Holly says, "You can do it," and something changes inside of me

A Door-buzzer at an Apartment in Pisa, Italy
Susan Michael Barrett, photographer.

“You can do it,” Holly says. 

The words sound like staccato dings on the side of a pinball game. 

(I'm in yoga class and our beloved yoga teacher Becky Klett has just called out the next pose: “Prepare for the upward wheel pose.”) I’m afraid of that pose, and instead raise my butt off the ground (into bridge pose) while others lift into the full posture. 

Holly lifts her body with feather-lightness, holds, and sets herself down. She sits up and looks over at me. 

“You’ve done much harder things. You can do it.” 

I look at her. (She is a close friend. She knows that I have done harder things. She knows about my son’s unexpected passing and of my illness challenge.) With a wave of her hand she says, “You can do it.” 

She sounds like she is stating a fact.

So I set my hands and align my feet as I have in the past. But this time I go up. Without struggle. With lightness. The ease surprises and delights me.

I come down and do it again. And again.

This is a significant event in my life. Its importance is not that I do a pose that is difficult for me. What matters is what happens to my thinking. I wonder what is present in me that makes what seems impossible possible. 

I’ve been practicing yoga for about a decade. My physical body is adequately prepared for the pose and has been for a long time. My muscles are strong and flexible.

So what is it that makes this backbend possible now? What happened that is different? I think I know.

I felt startled.
My friend’s message startled me. It was a forced awareness. Like being on a walk when a crow caws. With a fuller presence, I stop and look up at the bird.  

I believed her. 
I have a history of adapting to, overcoming, and surviving challenging experiences. Why wouldn’t I be able to do a backbend?

I enlarged my view.
When things are hard, I tend toward habitual thinking: You know, “I’m too inflexible. Too old. My hands will slip and I’ll break my neck. I can’t. Why try?” So, when my friend says, “You can do it,” she’s saying that I can put down whatever inner burden I’m obsessing about and connect to a larger perspective. I realize that I can simultaneously be scared and believe I can do wheel pose. 

I connect with teachings about now.
I’ve read the phrase “you can do it” in books by Pema Chödrön (Awakening Loving-Kindness) and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (The Sacred Path of the Warrior). They both say that this phrase is about becoming aware and taking a bigger perspective as a path to being awake and alive, curious about the present.

I can choose to put down whatever burden I’m carrying and become aware of when my thoughts, beliefs, words, or actions hold me hostage. When I’m scared and thinking I can’t do a wheel, when I think I’m unable to go into the market and ask for lime remover for the washing machine, in Italian, or find the bus to Siena, on time, this Saturday—well, these are hostage situations. The result? I shut down. To possibility. To the good that is available.

Okay. The “you can do it” message from my friend came several years ago. But I’m remembering it today for another reason. 

I’m thinking about how I believe that my life’s work is to use what I’ve been given. “It doesn’t matter what you're given, whether it’s physical deformity, or enormous wealth or poverty, beauty or ugliness, mental stability or mental instability, life in the middle of a madhouse or life in the middle of a peaceful, silent desert. Whatever you’re given can wake you up or put you to sleep. That’s the challenge of now” (Pema Chödrön).

I think about how much meditation practice it takes to be awake in the moment. 

Just today I stood at the top of a hill looking out at the beauty of a Tuscan valley. I was present for a few breaths. And then, as I continued to stand there, I realized that I began thinking about getting to the market to buy vegetables for soup, and getting to the university to get on-line to pay bills in Florida. But as soon as I noticed that I strayed, I reopened to being right there on the hill looking out. 

Pema reminds me that it takes diligence to come back to the moment. It takes practice to be open and curious. When I do that, I’m saying yes to letting the moment teach me what it will.