2019 Poetry Contest Winners - Spirit First

2020 Poetry Contest Winners

We are pleased to announce the winning entries for our 11th annual Spirit First Meditation Poetry Contest. This year we received 1,492 poems from 46 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. We also received entries from 47 foreign nations, including Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Congo, Croatia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Ghana, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Ireland (Republic of Ireland), Israel, Lagos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Nova Scotia, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saint Lucia, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Tanzania, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Wales, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

We are always thrilled -- and amazed—to have the participation of so many meditation and mindfulness poets from all over the world, and we are honored by your presence from home and abroad. This poetry event is such a great joy for all of us at Spirit First, and especially for our devoted judging committee.

Thank you to all the many beautiful poets who participated--please know that we deeply appreciate every poem, every word. Your writings on the themes of meditation and mindfulness are important to the world, and what a great work it was to select winners from so many exquisite, meaningful poems (incredibly difficult work). Thank you for being part of who we are. We hope you will join us for our 2021 Spirit First Meditation Poetry Contest—we look forward to reading your words and being touched by your spiritual journey.

Thank you to our judging committee for your thoughtful, dedicated work. We appreciate you so much!

Congratulations to all our winners!

First-Place Winner: MEDITATION INSTRUCTIONS by Richard Schiffman

Richard Schiffman

Richard Schiffman is a poet, an author of two spiritual biographies, and an environmental journalist. His poetry is inspired by his own meditation as well as the wonders of the natural world. Poems of his have been read on the BBC and on National Public Radio and have appeared in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and in numerous literary and spiritual journals, including the North American Review, Christian Century, Sojourners, Rattle, and Poetry East. He believes that poetry is at its core a spiritual art that can help to awaken us to our true nature. His first book of poems, What the Dust Doesn’t Know was published in 2017 by Salmon Poetry.

Meditation Instructions
by Richard Schiffman

So how exactly do you meditate? she asked/
I sit in the middle of the desert and wait for a
bottle to wash up./ What bottle is that?/
The one I sent myself before I was born./
What is in the bottle?/ A message./ What
does the message say?/ If I remembered,
I wouldn’t need to sit there./ But isn’t it
a bit ridiculous to wait for a bottle to wash
up in the middle of the desert?/ You bet./
Then why do you do it?/ I’m learning how
to wait./ But you’re waiting for nothing./
Now you’ve got it!

Second-Place Winner: THE DREAM OF DRIVING by Anda Peterson

Anda Peterson

Anda Peterson worked as a teacher and counselor with low-income, at-risk youth in the Boston area for two decades. She earned her MFA in Creative writing from Emerson College in Boston. Currently, she is an adjunct instructor of writing at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

Her poetry has appeared in literary magazines such as The Human Rights Festival of Art (NYC), Odet Literary Magazine, Snapdragon, Plum Tavern Journal, Sky Island Journal, Blue Lake Review, Little Apple, Sojourner, and The Real Paper; and in anthologies Sunbury 9, Salt Creek Journal, and Something to Say. Her feature stories have appeared in The Boston Tab and Cape Cod Travel Guide. Her spiritual memoir, Walks with Yogi: the Enlightenment Experiment, was published by Shanti Arts Publications, 2016. https://walkswithyogi.com/ Contact: andpeterson@yahoo.com

The Dream Of Driving
by Anda Peterson

I notice
tailgate each other in my mind

A car backfires
a mindfulness bell of sorts
to remind me
I can take an exit
pull out of traffic
but thoughts roar to life again
overtake me like gangsters in Cadillacs
who hold me hostage
push me into yesterday
drag me into tomorrow
convince me
they are real
until a deep breath,
like the foot on the pedal,
guides me to the rest stop
where I watch
just watch
thoughts like cars
pass before my eyes
and I know again
how these flickering moments
of quick bright peace
are real
more real
than the dream of driving.

Third-Place Winner: STEPPING DOWN by Lee Nash

Lee Nash

Lee Nash writes poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in diverse journals and anthologies, including Acorn, Ambit, Angle, Magma, Mezzo Cammin, Slice, Southword, and The Best Small Fictions 2019. Her first poetry chapbook, Ash Keys, was published by Flutter Press. She was a 2018 Bath Flash Fiction Award prize winner, a joint winner of the 2019 Princemere Poetry Prize, the First Prize winner in Fish Publishing’s 2020 The Lockdown Prize (haiku and senryu category), and is the winner of this year’s Donn Goodwin Poetry Prize. Lee Nash was born in England and grew up in South Africa; she now lives in the Charente department, France. https://leenashwriting.com/

Stepping Down
by Lee Nash

Meditate, they said. Clear the head.
I found it quite impossible.
My thoughts kept breaking in.
I tried to bring them to order
as if I were training puppies,
but they wandered, time and again.

An idea struck me
from a bowl of fruit:
I would focus on an apple.
Not emptiness, but surely the next best thing.
Instead, I called up Adam and Eve and sin,
pesticides and worms.

I chose an egg.
Women who long to conceive drifted in,
and chickens at factory farms
and workers forced to wear diapers
as they stunned the frightened birds.

I opted for a match
and followed behind an Olympic torch.
Moist spongecakes rose in ovens
and logs burned in hearths.
Candles swayed at Candlemas
and cigarettes started forest fires.

This time, I picked something smaller:
a grain of rice.
I conjured children
without the chance of a bowlful,
and billionaires counting their fortunes,
while others starved.

I knew I had to go smaller still.
A pinch of salt. Less than that, a crystal.
At last. The ocean bathed my stubborn wounds
and took the bottle that held my tears.
Everything tasted good
and nothing came to mind.

Micro Poetry Award: RETURN by Bea Rodriguez-Fransen

Bea Rodriguez-Fransen

Bea Rodriguez-Fransen, stumbled upon the world of meditation when she started competing as a kettlebell sport lifter. A Candidate for Master of Sport in Long Cycle (Clean & Jerk), she realized how meditation and mental training were just as important as physical training. When she is not lifting kettlebells, she works as Program Manager of Innovation at the City of Aurora, Illinois, where she contributes to the growth of nonprofits and social enterprises. Throughout her 18-year career as a nonprofit and higher education professional in Chicago, she has raised millions of dollars in funding as a grant writer, funds that started or bolstered programs that continue to make a transformative impact on the lives of diverse individuals. She has also served on the board of directors of various organizations, and currently serves on the Racial Equity & Social Justice Committee of Chicago Women in Philanthropy. She holds a degree in Master of Arts in Liberal Studies – Writing, Editing and Publishing, and has published her poetry, fiction, and feature articles both in the Philippines and in the United States. Bea is currently working on publishing her first book and Author Website; you can connect with her for updates here.

by Bea Rodriguez-Fransen

the koru always
unfurls towards the sun, yet
returns to herself

Editor's Choice MUIR WOODS, ENTERING THE CATHEDRAL by Amanda Russell

manda Russell

Amanda Russell is a stay-at-home mom who lives with her husband and two children in New York’s Hudson Valley. She published a poetry chapbook, Barren Years, with Finishing Line Press in 2019. Her poems have appeared in The Lincoln Underground and most recently in Social Unity, a zine that raises money for organizations dedicated to feeding families across the Hudson Valley area during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find links to her published poems, interviews, articles, and some recent readings at https://poetrussell.wordpress.com/.

Muir Woods, Entering the Cathedral
by Amanda Russell


Did you
hear the
trees as they
spoke the secrets
of the ground?
Their roots, like long
ears, spy on time
for not just decades
but even centuries

I was there.
I entered the cathedral,
felt the temperature
drop as the canopy
rose above me.

Silence was the
original music of earth.

I stood there
truly small in the world.

Do you understand me?


I wanted to stay
with the trees,

to listen long
and feel the weather
across my own branches—
bending, dancing, standing,
growing slowly all the while—

to extend my arms
welcoming even more
expressions of life into my
wooden heart,

to reach down
and up and out—
holding all and releasing
all as a living yard-stick
of freedom—

to get old
in the same bark
I was young in…

to keep my ability
to sing that first

Editor's Choice Award: BRUSHING YOUR TEETH WITH MINDFULNESS by Anitha Krishnan

Anitha Krishnan

Anitha Krishnan writes speculative fiction and poetry. Her fantasy novella, In Search of Leo (January 2018), explores the gamut of emotions that loss and grief can stir. She lives in Burlington, Canada, with her husband and their wonderful four-year-old child. Visit her at thedreampedlar.com

Brushing Your Teeth With Mindfulness
by Anitha Krishnan

We spend one half of an hour
brushing our teeth each morning
not every minute is spent
at the sink, of course

you run around
so I can sing the song
you and I composed long ago
“Please come back, please come back,
Please come back to the ba-a-throom
and brush your teeth
using to-o-o-o-thpaste,
Please come back to the ba-a-throom,”

Set to the tune of
This Old Man
the notes to which you stop
to play on the xylophone
toothbrush in mouth
half-chewn, half-forgotten,

“Please come back, please come back,”
I croon again
from my perch on the toilet seat,
well covered
“My turn now,” I jump,
as you return
and I brush your teeth now,

a rushed-up job
reminding myself endlessly
to be patient

as you turn away
to suck the paste
or rinse and spit
each time the brush
lands on your teeth

Our bathroom is a science lab
you tilt your head this way
and feel the water pool
in your right cheek
you tilt your head that way
and feel the water pool
in your left cheek
then seep out of
the corner of your mouth
gurgling and bubbling
like a fountain
and you offer to clean the basin
using your toothbrush
it has bristles after all,
doesn’t it?

And I am torn between
admiring you
and worrying about
how late we already are
late to the start of your preschool
It makes me laugh, really,
how ridiculous my priorities are

When I wish you’d just learn
to brush in less than two minutes
I realise I am wishing upon you
a lifetime of deadlines and anxieties
a lifetime of wrecked priorities

Decades from now
some mystic will come along
and offer you
an antidote to pain
he will teach you
and a million others
how to brush your teeth
feeling nothing but
the squish of the paste,
the motion of the brush,
back and forth, and back and forth
the coolness of the water
swishing around in your mouth

And you will look in the mirror
your eyes seeking there the child
who once knew the delight
that lay in brushing his teeth
with his mother
for an entire half of an hour
singing and dancing
and chasing and being chased
and gurgling and bubbling
and experimenting
and having a bath at the sink

Who will come to your mind then,
I wonder?
A mother who rushed you
through your childhood
Or one
who learnt from you how to live
and simply let you be?


11th Annual Spirit First Poetry Contest Winners

Moments of the Soul Book

Spirit First Offers Free Meditation Series