“This is how life is unfolding right now”

Here is another verbal/cognitive reframe I find helpful to reduce irritability in times of stress (like right now!) I invite you to try it, and I’d love to hear if you find it helpful.

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“What can I savor in this moment?”

Here’s my second video, sharing a technique I discovered years ago to help ground myself in stressful times. I hope you find some value in it.


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Exploring video: Some thoughts on flood, pandemic, and a surreal time

For some time now, I’ve been thinking I should record some videos for this blog, sharing my perspectives on various topics and hopefully offering some resonance, camaraderie, and support to readers.

I’ve been nervous and shy to put myself out in this way, so I have been procrastinating.  But this surreal time is calling me to stretch myself and try something new.  I hope the following will be the first of many such short videos… yet, as I mention herein, I’m also choosing to be gentle with myself and not make unrealistic commitments.  So, for now I hope you will find something of value and/or resonance here.  Feel free to comment or message me with ideas of topics you might like to see me discuss in future installments.

And, as always, I hope you are taking good care of yourself.

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Sliding-scale Doctors Without Borders benefit

Wow, what a wild emotional time.

How are you holding up?

I hope you’re finding ways to care for yourself during this time. If you’re feeling motivated to get backlogged projects complete, or take up new areas of interest, that’s awesome. If, on the other hand, you can barely get out of bed in the morning and stare at the wall all day as you contemplate the human condition… that is 100% understandable, and I hope you’re giving yourself credit for doing the best you can.  Everyone handles stress differently; there is no “right” way.

I’ll be honest: I’ve been struggling, myself. Fears of illness and mortality, of potentially losing loved ones, of losing income (which I have—my “day job” hours have been severely cut back), of what is happening to the United States and the world, socially, economically, politically, culturally. I’ve been thinking about my own life, and also about the broader nature of existence. I’ve been grappling with what might be the highest and best uses of my time and energy at this particular point in human history. How can I help? How can I avoid harming?

If you are also grappling with any of the above, I want to offer an empathetic ear. As always, a phone call with me is a no-judgment zone. If you have ideas or projects you want to bring to life, I’m more than happy to support you in that. If, on the other hand, you’re struggling to simply get through each day, I will listen and hold space without any platitudes or pressure to do anything at all. I know from experience that it can really help to speak out loud your fears, anxieties, anger, hopes, etc, and be genuinely, fully heard.

I want to be of service in the world, offering what I most enjoy offering, which is my support and empathetic presence. I want to do so in a way that is accessible to anyone who needs it, and also in a way that contributes to the greater good.

So, for the month of April, I am offering sliding-scale sessions, with 20% of all proceeds to benefit Doctors Without Borders. The sliding scale starts at $0, if that is what you can afford, and stretches up to your comfort level. My usual rate is $95 per hour, but anything less (or more, if you happen to have it and wish to contribute) is welcome. If you’d like to schedule a session, please email me at maren@dreamintochange.com.

And regardless of whether we connect by phone, please take good care of yourself during this time. 

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Goals and intentions for the New Year

Happy solstice!  Here in the northern hemisphere, we can finally celebrate the return of the light.  (I, for one, am very ready to welcome it!  My bike commute will be brighter every day for the next six months.)  In the southern hemisphere, of course, it’s the beginning point of summer.  Around the world, in December, many of us take stock of our lives, and think about the changes we may wish to bring about in the year ahead.  I find the day of the solstice to be an excellent time to do this.

A big part of my work with my clients is helping them to set goals and intentions, and then to follow through to manifest them.  As I announced last week, I am excited to offer 30 free sessions in 30 days for this exact purpose, between December 14th and January 12th.  If you haven’t yet taken me up on this by scheduling a free, no-obligation hour-long phone call, I invite you once again to do so.  (This offer is good for existing clients, too; please consider it a solstice gift from me!)

Whether or not you schedule a call, I want to offer a few suggestions of how best to follow your intuition and passions to set intentions and goals for the coming year.

Intentions can come to us as yearnings, or nudges that we feel from life.  Examples of intentions might be, “I’d like to travel more,” or “I’d like to eat healthier.”  Specific goals might be, “I’d like to take one domestic and one international trip this year,” or “I’d like to make sure to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.”

A good way to get in touch with your intentions is to sit in stillness for 15-30 minutes at a stretch. (Doing this daily is a great practice to stay in touch with yourself and what you most want in life.)  Afterward, journaling or making a list of them is a good way to make them more concrete, and begin to set goals.

Make the goals specific enough to be easy to follow.  For example, if your goal is to take the above two trips, you might think:  “I’ve always wanted to visit New York… and I’ve heard that flights to Iceland are very affordable right now.  I’m going to begin researching the best times of year (for weather and/or time off work and/or travel and accommodation prices) in those two places.”  Or, “I plan to eat a serving of fruit at the beginning of each meal,” or “At least once per month, I plan to try buying (or growing) a kind of produce I have never tried before.”

As you continue to sit in stillness and journal in the coming year, you can return to these intentions and goals to track your progress (you can always get back on track if you slip!) and to feel into new intentions and goals that may emerge as the year progresses.

Happy solstice, all!  I wish you all love and magic and exploration in the coming year.

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30 free sessions in 30 days

Happy December, all! The new year is nearly upon us. In December, many of us take stock of our lives, and think about the changes we may wish to bring about in the year ahead. At this time, I am feeling drawn to broaden the reach of my empathy and coaching offerings, by giving away 30 free sessions in 30 days. And I would love your help in manifesting this vision.

Yes, I want to talk to 30 different people in 30 days, for one hour each, at no charge. I want to help people to put into practice their intentions to be conscious in all the ways they wish to be conscious, and active in all the ways they wish to be active. I want to speak to people all over the world (through the magic of audio and/or video chat) and hear what is up for people, and help them to live the best possible version of their lives, and be the best possible versions of themselves, in the coming year.

I will be offering these sessions starting on Saturday, December 14th, through Sunday, January 12th. Please message me if you are interested! (maren@dreamintochange.com; email link in blue to the left of this post.)

I have one request of those who take me up on a session: I ask that you sign up for my email list, if you are not already on it. At present the list is very quiet, and I intend to keep it pretty low-volume… but as the year unfolds, I do intend to offer more content that may be useful to people who are interested in living more closely aligned with their values and passions. And from time to time I send out announcements of discount offers or non-profit-donation benefit offers, or notices for events I may host, such as Dream Into Change salons. I request that you sign up with your “real” email address (rather than a throwaway address you give to spammers) but of course you are completely free to unsubscribe at any time after your free session. I want win-wins, no pushing or manipulation of any kind.

So, if you’d like some confidential support as you reflect on the past year and/or look ahead to the new year, please comment or message me to schedule it! If this doesn’t speak to you personally at this time, I would love your help in sharing this offer, either on social media or personally with any friends who you think might be interested.  One of my biggest intentions for myself for the coming year is to expand the reach of my emotional and strategic support to as many people as possible around the globe.

Thanks for reading, and I wish all of you a powerful 2020, filled with love and growth.

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Three simple steps to use Facebook more effectively for social change

I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone reading this that there is an extreme abundance of bad news in the world.  An awful lot of this news makes it into our Facebook feeds, and those of our friends.  It would probably be possible to find an outrageous and/or demoralizing article to post every five minutes, for the rest of your life. 

But is that the best way to make change? 

I have friends who have quit Facebook because they could not handle the constant barrage of depressing news in their feeds.  Even for those of us who stay, these kinds of posts can take a toll on our mental health.  And when we get more depressed, we get less politically active, which makes us collectively less effective at bringing about the positive changes we all so desperately need.

I have three ways that I personally make an effort to combat this, and I want to share them so that others can take part as well, and collectively we can be as effective as possible.

1) When you see positive/victorious stories, please be sure to share them too!  People are taking action and making a difference in the world, in a wide variety of issue areas. If you need places to find such stories, you can check out The Optimist Daily, Yes! Magazine, DailyGood, or similar sites.  Or just keep an eye out in your own feed for the uplifting things your friends post.  Sharing links to these kinds of articles gives your friends and followers reminders that people do have power to effect positive change in the world.  The more we see that it can be done, the more we feel empowered to take action ourselves.

2) But, of course, it would be irresponsible to simply bury our heads in the sand when it comes to the distressing news that is all around us.  We share these things on Facebook partly to mourn, or to feel outraged, together with our like-minded friends.  But there is a more empowering way to do that than simply hitting “share” on an upsetting article and then hitting “post”:  Include a call to action.  Do a little research before you make the post.  Has someone already organized an online petition about the item in question?  If so, you can sign the petition and then post the link asking friends to sign (and share) as well.  If there is no petition yet, you can research to find out who the decision makers are for any particular issue, and either begin your own petition (change.org is one good site I have used, but there are many others) or send an email to those decision makers, and then share that to your post.  (“I am outraged about the situation in the article below.  I just sent the following email to my member of Congress; please feel free to copy/paste and/or adapt it, and send one to your representative as well.  Let’s change this!”)  Post a copy of the email you sent, and if possible, also post a link to make it easy for people to get the phone numbers and email addresses for their particular decision makers. (For members of Congress, here is a good one: www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative)

3) If you happen to be sharing a friend’s campaign, action, or project, again, don’t just hit “share” and “post”, because without personal context, most of your friends are likely to just skim past it. Instead, write something like the following:

“My amazing friend So-and-so [tag So-and-so if they are also on Facebook] is working on this great campaign.  I’ve already [signed the petition, contacted my representatives, donated to the campaign] and I hope you’ll consider doing so as well.”

Then include links or contact information for your friends and followers to do so, so that when they are scrolling through their feed it will be as easy and quick as possible to take that action.  Very few people will take the initiative to do so themselves, but with some simple tools, many more will take action.

We need all hands on deck right now, to fight all the injustices we learn about daily.  Remembering that we do have power to make change, and then taking the extra time to make it easy for others to do so, will result in more positive change.

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Sensitivity as a superpower

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Matt Burns, who is touring the USA and interviewing (at least) 366 people in 366 days for his Unlikely Stories project. I sat down with him here in Portland to talk about a topic that has been on my mind lately: The value of human sensitivity within culture, and how those of us who identify as sensitive can nurture this strength, while protecting ourselves from some of the pain that can accompany sensitivity. If this topic resonates with you, I invite you to take a look:

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Raleigh, and the return to Portland

Cool painted tree at the botanical garden

It’s been a couple of weeks!  Re-entry into Portland took some adjusting for me, so this final blog post of the trip has taken me a bit longer than I had anticipated.

The final leg of my train travels went nicely, although I was definitely disappointed to discover that the Silver Star train did not include a dining car, nor a panoramic lounge car.  Amtrak is in the process of eliminating dining cars on their long-distance lines. I find this deeply saddening; it heralds the end of an era that I never wanted to see end.  (I am now considering taking one more long-distance train trip this winter—my yearly sojourn to sunny San Diego, where I had planned to fly to maximize my time—to enjoy the dining car on the Coast Starlight, since my understanding is that they will retain that car for perhaps the longest of any of the lines.  I hope they will have it at least until December or January.)

Sunset from the train, somewhere between Washington and Raleigh

My uncle in North Carolina explained that the lack of the panoramic lounge cars on the eastern long-distance routes may be due to shorter/tighter tunnels in the eastern part of the country.  The tunnels cannot accommodate the double-decker Superliner trains, so the Cardinal and Silver Star—among other lines—use Viewliner cars instead for their sleeping accommodations.  These trains have “regular” lounge cars, attached to their bistro cars, like those on the regional lines such as my Northwest standby, the Cascades, which runs from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, Oregon.  It’s nice to have snacks and light meals available, as well as some chairs and tables to socialize and/or look out the windows on both sides, which is harder to do from a coach or business seat or a sleeper car… but these bistro/lounges in no way compare to the dining cars and Sightseer lounge cars.  So, the trip from Washington, DC to Raleigh was relaxing and scenic—I got to see one last sunset from the train—but I was a bit disappointed to miss out on those two amenities.

My time in the Raleigh area was lovely, split between my aunt and uncle and a close friend/sweetie whom I see whenever we manage to find ourselves in the same place at the same time.

Giant trees in William B Umstead State Park

I experienced a quaint rural area known as “Jugtown,” where a revival of generations-old family pottery making has sprung up in the last couple of decades.  It is not a formal town, but rather a loose affiliation of perhaps a dozen neighboring homesteads, where families make and sell beautiful pottery.

Some of the more elegant wares for sale in Jugtown

I also got to tour the Raulston Arboretum and botanical garden.  (They even had a small Japanese garden there, which I had not expected!)

Part of the Japanese garden
Apparently prickly pears can grow in North Carolina!

We visited Apex’s first all-vegan restaurant, which happened to also be the first Turkish restaurant I had visited.  The food was delicious, and I wished I had at least another week in the area so that I could have tried many more items on their extensive menu.

Look at this menu!
My aunt’s Iskender kebab
Vegan baklava!

And, I got to experience a lovely twilight nature hike in William B. Umstead State Park. I am always struck by how trees and vegetation always look at least slightly different in different regions.

Twilight trees in William B
Umstead State Park

Lastly, I even got to go swimming, in the hotel’s pool.  I hardly ever swim, and with autumn fast encroaching back in Portland, I was more than happy to enjoy a dip on a sunny upper-80s day.

Great to enjoy the last real
heat of my summer

My time in this area brought a truly amazing trip to a wonderful close.  The flights back were kind of rough (last row, middle seat, crying baby to my left, late in the day and battling the exhaustion of a month with inadequate sleep, all of which painfully reminded me why I prefer trains to planes) and it was cool and drizzly in Portland as we touched down.  My travel date was the autumnal equinox, so the end of the trip marked the change of the season, and quite dramatically so: the heat wave continued in the east, while here in Portland we have experienced temperatures dipping down into the 40s at night, and drizzly skies, since I have been back.  I love my adopted hometown, but I have definitely been working through some post-trip adjustments since my return!

This trip was the longest vacation I have ever taken.  It was also the most logistically complex.  And, remarkably, everything that needed to go right did go right.  I am so pleased with the year’s worth of visioning and concrete planning I put into this journey, as well as indescribably grateful to everyone who helped or participated in any way.  I got to reconnect with so many friends and family members, from so many different places and eras in my life, and I also got to meet many wonderful new people.

I saw breathtaking scenery, from the windows of my trains as well as out on walks and a 45-mile bike ride, down in caverns, in Japanese and botanical gardens across the continent, and the beautiful property on which I grew as a child.

I will never forget this trip, nor the people who helped to make it so magical for me.

Portland’s October trees and sky

I’m already cooking up a few more journeys, for the next few years…!  Meanwhile, I’m settling back into my life in Portland, enjoying the spectacular colors and skies of October. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey with me! (And, if you’re interested in dreaming up an epic journey of your own, and would like some co-brainstorming and/or logistical help, I would love to schedule a phone session to help you to turn it into a reality, so feel free to drop me a line!)

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Waterford: nostalgia and bittersweetness

One of the fields, facing the neighbors’ woods

As I write this post, I am sitting in the sun porch of the house in which I spent most of my first 18 years.  My parents bought the house—a huge old stone farmhouse, built in the 1700s and expanded in the 1800s, in extremely dilapidated condition—in May of 1972.  I was born that November.  The enclosed porch in which I now type did not exist at that time; it was a ramshackle outdoor porch.  The only plumbing for the first year was one cold water faucet, in a large white rusted enamel sink, which emptied out into the yard.  We didn’t get a toilet, tub, shower, or bathroom sink for another year.  There was an outhouse, and my father, who commuted to the DC area in a suit and tie each day, bathed in the garden hose, my mother holding the bar of soap.  (The nearest neighbors, an eccentric quartet of elderly sisters, were half a mile away.)

The homestead, dwarfed by clouds

The house is surrounded by about 30 beautiful acres, whose appearance has changed quite a bit over the years, even in the relatively short span of my own memory.  Small trees have grown large and large trees have been lost. (This trip was the first time I saw the place without its iconic, towering elm, which was recently lost to Dutch elm disease, fulfilling my parents’ warnings to me throughout childhood that it would not last forever.) Fields have waxed and waned over the years with various fence configurations and differing amounts of attention to mowing.  The surrounding hills have slowly filled with McMansions, giving the area a different feel, but this property has remained—at least during the leafy summer months—an oasis, and a throwback to an earlier time.  I find it a welcome retreat from the rapid pace and mostly urban surroundings of both my habitual life and this rail journey.

The remainder of the elm

Yesterday I ate a paw paw fruit, straight from the tree on the property that my parents discovered only a few years ago.  (Interestingly enough, I had enjoyed a homegrown paw paw the other day in Charlottesville, too—my friend and her husband grow them on their property as well.)  I also did my customary walk of the grounds, surveying the property and connecting to my roots.

Fresh paw paw!

In the past few years, I have felt a mixture of feelings in this house and on this land.  It brings back feelings of nostalgia for my childhood, and appreciation for a more rural lifestyle which, while not my adult preference, holds values I can lose sight of in my Portland life.  At the same time, over the years I have become aware of the various aspects of tragic and unjust history in the place.  It was only within the last few years that I learned that the house had been built, at least partially, by slave labor.  Although it really shouldn’t have surprised me to learn this, given the vintage and the location of Virginia, it did.  It gave me pause to think of enslaved people being forced to build a house in which they would never be allowed to live, and yet I–by mere accident of birth–was allowed to enjoy that privilege.

The barn, from behind a locust tree

Thinking back a few generations before, of course there were indigenous people living and hunting on this land.  In the first few years here, while working ceaselessly to bring the house back into a more habitable and comfortable condition, my parents dug through many large trash heaps on the property, as well as just in the soil around the house in the course of construction, and they found, among old coins and marbles and such, arrowheads.  As a child this fascinated me, but only within the past few years have I begun to grapple with the obvious implications of this: there were people living here generations ago who were forced off their land so that people like me could live here. 

The homestead behind a crepe myrtle

Our nation’s history (and, indeed, human history in general) is violent, oppressive, sobering to face.

And of course it is not only history; these injustices continue, in a variety of forms, into the present day. In Charlottesville the other day, my host showed me the various places on the university campus and in the downtown area where, just two years ago, white supremacists invaded the town, marching angrily with tiki torches, killing one counterdemonstrator and injuring many more by driving a car into a crowd.  Of course I had read about it with horror in the national news at the time.  Seeing it in person felt surreal; the place looked so calm and peaceful to me.  But in Portland, now, we also have regular invasions of out-of-town white supremacists coming in to march in the streets and physically attack certain groups of people, such as visibly queer or trans folks.

We are living in a tumultuous time, in which fighting for justice, and against oppression in any form, is as important as ever.  The work continues, always.

Meanwhile, I am ever aware that this idyllic family house and grounds will not be with us forever.  My parents, aware of their advancing years (they are nearing 80) have been slowly, over the past decade or so, clearing out nearly a half-century’s worth of accumulated extraneous items, and continually improving and repairing the house, so that they might sell it at some point when it becomes too much for them to keep up.  (My sister and I, both in the Northwest, prefer our urban environs.)  So, I am doing my best to enjoy reconnecting with them and with the space.  Yesterday I began interviewing my father about his childhood memories, which I did with my mother the last time I visited, two years ago.  They both have led such interesting lives, and both are storehouses of a lifetime of memories, which I would like to record in some way.  Connecting with some other folks from their generation on this trip has reminded me of the importance of learning from our elders, as a society.  I like the idea of living history projects, where younger people interview elders—related or not—to ask about their personal past experiences, their observations and recollections of societal changes, and the life lessons they have learned.  I would encourage anyone reading this to “interview”—whether formally or informally—someone older, preferably with a video or audio recording so that it can be shared with others, so that we may all benefit from this collective wisdom.

One of the first rooms I remember
Beatrix Potter favorites from days of yore

I think I may take another walk outside now, while we still have some glorious daylight.  Tomorrow, it’s back to Washington’s Union Station, to proceed to the last leg of my trip in the Raleigh, NC area.

The clouds above the fields were spectacular
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