Juggler's World: Vol. 42, No. 2


Juggling Playfully

by Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.

You've probably been asked, "What is it about juggling that fascinates you so?" Of course there is the alternative - "Haven't you got something better to do?" It's been my experience that the neighbors are soon rather used to seeing what I can do. "Used to" is actually just a kinder and gentler way of saying, "sick and tired of," in most cases.

If we don't do this for others, what compels us to continue? The answer is simple; we like to play. Now, I don't mean play as in golf or tennis or cards. I mean to play as does a child without rules or plans. Donaldson calls play "a pattern of trust within a web of relationships of which one is part," and "a combination of meticulous attention to detail and spontaneity." Sounds like juggling to me.

Adults persistently attempt to return to the wonderful sense of play that they knew as children but commonly mutate it into contest. This may include rules, time limits, uniforms, referees, standings, traveling squads, fans, fan clubs, trainers, team physicians, drug testing and enforced rehabilitation.

This is not play.

Practice in juggling reminds me of the struggle that Herrigel speaks of in his classic Zen In the Art of Archery. He describes his difficulty with the release of the bowstring, either jerking it or being overcome with fatigue. His master tells him, "You must hold the drawn bowstring like a little child holding the proffered finger. When it lets the finger go there is not the slightest jerk. Completely unself-consciously, without purpose, it turns from one (thing) to the other, and we would say that it was playing with the things were it not equally true that the things were playing with the child. Your difficulty lies in that you are not waiting for fulfillment, but bracing yourself for failure."

When I'm trying a new maneuver I find that my greatest difficulty is in letting go of the prop. I mean it's like glued into my hand, and the closer I get to the point of release the more terrified I become.

It is gripping.

By contrast, my efforts to catch are almost immediately spontaneous, even joyful and acrobatic. Sometimes even successful! The distinction between my attitude toward throwing and catching is a reflection of the difference between play and contest. I improve when my throwing becomes as playful, as fearless and joyful as my catching. I stop "bracing myself for failure" and I am fulfilled.

We begin to play when we let go of fear, when our movement is no longer "a matter not of effort, but of grace." When my passing partner begins to anticipate my throws with the composure and eagerness of a child, I know why I juggle. It affords me an opportunity to trust others, my props and myself. A rare moment in anyone's life.

When we teach others to juggle it would probably be a good idea to offer it as a demonstration of true play. We are universally drawn to seek such activity. The juggler has found it.

Suggested Reading

Juggling Playfully / Index, Vol. 42, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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