Need to rant?

Could you use a cathartic rant right about now? (I think most of us could.)

I am offering something new in my Happy to Listen practice, and I will be debuting it this coming Wednesday, November 30th: A 20-minute “rant call” for $20. You call me, I pick up, you spill whatever is on your mind for 15-20 minutes, I listen with empathic presence, and then we wrap it up… and you feel better and more energized to handle your life (and quite possibly do more effective activism, whatever that might look like for you.)

I’m currently scheduling 20-minute slots throughout Wednesday the 30th, so send me a message if you’d like to partake! Also, feel free to share this with friends who might be in need of some catharsis, in this particularly fraught moment in time.

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Video of my Nonviolent Communication (NVC) webinar with Kathy Peterman

In the wake of the recent election, and with the holiday season approaching quickly, effective communication tools are more crucial than ever. Around holiday dinner tables, many families will be discussing emotionally charged issues such as racism, sexism, homo- and transphobia, indigenous people’s rights, the role of the United States in world affairs, climate change and other environmental concerns, and other related issues.

I have posted about Nonviolent Communication (NVC) on several occasions here on this blog. For those of you who may be curious, or for those who have some NVC knowledge but would like a refresher, I would like to share this recent video of a webinar during which my friend Kathy Peterman interviewed me about the communication tools of NVC. I hope that you will find some useful ideas and approaches to any challenging conversations you may be anticipating in the coming months.


(If you’re interested in learning more about Kathy’s My Best Year offerings, take a look at http://simpleup.me/portfolio/my-best-year/)

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November benefit for Standing Rock

Wow, are we living in tumultuous times.  The US presidential election is upon us, and the political season feels more frenzied and dark than I can ever recall, with most Americans (not to mention others around the globe) feeling some combination of outrage and despair.

Meanwhile—and entangled with the election—racial tensions continue to escalate.  In my last blog post, I was focused on #blacklivesmatter, and I offered a Happy to Listen benefit for the month of August.  Now we’re coming up on November, and as Thanksgiving approaches here in the US, native people are fighting for their land and water in North Dakota.  I feel this juxtaposition keenly, and I’m feeling called to do another benefit, this time for both Happy to Listen (empathy and sacred witnessing) and Dream Into Change (life coaching for culture shifters).

If you would like to talk openly about your feelings in the midst of this political and cultural turmoil—or if you have ideas for culture-shifting projects to move beyond this current state of affairs, and would like emotional and/or strategic support in turning them into reality—I invite you to participate.

For the month of November, if you mention this benefit when scheduling a Happy to Listen or Dream Into Change session, I will donate 50% of the proceeds from your session(s) to www.gofundme.com/stand4standingrock.  (Sliding scale available if finances are a barrier; I want everyone to be able to participate in this benefit if they wish to.)  I deeply admire those people who have chosen to put themselves physically on the line to protect native people’s land and water, against corporate fossil-fuel interests.  Since I am not physically standing with them, I want to support these folks financially, and I invite you to join me, either by participating in this benefit and/or by donating directly.  To schedule a session, you may email me at maren@dreamintochange.com or call me at 971-303-8395.

In any case, I wish you all the best during these times, and I hope you will join me in continuing to hold a vision—and to take actions toward that vision—of a world with justice and integrity for all people and our land and natural resources.

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Opening to vulnerable communication about race

I don’t need to tell you that we are living in fraught and stressful times. In the USA, we are facing a Presidential election that promises to be bitter and disappointing for most Americans. The nation is focusing on huge issues of environmental sustainability, economic (in)equalities, health care, and other pressing topics.

One of the most prominent topics, both inside and outside of the Presidential campaigns, is that of race. Recent highly publicized police killings of unarmed black citizens have brought the topic to greater public attention and scrutiny than we have seen in a long time. Trump’s public comments about Mexicans and Muslims have brought these groups—and bias against them—into the public consciousness in a stark way. The Black Lives Matter movement has emerged and brought an intentional focus on the lack of police accountability for violence against black people.

The current state of affairs is tragic. And regardless of one’s own racial or ethnic background, these topics are emotionally charged.

I’ve been watching heart-wrenching videos and hearing political sound bites about race, and wondering what I, personally, might be able to do to bring something positive to the situation. I know that recognizing my own privilege as a white person is an important first step. Listening to the voices of people of color, and hearing their stories and pain and anger, is another way. Speaking out when I hear people making racist or prejudiced remarks is another way.

At this moment I am also feeling called, though, to use my listening and empathy skills in a particular way. I started my Happy to Listen practice nearly ten years ago, because I wanted to help people to process some of the difficult feelings that come up simply as a result of being human in today’s world. I have found doing so to be very gratifying. But I agree with Gloria Steinem’s assertion that the personal is political… and also with the corollary, which is that political, social, and cultural current events affect us all personally. And I want to use my listening skills to help people to process and work through whatever difficult feelings they may have regarding race at this moment in history. I also know that many people are wondering what they can do to help the situation in their own lives, and I want to hold space for people to explore any ideas they might have in that regard.

So, for the month of August, I am choosing to offer Happy to Listen sessions by sliding-scale donation. I will then donate all proceeds from such sessions to the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. I found their website on Facebook a few months ago, and their communication-based approach to racial justice, equity, and harmony resonates with me.

I am hoping that people of any racial or ethnic background will feel comfortable talking about their feelings and challenges around the topic of race. As always, I promise to listen with an open heart and without judgment, seeking only to hold space and provide a sounding board, as well as to learn, myself, how people experience racial issues in their individual lives. I hope to offer some small help in this way.

If you’d like to make an appointment, feel free to contact me at www.happytolisten.com.

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Dream Into Change salons coming up + a new Meetup group!

Hello, fellow culture shifters!

After a bit of a hiatus during the winter months, the Dream Into Change salons are back! I wanted to let you know about three upcoming ones in the Portland area, but I’m also looking to host them in some other cities in the coming months, including Washington, DC, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

The salon is a free, informal event where people with culture-shifting ideas and projects come together to talk about them, and support and inspire each other. These ideas and projects can include business ideas, political campaigns, creative endeavors, and the like. Each person introduces themselves and talks briefly about their ideas and/or projects, and then there is an opportunity for mingling, networking, brainstorming, and discussion.

In Portland, I have two themed Salons coming up, as well as an un-themed, open one. (Three different venues.)

Tuesday, May 10: Nonviolent Communication/Restorative Justice theme
5:30-7:00 pm, Know Thy Food Collective, 3434 SE Milwaukie Ave, Portland

Tuesday, May 24: Vegan theme
6:00-8:00 pm, Papa G’s Organic Deli, 2314 SE Division St., Portland

Tuesday, June 7: No theme; all ideas welcome
6:00-8:00 pm, Liz’s Creative Café, 9401 SE 32nd Ave, Portland/Milwaukie

You can RSVP to any of these on Facebook; they are all listed at www.facebook.com/dreamintochange (Or, you can send me a message via the “contact” button here.)

I also invite you to join my brand-new Meetup group, Portland Culture Shifters. For now, the Meetup is a way to invite people who are not on Facebook to the salons, but there may be other gatherings posted there in the future.

Finally, if you live in one of the above-mentioned cities, please feel free to contact me if you or anyone you know might be interested in attending such an event in your city, and/or if you know of a good venue where I could hold a salon. I will be in DC in late June, and I’m tentatively planning on the other three cities next March.

~Maren

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Inviting the power of empathy into our lives

When I meet people socially, and they learn that I run a professional empathetic listening practice, I hear a wide range of responses.  Some people are confused, not sure what that entails.  Some are surprised.  (“Wow, people pay you to listen to them?”)  But many respond with a sort of “a-ha” expression.  They say things like, “We all need that so much!”  And probably the most common response I hear is, “Oh, I could use some help with my listening skills!  I want to do it, but I find myself talking more than listening.”

People’s responses confirm for me the intuition I had, upon starting my practice years ago, that we all benefit deeply from being listened to – truly heard – more than we generally are in our day-to-day lives.  Our culture is so rushed.  Most of us are racing back and forth amongst our workplaces, our various appointments, the grocery store, maybe going out dancing or to see a show… By the time we get home at the end of the day, it’s all we can do to veg out in front of the television or computer, and then flop exhaustedly into bed, waiting to do it all again tomorrow.  We tend to spend very little time speaking from the heart and truly being heard… nor in listening quietly and deeply to others, taking in their reality and enriching our own.

Years ago, a friend and I decided to attend a local introductory talk by Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication (NVC).  What he spoke about was so simple, yet so transformative, that it changed both of our lives immediately.  We subsequently read his book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and we co-founded a local NVC practice group.  Both of those activities were meaningful and enriching to me.  But what I appreciated most about the experience was that my friend suggested that she and I begin meeting every two weeks to talk deeply and give each other our full attention, support, and empathy, with no interruptions, distractions, judgments, or advice.  I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea.  And sure enough, as we made this a regular practice, it deepened my connection to myself and my values, and my connection to her as a friend.  More than ten years later, we are still meeting every two weeks for these conversations, and they continue to enrich my life deeply.

So, I want to encourage you, the reader, to find a space and time to listen deeply to another, and have them listen to you.  There are powerful gifts to be found on either end of the exchange.  You might think of a friend you admire and feel comfortable with, and approach them with the idea.  A helpful structure to follow is for one person to begin, and share whatever thoughts and feelings have been alive for them in the past week or two.  The listener may nod, smile, or offer brief interjections of understanding or support (“Wow, I know exactly what you mean!” or “I can really relate to that experience”) but without taking the focus away from the speaker.  When the speaker feels complete – often after about an hour – then you switch roles until the next speaker has shared enough to feel complete.  It can be a surprisingly powerful experience when each person has felt and expressed their own truth, and each has been enriched by hearing the other’s truth.  These exchanges can help us gain clarity about our values and the direction of our own lives, and can also support a powerful closeness and camaraderie between the two participants, especially over time. I invite you to try it and see for yourself.

I believe that this greater sense of self, and a greater sense of connection to others, also benefits the larger community.  I have been toying with the idea of setting up “listening salons,” where a group of us would gather and pair up in such a way, perhaps for shorter exchange periods such as 20-30 minutes. These events would be similar to the Dream Into Change salons I have recently begun hosting, but they would focus on general emotional support rather than specific ideas and projects. I can host them locally in Portland and/or in various other cities as I travel. I’d love to hear your feedback as to whether an event like that would appeal to you; please feel free to comment below, or email me directly.

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Honored to be featured on InspireMeToday.com

Hello, all! Just a quick note today: I’m thrilled and honored to have a piece of my writing featured as “Today’s Brilliance” on the website InspireMeToday.com. This daily feature showcases “everyday” writers as well as some celebrities, such as Richard Branson and Mariel Hemingway, so I’m excited to have been chosen. My 500-word inspirational piece is titled “Trust the Open Space,” and it will be on the website’s home page today, Monday, August 17. It’s about allowing the beauty of life to unfold in spaciousness, rather than cramming our lives full and thus missing out on magic. I invite you to take a look!

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The Dream Into Change Salon… and a new tour?

DITC Salon postcard

 

On Thursday, July 30th, I hosted the inaugural Dream Into Change Salon, and now I’m really excited to host more of them, both here and elsewhere.

The salon—a free event—is a place for us culture shifters to come together and talk about our ideas for projects, businesses, campaigns, and the like, and to give and receive emotional and strategic support for these ideas.

On the 30th, we started with a small event: just four of us gathered around a table at Liz’s Creative Café in Milwaukie, just south of Portland. We spoke briefly about our personal and/or professional histories, and then for the next two hours we discussed the ideas and projects we are all working on. The magic of synergy appeared right away, as people began collaborating, offering ideas, asking strategic questions, and connecting each other with resources. By the end, we were all excited to keep in touch, and to meet up at the next one.

I will schedule another salon at the same location near the end of September; I plan to offer them here in the Portland area every two months.

But afterward, I got to thinking that I would love to take this idea on the road as well! I would love to host similar salons for culture shifters in many cities, around North America, and quite possibly beyond. Perhaps I could dream up a tour, similar to my 2013 East Coast Empathy Tour! I could travel by train and/or bike for a couple of weeks, stopping at several cities as I go.

Then I started thinking, I could even create themed salons! Say, one for veganism and animal-related ideas and projects. One for touch- and/or sex-positive-themed ideas. Maybe one for bicycling and sustainable transportation. One for NVC and/or restorative-justice-themed ideas.

In this way, I can encourage people to start thinking about, and working on, exciting specific ideas for shifting our culture forward in myriad ways. And I can begin to build a worldwide network of such folks, whom I can introduce to each other if, say, someone in Boston and someone in Melbourne had similar ideas and wanted to support each other and build on each other’s success.

I’m pretty lit up about this!! I don’t have a particular timeline in mind; I will let it unfold organically (per my previous posting here).

However, I would love to hear from anyone, anywhere, who would be interested in helping me to organize a salon—with or without a specific theme—wherever you live. I can begin putting together a list of such contacts, and perhaps before long, an itinerary will emerge.

For now… I will begin organizing some more salons here in Portland!

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Trusting my pace, in a Portland summer

 

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Do you struggle sometimes? I’m guessing you do. I struggle sometimes. I struggle with life in general (existential ponderings have always been a part of my daily life) and also with this Dream Into Change Practice. (When is it going to “take off?” What exactly is it, in elevator-pitch format? Shouldn’t I be farther along on my path to self-employment and right livelihood?)

Does any of this sound familiar? I think a lot of it is basic human stuff, and some of it is First-world-smart-creative-young-or-middle-aged career angst in 2015. Part of what Dream Into Change means to me is that I support others along their paths. Part of that support is my sharing my own struggles and vulnerability… as well as celebrations and, sometimes, hard-won insights.

Where I’m at right now, which I would like to share in a spirit of camaraderie and uplift, is that sometimes I struggle with “productivity.” There are many things I think I “should” be doing to build this practice. I should go to more networking events. I should be working harder to write my book faster. I should be working on putting together more workshops, and digital products.

I’m doing some of this stuff. And I feel excited about it… most days, at least.

But I still get down on myself for falling into these early twenty-first-century traps we are all susceptible to, like excessive screen time, not exercising as much as I “should” be, not eating or sleeping as well as I “should” be, and not working as hard as I “should” be.

Right now, though? I’m accepting things—and myself—as they are. As I am. My life is pretty freaking amazing, all things considered, and why do I need to be in a big rush? I really believe in savoring the journey. So… this summer, I’m doing that. Especially in a Portland summertime, savoring is essential for our wellbeing. We wait all year for this languid, warm weather. When I go to networking events, I sometimes run into people who seem hard on themselves for not doing enough. When I observe this in them, I can see that I don’t want it for myself, even though my mind and heart frequently fall prey to it.

So, what I’m focusing on right now is opening a warm, joyful space for magic to show up for me.


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I’m sleeping late when I can. I’m eating delicious food. (Yeah, probably more of it than is optimal for my body. I’m accepting that imperfection in myself… most of the time. Did you know, for example, that Portland just welcomed its first all-vegan cheese shop? How can I not go and support that wonderful new business?) I’m taking time to go to the beach. I’m taking time to eat the fruit that dangles from all the trees and vines these days. I’m making time for delicious sensuality with lovers. I’m taking time to cultivate and nourish my primary relationship with my amazing partner, who is doing beautiful things in his own life that I am honored to support. I’m checking out books from the library. I’m listening to gorgeous music.

 

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I’m also keeping my day job as long as I need it, which affords me the stability to do much of the above. I needn’t judge the fact that I have had it for twelve years.

And… by nourishing myself in all of the above ways, I find that I do have the energy to respond to wonderful opportunities when they arrive. For example, I took a chance just last week to submit a piece of writing to a website called Inspire Me Today. While bicycling home from work that day, I began to compose the 500-word submission, pulling over to the curb on three occasions to jot down key phrases. I sent in the piece, titled Trust the Open Space. I received an auto-reply, which let me know that they had received it, that the process was competitive, and that they would let me know within two to three weeks whether my piece would be published. The next day, however, I received an acceptance email: the site will publish my writing on August 17th!

Had I been pushing myself hard with long to-do lists every day—and collapsing into bed, exhausted and disappointed for having completed less than 100% of them, which has often been my M.O.—I doubt I would have had the energy to make the submission.

So… it’s summer. I’m enjoying myself. And I’m still making progress, at a pace that feels satisfying, if slower than what I have sometimes wished for.

I hope you are finding the right pace for yourself in your own path, for this season and beyond. I’d love to hear any stories that relate to this topic, so please feel free to comment.

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Interview: Mike Farmer and his Living End Saloon vegan pub dream

1052431_10151465635870636_331821505_oI met Mike Farmer about fifteen years ago. A friend of a high school classmate of mine, we first connected over our shared geeky love of progressive rock music. (Mike was even in a prog band at the time!)

Over the years, from a distance of 3,000 miles, I observed as he met and fell in love with his partner Marya, bought a house in Washington, DC, and, eventually, went both vegan and car free.

Since then, we have played “vegan tour guide” in each other’s cities, and stayed in touch online. I have also enjoyed following his travel blog Adventures in Veganism.

A few years ago, Mike told me he was starting to dream up a vegan bar in DC. I loved the idea! I knew how much he loved vegan food and various libations (always carefully paired) and as DC’s vegan restaurant offerings slowly increased, I thought his idea of a punk dive bar with international cuisine sounded like a perfect complement to the other options available.

Fast forward to now: It’s happening! He has just launched a crowdfunding effort on Indiegogo to kick-start the business. I strongly encourage you to watch his promotional video and consider contributing to the effort… and in the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this interview he granted me, talking in depth about his motivations, plans, hopes, and fears as a culture-shifting entrepreneur:

Mike and the Vegan Black Metal Chef at the Indiegogo kickoff party

Mike and the Vegan Black Metal Chef at the Indiegogo kickoff party

When, and how, did the idea to open this pub come to you?

The idea came to me about five years ago. I hung out in a vegan friendly dark dungeony bar in Adams Morgan, Washington DC, called Asylum. On their buy-one-get-one-half-off Tuesdays I’d get up to six plates of their vegan wings while listening to punk and watching skateboarding or surfing videos on Fuel TV (I neither skateboard or surf, but I loved it). I was in heaven. 
Also, I traveled the planet quite a bit, and have always loved trying the local cuisine. Since becoming vegan, I’ve been able to veganize many of my favorite international dishes, as well as having perfected my tofu scramble recipe over a period of about nine years.
 Then I thought, What if I created a bar that had a fun gothic feel to it, similar to Asylum, but was completely vegan? I could serve international pub comfort food that I’d experienced around the world, veganized, plus a fantastic brunch.  I hate to sound like the person who feels so accomplished after making one good meal that they decide to open a restaurant, which is sort of how it is with me, but I’m also on a mission.
 At the end of the day, I want to build the sort of place where I would want to go, and hope everyone else will, too. I’ll add that, sadly, Asylum closed and reopened as a barbecue place, but at least I was able to buy a bunch of Asylum’s old decor.
 When people get bit by the vegan bug, they just want to go out and change the world, and this is how I want to do it.

What aspects of your life shifted to enable you to pursue it now, after several years of dreaming about it?

I work in IT by day and a bartender by night, which has allowed me to save a good chunk of money thus far. But it’s not enough. So I’m doing a crowdfunding campaign now. I have many locations in mind, but most getting rented before I’ve managed to save enough money to have a shot at it. As well, property prices are rising so quickly that I may very well be priced out of the market before opening anywhere here in Washington DC, so I need to do this soon.
 Also, I can keep working away at saving for it, keeping all my ideas in my head, and dreaming about it forever, but it’s never going to get done that way. Ready or not, I’m now starting to take the larger steps I need to in order to make this a reality. It’s time to hit the power button.

Obviously you’re just at the beginning stage now, with the crowdfunding campaign just starting.   But what obstacles have you had to overcome already? 

All obstacles thus far have been internal. I’m scared, I’m out of my element, I have so little knowledge of this industry. I sometimes feel trapped not knowing how to even begin. But I really want to do something meaningful with my life, and I’m pressing on. I keep reminding myself of the phrase: “Nothing ventured…”  If I may offer some words of encouragement to anyone reading this: It’s scary and complicated at first, but take the first step. You may soon realize that what you were fearing isn’t nearly as dreadful or difficult as you thought.

What further challenges do you foresee in the year ahead?

Once open, I will be the owner, manager, bartender, barback, repairman, dishwasher, conflict resolver, accountant, inventory clerk, and other duties assigned. It’s a very unglamorous job, but I know it will have great rewards.

What is your dream for this pub?  What sorts of impacts do you hope to have, on your city, on veganism in general, and/or on any other population?

My goal is to help save animals, save the environment, and save my neighbors who are suffering from diabetes, cancer, and other diseases whose condition can be improved by diet. 
One thing I really want to do is to work with local food assistance organizations and invite their clients to PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) Food for Life classes at the bar when not open for business during the weekday. The classes teach how to cook delicious and affordable nutritious meals. A friend of mine is certified to teach these classes, and he seems on board with the idea, too. In these classes I’d also like to provide info about how our local farmers markets double the value of some food assistance vouchers.  Imagine the win for the farmers, the customer, the animals, the environment, not to mention our healthcare system. 
Also, I hope my place will be a gathering place. I want justice focused non-profits to hold their events there in the hopes that they will understand the intersection of the justice they’re seeking and the animal, environmental, and food justice The Living End is focused on.

When did you go vegan?  What inspired you to do so?

The first spark came when I adopted my cat Burbank in 1998. I began questioning having a companion animal while eating others, so I wanted to start reducing the amount of animals I consumed. My now ex-wife and ex-girlfriend were not supportive of this at all. Then I met Marya. In 2007, less than two years after meeting, we bought a house together. Within a few days of moving in, she said, “I think we should make our house vegetarian.” It was a bit more than what I was aiming for and a bit of a surprise, but after not getting any support from my previous two relationships, I couldn’t refuse. 
We still had cheese plates with a bottle of wine several times a week, and once I remembered enjoying it so much I proclaimed loudly “I’m never going vegan!!!” Then… Marya read me aloud a line from Carol Adams’ book “The Sexual Politics of Meat” that tied government control over women’s reproduction with animal agriculture’s control over animals’ reproduction in the production of milk and eggs. As we’re feminists, that really hit us hard. 
Then, in summer of 2008, I participated in the Sticky Fingers/Compassion Over Killing Vegan Hot Dog Eating Contest. I was disqualified in the first round, but Compassion Over Killing gave me a bag full of vegan goodies and some pamphlets and magazines. I took them home and read through them, then said “Marya, I think we’re going to have to go vegan.”

Anything else you’d like to mention?

I’ve been working as a defense contractor for 26 years. And, let me tell you, defense contractors get paid rather nicely. If I didn’t care so much about making such a difference in the world, I’d just keep my head down, stay where I am, and watch the world go by. But, as I keep reminding myself: “We’re here for such a short time, how can we not spend it making a difference?”

www.thelivingenddc.com/about/

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