| I write successfully for publication at least once a week, and often meet people who would dearly love to see even one of their efforts in print. They feel they just don’t have the will to write enough, or well enough. They ask me my “secret.”
I tell them, “Write until you cry.”
The annual convention of the International Juggler’s Association met in Pittsburgh during the first week in August. Over 1,300 people from all over the world gathered to learn and teach, perform and watch. For several days I watched them, juggled with them, and listened to them talk.
While a detailed account of this and similar events may be found elsewhere,1 I wanted to confine this to a simple assemblage of thoughts; thoughts of what this passionate art might have in common with therapy, and what each of us might gain from it.
Children watch, but unamazed- to them, nothing is impossible. Babies, unimpressed with acrobats and jugglers, watch other babies. From the poem "Big Apple Circus, Lincoln Center, NY" by Sabra Fenske
Watching six hundred or so people throwing objects in the air, bouncing them on the floor, or rolling them across their bodies, is both bewildering and fascinating. If I focus on the smallest aspect of this chaos, I can sense a commitment to learning that far exceeds any ordinary classroom.
This isn’t a place where any discussion of an act lasts very long. Jugglers seek failure. By that I mean that they know every trick has a certain number of misses in it before it may be repeated successfully. They don’t want to waste time talking of succeeding when it might be better spent actually failing to perform the act.
Consider the difference between an infant’s and adult’s method of learning. Feldenkrais states, “Babies repeat each novel action clumsily at their own rate until they have enough of it. This occurs when our intention to act feels the same as its performance. The adult learning to play tennis or golf repeats until he feels that his achievement should be approved by others, or by actually winning”.2 When you watch a gathering of veteran learners such as this, you begin to notice the things they have in common, and I can tell you that this group knows that they must learn as infants do.
I I am I am going to I am going to pick I am going to pick it I am going to pick it up I am going to pick it up and I am going to pick it up and try I am going to pick it up and try again. From "New Prop" by Raphael Harris
I can keep my eye on more than one body at a time; the trick is in not becoming attached to what will drop you. From "The Juggler's Daughter" by Anita Endrezze
There is something each experienced juggler knows; it’s not about catching, it’s about letting go. Having taught many others to juggle myself, I know what it’s like to help them overcome the gripping of the prop. Watch a toddler hanging onto the mother’s hand when encouraged to move toward play with others. That look of anticipation combined with the desire for stability and relative comfort is clear in the face, and this conflict is evident in the disparity between what the child says, and what their body indicates that it truly wants.
Similarly, patient’s with a history of painful movement have to somehow be encouraged to extend, to lengthen, to find some alternate or newly discovered path toward movement from the center. Feldenkrais points out that fear and anxiety elicit an overall pattern of flexion, of withdrawal.3 This is, in his opinion, directly related to our innate response to falling or sudden descent. This is something a newborn will display long before it could have been learned.
I walk about this crowd of people courageous enough to repetitively let go, and I can see how they’ve become intimately connected to the props. They “feel” their flight and safe landing. And when they fall, in a sense, so does the juggler. Instead of gripping at that moment, they’ve learned somehow to extend their hand and then soften it in order to facilitate the acceptance and the cradling that prepares it for letting go again.
I wonder. How might the same lessons in precision, expansion in the face of failure, and persistent, faithful effort be helpful in virtually any disability?
"My love of the human manipulation of inanimate objects overshadows everything else." Art Jennings - Founder, International Juggler's Association
David Deeble can kick a coin from the toe of his shoe and catch it perfectly in his eye socket, appearing suddenly to have acquired a monocle. “All you need to do this,” he says, “is fifty cents and about three years of free time on your hands.”
When he sustained a severe blow to his forehead several years ago, he was a top performer and had worked regularly since his childhood. According to him, “I’ve never had a real job.”
What he initially considered merely a lump to be treated with ice and a little rest turned out to be a frontal lobe lesion that affected the use of his right arm rather profoundly.
No longer able to supinate normally, he had to abandon many of the tricks he had spent years perfecting, and found himself dependent on his non-dominant hand to do things most of us would not consider possible with our good one.
Today his act is both elegant and subtle. He tells me that the trauma of his loss was overcome by a movement toward those aspects of performance that required less technical skill and a more personal connection with his audience. The timing of his words has improved as he demands less of his body.
When David speaks of his problems with proprioception, he alludes to the writing of the neurologist Oliver Sacks. He read A Leg To Stand On (Summit Books, 1984); Sacks’ personal account of his prolonged recovery from a severe injury that left him with massive and disturbing strength and sensory deficits.
Sacks’ horror at his disability paralyzed him even further. But as he examined the root of each emotion, he found within him the will to move again, and he discovered that his recovery grew when he joyfully and spontaneously entered movement with a combination of interest, effortlessness and tenacity.
David Deeble remained on the stage, and found some way through his frustration and fear by growing closer to the essence of every juggler. That is, a person willing to seek some motion that their heart wants more than they can explain.
To do what they do, jugglers are willing to engage frustration enough to evoke anger, despair, and even tears. They do it anyway, because, for them, the alternative; to not do it, is worse.
As I wandered through this wildly kinetic mass in Pittsburgh, I thought of how this same attitude would be so helpful within our patients. But even more, I wondered what would happen if this kind of passion was common among those who practiced therapy.
Maybe then, we would discover what therapy can truly offer.