Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Coffee with Profits & Purpose

Mini-mall altruism in Austin, TX

Guided by my GPS I pulled into a mini-mall at the corner of Riverside Dr and Congress in Austin, TX looking for a coffee shop named Dominican Joe’s.  It was listed in an on line directory.  As a collector of non-corporate coffee shops wherever I go, I have three criteria for a place to make the top tier of coolness.  Those requirements are; 1) free wi-fi, 2) local events bulletin board, & 3) good vibes for writing.  Clearly, the last is highly subjective and that’s where personal taste comes in.  For me that usually means having comfortable couches, friendly staff, relatively quiet, good windows, outside options, and at least half of the patrons working with their screens (the exception is my friend Jim who does his math calculations on paper).   At Dominican Joe’s I encountered a wild card factor that catapulted that location to the top rank:  Profit for a greater purpose.

Locals, art, & coffee, Kingman
Dominican Joe’s was founded by a young graduate of University of Texas who wanted to do something to make a difference.  While on a trip to the Dominican Republic, it hit her, buy fair trade coffee directly from the farmers and open a coffee shop in Austin with a percentage of profits going to build and operate a school in the DR.  I came upon this info in a chance conversation with the manager who was posting a flyer on the bulletin board.  I was enjoying the vibe and in spite of its location in a mini-mall, the place had a lot of soul; comfy couches, warm décor, and friendly staff.  When he told me how he came to work there and the mission of the owner, it felt like I had opened the door to a synergistic mix of community, business, and service.   It is a coffee shop with purpose and a school in Dominican Republic.

Grace, coffee, and gym: San Antonio
My office in Santa Fe

On my road trip of the Southwest, I visited or shall I say imbibed at a wide variety of locally owned coffee shops.  Most serve the crucial function of a community center.  In the historic area of Kingman, AZ Beale St Coffee also houses the local avant garde painting gallery.  While I sipped my morning joe, I was privileged to see the host of locals check in for their morning coffee and gossip.  At the Santa Fe Baking Co, a local radio program interviews individuals on their projects.  Being Santa Fe, NM with its abundance of healers, artists, etc, their ten foot long bulletin overflowed with flyers sticking out the edges.  In Truth or Consequences, NM Little Sprouts served more than double duty with an organic produce market, alternative healing products, and a deli counter.  The absolutely coolest was the Café Passe on the super hip 4th Ave, Tucson, AZ.  They function as a hang out, fine cuisine café, art gallery, and in the evening a live jazz venue.  But out of the couple dozen I opened my screen at on this trip, the only other with an overt social agenda was Grace Coffee in San Antonio.  Housed in a YMCA and owned and operated by a Christian church, it is in a beautiful bright room with jolly baristas and no tip jar.  A sign announces its mission of using profits to serve the homeless. 

You name it in Truth or Consequences
It must be obvious that I am a fan of local coffee houses.   The history of coffee houses reveals the important role they have played for a couple hundred years as community centers starting in London.  Purpose through service is what distinguished Dominican Joe’s and Grace Coffee and that is a reminder for we who have shifted out of the world of work primarily for making a living.  Numerous studies have indicated that the happiness that sustains and continues is from gratitude.  Service is an active form of expressing gratitude.  It is engaging and practical.  It gives something beyond words and money and as such it rewards the giver with the crucial sense of purpose.  It is a purpose beyond the self.  As we age many of us need to feel relevant and service is a crucial way to contribute to the world.  After all if we have achieved a comfortable maturity, we did not do it alone.  We all had assistance; from our teachers in college, encouragement from mentors, or simply the many who provide food and shelter.  None of us do it alone.  So, giving back through service can be the profound purpose that satisfies at this stage of life.  My takeaway from this odyssey of coffee shops from Venice, CA to Austin, TX:  Service is the icing on the cake of business and can be the purpose that sustains authentic happiness for reinventing Boomers.

Coming Next:  Coffee Shops #2:  Name Your Destiny

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Taking That Detour May Lead to Creativity and Home

Nature's beauty carved by man

Driving the straight, flat, road to Bisbee, AZ, I felt like a city interloper in my compact Volvo to the bucolic farmers in big Ford pick-up trucks and their one street villages.  Not oblivious to the cultural changes in urban areas, one of the villages had its own nail salon/ yoga studio.  But it was clearly country.  Pursuing my mission of discovering the creative soul of America by taking the byways off the Interstate, I had a tip that Bisbee was an art town grown over an old mining town.  Little did I expect an outpost from Occupy Wall St. populated with Venice Beach style bohemians.   The Welcome to Historic Bisbee sign is posted at the strikingly beautiful and ugly at the same time open pit copper quarry, once the most productive in the US. Stopping for a photo, I reflected on the hidden beauty of our earth revealed by a rape of the surface that uncovered the multicolored striations of red, green, and purple rock. 

Home as an art piece
This road trip was initiated to explore the authentic smaller art towns of the US by trusting word of mouth and intuition.  Although I used a guidebook, as an experienced traveler I know that spirit of a place varies widely from what is written about it.  Steeling myself for a tacky and soulless re-do of an original town (I expected Prescott, AZ style with shiny Indian war statues and chic restaurants in the former brothel), I had just passed up on Silver City, NM due to time considerations.  I was not going to take strike two.  In other words, in this case I was not pulled by passion but obligation.  It is a kind of discipline with the self.  Keeping this agreement kept me in integrity with my purpose.   

Occupy Bisbee
I rolled into the town and parked and immediately it felt unique.  A couple young men in long hair and beards rolled by and smiled.  I wondered 'how did they get here?'  Turns out it is that kind of town.  Walking around I saw a house whose front was a bouillabaisse of bizarre statues, colorful paintings, and ‘found art’ junk, another one was painted red and white stripes, across the street an artist was painting the scene, then I came upon a vacant lot that would have fit well at Burning Man.  Old concrete retaining walls were painted in various colors, streamers and paintings flew in the breeze, and on the second level overlooking the street was a gaggle of tents.  Signage indicated alliance with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  

Later in conversation with an older guy in long gray hair whose last home was his boat in the Bahamas and a young man in his twenties who works two nights per week at a restaurant, I learned the story:  This town has been occupied for years by a cohort of free spirits sometimes called artists, sometimes hippies but generally refugees from mainstream culture.  Now, with the OWS movement they have taken over the two lots in the center of town.  Both men are friendly and welcoming in the spirit of this authentically ‘quirky’ town.  In fact, my new acquaintances said that many people in the town are paid by their families back home to stay there.  In addition to the arty funk, there are several old hotels that have been rehabbed but not ‘gentrified.’  Every building exuded originality and well, quirky.  The town is real, from its dirt paths connecting uphill to street level, to the drainage pit with a sign that threatens death if you go in it, to the original Queen’s Mine Hotel and its front yard of unrestored mining equipment.  The only new building in town is the misnamed Convention Center which is really a collection of tourist shops.

The complementary mix of the decaying old mining town, the artists, the busy at noon bars, the chic old hotels, and the natural setting welcomed my soul.  This is how I like it; creativity, antiquity, all ages, and sunny skies.   As I usually do in places like this, I asked the older guy from the sailboat how he got here?  He said he was in Scottsdale, AZ (the antithesis) and his brother said he belonged in Bisbee.   Turning to the young man serving the free food, he said word of mouth and then he asked, ‘are you looking for a home?’  This was an arrow to my heart.  Was my yearning that obvious?  They had something I wanted; community, authenticity, and creativity.

Residence Bisbee, AZ
As I drove away, I reflected on the importance of taking that road less traveled.  The road of that leads to the soul’s fulfillment.  Whatever path you take, what is crucial is to trust your intuition and take that side road through the flatlands and fields that may lead to home.  And if not home, a view on another way of living.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Sweet Reward of Structured Spontaneity

Breaking set with Jack "Geronimo" Hoff
Trusting the omens, signs, intuitions, guidance, and I hit the road to new horizons and happy surprises.   My plan was to experiment with my new practice of recognizing and acting on my intuition. The first challenge was to choose a particular goal and then to actually take action from the place of inner guidance, not mental analysis.  In our modern culture of seemingly endless choice, the risk of analysis paralysis is always present (see Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz).  I have found it to be more so since leaving my full time career.  Something to do with having more time to make the 'right' decision.  My mission was to strengthen the intuitive muscle through a field trip to San Diego.  I decided to take a two pronged approach, set up some commitments and then follow up with tuning in to the flow.

Breaking out of the centrifugal force of home and its comforts is never easy for me.   Like many people, I will procrastinate on intended projects in ever complicating ways for days, months, maybe years.  Getting started is the first hurdle.  I have found it helpful to make plans, in ink.   It could be a date with a friend or a non-refundable ticket.  I made plans to visit friends who live in that area on a certain date.  That got me on the road and in action.  Throwing some gear in the car, I had an appointment and destination.  The venue of my intuition practice was to be Ocean Beach, a neo-bohemian neighborhood near downtown San Diego.   I selected Ocean Beach, because an herbal shop I know of has an outlet there.   Rather than going directly to the address when I arrived, I chose to walk around and get the vibe.  Parking my trusty Volvo, I walked about one block and happened upon an esoteric practice that I had not heard of in L.A. or anywhere…Chakra balancing.  I  had recently done a week long workshop based on the chakra model.  Synchronistic.   I enthusiastically said yes and within a few minutes I was in the 'treatment' room (painted in planetarium style with stars in the sky).  Almost immediately, the 'balancer' said she saw red, indicating inflammation, around my lower back (I have been diagnosed by various M.D.s with acute herniated and bulging discs throughout my lumbar and sacrum).  She was right on.    This demonstrated to me the validity of her skills and of the chakra model in general.  Buoyed by this experience, I continued my exploration of Ocean Beach with an expectant and receptive mind.

Happy Herbs, Ocean Beach, CA
From there it was an easy walk to coffee lounges, used music stores, and hip restaurants.  Strolling around the neighborhood evoked a broad smile of familiarity and recognition.  My kind of place.  I decided to walk the main shopping street before going to the herbal shop which was supposed to be on different street.  Suddenly, about one block down the street after the surf shop, the coffee lounge, and the used cd store, I spied the store.  They had moved to this street.   After conducting business and making plans to reconnect with the proprietor in Venice, I discovered the weekly farmer’s market was in a couple hours.  There it was again, the right place at the right time.  The evening was capped by the very friendly local scene and a fine street band playing my favorite  music.

Roots Reggae on the Street, Ocean Beach
Breaking out of the routines and ruts  of life is more challenging the older we are.  For the newly retired, it can be like the proverbial convict who returns to jail because it is his comfort zone.  Liberation from the job doesn't always liberate the spirit.  Developing a new approach to life is essential to get the most out of this special time of life.  Since we are all pattern seekers, structures and routines in life provide comfort and grounding.  But unchecked they can lead to a large dose of ennui.  The breaking of set and the resulting novelty stimulates the mind and emotions.  Escaping from that habituated mentality can be the fuel for reinvention and renewed passion for life.  Don’t wait for the big opportunity, the big romance, the big job, but go for that which attracts your discerning eye and interest.  Then, set up a structure that provides your necessary degree of comfort (it varies with the individual) and then push the edges to the unknown and unpredictable.  Trust your intuition to point to adventure and then blast off.  When you get to the goal, you may discover that the real boon is unexpected people, places, and events that emerged along the way.   

Recent science shows that the happiness that stays with us is the experiential, not the new possessions.  The most impactful (even when unpleasant at the time) experiences are often are those connections with places and/ or people that were unplanned.  The adventure of discovery is available when we break patterns and routines, build supportive structures, go to our edge, and leap.  When we do, maximum life is the reward.