PICKING 'EM UP

Barrett L. Dorko, P.T.


          For a couple of years in my youth I was a boy scout, and I remember that when the scout leader held up three fingers, we were to follow suit and grow quiet.

          Last night I attended a cub scout meeting and watched the pack leader hold aloft the two-fingered cub scout sign in an effort to settle down the shifting mass of little boys. His gesture had no effect, and in frustration he said loudly, "What does this mean?" Several in the front eagerly piped up. "Peace!" they said. And then they went back to their raucous play.

          I was there to put on a demonstration of juggling and to teach a little. You might think that this task is remarkably different from my usual teaching and clinical work, but I don't think so.

          To a meeting like this I wear ordinary clothing, and point out to the scouts that I'm not dressed in a clown outfit or brightly colored tights. "Jugglers," I say, "are ordinary people who have simply decided to do an extraordinary thing. We take something that normally sits still and lifeless and make it appear alive. Whether we do this with a single object or several, it's all juggling."

          When I begin a workshop for therapists I try to emphasize the ordinary nature of my practice. I see garden-variety neck and backache, my referral sources shift around well beyond my control, most of my patients have no idea that I practice in a non- traditional fashion. People come in expecting to spend time lying still while I heat or rub them. My appearance is common and my manner quiet and formal.

          I tell my classes that my skill with patients is a function of my understanding, that it doesn't really reside in my hands, but in my head. I know the materials that I'm handling, what they are capable and incapable of, what responses can be predicted and what I can never know for sure.

          Similarly, my juggling props have a weight and balance that is very familiar to me. Ideally, my effort produces a movement that I can follow and catch. I repeat that or change it slightly in order to give this inanimate object the appearance of life.

          Of course, it doesn't always work out as I had planned. I drop things or throw them to a place I hadn't expected to. This is the nature of the art, and practice involves learning not to do that, again and again.

          More importantly, practice involves picking up the prop as many times as is necessary so that your learning can begin again. The very moment you make actual contact, it starts. I tell the scouts, "The difference between jugglers and non-jugglers is that jugglers keep picking up their props. Non-jugglers let them remain on the floor."

          When my students handle people as I suggest, they find within what they had thought to be a still and quiet body movement that is both surprising and helpful. With the right kind of touch, the body displays an animation we had previously been unaware of and now we must simply work to follow and order it in a fashion we know to be therapeutic. How well we do this is not dependent upon the skill of our hands, but our understanding of the human body.

          Often enough, there is a sudden cessation of change. The patient lacks enough understanding or self-trust to continue once we've let go. It is as if the juggling props have unexpectedly landed on the floor. In juggling we call this "a sudden gust of gravity."

          At this point many of my students tend to give up. They wonder what to do and their newfound "skill" seems no longer adequate. I tell them, "Pick up the patient once again, and see if they don't come alive as they did before."

          I left the scout meeting while all the kids were flinging tennis balls around the room. I felt that the scout master could handle it.

          All he has to do is wave two fingers above his head.