By Robert Bradley
“Central to our understanding of the Buddhist tradition is that the foundation of an enlightened society rests on the richness of nutritious food, communication, and meditation,” said Craig Adams. “We strengthen our bodies by proper diet, connect with each other through conversation, and free our minds through the practice of meditation.”
So began my conversation with Adams and his wife Lucy Altemus, owners, Windhorse Cafe, on the last day of operation of their pretty little restaurant in El Centro.
After six years, thousands of pies and breakfasts, and a collection of conversations that resemble the stars in heaven, it was time to rest.
When I asked Craig and Lucy what first comes to mind when I say, “opening,” their response was spontaneous and in unison: “Overwhelming.”
The first few months were a blur of fatigue wrapped around daily lessons of giving service and establishing a space committed to the reduction of aggression while providing nourishment to strengthen the body and mind through good food and the practice of Shambhala Buddhism.
The term Shambhala Buddhism was introduced by Sakyong Mipham in the year 2000 to describe his presentation of the Shambhala teachings originally conceived by Chögyam Trungpa as secular practices for achieving enlightened society, in concert with the Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism
Their response to “closing” was more complex; it swirled around memories of the penetrating heat of the kitchen, the fires of passion, and an entire sky of memories.
Adams took it from there, “Lucy and I were fortunate to have been assigned to serve in Ecuador by the U. S. Peace Corps (2008-2010). We were lucky to be placed in a remote rural Kichwa village south of Riobamba. The Kichwa, Puruhua people were happy authentic people who were more than just friends but often like family. After 2¼ years in Ecuador and having learned good Spanish, the thought crossed our minds that we could probably start a business, using our little retirement ‘nest egg.’
“Upon our return to the U.S. in 2010, we considered the idea of starting a business there, but the investment and competition seemed much more daunting. So then we really focused on small business opportunities in Ecuador where start-up costs are much lower. On our return trip, in early 2011, we noticed a small charming building in Cuenca on Calle Larga with a ‘Se Vende’ (for sale) sign and a phone number. After a look inside we were ready to make an offer.
“The location in the historic district near hostels and boutique hotels seemed perfect for a small breakfast, lunch, coffee and pie shop. I had told Lucy many times that her pies were the best. My dream was to start a Shambhala meditation center. We both were passionate about creating community as a part of any project we were going to start. Having a book exchange and dharma books for sale, were icing on the cake.
“So the rest is history, as they say. We knew by then that Cuenca was the best fit for our dream in many ways, the high level of culture and education with a strong ex-pat presence made it seem very likely that our passion for good coffee, pie and yes, healthful tasty food, along with people interested in the path of meditation, would all be embraced.
“People did come and we all found community together, the secret ingredient missing from so many lives in the U.S. of A. We felt confirmed in what we were doing when that Fall of 2013, a year after we started the café, the Sakyong, (Earth holder) leader of the International Shambhala community, said ‘I certainly hope that you are able to participate today in these foundational elements of our enlightened society: the richness of nutrition, food, and communication as we connect with each other through conversation, and by strengthening our minds through the practice of meditation.’ ”
So ends the story of one of Cuenca’s most charming and influential restaurants. The building is sold and is destined to become an attorney’s office.
The Shambhala Meditation Center will meet upstairs at Namaste India Restaurant, Calle Larga and Benigno Malo, with group meditations every Sunday at ten in the morning. All are welcome!