Spirit First

Spirit First

Who We Are

Spirit First is a nonprofit organization incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia on June 23, 2008. We offer retreats that will quiet you, soften you, heal you, and inspire you. We began hosting retreats in spring 2009 with our first weekend retreat, a Yoga of the Heart event with New Zealand yogi, mystic, and author Jonathan Evatt.

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.

Our Purpose

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

  1. To establish and maintain a spiritual community that encourages the practice of meditation and promotes the development of spiritual awareness and mindfulness.
  2. To welcome and support the contemplative life of every faith, discipline, religion, and tradition.
  3. 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.
  4. To provide education, tools, and networking that support those on a spiritual path.
  5. To encourage holistic attitudes, healthful living, gentleness with the earth, and compassion with the world.

Our Plans

Spirit First will one day become Spirit First Meditation Retreat Center, a sanctuary of peace on a wooded mountainside in the Shenandoah Valley.

Spirit First is a place of healing and among its beautiful walking trails and fragrant gardens will be many quiet sanctuaries - a Christian sanctuary, a Buddhist sanctuary, a Muslim sanctuary, and so on. Spirit First honors the contemplative life of every major discipline, every major faith. When a Hindu woman visits, she feels welcome. When a Taoist arrives, he is at home. Jewish music, Islamic poetry, Native American art... are embraced here. Sufis dance. Yogis practice. A visitor walks the labyrinth. We will host private retreats as well as public offerings.

Spirit First ill begin smaller than its full vision, and will start with a Bed-and-Breakfast, also a place of healing. The Bed-and-Breakfast is quiet and graceful and will offer healthful living. If one has been told by a doctor to change to a special diet - perhaps wheat-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, or sugar-free (eliminating all processed sugars); if someone is considering converting to a vegetarian, vegan, or raw lifestyle; or if someone wants to change a diet to become more healthy (less fat, sugar, or processed food), he or she can come to our Spirit First Bed-and-Breakfast and all menus will accommodate the need. Guests will discover the pleasure of healthful grains from around the world, breads made from fresh vegetables, delicious nourishing soups, and so much more. Guests will also have the option of stepping into the kitchen to learn how to prepare dishes for their improved diet for their return home.

Spirit First has a meditation CD currently in development.

Until Spirit First has its own property, retreats will be held at various locations throughout the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area beginning in 2009.

Board Of Directors

Steve Caplan

Steve 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 as well as several years in sales, marketing, and management in commercial software business. 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.

Tom Maxwell

Tom 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.

Ervin C. Owens

Ervin 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.

Stefan Popescu

Stefan 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."

Carol Thornton

Carol 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.

Heather Woods

Heather 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.

Advisory Board

The advisory board is a group of individuals who provide counsel and spiritual direction for Spirit First. From the beginning, members of the advisory board have provided advice, ideas, contacts, and professional skills and experiences that contribute to the leadership of the organization. Spirit First would not be as beautiful as she has become were it not for the support, leadership, and friendship of the advisory board.

These are the founding members of Spirit First advisory board:

Marc Goldring

Marc is an Associate Principal in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, office of WolfBrown, where he conducts community-based planning projects for the development of arts and cultural resources, helping towns, cities, and counties develop and sustain their community's cultural life and the lives of their cultural institutions. He also provides strategic planning and research services for cultural organizations of all types.

Marc is a Fulbright award-winning craftsperson and his sculptural craft work has been 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 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 www.MarcoClicks.com

Ashley Litecky

Ashley is a Clinical Herbalist (M.Sc. Clinical Herbal Medicine) and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT®200 - Interdisciplinary Yoga Studies, RYT®200, - Kundalini Yoga). Ashley began her study of yoga and meditation in 1997 at the age of 18. Her love of the human form and of the inspirational qualities of yoga has drawn her to study several forms of yoga including Anusara, Hatha, Kundalini, Vinyasa, and Tantric Philosophy. Ashley teaches her love of yoga to clients in the Washington, D.C., area and as well has studied and taught yoga in Australia and Costa Rica.

Ashley began her lifelong study of herbs and nutrition as a child. Her personal experience with severe allergies and asthma brought her to alternative medicine when conventional methods failed. She began her training in herbal medicine in 1997 while studying environmental science at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. Inspired by the relationship between people and plants, she traveled to Australia, studying traditional Aboriginal plant-spirit medicine. In 2003 she completed her B.A. in Integrative Health Studies from UMBC with an emphasis on the intersection of modern and traditional medicines. After spending time in the jungles of Costa Rica working on a biodynamic farm in 2004, she returned to complete a three-year Masters of Science in Herbal Medicine program from the Tai Sophia Institute. Ashley is a clinical herbalist/apothecary owner at Tulsi Holistic Living in Washington, D.C.; an owner at Deep Green Wellness in Silver Spring, Maryland; and a clinical herbalist & yoga instructor at Blue Heron Wellness, also in Silver Spring.

Harkirat Singh

Harkirat 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."

Sedarius C. Tekara

Sedarius 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.

Executive Director

Christy Woods

Christy Woods (also known as Diana Christine) is founder and executive director of Spirit First.

Christy Woods is a business trainer and speaker, an editor and writing coach. She entered the business world with a broom, serving as the cleaning lady for a small bank in southeastern Ohio, then worked in the business world as an administrative assistant and secretary until finally becoming a trainer and speaker. To date, Christy has addressed more than 300 audiences in cities throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. She is a writing coach and editor (she has edited two books so far, one of those being a 400-page volume that continues to earn awards for excellence).

Christy pursues a spiritual life that includes meditation and mindfulness and the observation and practice of non-aggression, non-attachment, and non-resistance.


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