Sunday, December 19, 2010

reminder during the holidays...

Will Work For Food
         ~J.J. McKenna

"Will work for food," says the sign,
and the man holding its crude letters aloft,
bearded, shabbily dressed, a crest
of belly breaking over the top of jeans,
seems properly pathetic enough.

Yet, you reach to adjust the stereo, 
roll the windows up, and lock the doors
all done by machines, all automatic enough.
"It's only a scam," you mutter to yourself.
And so it might be. It's hard to tell
from the shell of your middle class wealth.

J.J. McKenna has two poems--"Reflections on a Campfire" and "In This Air the Eye Travels"--in our recently released Moments of the Soul.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

our book is now available

All of us at Spirit First are excited to announce the release of our first book, Moments of the Soul, a collection of poems on the themes of meditation, mindfulness, silence, stillness, and solitude. This book of 84 poems brings us moments of meditation written by 61 poets from across the United States and from several foreign nations, from writers between the ages of 18 and 85, from authors from many faiths and practices. We are proud, and grateful, to offer these moments of the soul from so many beautiful writers.

Proceeds from sales of this book go to Spirit First and the creation of a meditation retreat center with quiet walking trails, fragrant gardens, and many places to pause.

You can purchase a copy of Moments of the Soul from our website here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

to our poets

For everyone thinking about entering our 2011 poetry contest, this is for you...

Free Advice
by G. Bennett Perry

Keep off the cap! Don’t throw it away. Poems are like pictures, they capture thoughts instead of fleeting moments.

So what if your poems rhyme and your stories are predictable… don’t throw them away.

Share with us what is on your mind, let us learn from what you write.

Don’t deprive us of what is so important these days…the written word.

We can interpret it any way we choose, we can assume, we can complain, we can worry, we can be forced to think hard about something, we can enjoy, we can wish we’d said that, we can feel what you felt when you penned it.

But please don’t cap your pen and go back to your nine-to-five job! We all will miss out, and so will you. You will never know how we feel about your works, you will never know how good or bad you made us feel, you will never know what it means to touch someone with the written word, unless you share what you write with us.

Keep off the cap, and let the words continue to flow. We will all be the benefactors.

Too many of us conceal our deepest, proudest thoughts behind a wall of doubt, and our inspirational moments lie dormant at a time when all mankind could benefit.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

book creation unfolding . . .

Our Moments of the Soul book continues on its path to creation. We are in pre-press (once again and hopefully for the final time). It's all quite beautiful, how our book is coming to be.

You can see a preview of Moments of the Soul here: book preview.

Our book is expected to be available on in a couple of weeks. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Several days ago I saw some writing on a wall, and it said this:  
Life is About Finding Yourself

Someone had put an X through the word Finding and below had written another sentence that said this: 
Life is About Creating Yourself 

Well, I am not one who is given to graffiti, but I was tempted to put an X through the word Creating and add another sentence below:   Life is About Being Yourself

  art by rassouli
with permission

Saturday, October 23, 2010

there is so much grace in waiting

I am very happy to say that in the spring of 2012, Spirit First will be hosting a weekend retreat led by Macrina Wiederkehr. She is known as Benedictine sister, author (several books), spiritual guide, seeker of Truth, and lover of the spiritual journey. Today I would like to share some of her words...

There is so much grace in waiting

If possible
open your eyes
without assistance
from an alarm clock.
If possible
smile softly
while getting out of bed.

You have survived the night.
Draw back the curtain
to the yet black night
outside your window.
Stand by the window
and wait for dawn,
then, morning.
 There is so much grace
in waiting.

If your eyes are sleepy,
pretend they are two planets
in the galaxy of your being
and they are responsible
for keeping the day lit.
Go forth, kindler of the day
Fill the world with light.
Your mission is sacramental.
~Macrina Wiederkehr

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Moments of the Soul

Things have been pretty quiet here on this site (I'm sorry about that...), but behind the scenes Spirit First has been quite busy. Last year's poetry contest, our first, brought a wonderful outpouring of gifts of the spirit, and from the many beautiful poems we received, we have created our first poetry book on the themes of meditation and mindfulness, silence and stillness. We are pleased to announce our soon-to-be-released book called Moments of the Soul.

I could not have imagined a more beautiful work than the creation of this book...many of the poems still bring me to tears every time I read them. I hope that among the many poetry gifts in the book, you will discover one or two favorites as well.

The picture on the front cover of the book was taken by fine-art photographer Marc Goldring (Marc is also an advisory board member for Spirit First). You can see more of his work at The back cover lists the names of all the poets whose works are presented inside.

At the moment we are in pre-press and expect full publication within a couple of weeks. Once we go to press, our book will be available for sale on

In the meantime, here is a preview of the cover of our new book (click on the image for a better view).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. And the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging to belief, of holding on. In other words, a person who is fanatic in matters of religion, and clings to certain ideas about the nature of God and the universe, becomes a person who has no faith at all. Instead they are holding tight. But the attitude of faith is to let go, and become open to truth, whatever it might turn out to be. 
~ Alan Watts

photography by Madalina Diacanu

Friday, October 01, 2010

2011 Spirit First Meditation Poetry Contest

Spirit First is pleased to announce its second annual meditation poetry contest. Poetry submissions may be of any length and any style but must have a theme of meditation, mindfulness, silence, stillness, or solitude. Poems may reflect any discipline, any faith, or none. Poems must be previously unpublished. There is no cost to enter this contest.

Deadline to Enter: January 31, 2011

First Prize: $175
Second Prize: $125
Third Prize: $75
Special Category - Spoken Poem Prize: $75

Please do not enter more than three submissions. Sending more than three poems will lead to those poems being disqualified.

Please submit your poems by email unless you do not have access to the Internet. Poems will be accepted by U.S. Postal Service for those who do not have Internet access. All others are requested to be emailed. Poems sent by U.S. Postal Service will not be returned. Poems should be submitted with a cover note listing the author's name, address, telephone number, and email address. There is no cost to enter this contest. Submissions must be received no later than January 31, 2011.

Winners will be announced no later than March 31, 2011, on the Spirit First website: Winning poems will be published on the Spirit First website and the Spirit First blog, and in the Spirit First newsletter (authors retain full rights to their poems). Selected poems may be invited to participate in an upcoming book publication (authors will retain full rights to their poems).

How to submit:

By email:

By U.S. Postal Service (for those without Internet access):

          Spirit First Poetry Contest
          PO Box 8076
          Langley Park, MD 20787

We look forward to reading your poems!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

only breath

Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.


From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spoken Poem Winner

Our Spirit First annual poetry contest is being amended to include a special separate category for Spoken Word Poetry (also referred to as Performance Poetry). We were surprised to receive Spoken Word poems from writers across the country, with one of the poems even arriving in the form of a video (reviewing and judging, however, are made using written submissions). Our Spoken Word Poetry category (which invites all performance poetry including, but not limited to, rap poetry) will have a single winner who joins our list of poetry contest winners and receives a $50 prize.

We are pleased and honored to announce our Spoken Word Poetry winner for our 2010 poetry contest. 

Born and raised in the Bronx, Carmen Mojica is a 24-year-old poet, writer, workshop facilitator, and model. She is a graduate from the State University of New York at New Paltz and holds a bachelor's degree in Black Studies and Television/Radio Productions. Carmen is currently pursuing doula certification through a fellowship program with Hudson Perinatal Consortium and will be certified by the end of 2010. She is also a student of herbalism, holistic health and wellness, and dance. Carmen has published two books, I Loved You Once, and Hija De Mi Madre (My Mother's Daughter).  Read more about Carmen in our Spring Newsletter on our Spirit First website at

Moment of Reflection

I have come to conclude that my self is longing to exclude all that does not matter in this matter of being alive
That all the pleasures of the flesh are just distractions from positive reactions to the events that occur to us day by day
Some of us fail to exhale all the trivial and inhale the greater scheme of things; that all this is just a manifestation of a thought from a higher being; the formation and creation of spirits that defy these petty laws that obstruct and construct a diversion from the true meaning of what it is to breathe

And some of us find it hard to conceive and believe that all that functions and malfunctions before these devices we call eyes is just not real; just because it has materialized does not mean we shouldn’t realize how this world is simply another trial that our troubled souls are experiencing; 
For you see, we are all deities, musical notes that have been composed and played in a bittersweet symphony by the greatest composer of all time 

We are the most precious and golden intellections sprung from a being so great that it is the perfection we strive to achieve; 
That we are just energies in a circle that truly never ends
The secret to why our eyes cry and why we are alive, just barely, lies deep within the self that we often bury in layers of makeup just to collapse and rebuild and wake up to wander and squander our precious time, which in theory does not exist but rather serves to assist it who calls itself I am with the education of us
That we might be the wind in the door and understand that our mission is absolutely this and simply this: to learn what we forgot when we fell from grace and onto an unfamiliar face

That our ultimate goal should be to learn, educate and die; for it is in death that we are released into a peaceful eternity
So if anyone should speak to you of dying, know that dying is just the beginning of another lesson that is to ultimately just love unconditionally; just love because that’s how simple yet complex it is

So if anyone should fear death, they are fearing a near-life experience
by Carmen Mojica
Spoken Word Poetry Winner
Spirit First Poetry Contest 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The meaning of our self is not to be found in its
separateness from God and others, but in
the ceaseless realization of yoga, of union.
                                     ~ Rabindranath Tagore

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Long ago in the middle of a speaking tour, addressing audiences from city to city, I found myself one day in a beach town. I had arrived late the night before, too late to see anything, and would be in the city for only one day before needing to leave for the next town. I wanted to see the ocean, though, if only for a moment. I wanted to breathe the ocean's air and drink her fragrance. So, during my lunch break, I left the conference center and walked two or three blocks to the ocean's edge. No time to change clothes, I went to see the beach wearing my business suit, stockings, and brand-new Etienne Aigner dress shoes. As I stepped off the street's asphalt, I removed my shoes and walked on the sand in my stockinged feet. The ocean was calm and beautiful with sparkling sunbeams dancing on the surface. It was a beautiful day. As I walked along the water's edge, though, I began to notice my feet getting dirty. After a few minutes the bottoms of my feet were black, coated with a tar-like substance. The beach looked clean, perfectly normal, but immediately underneath the beauty of the rolling sand something was terribly wrong. By the time I got back to the street, my feet were hopelessly sticky and gooey. The asphalt was blistering hot and I couldn't walk back to the conference in my bare feet, so I slipped my feet back into my new Italian shoes. I had never before (and have never since...) experienced anything like this in my life. As it happens to be, that beach had been the victim of an oil spill quite some time previously, and no matter how pristine the beach appeared to be, the tarry substance was always just below the surface. I was a mess. I was committed to the rest of the day in front of an audience with my fee, my hosiery, and my shoes filled with tar. I was in agony. At the end of the day I had to seek professional advice oh how to clean and how to heal my feet; my new shoes were ruined and had to be disposed of. Stains on my feet lingered for weeks.

I grieve for the enormous tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf. I cannot watch the news. Every time I see an animal covered in the oil, struggling to move or struggling to breathe (or sometimes being already deceased), I break into tears. I don't talk of this event with anyone because just in the thinking of its horror I start to cry.

We did this. We have been responsible for the health and well being of our earth and every creature sharing it with us, yet we did this. I hope we will learn to do better. For now, all I can do is grieve.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

in the right place at the right time

Yesterday the class I was teaching in San Antonio ended just a few minutes driver arrived just a few minutes early...I showed up at the airport just a few minutes early...and because all passengers were present a few minutes early, we boarded the plane a few minutes early. All of this led to my being able to leave San Antonio just as the airport was unexpectedly being closed for the arrival of the Vice President. If I had not been early along with my few fellow passengers, the plane would have waited for regular departure time and we would have been delayed an hour or two beyond our scheduled time; I would then have missed my connection in Dallas and would have had to spend the night. Everything works out the way it needs to and I am always in the right place at the right time. 

Of course, if I had been delayed and if I had been stuck in Dallas for the night, that would then have been the right place and the right time for me and everything still would have been okay. It sounds like a riddle, but it's an amazing way of life.

Ever since I took into my life the mantra "I am always in the right place at the right time...meeting the right people...being offered the best opportunities," I have found it to be true. I don't mean I embraced it lightly, but I took it deeply into my soul. In the beginning I spoke it aloud many times a day beginning with waking and ending with laying me down to sleep (not just saying it but deeply feeling it). Soon I found myself being reminded of the words whenever I perceived something as being out of place (like this...I took the wrong exit from a highway and in my dismay I suddenly remembered my mantra and said aloud "I am always in the right place at the right time..." My incorrect exit turned out to be better for my destination than my planned one). I do not mean that I say this or practice it so I will get what I want (or get what I think I want), I practice it to always embrace what is present as being exactly what is needed. In the course of this practice my life increasingly shifts into everything I could want it to be.

photography by permission

Thursday, April 01, 2010

unless you...

Unless you

visit the dark places, you'll never
feel the sea pull you in and under,
swallowing words before they form.
Until you visit places within you
cloistered and constant, you will travel
in a tourist daze, wrought with too much
of what endures, depletes.

If you never turn from light, close
your eyes, feel the life inside, you'll leave
the church, the beach, your self,
knowing nothing more.

Unless you are mute, you will not
know your urgent heart, how it beats
between the thin skin of yes and no.

First-place winner
Spirit First Poetry Contest 2010

photography by permission

a free for all

A free for all

There was a performance artist, Bill Harding,
Who used to carry about a briefcase filled with sod.
He'd surprise everyone by opening it,
Setting it down, removing his shoes, and stepping into his
Own private park.
Meditation's like that.

My parents used to fly private airplanes.
It always amazed me that down here it could be
Grey and miserable and full of car horns and traffic lights
And up there, up past the clouds,
Petty problems disappeared and everything was always peaceful.
Meditation's like that.

You've maybe heard about creating a special place
To hold in your mind, at the dentist's, in traffic, under stress.
I used to always use the linens department at Sears or Penney's.
Among soft folded towels in coral and turquoise,
among display beds piled high with throw pillows and matching comforters,
Who could be worried?
Meditation's like that.

Your own private park you can slip off to whenever you need
A quiet moment to reconnect to the Earth and all that turns with it
and all it turns in.
Your own blue sky above the rain clouds you can fly off to whenever you need
To rise above the trivial rain showers of the day to day,
to become the sky itself.
Your own perfect image of calm and order,
not necessitating terrycloth or combed cotton or 100% down
a realization that everything is in its perfect place and time,
including you.

It's all yours. It's all mine.
Any time.
Meditation's like that.

by Wendy Winn
Second-place winner
Spirit First Poetry Contest 2010 

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

coat sleeve pratapana

Coat Sleeve Pratapana
for Devarshi

Imagine a thousand snow globes of every place you've ever been,
all that you've tasted, all that has moved you,
all that you have loved.

Good pilgrim, shake all that glitter inside you
re-awakening your own inner magic
a thousand worlds shining through you

and as you return to stillness
notice who you truly are in this moment.

~ by Carly Sachs
Third-place winner
Spirit First Poetry Contest 2010 

stillness is like water

Stillness Is Like Water

Stillness is like water
moving deep inside the earth
seeping slowly between rocks
trickling down
in the dark
a tide moving inward

Stillness is the space
between breaths
inside heartbeats
the silence of the gathering wave
that never breaks

Stillness blankets me
cushions me against my own
sharp edges
wraps me in her protective shawl
keeps my tender heart
from ripping
on the thorns
of the world

~ by Judith Prest
Third-place winner
Spirit First Poetry Contest 2010

photography by permission

Monday, February 08, 2010

today, snow is my medicine

When the wind blows, that is my medicine.
When it rains, that is my medicine.
When it hails, that is my medicine.
When it becomes clear after the storm, that is my medicine.
        ~by Wolf Collar, Native American Shaman & Medicine Man (1870)
photography by permission

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

741 poems in my lap

I could not have imagined a more beautiful response to my request for submissions of poetry on the themes of meditation and mindfulness. I have 741 poems in my lap (our contest is now closed...), and such beautiful works they are. Because we have so many good writings to choose from, we will pursue our plans for creating a book manuscript. I began talking with printers today.

We received entries from 42 states in the United States, with the state most represented being New York (80 entries) followed by California (51 entries). The state of Utah had one single entry (for which I am deeply grateful...). We received 31 poems that did not have location information so perhaps the 8 missing states are represented there.

We received entries from 23 foreign countries including Armenia, Australia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Scotland, South Africa, Turkey, Wales (Cymru). Canada came in with 21 entries, India with 18, and South Africa with 11. I am especially pleased and proud of our participating poets who have a different mother tongue. Thank you for making this extra effort to express your poetry in our English language.

Thank you, everyone, for your amazing, beautiful writings. Your words are a light into the world.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

what went well for you today?

Several weeks ago a friend of mine became ill, and during her diagnosis her doctor explained that her illness was caused by stress. This smart, savvy friend of mine set about to do everything she could to diminish stress in her life (she wanted to do whatever was held within her power), and one step she took was so beautiful that it would be wise for all of us to take it up as a practice.

My friend noticed that at the end of any given day she, and everyone around her, would ask the question, "How was your day?" She noticed that typically answers went in the direction of "Traffic was a bear today..." or "My boss was on my case again today..." She decided to change the direction of conversations by changing the question, and instead of asking "How was your day today?" she began to ask "What went well for you today?" This became a daily practice for her and her loved ones. The direction of conversations changed, the perspective on life changed, energy changed, and peace was enlarged.

And so I ask you...what went well for you today?

photography by permission
cindy lee jones

Friday, January 22, 2010

500 poems and still counting...

We now have more than 500 poems related to meditation, mindfulness, stillness, silence, and solitude. What an amazing gift, to be able to touch what you taste when you drink from the waters of meditation and mindfulness. Thank you for so much beauty.

We continue to receive entries for our contest through the end of this month.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Many of us live all our lives in thrall to the traditions in which we are born. Others question their tribal inheritance and embark upon a lifetime of exploration. The former end up believing they know everything. The latter end as they began, in ignorance -- but now a willingly-professed ignorance that is sublime in its tentatively-held and ever-expanding wealth of knowledge. ~ Chet Raymo

photography by permission
madalina diacanu

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

350 poems

I turn down the lights...burn an incense...light a candle...and begin reading the day's poems. I read slowly, and aloud. Sometimes I cry because, well, good poetry makes me cry. I am deeply touched by the outpouring of the Universe in the form of poetry for our first Spirit First poetry contest. I have received 350 poems, and more arrive every day.

So far I have heard from poets in 39 states and 17 foreign countries, from poets in their teens, poets nearly ninety, and poets of every age in between. I've received poems from men and from women, from city people and country people, from Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and those who make no mention of anything organized. I've received poems from writers who are much accomplished and writers who are undiscovered. And every poem is read quietly, slowly, and aloud, each word spoken into the world where it becomes part of the air we breathe and mingles with the light that guides us.

For this year's competition, Spirit First continues to receive poems for two more weeks.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Saint Anthony on prayer

The prayer of the monk is not perfect until he no longer recognizes himself or the fact that he is praying.
Saint Anthony

Friday, January 08, 2010

believe in nothing

"I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something that has no form and no color--something that exists before all forms and colors appear . . . No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith in order to save yourself. But it will take time to attain such a perfect faith. You will be involved in an idealistic practice. In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for accepting everything we see as something appearing from nothing, knowing that there is some reason why a phenomenal existence of such and such form and color appear, then at that moment you will have perfect composure."

From The Ambivalent Zen

Monday, January 04, 2010

choose silence, and love is apparent

A message from Gangaji:

"Choose silence, and love is apparent.

When we choose silence, we choose to give up the reasons not to love, which are the reasons for going to war, or continuing war, or separating, or being a victim, or being right. In a moment of silence, in a moment of no thought, no mind, we choose to give those up. This is what my teacher invited me to.

Just choose silence. Don’t even choose love. Choose silence, and love is apparent. If we choose love we already have an idea of what love is.

But if you choose silence, that is the end of ideas. You are willing to have no idea, to see what is present when there is no idea, past, present, future. No idea of love, no idea of truth, no idea of you, no idea of me. Love is apparent." Gangaji

Sunday, January 03, 2010

poetry contest

I receive poems every day, sometimes 2 or 3 and sometimes 10 or 12 or 20. We have received well over 200 entries so far in our first annual Spirit First poetry contest, and more entries arrive every day. We have poems from cities all across the United States and from Canada, France, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, Romania, India, Chile, Phillipines, South Africa, Malta, Nigeria, Pakistan, Japan, Australia . . .

Every poem is a gift, and each one is read slowly and aloud.

All of us at Spirit First are grateful to each of you who has become part of this effort, and each of you who will become part of it. We look forward to sharing some of these poems with you in the coming weeks.