There are many ways to make your life better. Motorcycling is right at the top of the list as Irene found out.
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: Irene Hofling
It was an early summer morning when I looked out the window and saw two people park their motorcycles; when they took of their helmets and I saw their smiles, heard their never-ending chattering about their early morning drive and somehow sensed their glow from head to toe – I walked down the street and signed up for motorcycle classes. I am not sure if it was the smiles of the motorcyclists I wanted a piece of in my life, if it was the glow and sense of freedom, or if perhaps it was just the desire to ride a motorcycle. In any case, I sure was not ready for what I would discover about myself in the coming riding lessons – not at all! Never in my life did I ever believe that a piece of machine would show me life’s greatest mysteries and teach me the knowledge of myself.
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Some 15 years ago I got my motorcycle licence in the US, after I watched the film “Long way around”, and it got me totally hooked on the idea to go motorcycling in Mongolia. I got my license and a Honda, drove three times and then life took a 180 degree turn. My life turned to divorce, taking care of my dying mother and her finally dying in my arms – which had me spinning in self-doubt, self-depletion, and self-pity for 10 years. During the divorce I moved back to my home country to take care of my mother who was dying, and in Sweden a US driving license is not recognised as a legal license which meant that my dream of riding a motorcycle to Mongolia got deleted in the same program, somewhere in my soul, where I also had deleted my own happiness, curiosity, and belief in my own worthiness.
Learning to ride
As I sat down on the seat of the motorcycle the first day of riding classes, my teacher Micke said, “Ok, we will just see how it goes, and take it from there.” Great, I thought to myself, I know what to do, I remember this even though it has been 15 years, and I got this! My words were nothing but empty circuits in the brain, speaking no truth whatsoever, and faster than I could reply “OK” to Micke, I was down on the ground with the motorcycle on top of me. My foot pinched underneath the bike and my toes were fast turning from pink to black and blue. I stood up, pushed the bike back up, and all I could hear was Micke’s words “Take it from there” – which clearly meant from the depths, from scratch, from the bottom up, from the very beginning. Tears streaming down my face I felt stupid for having showed my weakness, I felt lost, I felt as low on the food chain as I possibly could. The monster of self-doubt would soon come and eat me. But something different inside of me was stirring, something had a different tone of voice inside of me and I cued in on the motorcycle which was gently humming a song of friendship, and I got back on – with a throbbing foot I dried the tears off my face, put my hands on the handlebar. I realised there and then that I was at the bottom and from hereon I can only go up. I kept riding with my heart completely exposed, tenderised by failure, just like my foot which earlier had been tenderised by the fine engine of a Yamaha 700.
How do chameleons learn?
Second class opened up a part of me which I both curse and at the same time I am proud to have: the ability to adapt, to follow, to become a chameleon in whatever life throws at me. It is a great strength to have because it makes for less resistance to new things in life. It is a curse when it comes to having to take control, to say stop, to say no, to steer life towards my own goals and desires. The curse comes when I have to ask myself the questions: how do I say no? How do I say stop? How do I steer life towards my own goals, do I even know what my goals are?
It became very clear to me that I am a chameleon to what life throws at me when the goal of the class was to make figure of 8 turns. Micke calls out: “Look where you want to go, the motorcycle will follow.” Sound easy, right? But not for someone like me who has been following other people’s wants and desires my whole life, never having asked myself what it is I want or where I want to go in life. I find my eyes looking at something in the distance, in all reality it is just a blur, and there is no determination in my look or the desire to actually follow through. I have to say, and most of all feel – THIS IS THE WAY I AM GOING. I have to lead, I have to show the way, I have to make something else follow me. I have to make a motorcycle follow me, and I have to be the leader. A concept that is hard for me to grasp, but the motorcycle gently hums away, waiting patiently for me in every turn to shift my wisdom about myself to action.
Driving with some speed down the road, on my third class, time stopped for a moment; I felt as if the road was moving underneath me – not me moving on the road. My body told me that something was happening inside of me because tears started to well up. It took me a moment to understand the feeling, to get a handle of what my body on a motorcycle was telling me. These were tears of happiness, but boy oh boy did it hurt that this feeling was so foreign to me. How long ago was it since I felt happy? How long ago was it that I truly felt like I was listening to my own feelings and felt joy? I parked the motorcycle after the lesson, took off my helmet and placed it alongside with my deepest gratitude on top the motorcycle. I looked at my teacher and the motorcycle and said thank you – thank you for stirring up something so essential as the human right to feel a deep and satisfying happiness – basically to be able to feel alive!
When my mother died in my arms, I was in awe of the opposite of what just had happened in the face of death – life. The same awe was so present and alive when giving birth to my three sons. Life is such a gift, life is filled with a sense of awe if we just let it. Just the fact that I myself was still born, not breathing for 10 minutes when I came out to greet the world, is a miracle in and of itself. That mystery of life, that place and feeling inside of us that somehow we cannot point a finger on and say: “This is it!” We lose words to describe it, we grasp for ways to contain it, we in vain try to express the place inside of us where we feel it. It is that same place that is filled when we look at a piece of art, or listen to music which has us totally mesmerised. Or find ourselves on top of a mountain and just stare into the horizon as it takes our breath away. That place inside of us that gets touched by characters in a movie even though we know that is not real; yet we take the feeling they create into our hearts as if it is reality. We get mesmerised, we get inspired, we zoom out for a moment and take in the larger picture of life. We are awestruck.
Awestruck is what I am at what an engine, two wheels and a handlebar has done for me and my sense of self. I am still taking classes, and every time I celebrate afterwards, and at the same time I have to check my inner voices about who I am and what I am about – and if they are based on reality or if it is just old patterns that can be changed at the same pace as I shift gears on the motorcycle? So far in my classes my self-doubt has slowly turned into humbleness, self-depletion has slowly turned into self-actualisation, and self-pity has just blown of my shoulders in the wind riding down the road.
So, if you are feeling a bit lost in life, want to expand your knowledge about yourself and find your own inner wisdom, I highly recommend you sign up for motorcycle classes. If you already have your licence, I would like to open up the possibility to have you as a rider look more closely at what it is that drives YOU while on a motorcycle. I envision, and I could be wrong, but perhaps when we are more at peace with who we are, and where we are in life, we become more conscious riders and therefore safer riders. It might not be the ticket to becoming Gandalf or Yoda, but quite possibly it could lead to finding out something about yourself that you in the end will call wisdom.
Who is Irene
Irene Hofling is an award-winning short story writer, who has an appetite for adventure and anything that will spark her curiosity towards life and its great mysteries. Irene grew up in the mountains of north Sweden, but has lived most of her adult life in the US and Alaska.
Irene is currently back in her native mountains, working with wintertime motorsports and keeping busy with her own projects within writing, fitness, and art. She has a degree in health and fitness, and has worked as an instructor/teacher/coach within health and wellness since 1998.
When not riding a motorcycle, you will most likely find Irene at a mountain top where she enjoys both writing, working out, creating art work, and even enjoying a splash or two of whisky.