continue my list. Sometimes I would write down as many answers as I could write in a two- or three-minute fragment of time. Sometimes I would make up new answers while
standing in the shower (which, of course, I am also thankful for!). I practiced, and continue to practice, the giving of thanks.

I think one cannot be thankful and sad at the same time.

I expanded my practice of thankfulness to include looking for all the things in my world that I have in abundance (and please don't joke with your self about having an abundance of bills or an abundance of troubles...). I would begin my list..."I have an abundance of soap (people often give gifts of exquisite soap and I always seem to have lots of soap--and that includes sweet little soaps picked up in hotels during business travels)...I have an abundance of toilet paper on the shelf...I have a full tank of gas (a wonderful abundance)...I have an abundance of jars of jelly...I have an abundance of candles in the house..." I learned to stalk my own abundance in my giving of thanks, and I learned to include such things as my unlimited long-distance calls on my telephone, the sounds of birds and crickets and cicadas, and the abundance of ideas and opportunities.

For those who seek to create an abundant life, remember that creating comes from seeing. If all you can see around you is lack and insufficiency, you will have difficulty creating wealth. Begin by seeing the abundance you possess and learn to practice thanks giving.

During these difficult times and no matter what perils seem to cross your path, I wish you joy, peace, and the ability to see your abundance and feel gratitude. (I would love your comments about what is abundant in your world...)

written with Love
diana christine
photography by permission

If your cup is small,
a little bit of salt
will make the water salty.
If your heart is small,
then a little bit of pain
can make you suffer.
Your heart must be large.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

photography by permission

Monday, December 01, 2008

is not what makes us grateful.

It is gratefulness
that makes us happy.

~ David Steindl-Rast
A Listening Heart

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Thursday, November 27, 2008

If I could live only one day, I would choose this one: Thanksgiving Day.

My first words when I waken in the morning are the words “thank you,” as early streams of light pour through my windows, my spirit re-connects with my body, and I begin to feel the crispness of fresh cotton sheets on my bare skin. There’s a sweetness in these moments in between sleep and wakefulness, and my first conscious thought is gratitude. It feels good to be here. I need to go to the bathroom so I slide out of bed, and when my feet touch the floor and I feel myself standing upright, I again whisper the words “thank you.” It feels good to be inside my own body. It feels good to be here, and I really have a lot to be thankful for.

I have not always lived with such an awareness of gratitude, but I have been gifted with many teachers. One of my teachers was an old man I used to see sitting in the park while I walked to and from work. One day the old man wasn’t there anymore, and I imagined he had moved on or had simply tired of the same old park. He was just plain gone. A year or so later I received a letter in the mail; the writer of the letter wrote that she was a nurse in a veteran’s hospital in a city somewhere across the state, and one of her patients requested she write the letter to me on his behalf. She explained that her patient Bill had been the old man in the park, that Bill had just had his legs amputated and would probably never again leave that hospital. The letter continued to let me know that Bill wanted to say thank you for my friendship in that park, that he appreciated that I had given him apples and home-baked cookies, that I had so often taken the time to stop and say hello and chat with him for a minute or two before I went on my way. And now, when he knew he would never see me again and in fact knew he wouldn’t even live much longer, the one thing Bill wanted was to say thank you to someone who had made a difference in his life. Bill didn’t have much, but he gave thanks for what he had.

Gratitude is more than simply saying the words “thank you.” True gratitude is fully enjoying a thing, thoroughly experiencing it. (If I am truly thankful for a thing, I cannot at the same time ignore or neglect it.)

If you have only one gift, that one gift is deserving of a lifetime of appreciation. We in the Western world, however, have more than one gift. We have incredibly much of everything. Even on an ordinary day (not a special day such as this holiday), we have such abundance that we sometimes have a hard time deciding what it is we want to eat, what we want to wear, what we want to do for entertainment. We live in abundance of possessions and abundance of opportunities. And with so much abundance it can be difficult to feel how much we have. I don’t want to make that mistake. I don’t want to miss my own bounty. I want to drink deeply. I want to taste completely. And for being given such an abundance of gifts, I want to live a life of gratitude.

What could be better, then, than a day set aside for the giving of thanks….

On this special Thanksgiving Day, I wish you much joy in the treasures in your life. I wish you to be deeply aware of your own abundance. And I wish you to be happy in thanksgiving. After all, we really do have a lot to be thankful for.

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is "thank you," it will be enough.

~ Meister Eckhart

Sunday, November 23, 2008

random act of kindness

Last night I sat at a dinner table with nearly a dozen women, and in the conversation one of the women exclaimed that this very day she was the recipient of a random act of kindness. She was incredibly excited as she began to tell her story. As it happened to be, while she was at the post office, someone gave her a postage stamp so she could be off and on her way without having to wait in a long line. Such a simple act, the giving of a postage stamp (a value of 42 cents...), but the expression of kindness made her day as though a brilliant light has shined upon it. And now even her evening was graced as she recounted her story to us with great joy.

I loved seeing her pleasure in her "random act of kindness" (as she so lovingly called it). Not long ago I began a practice of every day giving something to someone, and last night I had the opportunity to see what it might be like for a recipient for someone I have given something.

Sometimes my gift is as simple as a couple of dollars to a homeless person. Sometimes it might be a check I write for a child I support in Ethiopia, a greeting card to a lonely woman in a nursing home, a bag of fruit to a group of teenagers, a loaf of home-baked bread for a neighbor, or a handwritten letter to a woman I sponsor in a work program in Nigeria. Sometimes I have to get creative to find another way to give. A couple of days ago I picked up a woman with her very young children standing and waiting at a bus stop when the temperature was 32 degrees and very windy. She kept saying "thank you" to me again and again, and "God bless you." I gave her little boys some quarters for their pockets and their little faces broke into big smiles. Such a simple thing, really, giving someone a ride for a few blocks, but for this mother the act of kindness was more than a warm ride on a cold day. It was a moment of feeling special, a moment of feeling the touch of friendship.

If you give or do something as a random act of kindness, please share with us so we can take joy in the gift as well (and, of course, I am always on the lookout for new ways to give!).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Meditation may require a lifetime to master,
but it will have been a lifetime well spent.

If you want to judge your progress,
ask yourself these questions:
Am I more loving?
Is my judgment sounder?
Do I have more energy?
Can my mind remain calm under provocation?
Am I free from the conditioning of anger, fear, and greed?

Spiritual awareness reveals itself
as eloquently in character development
and selfless action
as in mystical states.
~ Eknath Easwaran

art by permission

Friday, November 14, 2008

Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless - like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the put water into a bottle, it becomes the put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

Bruce Lee

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the work for which all other work is but preparation...

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most
difficult task of all,
the work for which all other work is but preparation.
It is a high inducement to the individual to ripen...a great claim upon us, something that chooses us out and calls us to vast things.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, November 10, 2008

with that moon language...

I love the writings of Hafiz perhaps more than any other poet (but I love so much the work of both Hafiz and Rumi that it's hard to say one is my favorite...). In the poem I posted on November 4, Hafiz suggests "Any thought that you are better or less than another man quickly breaks the wine glass..." Isn't his completeness beautiful? He didn't say "any thought that you are better than another" but included "any thought that you are better than or less than another man" breaks the wine glass. Belief in one is a belief in the other, and any feelings of better or less diminishes one's taste of the holy wine.

I would like to bring you another of my favorite Hafiz poems, one called With That Moon Language. This poem is my reminder to be the love the world seeks...

Admit something:
Everyone that you see, you say to them, "Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The sun once glimpsed God's true nature
And has never been the same.
Thus that radiant sphere
Constantly pours its energy
Upon this earth
As does He from behind
The veil.

With a wonderful God like that
Why isn't everyone a screaming drunk?

Hafiz's guess is this:
Any thought that you are better or less
Than another man
Breaks the wine

~ Hafiz

Saturday, November 01, 2008

the voice of God...

The Creation of the Inaudible
by Pattiann Rogers

Maybe no one can distinguish which voice
Is god’s voice sounding in a summer dusk
Because he calls with the same rising frequency,
The same rasp and rattling rustle the cicadas use
As they cling to the high leaves in the glowing
Dust of the oaks.

His exclamations might blend so precisely with the final
Cries of the swallows settling before dark
That no one will ever be able to say with certainty,
“That last long cry winging over the rooftop
Came from god."

Breathy and low, the vibrations of his nightly
Incantations could easily be masked by the scarcely
Audible hush of the lakeline dealing with the rocky shore,
And when a thousand dry sheaths of rushes and thistles
Stiffen and shiver in an autumn wind, anyone can imagine
How quickly and irretrievably his whisper might be lost.

Someone faraway must be saying right now:
The only unique sound of his being
Is the spoken postulation of his unheard presence.

For even if he found the perfect chant this morning
And even if he played the perfect strings to accompany it,
Still, no one could be expected to know,
Because the blind click beetle flipping in midair,
And the slider turtle easing through the black iris bog,
And two savannah pines shedding dawn in staccato pieces
Of falling sun are already engaged in performing
The very same arrangement themselves.

Pattiann Rogers, “The Creation of the Inaudible” from Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by Pattiann Rogers.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted – a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. ~Rabbi Harold Kushner

photography by permission
graham jeffery

Thursday, October 02, 2008

give what we have

My friend Austin doesn’t ask his little girls what they want to be when they grow up. He doesn’t even ask them what they want to do when they grow up. When Austin talks to his little girls about their dreams, he asks them, “What do you want to give when you grow up?” Austin is a brilliant young entrepreneur who has spent quite some time pondering the purpose of life, and what he has come up with is this: our purpose in life is to give what we have. Our purpose is not about what we do, what we achieve, what we acquire, what we know, or what we become. Our purpose is about what we give, and we are here to give what we have.

When I consider this human purpose in relationship to all things in nature, it makes sense. The clouds, the sun, the trees, the ocean, the earth…all have an existence of giving what they have. Even decayed leaves and dead flowers and excrement give what they have. The natural process is everything giving what it has. We, too, are here to give what we have.

This feels right to me. And it changes everything. We evaluate and assess what we have achieved and what we have gained, and we use it to measure our success, but this feels like the opposite of the purpose of giving what we have. Working hard to achieve feels different from working hard to give. And the measurement of it feels very different.

I don’t mean to suggest we are let off the hook, though, for if my purpose is to give what I have, then I want to give the best I have and that means working hard to make my gift the best it can be. If I am a pianist, an architect, a doctor, a teacher, a cook…I will study and practice and work to give the best in what I am giving. But the underlying purpose feels different when considering my purpose is to give, not to earn or achieve.

And so it is I have begun to take the time to ask myself at the close of each day, “How did I give today…?”

photography by Madalina Diacanu

Monday, September 22, 2008

Silence is God's language, and it’s a very difficult language to learn. ~ Thomas Keating

Thomas Keating brings us truth...silence is God's language, and this language we call God's is difficult to learn. Its difficulty, though, is not in the language being tough to understand, but rather its difficulty is in the struggle we have in letting go of all those things that prevent our hearing. My greatest peace and even great joy come from my practice of silence, yet I too find myself having to work my way back again and again. I'm not sure why noise and distractions carry such appeal, but I find myself entangled in them again and again. Still, the silence awaits, and every moment I return I am at once embraced, held, restored. I am become whole.

photography by diana christine

Monday, September 15, 2008

A man is known by the silence he keeps.
~ Oliver Herford

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The American ideal is not that we all agree with each other, or even like each other, every minute of the day. It is rather that we will respect each other's rights, especially the right to be different, and that, at the end of the day, we will understand that we are one people, one country, and one community, and that our well-being is inextricably bound up with the well-being of each and every one of our fellow citizens.
~ C. Everett Koop, former US surgeon general

art by permission

Monday, August 18, 2008

Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence.
~ Deepak Chopra

photography by permission
marc goldring

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"By listening to the Creator within, we are led to our right path." ~ Julia Cameron

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Friday, August 01, 2008

July 19 Photo Album

Two of the guests at our July gathering captured the event on film, and I used some of the photographs to create a video album.

Thank you, Madalina, and thank you, Hector, for your beautiful gifts of photography!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

thank you

I’ve started writing this post several times and every time I write a few lines, I scratch out what I have written and start again. I am trying to say thank you, but whatever I write feels small compared to how much I feel inside.

When I started Spirit First I wanted to begin by sharing my vision with friends and family, so I planned the formal announcement of the beginning of the organization to be a dinner party at my own home, which turned into our July 19 celebration. Many of my friends shared what they have to make our gathering a wonderful dinner and a musical gala. I cannot imagine a more beautiful way for the organization to commence than with the shared gifts of friends who embrace its vision.

Our celebration became more than just an announcement, as this event also became our first fundraiser. Spirit First raised several thousand dollars, and I am grateful to so many who gave such loving financial support. Everyone gave what he or she had—sometimes a big check and sometimes five or ten dollars—and all of it added up to a really nice beginning for Spirit First. To those who handed me five or ten dollars and apologized for their gift being so small, I want to say there is no such thing as a small gift when you give what you have. Besides, almost all the gifts were small gifts, but it is quite beautiful how several small gifts add up to something really big.

We often hear the expression “charity begins at home…” and Spirit First begins in just this way with its first funding coming from friends and family giving what they have to honor and support the beginning of this dream. Before we seek funding from outside sources, we begin by receiving from friends and loved ones who support our vision.

Friends not only donated money but offered what they could to contribute to the event, and those gifts are just as big. Miguel volunteered and helped me prepare the yard. Javier and Hector arrived early to help set up and several others helped with cleanup. Brigitte, a new friend I met just this year, brought plants and flowers from her garden to decorate. Glendora, an old friend I hadn’t seen in several years, offered kitchen duty and helped serve. Margarita, Etsegenet, Veronica, Azeb, Jonathan, and Basma cooked and donated incredible food. Madalina and Hector photographed the event. Treasure, Greg, Felicia, Jeremiah, Dan, Sassy, Karen, Joe, and Vicki sang and/or played music for us (all of our musicians and singers donated their time).

Everyone who gave time, gifts, or financial donations is now one of our founding contributors, our founding donors, and you are become part of Spirit First.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Friday, July 25, 2008

July 19 launching of Spirit First

Spirit First was formally introduced to the world as beloved friends gathered with me on July 19 to celebrate the launching of the organization. In the same way friends come together to witness the union of a man and woman, or come together to celebrate the birth of a child, nearly 75 people gathered to honor and celebrate with me the beginning of Spirit First.

Music filled the air, as several friends donated performances for the launching ceremonies, and we enjoyed incredibly beautiful music.

Felicia Rose came to us from Pennsylvania and brought of our young guests commented that "when I close my eyes and listen to the music, I feel completely free."

Treasure and Greg were amazing. These two are friends of my son, and I had never heard them perform until the day of our gathering. Their music was wonderful (I think they don't know how good they are...).

Dan Mack played beautiful classical guitar followed by several popular numbers accompanied by vocalist (and wife) Sassy Wagner.

Primordia brought our day full circle closing with Native American poetry and music with Joe Sullivan on flute.

photography by Madalina Diacanu
photography by Hector Guevara

Sunday, July 13, 2008

advisory board

I am honored to present to you the founding members of our Spirit First advisory board, a group of individuals who provide counsel and spiritual direction for Spirit First. From the beginning these advisors have been with me, supporting and assisting me. Spirit First would not be as beautiful as she is become had it not been for the counsel and leadership of these friends. I am most grateful…

Harkirat Singh was born and raised in India in the religious tradition of Sikhism and moved to the U.S. to earn a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University. Harkirat is an avid student of metaphysics and philosophy and believes in living every moment with spiritual awareness. A Reiki practitioner since 2001, Harkirat is a gifted healer and loves to share this gift with others.

Harkirat’s vision can be summed up in these words from Vedic literature, “Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavanthu”: "May all beings in all the worlds be happy."

Marc Goldring

Marc Goldring is an Associate Principal at WolfBrown in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he provides strategic planning and conducts economic and financial research for arts organizations. Marc also offers community cultural planning, helping areas develop and sustain their community’s cultural life and the lives of their cultural institutions.
Marc is a Fulbright award-winning craftsperson and has had sculptural craft work displayed in galleries and museums nationwide. He founded and directed an international organization of artists working in leather, curated exhibits of contemporary art and craft leather, and organized national and international conferences. He went on to become Executive Director of the National Crafts Planning Board, which served craftspeople in all media.

Today Marc Goldring is a fine art photographer and author of Discovering the Familiar (2008), a merging of profound images and reflective poetic prose that inspires mindfulness in the reader. His images are presented on his website at

Sedarius Tekara Perotta
Sedarius Tekara Perotta is a graduate of Georgetown University and has been an entrepreneur since his school days when he founded J&J Georgetown, a college t-shirt reseller. He became president of American Original Designs, an orthopedic back-saving carrying device company, and he founded Nihooka, an online environmentally-friendly product reseller. Sedarius later founded and now serves as president of Neuron Global, a company providing on-demand global intelligence, with offices in the Philippines, the District of Columbia, and New York City.

Sedarius conducts training on leadership and business development and provides consulting services on four continents. He served in the United States Peace Corps in Romania and participated in a United Nations leadership development program.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Rise early
when summer darkness
still enwraps the trees.
Walk into the dark forest
with only your attentive heart.
Gaze toward the east,
take a deep breath, and wait.

After a short while you will see God
carrying a lantern through the forest,
bits of light bobbing up and down
in and out, higher and higher
the light climbs, spilling over
into the spaces between the leaves
and on into the world
beyond the forest.

Then the beautiful darkness
hands you over to the light.
It slips away reverently
into the bark of the tree trunks
into the black earth
into all those other countries
that wait for its return.

Lift your face to the day-star now.
Experience the coming of dawn.
Bathed in morning light, pray
that the lantern of your life
move gently this day
into all those places
where light is needed.

posted on Spirit First with the permission of the poem's author
© Macrina Wiederkehr
All rights reserved
from The Circle of Life published March 2005, by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr

Friday, July 11, 2008

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament. ~Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God

photography by permission
graham jeffery

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

mindfulness exercise serving tea

Prepare a pot of tea to serve to a guest or to drink by yourself. Do each movement slowly, in mindfulness. Do not let one detail of your movements go by without being mindful of it. Know that your hand lifts the pot by its handle. Know that you are pouring the fragrant warm tea into the cup. Follow each step in mindfulness. Breathe gently and more deeply than usual. Take hold of your breath if your mind strays. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, July 07, 2008

mindfulness exercise washing dishes

While washing dishes, wash each piece relaxingly, as though each bowl is an object of contemplation. Consider each plate as sacred. Follow your breath to prevent your mind from straying. Do not try to hurry to get the job over with. Consider washing the dishes the most important thing in life. Washing the dishes is meditation. If you cannot wash the dishes in mindfulness, neither can you meditate while sitting in silence. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, June 23, 2008

June 23, 2008

As of this date…June 23, 2008…Spirit First is now incorporated as an inter-faith nonprofit organization in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I am so happy…I am overjoyed. Our State Corporation Commission certificate is matted, framed, and hanging on the wall, and Spirit First has gone from being a vision in my heart to having an existence in the physical world. My work now is to help it grow.

I feel less like I am giving birth to my own creation and more like I am supporting something that already “is.” Spirit First has its own life; I am simply helping it come into being. I have been given stewardship.

All the same, this is a day of wonderful celebration. And I am very happy…

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

board of directors

art by permission

I am pleased...and announce the founding board of directors for Spirit First. Each member of this board is a gift to my life and a gift to the organization I seek to create. Each one is become a gracious part in the birthing of a place of peace and healing, a sanctuary called Spirit First. I am grateful for so beautiful a gift as these whom I call friends:

Carol Thornton

Carol Thornton has a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University. She received clinical training at Valley Community Clinic in Southern California and led substance abuse recovery programs for four years. She has been a student of metaphysics and various spiritual disciplines for 20 years and is a mindfulness practitioner in the tradition of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.

Steve Caplan

Steve Caplan is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. The former publisher of Natural Awakenings Magazine, Mr. Caplan has a background that includes many years in media advertising sales. His spiritual beliefs have been informed by a cultural awareness of Judaism and a personal interest in Eastern thought and religion, which began for him as a teenager in the 1960s. His private practices include Buddhist studies, meditation, and sojourns to sites of contemplation such as Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper, New York. Mr. Caplan believes tolerance and respect for all people regardless of race, religion, spirituality, gender, sexuality, and age are vital to human harmony and peace.

Stefan Popescu

Stefan Popescu is IT Director at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. Prior to technological work, he served as advisor and speechwriter in the political world. Mr. Popescu has a Bachelor of Science in technological engineering and a Masters Degree in political science.

Mr. Popescu is a member of the Christian Orthodox Church. Within the Orthodox Church he is discovering a truth his grandfather gave him when he was a child, that “once you have tasted the richness of spiritual life, nothing else will satisfy.”

Ervin C. Owens

Ervin Owens is founder and chief executive of the Cabel Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping underserved youth achieve financial literacy. After pursuing a career offering financial advice to businesses and individuals, Mr. Owens began his current work with inner-city youth. By teaching fiscal awareness and financial strategies, he empowers students to invest in their futures, set higher goals for themselves, promote social change, and improve their communities. Ervin Owens is financial advisor for Spirit First.

Heather Woods

Heather Woods earned her Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude from McDaniel College and her J.D. from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a member of the D.C. Bar. Ms. Woods is legal advisor for Spirit First.

Thomas Maxwell

Tom Maxwell serves as a Eucharistic Minister for the Catholic Church; has been a Sufi Initiate engaged in contemplative practice for over 20 years; and has lived, studied, and practiced with Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Sufis, and Christians. He leads interfaith contemplative spiritual dance groups (Dances of Universal Peace) and contemplative prayer groups for Christians.

Since receiving his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland in 1988, Mr. Maxwell has been engaged in interdisciplinary research focusing on facilitating understanding and wise stewardship of complex evolving earth systems. This program fosters transcendence of disciplinary and cultural boundaries, as well as an integration of scientific and spiritual modes of viewing, understanding, and valuing the world. His technical writings include publications on systems theories of evolution and collaborative modeling of complex ecological economic systems. His philosophical publications focus on interfacing science and spirituality to foster the emergence of an integral worldview that transcends the cultural and religious differences that breed conflict and division. Mr. Maxwell is currently working on his first book publication focusing on integral spirituality as a path to transcending the apparent doctrinal conflicts that divide the world’s great religions.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Macrina Wiederkehr

I love the treasure of Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, author and spiritual guide. The sweetness of her life enhances the taste of what I drink from my own cup. Her gift is far too much to be captured in a short posting, but she sums up some of the jewels of her experience in a single paragraph....

These Things I Have Learned:
  • All work (even menial tasks) can become a joy rather than a burden.

  • “Practice” is one of the most important words in the spiritual life.

  • It is harmful to my soul to judge others.

  • All moments of waiting can become moments of keeping vigil.

  • The book of the earth is as holy as the book of scripture.

  • I am happiest when I am able to surrender my own will.

  • If I am not happy with what I have, I probably won’t be happier with more.

  • Even if I don’t agree with someone I can learn much by listening to them.
"We live in a world of theophanies. Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure."

~Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B
A Tree Full of Angels

Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, author and spiritual guide, is a Benedictine monastic of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. She is well known for her books: Seasons of Your Heart, A Tree Full of Angels, The Song of the Seed, Gold in Your Memories, and Behold Your Life.

Dan Mack

With much appreciation and admiration, I would like to introduce to you another musician who will join our Spirit First celebration on July 19.

What do you get when you combine a folk musician, classical guitarist, rock’n’roller, and songwriter into one? Well, you just might get Dan Mack! Dan has been a performing musician since grade school, when he performed in talent shows. Now, 45 years and thousands of performances later, he enjoys playing music more than ever. In addition to his early training, Dan also studied at Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, graduating with a major in classical guitar and double minor in piano and voice.

Of his Conservatory training Dan notes, “I try not to let the rigors of the classical style get in the way of what I like to play or listen to. There is an amazing wealth of music of all styles, and I can’t limit myself to just one. I started playing clarinet in the elementary school band and then fell in love with the guitar when my sister gave me one in the 60’s. I started learning songs by Dylan and the Beatles and started playing in bands. Playing classical may be the most challenging for me personally, but there’s plenty of effort that goes into mastering a great bluegrass flatpicking solo or high-test electric guitar licks. The word ‘eclectic’ may be overused, but I think it truly does describe my style.”

Dan is also an accomplished songwriter, and has written dozens of songs. He says, “I wrote my first song at age 16, and have been writing ever since. Sometimes I’ll start writing a song and finish it in a few hours, and sometimes I get stuck and it will lie dormant for years. Then I’ll get inspired and finish it 20 years later.” His songs run the gamut from straight folk and rock songs to old-time ballads to jazzy pop tunes. “I never know what’s going to come out,” Dan says. “It’s always a surprise.”

After his Conservatory years Dan played with several rock bands, performed as a solo folk and classical artist, and taught guitar lessons. In addition to solo performances, Dan now performs with The Druthers, a folk-rock band in the DC area ( He also accompanies vocalist Sassy Wagner in duet performances. In addition to guitar and voice, Dan also plays mandolin, piano, harmonica, and ukulele.

If you are interested in booking Dan, you are welcome to email

Sunday, June 08, 2008

There are many fine things that you mean to do some day,
under what you think will be more favorable circumstances.
But the only time that is yours is the present.
~Grenville Kleiser
photography by permission

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Who is it that can make muddy water clear? No one. But left to stand, it will gradually clear of itself.

Tao Te Ching

photography by permission
marc goldring

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted.
Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.
~ Hans Margolius

photography by permission

cindy lee jones

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

bless me and enlarge my territory

Starting tonight I will be praying for you so that God will shine His face on you and grant you your wishes, and most of all so that He may bless you indeed and enlarge your territory.

My friend Etsegenet sent these words to me several days ago, and I cried when I received her blessing. She expressed her encouragement and her faith in what I seek to create in Spirit First, and she included this tremendous blessing (this is a big prayer).

As I went about my weekend’s chores, her words lingered with me, and I whispered them again and again, “Bless me and enlarge my territory….”

I think it is pretty scary for any of us to become enlarged--there’s something fearful about becoming bigger or more powerful or more knowledgeable or simply more, so we make a lot of effort to remain small.

Spirit First calls me to make something big, which calls for me to enlarge my territory. Enlarge my wisdom. Enlarge my understanding. Enlarge my giving. Enlarge my being. Enlarge my doing. Enlarge my capacity to love….

Monday, May 26, 2008


When peace is captured in a sound, one of its most poignant expressions is that of the enchanting tones of a Native American flute with its haunting melodies that pull the listener ever deeper into the mysterious journey into the soul.

I am very happy, and so very honored, to let you know Primordia will be performing for us in the launching of Spirit First on July 19. Joe Sullivan creates magic with the flute while Karen Marshall brings Native sounds with deer toes, seed rattles, and a Native small frame drum. Karen also adds mystical sounds through world percussion using rainsticks, bodhran (Irish frame drum), chimes, and dumbeks (Middle Eastern drums).

It’s the song of healing…the echo of the earth…the call of the Spirit…and it is brought to us in the gift of Primordia.

photo by Alan Kelso

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

today's treasure

Every day she presents a new offering, a marvel of beauty and tenderness. Yesterday’s gift is vanished and today’s offering will fade with the day’s passing, and I have only today, only this moment, to take pleasure in her gift.

My hibiscus tree was a present from my son 2 ½ weeks ago and every day she has offered a new treasure. Each flower that blooms remains for one day only, each coral-colored flower as exquisite and fragile as a butterfly’s wings. Every morning when I wake up I run to her to see what she has brought forth. I touch her tender petals and witness her splendor. I linger with her and return to her throughout the day, knowing today’s flower lives only for today. She has become my lesson in mindfulness.

Life takes on a sense of permanence with us, and even though we know a thing is temporary, we tend to regard it as though it is always with us. It is not. Whatever a thing is, it is with us only for today, and it will pass.

If I could give you any lesson, it would be this…be with what is with you right now. Feel the floor underneath your feet, or the ridges of your socks pressed against your shoes as you stand on the floor. Feel that same floor as you walk. Smell the scent of fresh earth after the morning rain (as there are those who complain about another rainy day and miss entirely the fragrance of wet earth). Hear, really hear, the sizzle of your eggs in the skillet and fully taste those same eggs in your mouth. Hear how many sounds are around you…the bird outside the window, the tick-tock of the clock, the whirr of the refrigerator at home or the copier in the office. Breathe deeply. Feel your own heartbeat. Taste this moment.

The human experience is not in what you accomplish. The human experience is in your being here, really being here in this moment.

And today exists only in this moment.
photography by permission

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It has been said that God is everywhere and in all things, but God can be more fully perceived in the spaces between things and in a place of silence. ~ diana christine

the sound of silence

I seek silence. I seek to create a place that encourages and honors quiet and stillness. Among the beautiful sanctuaries of Spirit First, however, is a music meditation sanctuary. One might ask why I have a space devoted to sound in the middle of grounds set apart for promoting silence, and my answer is this…it is the beauty of sound that has brought me the gift of silence.

Today I practice going to a place of silence. Some people think of silence as the absence of sound but I find silence to be so much more. Imagine for a moment how you might describe music to someone who has never heard any sound…I have an equally profound c
hallenge in describing the richness of silence. Silence is no more a singular place than music is a single note. I find silence to have layers and directions just as we find in the world of sound. Silence is full and rich. And it was the beauty of sound that became my portal to discovering silence.

In the beginning I found a place of meditation in music. Sacred music. Classical music. New age music. Contemporary Christian music. Softly and gently a perfect melody would soothe me and quiet me, melt me. Music became a resting place, a place to pause from my thinking mind and the troubles of the day. I had two worlds…the cacophony of noise in the world (which is in my head) and my reprieve of music. I did not know silence.

I began to use music as a meditation. Alone in my room I danced with it. I sat with it. I lay on the floor and melted into it. Music became for me a place of sanctuary. One day as I reached for the stereo dial, my hand stopped just before turning on the music, I paused to listen to nothing, and that moment became the beginning of my stepping into silence. I “listened” to silence. I found a clear difference between being in a place absent of sound and being in a place of listening to silence (silence is to be “listened” to). It lasted for just a moment, but it was the beginning of my understanding. I returned again and again to listen to music and then to listen to silence when the music stopped. In that beginning I found music to be a beautiful place of transition, a place for me to begin to remove the noise of the day and prepare myself for a place of silence, similar to a place of removing soiled clothing and bathing one’s self in preparation for entering holy ground.

Today I step into silence much more easily and no longer need sound to lead me there. I still love music, though, and it still melts me and opens me. The perfect sound of a flute playing Ave Maria or a single tone in the voice of Felicia Rose moves me to tears.

Silence is not created by sound but rather it is sound that comes forth out of silence. Silence is the source. Be that as it may be, it is the contrast of sound that distinguishes for us the place of silence. Sound becomes our road marker. And I shall be forever grateful for the gift of sound that has led me to silence.

photography by permission

Saturday, May 10, 2008

"The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words that are clear; the great truth has great silence."
~Rabindranath Tagore

photography by permission

Friday, May 09, 2008

I imagine the gardens and sanctuaries of Spirit First with joy and wonder but also with compassion and sorrow in equal measures. I grieve for the pain I see in the faces of others and my heart seeks to share a place of peace and a place of healing. Business is aggressive, expectations are cruel, demands are relentless, and noise and distraction are the music that feeds the world. Even families can be unkind and comfort is hardly to be found.

I am flourishing as my life goes further inward but at the same time my compassion deepens. I am witness to daily commutes of those trapped on hot pavements and I see weary eyes. Jostling, everybody crowding and pushing to get ahead or to stay ahead, unhealthy habits that lead to despair in our most honorable temple. Agitation reigns. But we shall create a safe place. We shall bring forth a land with quiet hills, fragrant breezes, peaceful chimes, and breathtaking beauty. We shall hold a space for silence that all who come here may touch that which is within and begin to know the truth of who they are. Peace is the language spoken here, and acceptance is its voice.

The earth offers her succor and we shall drink of her consolation.
photography by permission

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008


For three years I dreamed of creating a meditation retreat center called Spirit First. For three years nothing happened. From the moment I took my first step toward creating this place of peace, people started donating money, started offering free services in everything from cleaning my yard to cooking for our fundraiser, started making reservations to come from afar to our event in July...the Universe has been supportive in unexpected, astonishing ways. I am in awe.

Today I ran across a quotation that beautifully explains what is now happening in my world. The quotation is by William H. Murray, who is also quoting Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

…This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

~ William H. Murray, The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951

If you have a dream, or a desire of your heart, your commitment to move forward with it is the force that will give it birth.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


I have wonderful news to share with you. Jonathan is coming, coming from New Zealand to be with us on July 19. Jonathan is a contemporary yogi, a mystic, a writer, and a lovely friend. His first book is just now going to press, a book called Peace, Power, and Presence, which is Volume 1 in his Wisdom for a Life of Freedom series.

Jonathan finds solitude in the most profound places and will be spending the month of June living in the trees in the Amazon jungle. It is not often we have the opportunity to meet someone like Jonathan, and it brings me great joy that he will join us, break bread with us, and offer a blessing for Spirit First.

To those of you attending our fundraiser celebration, please feel invited to take a few moments to say hello to Jonathan, ask him about his book or his travels, and enjoy his presence.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

"We could say that meditation doesn't have a reason or doesn't have a purpose. In this respect it's unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don't do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment." ~Alan Watts

photography by permission

cindy lee jones