the challenge that started it all

in the fall of 2013, after moving back to the united states, i knew that i wanted to reacquaint myself with the funky, eclectic city of asheville, north carolina. i had been in sweden for the past three years, and while i was living there, i fell in love with the daily swedish custom of “fika“. so, i began to wonder if i could use fika to help me explore my new home…

to have fika is to take time to slow down in the middle of the day and savor a cup of coffee. whether in your home or in a cafe or at work, fika is all about relationships. whether you are sharing a cup of coffee with a friend, a colleague, or simply enjoying some time to yourself, it is the intentional act of reconnecting and renewing your soul – something that is all too often missing in our fast-paced, hectic lives here in america.

since fika had become such a big part of my life in sweden, i knew that i would bring the tradition with me back to the united states. and since asheville is filled with a plethora of funky, hip, cozy, independent cafes, incorporating fika into my daily life would give me the opportunity to  keep the custom alive, while discovering new places and meeting new people at the same time.

so, in the fall of 2013, i challenged myself to fika for 40 days in 40 different cafes. little did i know that my 40 days of fika would become about so much more than just having coffee… it would be a lesson in living life to the fullest.

below is my blog post from august 2013: the beginning of the challenge

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why 40 cups of coffee?

well, because i’m a coffee addict. to put it bluntly. true story.

ok. it is actually deeper than just my coffee obsession. besides the whole “in love with fika” thing (to find out about fika, click on the “about fika” in the top right corner), i find that there is nothing like sipping on a cuppa coffee, no matter where i am. in the woods, in the car, at the dinner table, by the pool, on the beach, walking around, by candlelight, in a cafe, on my balcony. urban settings. natural settings. funky places. ancient places. from a styrofoam cup. out of a hand-crafted mug. anytime. anywhere. with anyone.

but, that first cup in the morning, before i do anything else… that’s the best. that shot of caffeine gets my brain in gear (no judging). more importantly (and ironically), it helps me to slow down, to focus. it is a chance to begin my day intentionally. to contemplate, breathe, and simply be. for me, a cup of coffee (even if it’s on the go), is something to be savored.

i suppose you could say that coffee drinking (fika-ing) is one of my spiritual practices.

so, i thought, why not make a little challenge to myself and fika every single day? why not be very intentional about something that i love and something that helps me to turn inward, creating a space of peace and community,. having fika is a part of sweden that i miss greatly; and even though i drink coffee here in the states, i may not do it in quite the same way.

therefore, for the next 40 days, i’m going to sit down. alone or with someone else, and really, truly, enjoy a cup of delicious coffee. i’m going to allow those fika moments to speak to my soul – whether i am silent or engaged in conversation, whether i am reading or people-watching. it’s gonna be a great (and yummy!).

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why the number 40? 

well, to be honest with you, it just came to mind. and i never thought about any other number. i think that the number 40 is engrained in my psyche as a sacred amount of time. as someone who grew up in the christian church, i am aware of the significance of various events and stories that revolve around the number 40. it rained for 40 days and 40 nights before the great flood which destroyed the earth in the story of noah. and, after his baptism, jesus was sent into the wilderness, alone, for 40 days. oh there are more, but you get my drift.

anyway, this second story, the one of jesus in the wilderness, is one that resonates with me. it is associated with the season of lent in the christian church. during lent, the 40 days before the easter celebration, the church remembers the time that jesus faced his own demons, drew within himself, and was transformed by those dry, lonely, scary days in the wilderness.

lent is my favorite season of the year. yes. it is. christian or not, i love the season. i’m weird. lent is at the end of winter, when i have all had just about enough of the cold & darkness (well, those of us in the northern half of the world), and i are ripe for rebirth. renewal. a change. during those 40 days, on the cusp of springtime, it is a time to be contemplative, to look inward, to take stock, and to focus on listening. it is a time to intentionally meditate and contemplate and ponder. it is a time to remember who i am, where i have been, and where i am going. often known as a dark, dreary, and painful time, one that most people want to ignore, lent is 40 days of being honest – of being willing to explore all parts of myself, the good and the bad; of seeking to add a little discipline to my spiritual practices, and to conscienciously set aside time to do just that. it is a challenge. a commitment.

but more than anything, it is a time that leads to transformation. a time to acknowledge and journey through the darkness, and into the light.

of course, this fika journey is not a dark, difficult journey, like a journey into the wilderness. it’s the complete opposite. it’s fun! exciting! and filled with community. but, what makes it like a wilderness journey, is the mindfulness that i intend to bring to my daily fika time. like i said in 40 cups above, having a coffee is a spiritual practice for me. it is a journey into the moment. a chance to breathe. be. feel. connect – with myself & with others. these 40 days are an opportunity for me to be quiet and to listen to my soul.

i am a yogi and a great lover of meditating to ground myself. sipping on coffee every day for 40 days will be my meditation, and my opportunity to open my heart, my soul, my life, to be transformed. so, when i decided to do this cafe/fika challenge, there was no other number that would do. it had to be 40 days. for me, 40 just makes sense. it is a long enough period of time for something amazing to occur, if i simply stay committed ,and let the journey unfold.

i thought about it, but 21 days was not enough. and 30 wasn’t either. however, 40 felt just right.

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why 40 cafes?

well, frankly, perhaps it’s because there is no other way to get to know a city than by having a cup of coffee (or 40!) with it.

about a month ago i was living in sweden, a place i called home for three years. it was there that this idea of fika was introduced into my life. it was there that i did not fall in love with coffee, but that having fika became a spiritual practice and a community activity for me. sipping on coffee in cafes, around tables in the homes of friends & family, and at work immersed me into the swedish culture in a way a cannot describe. i felt like i became part of the culture, if only for those moments that i chatted about the weather or was engaged in a deep discussion with others… whether in a restaurant or in my own home.

today i call the eclectic, funky, creative, artsy city of asheville home. and what better way to get back in touch with asheville, this city that i love, than by visiting cafes for 40 days? what better way to feel the heartbeat and meet the people of this city that i now call home, than to have a cup of coffee with it?

i lived in asheville for a year before moving to sweden. and i lived in the surrounding area for many years before that. and like all of us, i had my favorite cafes. upon returning a month ago, i couldn’t wait to get back to some of my favorite places and curl up with a cup of coffee and a book. but, soon, i realized that i needed to explore this city more, i wanted to explore this city more… there was so much that i did not actually know about asheville. so many places i had never been. cafes, streets, alleys, neighborhoods. places i’d heard of and places i’d never heard of.

i found myself darkening the doors of some cozy little places, and realizing that i wanted to go deeper. i want to feel the culture of asheville. i want to dive into the community. talk to people. observe people. hear stories. share my stories. i want to make connections. network.

but, more than anything, i want to feel the eclectic soul of asheville by meeting the diverse people that call this city, surrounded by mountains, home.

how i’m gonna do it:

  • for the next 40 days i am going to visit 40 different cafes/coffeeshops. and yes, there are 40 of them in asheville!
  • i am going to follow the tradition of bringing my own mug (BYOM) every day and ordering regular coffee to keep the cost down.
  • one day a week i am going to treat myself to brunch as i enjoy my coffee. other than that day, the rest of the days i will only have coffee.
  • my plan is to write, read, and chat while i sip my coffee and soak up the atmosphere
  • and, of course, i will be photographing each place i visit!

i have divided the surrounding area of asheville into different zones: downtown, north asheville, west asheville, black mountain, and haywood county. 

my 40 cafes will not be an exhaustive list. not at all. there are many more places, but the ones i share with y’all here are the ones i chose to visit… for now. hehe. you can find the different cafes i visit according to “neighborhoods” by clicking the different zones at the top of this page. i will add them as i visit them, so as to keep everything a surprise for you. you know, suspense. wink wink.

so, 40 it is. 40 cups. 40 cafes. 40 days. enjoy the journey!

namaste.

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