Heirs to Still

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Heirs to Still

I began my osteopathic training in 1971. However, it was only in the second half of the 1990s that I truly encountered Still, upon reading (or more accurately, attempting to read), and then translating Autobiography and Philosophy of Osteopathy.

The encounter came as a great shock. Based upon what I had heard from others (and remembered) about Still, I was expecting to be bored stiff by seriously outdated ideas and theories. Yet, though his writings are admittedly dated and hard to read (Still was arguably not a great scholar), the breath and spirit of osteopathy, as Still understood, embodied and wanted to share it, overflows from each page. And as I came to this realization, it dawned on me that since the beginning of osteopathy’s development in France, we were cut off from its roots, and were therefore receiving and transmitting an “inanimate” form of osteopathy.

This disconnection was significantly exacerbated by the hunger for recognition that drove many osteopaths to both adopt a “scientific” approach, in order to please and be acknowledged by the powers that be, and seek to minimize other (no less essential) aspects of osteopathy, in particular its philosophical, not to say spiritual aspects. And please note here that I say spiritual and not religious, as these are two very different things.

From this time on, it became my fervent desire to help those who so wished (this cannot be imposed) connect back to the origin of osteopathy. It is this desire that drove me to join the Académie d’Ostéopathie de France in 1998, to translate Still’s texts and to co-create the Apostill Journal, the first six issues of which were dedicated to reviving this connection.

Unfortunately, the limited interest and support that this endeavor garnered from governing bodies ultimately prompted me step down from these duties, in order to follow my strongest conviction with my own resources. Helping bridge the connection back to the origin of osteopathy is also one of this website’s main objectives.

pdf_button Bothersome Waste?

Where I come from, the day garbage collectors pick up all the items that are too large for standard garbage bins, and that people leave out on pavement for good riddance, is called the bulky - or bothersome - waste collection day1. What has this got to do with osteopathy, I hear you ask? Well, dear Reader, there are things that osteopaths find bothersome too. And these include people such as Still, Sutherland and, to a lesser degree, Littlejohn and a few others. And why, good God, have Still and Sutherland become a cause of bother?

There are, no doubt, a range of reasons. However, the end result of them all is that we now no longer wish to profess, or even display, this lineage. For many years, our Elders did not bother us: they were inaccessible. Their books were hard to come by, and written in English to boot. Their writings were used to further whatever cause needed to be served at the time, most of the time through the use of quotes. And, these quotes were generally taken from the first few pages, often modified and almost never referenced. Or else, they were taken from the writings of other American authors… Therefore words could be tailored to fit the objective. Our Elders were useful, and did not bother us. True paradise.

Elders Not Presentable

But then, a handful of eccentrics decided to translate their writings and make them available to all. All of sudden, Still and Sutherland became a source of concern! They are labeled as obsolete, outdated, overly involved in the esoteric and the spiritual. In short, our Elders were not presentable. Officially, they apparently disturb the harmony of the whole. In truth, they just don’t fit in. Admittedly, Still was not entirely reasonable. For a start, in his writing. There are no less 300 references to God and the divine in his Autobiography. And, it seems he purposefully went fishing into all kinds of things, with a penchant for the least commendable: phrenology, magnetism, spiritism, etc.2. Some even say he was a Freemason.3 Granted, calling the Creator the Master Architect was a little conspicuous. Others claim he was acupuncturist4. Thank goodness that Moon and Hubbard were not around in Still’s time. For he would have been quite capable of delving into unificationism and scientology… And as for Sutherland, he wasn’t much better. Also frequently speaking of the Bible and the Creator. And inventing and speaking of inconceivable things like “Liquid Light”, “transmutation” or “Breath of Life”. What are we supposed to do with all this in our day and age? Littlejohn remains the most inconspicuous - at least in his writing (I sometimes wonder whether John Wernham had anything to do with this).
Certainly, our detractors are by no means gentle. For example, in his book
Les charlatans de la santé/Healing or Stealing? Medical Charlatans in the New Age5 psychiatrist Jean-Marie Abgrall labels most non-official practices, including osteopathy, as “patamedicine” - a substitute term for charlatanism - and is quick to call patients who turn to such practices “ecstatic fools (English translation)”6 Given the number of people using these practices, it would seem that world is truly full of stammering idiots. Thank goodness for psychiatrists… In the face of such arrogance, it is obviously tempting to “keep a low profile” and to refrain from saying or showing anything which might irritate authorities. Which is exactly the strategy adopted by our professional organizations in their presentation brochures. Most of the time, the origin of osteopathy is not brought up, and obviously neither are Still, Sutherland or Littlejohn. And how about the schools that are supposed to be teaching osteopathy? In postgraduate seminars, I often ask students who are reaching the end of their studies: “Who has read Autobiography?” “Who has read Philosophy of Osteopathy?” “Who knows how Sutherland developed the cranial concept?”. Each time, I am bewildered to see how few hands are raised, if any…

Why are osteopaths trying so hard to break away from their roots, on the more or less (most often less) acknowledged grounds that these roots are not presentable? Have we become so small that we can no longer discern our masters’ greatness? So small that we are ashamed of them? That we no longer dare to speak of them, and instead ignore them, lacking the courage to stand up for who we are and what our practice is based upon? Yet, when we look at how our Elders behaved, we see something quite different: they had the courage to stand up for who they were and what they thought, accepting no compromise when it came to what they considered essential: their philosophy. Is there any other way to be than the way we truly are? This is called integrity, and please notice that I did not use the words “integrism’ or “integralism” (“intégrisme” in French). And besides, what do we have to counter our detractors with if not the philosophy upon which osteopathy is based? Osteopaths spend vast amounts of time and energy not being what they are and appearing to be what they are not. Which brings to my mind something Still wrote: “You need not fear our enemies who have contested any advancement we have undertaken. […]. They cannot harm us, their kicks are only blessing in disguise. Our great danger, in fact the only danger that could threaten the future of osteopathy, are the mistakes of those who profess to be our friends.” 7.

Connecting to our Roots

I feel it is essential, in these times of challenge for osteopathy, that each of us awaken or re-awaken our dormant osteopathic conscience and provide the most accurate information we can, so that we may each decide what type of osteopath we want to be, and which osteopathy we wish to practice and see recognized. Obviously, this cannot be achieved by getting rid of our predecessors, but by respecting them and seeking to understand the essence of their message in order to actualize it to the best of our abilities. In translating Still and seeking to give people a chance to discover his work, this is one of my key objectives. Translating and reading Still can bridge us back to our roots, and for a number of reasons, I feel this is essential at this time. As the founder of osteopathy, Still represents our shared origin. His philosophy is our essential common root, the root thanks to which all osteopaths, whatever their training, personality and/or practice, may find genuine agreement.

Transmitting osteopathy’s philosophy was one of Still’s major ongoing preoccupations. However, each time a concept is transmitted, it is modified, both by the person who transmits and by the person who receives. The more intermediaries come into play, the more a concept will be modified. And, this is a phenomenon which is seriously harming French osteopathy. When we refer back to the source of knowledge or to the source of a concept, we considerably reduce this hazard, as there is then only one modification for each person referring back. Here, translation may bring in an additional alteration, which I have, to the best of my abilities, tried to minimize. What is more, Still’s philosophy is profoundly naturalist, and deeply respects man and life. And, over the last century, human beings’ essential nature has not changed. Only our interpretations and explanations have changed, in light of the findings of science and medicine. Therefore, the osteopathic approach remains as actual and relevant today as it was a hundred years ago. And where is the osteopathic approach more faithful to Still’s understanding then in his writings?

Finding a Fulcrum

The recent turn of events relating to the publication of decrees regulating the profession, the restrictions imposed upon professional practice, the poor exigencies of osteopathic trainings, and finally the disturbing proliferation of schools, and, as a short-term result, of graduate practitioners, are all generating doubt and concern for our professional future and the future of osteopathy. If we leave it to politicians, professional organizations and school directors, we have every reason to be concerned: history demonstrates clearly that we can on no account rely upon them. Their interests are different to ours.

However, although osteopathy has been through many crises in different countries, it is still here. And this is quite simply because it continues to be practiced successfully by practitioners, whatever type of recognition they may (or may not) have. So, it is probably in the hands of osteopaths themselves that the future of osteopathy ultimately lies, and, despite what may often be alleged, it is their hands that it is the safest. If, of course, practitioners know and remain centered around their fulcrum: the philosophy of osteopathy.

Fulcrum This term is emblematic of osteopathy and signifies “bearing point”. A signification it clearly conveys. It evokes a stable and immobile center, from which, around which, things move. Power comes from the ability to maintain a stable point of support. Be it on the physical, mental or spiritual plane. Faced with the incomprehension and incompetence of those who purport to govern us, there is no point in complaining, in wielding banners or in howling slogans. It will serve us much better to remain centered around our fulcrum and to work, day in day out, from this fulcrum. This is not spectacular, not terribly gratifying for the ego, but particularly effective. Let us keep hope. There will always be practitioners who remain centered around their foundational fulcrum, Still and his philosophy. These practitioners both embody and tend to osteopathy, whilst respecting its philosophical foundations and ethic, thereby guaranteeing its effectiveness and therefore its perpetuation. To paraphrase Fryette, one of osteopathy’s great figures.
“Dare to be different. Many prefer orthodoxy to truth.”8

Translation: Naomi Walker


1 This text is an almost word-for-word reproduction of a leading article written for the 9th edition of the Apostill journal, in the fall of 2001, and is now more relevant than ever.
2 Trowbridge, Andrew Taylor Still, 1828–1917.
3 Auquier & P. Corriat L’ostéopathie, comment ça marche ? p. 40., confirmed on the Grande Loge Nationale de Lutèce’s website: http://www.glnf.fr/province/lutece/?refer=loge&LOG_N_ID=2870
4 J-P. Amigues Traité de clinique ostéopathique, p. 88.
5 Abgrall Jean-Marie 2001. Healing or Stealing? Medical Charlatans in the New Age. New York: Algora Publishing. ISBN : 1-892941-51-1.
6This is addressed in an article written by Alain A. Abehsera Médecines alternatives, médecines conventionnelles, p. 58.
7A.G. Hildreth, The Lengthening Shadow of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, p. 211.
8H.H. Fryette, Principles of Osteopathic Technic, p. 12 First Edition 1954.