A different experience

IMG_1566Wow.  Different experience yesterday.

I went to the steps of the huge downtown public library, in Copley Square.  The library sits right across the street from the Boston Marathon bombing memorial.  I always enjoyed giving empathy on the steps of the downtown Portland public library; and right near a memorial for a very emotionally charged event seemed like the perfect place to sit.

Boston Public Library 060213

Marathon Memorial 060213 (1)

I arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon.  Almost as soon as I sat down, a woman came up, smiling, and asked to photograph me.  I agreed, and asked her to also take one with my camera (pictured above).

After that, though, I got almost no response for about 20 to 30 minutes.  Occasional smiles or photos, but mostly a whole lot of nothing.  I wondered whether I needed to choose a new location.

And then.

A man in his early 60s, casually but neatly dressed, approached and asked me if I were asking for empathy or offering it.  When I said I was offering it, he began almost immediately to speak very intensely about what sounded like an incredibly painful experience he was living through.  He got more and more emotionally agitated, and he spoke for about half an hour.  His voice got louder and louder.  He gestured broadly.  He expressed anger, and at one point some tears welled up. His energy built and built.  His saliva became foamy.  His words, tone, and body language conveyed an almost unbearable desperation about the situation.

I could not tell whether his story was “real,” or whether some mental condition had conjured an elaborate, agonizing ordeal that he simply believed to be real.  The story involved multiple court cases; a newborn son in the Philippines whom he was not allowed to see, and who might be at risk of being sold; harassment and arrests by various law enforcement agencies, despite no legal or moral wrongdoing on his part; and multiple unanswered letters and phone calls to various government agencies, both locally and overseas.

He kept saying things like, “Who will listen to me?” and “Who will help me?”  But he didn’t seem to be actually seeking responses.  I listened intently for about ten minutes – while onlookers paused and took in the scene, wearing a variety of facial expressions – but then he began moving slightly down the sidewalk, addressing others on the library steps rather than me.  He shouted toward them for about another fifteen minutes.  I wondered if this opportunity for expression was helping him in some way.  I hoped it was.  However, the lack of immediate, tangible “help” from anyone listening seemed to disappoint, frustrate, and sadden him.  When he finally walked away, throwing a half-hearted “Thanks for your empathy” toward me over his shoulder, it didn’t appear that his emotional state had changed much.

I felt sad.  My hope and belief is generally that such opportunities for expression help people to feel better.  But, I guess it may not be true in all cases. And, of course they are only one small piece of someone’s life and circumstances.

After he left, I sat quietly for a few moments, with my sign folded so as not to be visible to others.  I let the experience soak in.

And then, with about a half hour left in what I had intended to be a 90-minute stint, I allowed the thoughts and feelings to ebb away… and I put up the sign again, and sat with a genuine – if a little less bright than earlier – smile, hoping to offer empathy to others.

Day One of Listening: Boston Common

Listening on Day One
Listening on Day One

On Sunday morning, June 2nd, I headed into town on the train, intending to sit and listen in Boston Common.  I got off at the appropriate stop, but wasn’t sure quite how to get to the park.  I glanced at the map on my phone, and started walking.  I asked a few people, but they turned out to be tourists.  Finally I found a local couple, who said, “That’s just where we’re headed!  Follow us!”  They took me on a winding route, and sure enough, I got where I wanted to be.  As we parted, the woman said, “I don’t know if I would trust strangers to lead me around an unfamiliar city!”  I had to smile at the irony of her statement, and I said, “I’m actually here in town in order to listen to strangers.”  She said, “Oh… well then, you’re off to a good start!”


And, my first on-the-street empathy session of the tour went as well as I had hoped.  On this hot and humid day, I stationed myself prominently on a sidewalk in Boston Common, near the Massachusetts statehouse.  As people began to notice me with my sign, I got thumbs up, words of encouragement and appreciation, high fives, people taking photos, people stopping to talk… it was just as rewarding as in Portland.  As I already knew, the need for empathy is universal.

A man visiting from overseas was the first to stop and ask what it was all about; he left with a smile on his face.  An enthusiastic young woman stopped to muse about hope, and whether it’s possible for people to change their lives, permanently, for the better.  A man who works as an advocate for homeless people stopped to talk about the challenges homeless people face, and the ways that non-homeless people and politicians could help.  Another man, homeless himself, talked about losing his job, and also reminisced about his time in the military, when he was respected and given freedom and empowerment of various kinds.  (Inwardly, I wondered and hoped about other, less violent, possibilities for ways people could find empowerment, adventure, and financial stability in their lives, since these things were clearly meaningful to him, as they are to all of us.)  Several other people stopped and talked about other topics.  As usual, I found it fulfilling to listen to whatever was real for people, and to converse about some topics that are meaningful to me.

Afterward, I met with a friend for lunch, and we walked together to the Boston Marathon memorial site.  As it turns out, it is right across from the Boston Public Library.  Both were spots I had considered for sitting with my sign… so now I have an official plan to do so.  Either tomorrow or Tuesday… and on the other of those two days, I will head to Harvard Square.

This evening I met up with some friends I had known in Portland, who now live in Salem.  They are graciously hosting me in their beautiful home; tomorrow I will head back to Boston via the ferry.  What a wonderful adventure this trip is!

The empathy tour begins!

Well, I’ve arrived in Boston!

The heat greeted me as soon as I stepped off the plane, punctuating my arrival on this coast.  I had a lovely conversation with the woman next to me on the plane, a longtime Bostonian originally from Puerto Rico.  She shared some of her life story, and those of her three children – one of whom lives in the Portland area – all of whom have chosen different life paths.

And, I’ve had a wonderfully warm welcome here so far!  My hosts are gracious and fascinating people, with extensive bookshelves full of all kinds of interesting-looking books about topics ranging from animal activism to NVC to polyamory to psychology/personal development to anarchism and all kinds of conscious ways of living.  I doubt I’ll have time to read any of them while I’m here, but it inspires me to simply be surrounded by such books and to know they exist.

One of my hosts, Hillary, treated me to dinner in Cambridge last night (where my father attended MIT in the 1960s) at the Veggie Galaxy restaurant; I hope and plan to return to Cambridge later in the trip.  Perhaps offer some empathy in Harvard Square?

Today I’ll be meeting up with a new friend for lunch, and then staying with a former coworker and her husband in Salem tonight.  I’m looking forward to seeing them.

And – most relevant to this blog, of course – I will be doing my first empathy stint of the tour today!  I’m excited, and a little nervous.  I will be using the same cardboard sign I made, and used, in Portland; after much effort and gnashing of teeth about how I could create a durable, packable, and waterproof sign – using Tyvek, wooden dowels, and tent-seam sealer – I finally realized I could simply fold my existing sign.  Not waterproof… but otherwise packable and fully functional. Duh. 🙂

So… I’m curious to see where I will choose to offer empathy first. Perhaps Boston Common?  And, of course, I’m curious to see how it will be received, and what I will hear.  I imagine it will be similar to Portland: people will be curious, some will want to talk about what I’m doing, and some will want to talk about whatever is on their minds or weighing on their hearts at the moment.  I expect I will receive it all joyfully and curiously.

Let the adventure begin!

An empathy tour!

It’s official! My East Coast Empathy Tour kicks off Saturday, June 1. I’m very excited, and curious as to what it will look like, on the street. The itinerary is as follows: Boston, June 1-4; New York, June 5-7, DC, June 8-12, and Raleigh, June 12-15. If you live in one of these areas – or know someone who does – and you have contacts or suggestions of where I should sit with my sign, I would love to hear from you.

I launched the Indiegogo fundraising campaign two days ago, and I’m so heartened to see people willing to contribute to my dream financially. I’m looking to raise $2500, to cover lost pay and travel expenses, so if you’re able to make even a small donation, I would be very grateful! Perks for contributing include Happy to Listen private empathy sessions and Dream Into Change inspiration/coaching sessions. (You can use them for yourself or a friend, or “pay it forward” so that I can offer a free session to someone who otherwise would not be able to afford it.)

In addition to funding, I am seeking to spread the word about this campaign, so if you can share the Indiegogo link or a link to this blog on your Facebook page or Twitter feed or email list, I would love that! I really want for this tour to help raise awareness of empathy as an important component for personal health and happiness, and cultural health and happiness.

I have been in touch with Edwin Rutsch of the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy, and he and I have been brainstorming about an “empathy bus” that could drive around the United States sometime next year, offering empathy and trainings to folks all around the country who are hungering for this, and even possibly heading to the White House to discuss what President Obama has publicly called a “deficit of empathy” in our culture.

So… there are all kinds of exciting possibilities percolating. I am thrilled to be making my own contribution to the movement by taking this East Coast tour. Thanks to all for your support!

An empathy tour?




I am lit up about a new idea, and I want to share it with you!

I am dreaming up an “empathy tour.”

Empathy has been on my mind a lot lately.  As I have been stepping back a bit and re-envisioning what my Dream Into Change practice might look like from a client’s perspective, I have been focusing more on my Happy to Listen practice.  I really love that work, holding sacred space for people who choose to live consciously to express whatever challenges, triumphs, or explorations are alive for them at any given time.

At the same time that I have been focusing on empathy professionally, I have also been pondering how incredibly important it is for all people, and indeed for healthy communities and our human family on a large scale.  People today are so busy and overwhelmed with life that they have very little time and attention to offer one another.  Of course, this means that they/we are also very limited in the time and attention we are able to receive from one another. People don’t get a chance to express their thoughts and feelings and be truly heard. And this only serves to compound our stress and overwhelm.  On a larger, community scale, it degrades our human bonds.

So I feel inspired to do what I can to address this, on a personal scale.  Several times over the last few weeks, I have taken to the streets of Portland with a sign – modeled after the “free hugs” signs that started popping up a few years ago – that reads, “Need to talk? Free empathy :-)”  I station myself in a pedestrian-heavy spot, and simply sit, for about an hour and a half, offering my ear to those who would like to talk.

It has been deeply rewarding.

People from all walks of life have taken me up on it.  They have talked about all kinds of things, from the concept of empathy itself to actual, often painful, issues in their own lives.  People have cried. People have thanked me for listening.  Many people who have not stopped to talk have given me thumbs-up, shared smiles and words of support and encouragement, and/or photographed me.  Many people have walked by, looked at the sign, and smiled to themselves as they walked on. One person stopped to talk for awhile, then sketched me.  One person, clearly affected by simply seeing me with my sign, said, “Thank you for being here – on behalf of all humanity!”

I think I’ve struck a chord.

So now, I want to take it to the next level.  I want to travel to more cities, listen to more people, and spread the word about empathy.  Perhaps network with local groups – such as NVC practice groups – to set up local empathy circles.  Perhaps offer empathy flash-mobs.  Perhaps hand out fliers with simple instructions on how to listen more deeply and effectively to nourish friends, family, and strangers alike.

You know… start an empathy movement!

And, since I’m dreaming into my own change here – wanting to follow my own bliss while contributing to the greater good – I want to do it in a way that is extra fun and nourishing to me.  This means two things: 1) incorporating train travel, and 2) traveling to places where I can not only connect with strangers, but also spend time strengthening my connections with my own family.  Many of them live on the East Coast.  So, I’m thinking I could fly to Raleigh/Durham, spend a few days there, then take the train to the DC area (how awesome would it be to offer empathy to folks on the steps of the US Capitol?), then get back on the train to New York (which I have always wanted to visit and never have), and finally head up to Boston.  Then fly back to Portland. Empathy everywhere I go.  Enjoying train travel. Connecting with parents, aunt & uncle, cousin, and various friends. Doing some vegan culinary tourism. Blogging about it all… and, if all goes well, beginning to build an empathy movement.

I’m imagining a crowdfunding campaign to cover travel expenses and other costs.

So… what do you think? Do you think this is something the world needs?  Do you have ideas, or contacts in any of those cities?  Would you contribute to a crowdfunding campaign for this tour?  Would you spread the word to your friends and social networks?

I’m a little scared… and very excited!

Some radical honesty

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted.  I’ve been doing some soul-searching about my life and my practice over the last few weeks, after returning from California.  I want to share some of my musings here, since I like to align my internal reality with my external reality as much as possible.

Shortly after my return from vacation, I met with a business coach to talk about my plans for this practice.  The meeting was a bit of a reality check for me.  The coach said my intended timeline for quitting my day job and launching the practice full-time (in early November) was not realistic.  Thinking about it, this made sense to me; I have a few clients, but I’m not far enough along yet to make that leap.  However, this realization felt like a splash of cold water on my California-sun-drenched face.  I was feeling so ready to make a change!

She also told me that in order to be successful on my intended business path, I needed to focus more clearly on my target clients (whom I had been envisioning as people who are thoroughly sick of their paid work and ready to move toward something better aligned with their values and passions) and their specific needs, and focus less on my four areas of interest/passion that I had identified when I started this venture.  I needed to take my own passions and preferences out of the picture, to make way for those of my clients.  I should establish myself as an “expert” for this particular niche:  Offer tips on my website and in email newsletters.  Offer free teleclasses.  Perhaps write a book (electronic or print).  Come up with a step-by-step system to coach people, package it attractively, and build my contact list to gather clients.

From a business perspective, I completely understand and appreciate this advice.  It makes sense.  I have heard similar advice from other knowledgeable sources, such as other career coaches, books, and websites.  This is how one becomes a successful coach these days, it seems.

From the perspective of my heart, soul, and gut, though, I felt uneasy as these ideas sank in.

I do want to help people who are struggling to align their paid work with their values and passions.  But thinking about this prescribed regimen for success did not excite me.  I felt sluggish and reluctant.  Those four passions are deeply, centrally important to me.  Finding/creating my own path is important to me, too.  That’s what I want to encourage others to do: to follow their passions and create their own paths. To find ways to make every day, and every step along the path, worthwhile and enjoyable, rather than steps in a slog toward a hoped-for blissful success at the end.

This is tricky, because I don’t want to fail.  I don’t want to “do it wrong.”  I don’t want to be stuck at my day job forever, trapped by my own stubbornness or an unwillingness to follow a tried-and-true path.  I feel scared and vulnerable talking so openly about these topics here with you now, in front of clients, potential clients, colleagues…  But authenticity and vulnerability are emerging as core values of mine.  And I believe that in showing our vulnerabilities and uncertainties, we also reveal an authentic strength, and a trust in our own truth and our own path.  And I want to work with people who resonate with this truth.

I don’t get excited thinking about myself as a “successful coach.”  I get excited thinking about finding a magical way in the world that is exactly right for me and for the people I know I can work with, support, and inspire.  I know that my clients appreciate what I offer.  I’m beginning to understand myself as someone who sees and appreciates many nuances and complexities of life… and what I want most to do is to hold space for clients to inhabit that glorious messiness in their own lives, on their own paths.  I see myself as a peer and a collaborator who “gets it,” and who is probably at least a few steps farther along the path than my clients are at any given moment, because I live this stuff 24/7.

I see myself as someone who has her own passions, and states them openly.  Who wants to help others who share those passions (or different ones) as they grapple with the challenges, both internal and external, of living those passions, day to day, within the context of paid work or any other life context.

It’s not so much “coaching” that I want to offer. What I want is to support people in asking themselves the questions, and challenging themselves – as I challenge myself – to always stretch, to always believe that creative solutions exist to all problems, to always hold a vision of a better world, and to work consistently toward bringing it about.  That process can be euphoric at times, and deeply satisfying.  It can also be painful, lonely, and fraught with obstacles.  In my Happy to Listen practice, I love to witness people on their conscious paths, and hold space for them to share their truth and emotions, without judgment or advice.  With Dream Into Change, I want to do much the same, but with the added underpinning of the person’s desire to manifest a particular dream, or dreams.  Here, there is more of a focus on movement along a path.

My stated passions represent four examples of areas of life where people might want to work toward their own vision of a better world.  For example, maybe someone is working to integrate Nonviolent Communication into their lives, and they are running into stumbling blocks when practicing with those close to them.  I can offer support and role-plays or other helpful exercises.  Perhaps someone has decided to go car-free, or go vegan, or open up their relationship to become polyamorous… and they are encountering pragmatic obstacles or resistance from family or community members, and need some support.  Or, perhaps they do have a specific dream – such as a new career direction or business idea – that they want to move toward.  I can offer moral and emotional support, collaborative brainstorming, a safe space to cry when things get tough, and community resources, so that no one has to pursue their dream alone.

My dream is to find a way to support myself financially by offering the above.  I don’t seek to be wealthy.  I do want to live comfortably: pay off my mortgage, travel around the country (and world!) by train, eat at wonderful vegan restaurants, give to nonprofits whose missions I support… etc.  I want a mutually satisfying, collaborative relationship with clients. I’m feeling good about the honesty and vulnerability of sharing my messy, work-in-progress dream with you right now. I want all of our dreams to come true… and I believe we can do it.  If you, or someone you know, might want to work with me as a client, or colleague, or collaborator of any sort, I invite you to contact me at I’m dreaming into my own change – whatever the path or pace turns out to be – and I’m excited to help others dream into theirs.

“So you grew up … what do you want to be NOW?”

We had a great time at the Portland workshop in December, so now it’s time to do it again! See details below, and please feel free to publicize the event to friends or email lists.

It happens, right? We find ourselves grownups. (How did that happen?) We may find ourselves in middle age. (Seriously, how did that happen?) Or even retirement age. (I’m not there yet, but I’m guessing I’ll have a similar question when that time of life arrives for me.)

And we think, “Am I doing what I want to be doing with my life?”

If you’re asking that question, and pondering your options and next steps, I invite you to join me for this fun and interactive workshop, exploring your passions and values, and how you can integrate them into the next phase of your life.

Maybe you’ve been working at a “safe” job that pays the bills but does nothing to feed your spirit. Or maybe you’ve been working in a field that once was meaningful or exciting to you, but you sense that you are ready to move on and do something different. Maybe your circumstances have recently changed – loss of a job, or moving to a new city, perhaps – and you want, or need, to start from scratch.

Whatever your situation, this four-hour workshop can help you to reconnect (or maybe connect for the first time) with those things that really bring you alive, and those ways you’d like to spend your time and energy contributing something meaningful to the world. We will be doing individual and group exercises – the synergy of the group adds magic to the process!


Saturday, February 16th, 2:00-6:00 pm. Light snacks will be provided.

The cost at the door is $40; if you register ahead and prepay, it is $33. I am quite sure you will find it to be worth that investment.

Address given upon RSVP. Do so by emailing me at Then if you wish to prepay, you can do so by sending your registration fee via PayPal to the same address.

Wrapping up my trip … and the letter to Amtrak

amtrak-califHey, all! My travels in California are, sadly, drawing to a close. I have had a wonderful trip so far, and I still have two more days to look forward to: tomorrow here in the Bay area, and Saturday on the train back to Portland. I have met some wonderful people through Airbnb, the San Diego Vegans Meetup group, the Dance Jam folks in San Diego and Encinitas, and on the train itself. I look forward to many more such trips in the future, traveling all over the country, and probably into Canada as well.

One mild downside to the trip has been the lack of readily available vegan options on the train. I posted here a few days ago that I would be writing a letter to Amtrak to request more options, and I have just emailed them that letter (at so I thought I would post it here in case it inspires any of you to write as well. I know I’m not the only one who cares about this!

Dear Amtrak,

I am just finishing up my first-ever 15-day-pass vacation, from my native Portland through California, on the Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner. It has been wonderful so far! I have always loved rail travel, and I’m choosing to make it a bigger part of my life. (I’m even blogging about it, at, if you’d like to take a look.)

I’ve been happy with the experience overall, but I do have a request. I would love to see some vegan entrée option on the regular dining car menu. I very much appreciate that you offer a vegan burger in the café, and I enjoyed one last night. I’m also aware that you offer vegan options in the dining car by pre-order. However, I didn’t realize the 72-hour cutoff for ordering them until about 68 hours before my trip began, so it was tricky for me to find adequately filling meals when I got on board. I know I am not the only traveler who would value having vegan items to choose from on the main menu for each meal.

I see that you do offer at least one vegetarian option at each meal. If these options were vegan (no animal products at all, including dairy, eggs, or honey) vegetarians and vegans alike could enjoy it, and there would be no administrative and logistical hurdles for Amtrak nor passengers, such as there are now with the pre-ordering procedure. You might even consider making the vegan options gluten free, as well, to appeal to another growing segment of the population and address two issues simultaneously. (I’m guessing that your vegan chili and dolmas are gluten free, and that the vegan pasta is not.) Options for breakfast might include a tofu scramble with vegetables, or a vegetable hash with home fries. Lunch and dinner could be chili or dolmas, or perhaps a vegetable stir-fry (with or without tofu and/or rice) or a hearty Southwestern salad with tomatoes, corn, beans, and other vegetables. Or any number of other options, of course – these are just a few suggestions.

I plan to do more train travel, and more blogging about it, in the coming years and decades. I would love to let my friends and readers know that their dietary choices will be easily accommodated if they should choose to join me in “riding the rails.”

Thank you for your consideration. I appreciate all that you do.


Maren Souders

OK! Now to head out with some friends to an all-vegan Japanese restaurant (, which will be a first for me. I love traveling!

The power of place

In my junior year of high school, when I was living in my home state of Virginia and looking at colleges, my aunt Susy (who is also my webmaster – hi, Susy!) gave me a very good piece of advice. She said something to the effect of, “As you look at schools, think about where you’d like to end up as an adult. Most people end up settling wherever they go to college. So ask yourself, ‘Do I really want to live in [X city/state/region] for the foreseeable future?’” What she said made sense to me, and I started thinking about where I would most like to live.

It should be urban. The weather should be mild. The attitude should be progressive. I didn’t want to live right near family, but I liked the idea of having them nearby.

portlandThese criteria pointed me in the direction of Portland, Oregon. I did a little more research, and everything I read about Portland made it sound like the right place for me. So, I applied to one college (Lewis & Clark), took one visit to Portland to interview there and take a look the town … and when I was accepted, I moved there virtually sight unseen. That was 22 years ago, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Portland really does fit me, for all the above reasons and more.

At the moment, as you know, I’m vacationing in San Diego, and my intention is to begin living here during the winters – starting next winter – because I want to be surrounded by warm sunshine, rather than bleak rain. (Portland’s singular failing, from my perspective.) This past spring, as I began brainstorming possible new cities, I considered various locales that would be warmer. Once again, I made myself a list of the criteria that were most important to me. This time around, they were: 1) Warm but not too hot, 2) English speaking (I was open to southern-hemisphere destinations), 3) Within an hour of the ocean, 4) Plenty of vegan-friendly restaurants, 5) A thriving ecstatic dance scene, and 6) Good bicycle and transit infrastructure, so that I could continue living car-free.

balboaOn paper, San Diego seemed to fit the bill best, but I had never seen it. So, I hopped on a plane at the end of April to spend a few days surveying the scene. I loved what I saw! In addition to meeting all of my criteria, the city got bonus points for having the incredible Balboa Park right in the middle of town, and having friendly, laid-back people everywhere I went. When I arrived here again on the train yesterday, I was filled with joy, knowing I would be spending the next four days in my soon-to-be seasonal home city.

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the power of place, when it comes to determining our happiness and satisfaction with life. When we live somewhere that doesn’t feel “right” to us, for whatever reason, it clouds our mood much of the time, and leaves us feeling unhappy on a regular basis. By contrast, living in a place that is aligned with our values and preferences leaves us feeling happy and energized much of the time.

I’m curious about readers’ experiences with this. Does your current town or city feel “right” to you? If so, what was your path to arriving there? If not, what criteria does your town not satisfy for you? What would your ideal location look like? What, if anything, is holding you back from moving to that place?


California so far

palm-treeMy California journey is under way!  It is turning out to be less of a working trip, and more of a vacation, than I had envisioned, but I’m finding that I’m OK with that.  There will be plenty of time to work when I return to the winter drear of the Northwest … now is my time to bask in the sun!  Still, I do intend and hope to weave some Dream Into Change work into the remainder of my time in the Golden State.

amtrak-trainmaren-compartmentMy travel on the train so far has been every bit as much fun as I had hoped.  I took the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Portland to San Jose, complete with a sleeping compartment.  Unfortunately, I attempted to reserve my vegan Dining Car meals 68 hours prior to my trip, and they have a 72-hour cutoff, so I missed it.  Fortunately, the dining car staff were pretty accommodating as I cobbled together meals from what was on the main menu.  For example, for two meals I had steamed vegetables, brown rice, and a baked potato – all of which were ostensibly parts of meat-centered meals – which I seasoned with one of the Newman’s “light Italian” or “balsamic vinaigrette” dressing packets they provide to each table.  Not ideal, but workable.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the vegan meals I ordered for the return sleeping-car portion of the journey, in about a week, will be on the train when I board it.

I think I will write a letter to Amtrak, asking them to offer vegan meals on their regular menu, with ingredients they could stock on each train.  (The way it works now, they must request them from an outside vendor when a passenger pre-orders them.)  Each meal on their menu has at least one vegetarian entrée option now, but none are vegan.  It seems to me that this could be easily remedied.  Perhaps after I write the letter, I will post it here in case any of you would like to send a similar one.  I’d love to see more people eating animal-free meals as they ride the rails!

One thing I love about taking the train, vs. driving or flying, is how community-oriented it is.  In the dining car, for example, you are always seated at a table with fellow travelers, and I had some great conversations over meals.  Many rail passengers – especially those in the sleeping-car section – are retirees, with interesting stories of their lives and work.  One thing that struck me, given my interest in helping people to align their values and passions with their paid work, was that many of these folks seem to have done that.  I enjoyed hearing their stories.  I also had lunch one day with a young woman in college who is studying criminal psychology.  We had a great, uplifting conversation about restorative justice.  She had not heard about it, but when I described it, she loved the idea.

Right before I ate with her, I had read an incredibly moving and inspiring article about restorative justice, from the front page of The New York Times. I highly recommend the article, which follows the recent story of a 19-year-old Florida man who killed his 19-year-old girlfriend, and her parents’ decision to forgive him and undergo a healing victim-offender dialogue together.  I am so heartened to see these ideas gaining mainstream media coverage.  I also noticed at various points in the article that NVC-based communication skills could have prevented the tragedy from happening in the first place; it only strengthens my resolve to do everything I can to spread awareness of these two ideas as much as I am able.

On a related topic, on this trip I have also been reading Nancy Mullane’s Life After Murder,which had been recommended to me by a fellow volunteer at the Oregon Prison Project.  Mullane is an NPR reporter who followed the stories of five men convicted of murder, who had been serving life sentences in California prisons.

santa-cruz-woodsvegan-mealamtrak-stationIt is an eye-opening look at how “normal” people who commit violent crimes can be, as well as at the flaws in our justice system and the California Department of Corrections (and the governor’s office), with respect to actually meeting the needs of safety in the community while recognizing the humanity, and ability to change, of many of these inmates.  I recommend the book.

I arrived in Santa Cruz late Sunday morning, and enjoyed spending time with my friend, and gracious host, Lisa.  We went to the beach, the woods, and several vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants, and had a lovely time.  I had hoped to also lead a workshop in Santa Cruz, and Lisa had helped me to publicize it; but the enrollment was low, so I needed to cancel it.  Perhaps just as well, because I came down with a cold, too.

On Tuesday morning, she took me to the bus mall in downtown Santa Cruz, where I hopped a comfortable, wifi-equipped bus back to San Jose and the Amtrak station.

I got on the train, and had another, totally unexpected, community connection: for my coach ticket between Santa Cruz and LA, I was seated next to a woman who has worked for the state PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups for many years.  I worked for OSPIRG, and a couple of related groups, for many years myself.  We knew several people in common, and talked about politics, progress, and idealism. Totally unexpected connection.  So glad I took the train!

sunset-600sunset-600-2After our chat, she had work to do, so I spent most of that journey in the sightseer lounge car, enjoying the scenery of rolling hills and, eventually, the Pacific Ocean at sunset.

Now I’m in Los Angeles, for my first time ever!  I’ve lost my voice with the cold, which is a bit surreal; but I’ve been enjoying the sunshine, the beach, and – of course – some great vegan restaurants.  My cousin Nathalie has been a wonderful host, and I’ve enjoyed spending time with her after many years apart.  Today, I had lunch and caught up with a former Portland ecstatic-dance community friend; tonight, I am looking forward to dining with a friend from high school whom I have not seen since our graduation night in Virginia, 22 years ago!

Wonderful trip so far.  Tomorrow: San Diego!