Juggling -- and What It Can Do for You

by John Ahlbach

There Is a Gift Inside of You

I never gave juggling much thought until a few years ago. Juggling was something other people did, the ones who could also draw, write books, run marathons, or whistle exact melodies. Hey, your are either born with the gift to do those things or you're not, right?

And I used to think people who would tell me that I could do all those things were obnoxious. I never gave them the satisfaction of reading their brochures with their cutesie titles. "Listen," I wanted to tell them, "I like myself the way I am. I can't juggle (draw, paint or whistle). I tried it, and I am just not good at it. So leave me alone!"

Well, people change don't they. A while back I decided I really wanted to learn to juggle, and so I suspended my beliefs about juggling for a while and gave it a real chance. It took me three weeks (I was a hard case), but it worked! Wow! Who would have ever thought it? I felt like juggling was a gift I had found for myself.

Now look what I've become, a "cutesie" brochure write. If you find me obnoxious, I will not blame you. But it you really want to juggle, I would ask that you trust me, suspend your beliefs, and be prepared to find there is a wonderful gift inside of you that you never knew was there.

A Definition

Many people fail to learn to juggle or give up trying to learn because they conceive of it as more than it really is. Juggling is not magic, nor is it a very complex maneuver.


The First Bag

Get three beanbags (or small balls if those are unavailable). Take one bag (or any object) and throw it from one hand to the other as if there was an upside-down "V" or mountain in front of you. Don't worry about the height. Keep your eye on the bag. Now, as it leaves your hand, say the word "Throw" out loud so that saying it and doing it become the same thing. (This will make you look and sound silly, but those people around you who are laughing won't be laughing in a minute when you know how to juggle and they do not).

The Second Bag

Now take one bag in each had (and don't panic). Keep telling yourself that the ability to juggle is just inside you waiting to come out.

Imagine a large "X" in front of you. You are going to throw the bags along these lines. (Juggling happens in straight lines, not circles. Remember that juggling is about Throwing. This means you do not have to concentrate on catching the bags. Your mind will do that for you. (Your brain is a lot smarter than you think.) This makes it only half the problem you thought it was, doesn't it?

There are three steps to juggling; each one is said out loud as it happens: THROW, WATCH (or WAIT), THROW.

Throw the bag from your right hand (or left hand) up along the "X" (saying "Throw" out loud) and watch it -- do nothing! (You do this because, as soon as that bag left your hand, your mind almost panicked. You have to give it something else to do before the next throw.) When you see the bag reach its highest point and start to fall towards you other hand, throw the other bag up in the air along the other side of the "X", saying "Throw" again. The catching will take care of itself. In fact, to take a suggestion fro Gelb and Buzan (see note at end), I would suggest you don't even try to catch them the first few times -- just let them drop. When you do catch them, you'll notice the second catch takes place long after the first one. Go ahead, try it and then come back.

How was it? If you are pretty normal, what you probably just did is throw one bag up in the air, pass the second bag over and throw it up with the same hand. Right? A lot of people do that. Don't worry. You still have a belief that juggling must somehow happen in a circle. This time just let go of that belief and let the process happen. Don't think about it; just follow the steps one at a time.

There, wasn't that better. When you have caught both bags, congratulations, you have just juggled. I'm not kidding. If you can juggle two bags, you can juggle three. When juggling three bags, there is really only one bag in the air at any one time.

The Third Bag

Practice with two bags for a long time, until "throw/watch/throw" becomes very comfortable for you. Then add the third bag by throwing it up in the air BEFORE the other two. Watch it until it reaches its highest point and then just do your regular "throw/watch/throw" with the other two bags. You might let the bags just drop the first few times, as per Gelb and Buzan.

You might get stuck for a time keeping these bags going, but I promise, if you hang in there, it will come eventually.

Hints to Help You on Your Way.

Do not expect to learn to juggle right away. With some people it takes time. (It took me three weeks.) Think of it this way: each time you pick up the bags, you'll be closer to juggling effortlessly.

I urge you to practice for no more that five minutes at any one time. This will help you exercise patience and will prevent you from reinforcing mistakes when you are tired.

Practice to music. And stand next to a couch or bed to prevent having to bend down to pick up the bags each time.

If you are throwing the bags too far out away from you, stand in front of a wall and juggle.

What Next?

Juggling is a great skill to have around children. Practice juggling when the third bag is thrown to you and ask children to do this. Take three different children's toys or stuffed animal and juggle them.

Juggling makes that ordinary trip to the produce market a real adventure.

Take on new tricks. Throw one bag underneath your leg.

Take on new objects. Juggling clubs can be found in most toy or magic stores. These only look hard.

You, the Juggler

YOU ARE NOW A JUGGLER! You are a part of an ancient tradition of true artists who have amazed people throughout the ages. I told you in the beginning, juggling is not magic. That is correct. But you can take credit for pulling off some magic inside yourself. You have hung in there and unraveled one of nature's most delightful secrets. You may now go about solving those other mysteries in your life with a lot more confidence. You have mastered something you thought beyond your ability, and opened a new world for yourself. What other talents and abilities, what other worlds have you wanted to explore? Perhaps one or more of these are within your grasp and you do not know it.

You can bring much joy to others with this new gift you have. They will wonder at you. (You know it's not magic, but they don't.) After a time, you can let your friends in on the secret an teach them the art of juggling.

After all, there is always room for another magician.

For an excellent and enriching guide to juggling and life, get the book Lessons from the Art of Juggling: How to Achieve Your Full Potential in Business, Learning, and Life, by Michael J. Gelb and Tony Buzan.

added January 11, 1997