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Yesterday I was thinking about what motivates people to action, and it led me to reflect on values and the role they play in these matters. I pulled out the results of a values / signature strengths survey from UPenn that I took earlier this year at the suggestion of one of my mentors. Here are the top 5 that showed up for me:

Your Top Strength: Curiosity and interest in the world
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Your Second Strength: Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Your Third Strength: Zest, enthusiasm, and energy
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.

Your Fourth Strength: Forgiveness and mercy
You forgive those who have done you wrong. You always give people a second chance. Your guiding principle is mercy and not revenge.

Your Fifth Strength: Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

These sound pretty accurate to me, though I do feel compelled to mention that the oft-mentioned values of honesty, bravery, and justice do show up a little further down the list! I’ve thought about how these core values have led me to certain choices in my life- for the most part, with hindsight, it’s all pretty clear. I think this week I’m going to turn it around and imagine what I might choose based on my awareness of these values. That could be interesting. Hope it doesn’t kill me.

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I passed the test and got my motorcycle riding permit today. I suppose the next thing to do is buy a bike. I’m thinking about a Honda Shadow 650, but I need to go ride one and see how it fits. Preferably black. My neighbor Alan rides a Ducati and talked to me for 30 minutes today about what to look for in a used bike, how to test it, and the benefits of track days to build skills and confidence. That was really helpful. I’ve never had so much to talk to him about, and we’ve lived across the street from each other for almost 10 years.

When I got home from the riding class and test, my other neighbor Mindy went with me on a walk to town center. After the round trip of about 4 miles, I poured myself a Guinness and sat in the backyard to read and relax. That lasted about 20 minutes, and then I got in the hammock to really stretch it out. Of course I fell asleep instantly, and in the full sun got quite a good sunburn during the TWO HOURS I was comatose.

Naps, neighbors, backyards, and bikes. It feels like a good start to the season!

My daughter, Grace, caught me on a good one yesterday. Her brothers are away from home right now, so we’re the only ones here. Walking by the microwave, she suddenly shouted “IT’S YOU!” and turned to confront me as I walked in from the dining room to see what caused the commotion.

“Someone keeps stopping the microwave with just 7 or 3 or 12 seconds to go, and they never reset the time. It just drives me crazy!” she said. Since this incident, she has actually caught me two more times. This is really funny, and it’s the kind of thing that might bug me too, if someone else were doing it. She’s been peeved by this for some time, and thought it was a dopey brother, and instead it’s me! We’re both laughing about it now.

Why would I do such a thing? I have no idea. So now I’m watching myself, and I’m seeing a few things. It has to do with being in a rush, and figuring the last few seconds aren’t that important to the heating process. So I reach in and grab, shut the door and run. The clock on the microwave is not my primary time check, so I guess I never noticed it.

One of my techniques for years in running a household of 5 people is to leave a note as a reminder when necessary, so today I’ve put a note (“RESET”) to myself on the microwave. God, I hope it works. I sort of feel like my credibility is at stake in a way I’ve never experienced before.

I’m also going to discipline myself to wait for 0 as much as humanly possible. What’s 3 seconds? It’s kind of pathetic that I feel a gain of that much time is important. Yikes. Definitely time to slow down. But I still want a motorcycle.

“At the end of the day, I got no problems with your riding skills whatsoever.” This Rhode-Islandish pronouncement was made by Bob, the riding coach, at the end of my 5-hour session on the motorcycle range today. It means I have the OK to attend session two next week. And I’m glad, because it was a complete blast. I loved the machine, I loved riding the machine, the other 8 people in the class and the 2 coaches were just a riot, and my new jacket was just right.

At the end of the day, I have no problem whatsoever with getting back on the range next week. And now I’m thinking that maybe I’ll forego a new car in the fall and just buy a bike early this summer. Practice makes perfect, after all; I’m not hot shit yet, but maybe I can get to lukewarm by August if I work on it…

Here’s a picture of the Honda Rebel I got to ride today (little, but really fun):

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Tomorrow morning at 7 am I will learn to ride a motorcycle. I took the classroom instruction and passed the written test, and now it’s time to get on a bike and see if I can handle it. Five hours tomorrow, and another 5 next weekend. And then another test.

It’s put my mind on tests today: how I meet challenges in my life, what makes me nervous, how I behave when I’m up against it, whatever “it” might be. I’m not talking about a test of the intellect or of the body. The motorcycle tomorrow is easy. I’m talking about tests of the spirit, the kinds of tests that you feel might change the course of your life. The ones you don’t usually get to prepare for. The big ones that don’t make you feel excited or bound for victory, just sort of angry or anxious and a little sick.

And while thinking about this today, two things came to the surface. One is that I often have a physical reaction of intense fatigue and sleepiness when I’m moving through one of these kinds of situations. It’s like my body wants to check out, disengage, be anywhere but here. It’s strange! But it’s a sure sign that something’s up. It’s almost like a defensive hibernation of sorts.

The second thing that I examined is how I react to the fatigue. To pull myself out of the coma, I seem to instinctively move into the “it”. Whatever is challenging me, the closer I can get to it, the sooner it’s solved. It’s Frodo heading into Modor. Not where I really want to be, but I know it’s the only way to reach resolution. It’s like this: if I can move in close to whatever is triggering my sense of challenge, the emotions of nervousness, anger, frustration, or outrage; if I can, in fact, merge with it in some way, embrace it, then it ceases to challenge. It becomes something that is me instead of something that is against me.

When it’s a person, it means letting go of my notion of otherness, and exercising empathy. Where are they? What is their motivation? How do they see me? Where is the common ground?

If it’s a situation (this week, work has been a real challenge) then I have to push other things aside and grab into the difficult parts first. See how I can work with them and see small improvements. Acknowledge that every experience is a learning opportunity. Laugh at how predictable my responses can be.

When things start feeling like they’re coming undone, it’s a good time to see myself from that third party perspective and take note of my reactions, my emotions, my patterns of behaviour. It’s an opportunity, I think, to recognize what I have in common with most other people in the world. And once I can see something about myself, I instantly have a choice about either remaining the same or changing in some way.

My friend sent me a great poem today, and it fits with my thoughts so well:

Does one really have to fret
About enlightenment?
No matter what road I travel,
I’m going home.

-Shinsho

I usually find that these people and situations and the really messy things of life are the exact teachers I need no matter what road I seem to be on. They are like mirrors that throw a picture right up in my face, if I dare to look: the me that I prefer most not to see – angry, righteous, falling short, judgmental, insecure or anxious woman. But what I find is that when I do look, it’s not all that bad. It can even be sort of funny. And having looked, the whole situation changes. Instantly. And that’s always good.

I’m excited about wearing my new jacket and helmet tomorrow. When you have a test, it sure doesn’t hurt to look real good.

My first visit to Chicago last weekend wasn’t that windy, but getting ready to take a few days off and then coming back this week did feel like a whirlwind. It’s a beautiful city, and we had a fantastic time. Good blues, food, museums, and shows, Chicago has it going on.

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