Interview by Bruno Ducoux and Torsten Liem on 30 September 2001 in Wales
Bruno Ducoux: Dear Jim, how did you come to osteopathy?
My father was an osteopath, as was my godfather. As for my background, I first studied botany to become a forester, to live in the forest and work with trees. Then at university I studied philosophy, botany and medicine. During the third year, A.T. Still's books fell into my hands, which were exactly in line with my philosophy. With my departure for Kirksville' I expected to be taught about the "natural world" in man. Still's medicine was a natural treatment, free of drug administration and without external additives, which consisted of using the God-given pharmacy in each person's brain. From the age of 14 I worked in an osteopathic hospital, which gave me a lot of experience in this field. I then studied for 14 years before finally choosing a quieter spot to work with people in nature.
Bruno Ducoux: What do you think of allopathy?
What I appreciate about allopathy is that conventional doctors do what they say; osteopaths, on the other hand, do not always practice osteopathy. At Kirksville, they learned to know what the patient needs and that there are no limits. If surgery or allopathic treatment was prescribed there, it was done with the patient in mind in his wholeness. If an antibiotic was prescribed, it was not because of the symptoms, but because our hands told us so.
The underlying thought process was not one of orthodox medicine, but one of osteopathy. As osteopaths we see ourselves as a support, adapting to the patient's way of life and not acting like an authority telling the patient how to live. The patient is not categorized. One can nevertheless prescribe medicines in the osteopathic sense under certain circumstances. I write about two drug prescriptions a year, not because I refuse prescriptions, but because I simply don't need them.
Bruno Ducoux: Do you think that some osteopaths work with their hands in an allopathic way?
I must be fair and say yes, because the allopathic concept is to resolve the lesion, not to support the patient's health by letting nature do its work. After all, the cause is not necessarily where the lesion is. My father, for example, worked in an allopathic way, with drugs, injections and manual osteopathic treatments!
Torsten Liem: Your teaching and your work are called "biodynamic". What makes it different from other cranial approaches?
It became necessary at some point to introduce the term biodynamic. At Kirksville I first learned biomechanical techniques, such as intersegmental release, the release of movement or resistance between two segments with texture change at the end of treatment. The basic principle of these treatments is to release the tension, no matter how, but to achieve it. We have also been trained by Gordon Zinc in functional techniques: it was necessary to find out the position of the fascilitation, the movement being the lesion, even more than the texture or resistance. A very different way of thinking. I studied the functional intensively. When you use a functional technique, you use the existing movement within the lesion and allow it to approach a true neutral point, a dynamic equilibrium through which the entire system can interact with each individual part. The next step was to feel neutral points that were systemic in nature and not locally related. In practice as a general practitioner, one encounters a wide variety of cases, people who need surgery, cancer patients, people with metastatic carcinomas. These people need help either because their immune system is not working as it should or because their mobility is limited. In this case, we cannot use biomechanical techniques because they require a lot of pressure on the organism. This is where I can use functional techniques. I had to help these patients, I served my patients, my neighbors, my friends, and consequently I put my hands on them. The functional techniques allowed me to touch and move lightly. I felt the presence of movement and played with gentleness. Once the local neutral point was reached, this point expanded in the organism and I felt the global breathing of the patient and his body, which were in mutual connection. This was great. If I had not known about the functional techniques, I would have needed more medication. In 1965 I started learning them, in 1966 I started using them, and in 1969 I got my degree at Kirksville, but I stayed on at the college to teach anatomy. In addition, I taught functional techniques. Dr. Bond and Dr. Hall were living with Sutherland in Pacific Grove, California, when I first met them. They put some books and a skull in my hand and told me to look at them. I didn't know who these two were, but since I had already taken a course in cranial osteopathy in Kirksville in 1966, I could relate. At the same time, I met Ruby Day, who lived a mile away from me. She was a student of Sutherland, but had taught alongside him in his courses. I subsequently visited her more frequently and she began teaching me cranial esteopathy. I can divide the 15 years I spent at her side into three phases. First, she taught me to treat in a way that reached the barriers.
The second phase was about feeling the fluctuation of the fluids at the level of the barriers, letting go of the barriers themselves and letting the fluids work. It slowly took me from a mechanical treatment approach to a cranial approach. It was a more functional approach, paying attention to the fluctuation of the fluids. I already knew the functional techniques, but Ruby Day trained me to notice the fluctuation of the fluids instead of going to the barriers over and over again. At that point I was already treating with a systemic approach and kept looking for a whole body response. I then moved on from this, as I immediately understood what I was doing was about, except that it was not normal breathing, but the primary respiratory mechanism. She went on to direct my attention from fluids to "potency"", dynamic immobility. She succeeded brilliantly in leading me there within 15 years. Here's what you need to know about that: I met her when I was 30 and had been practicing my profession for 2 years. At 35 I continued to practice, had good success, many patients and an ego that could kill a bull! She had to guide that ego and did so very patiently. She timed me at the turning point of my path and made me feel that I had gaps and limitations, With some patients I achieved no change at all, not even a clinical result. She would come in, treat patients in 2 minutes and dismiss them saying "everything is fine". That's when I became aware of my ego. I started meditating and continued my visits to her on a fortnightly basis. She let me stew in my ego and my juices, telling me all kinds of things but what I wanted to learn and know, until one day she said, "This is it, you're ready, now let's move on to something else." Looking back, the worst part for me is that I didn't ask her what she noticed that had changed. I now got to the third stage, which was about feeling the external presence of primary respiration. This was no longer a purely functional technique, because the endpoint is no longer within the musculoskeletal system, it is within the patient as a whole, and it extends to his environment, his natural environment. You also feel its influence on the environment in which you are treating. I then set out to feel the primary respiration in all of nature, not just the one tree, the one plant, but the whole. And here we come to what Still stated, "There is man, nature, and God." These are the three biological realms that we as osteopaths must treat with. But what happens when they become one?
At that moment, the healing begins. This is an extraordinary end point, and I had to find a new term for it. Between 1982 and 1992 I did a lot of research and study. I was teaching embryology at SCTF' during that time. There I met Blechschmitt, who had written that fluids have a consciousness of their own. I wondered at the time if the fluids Blechschmitt sensed were the same fluids Sutherland sensed, which would mean that the law of fluids in the embryo also applies to the adult. I'm no genius, but this interested me greatly. For hours and hours I pursued this and investigated it. I studied my patients, I studied Blechschmitt's writings, and all that Sutherland said about the law of fluids, about their function and the intelligence inherent in everything.
Sutherland and Blechschmitt attribute to fluids a power that enables them never to make a mistake. I then began to explore whether what Blechschmitt said could be applied to the adult, and what Sutherland stated could be applied to the embryo. One day when I was treating Dr. Becker, he made a remark and asked, "What are you doing?" I replied to him that I was treating him. But he said to me that I should not begin a treatment until the will of the patient yielded its place to the will of primary respiration. So I did not begin the treatment yet, but waited for a neutral point, thinking that this would usually signal the end of the treatment. At that moment Becker turned to me and said that I could now begin the treatment. He destroyed everything I had accomplished up to that point with that statement....I took 5 whole years to change my focus from moving the lesion to the neutral point, and now this.
Torsten Liem: What is the difference between a neutral point and a still point?
Every osteopath needs to know what a neutral point is compared to a still point. If you are not careful, you can mistake a neutral point for a still point. This is not the same thing at all. The neutral point is a point of equilibrium where there is no tension. Once the neutral point is reached, the patient can be "moved" freely from primary respiration.
A neutral point does not spread over the whole body, but the still point does. A still point will trigger a change, it has a therapeutic dynamic power. It is at this equilibrium point, where most believe their technique is completed, that functional cranial techniques actually begin. However, they cannot be directly called functional because Blechschmidt's model states, "Fluids are influenced by external phenomena," or Sutherland's model, "The human being is a house under the sea." The patient becomes a segment in the grand scheme of things, moved by external primary respiration. This leads us to the rule that the external has a dynamic influence on the internal and we begin to see that there is an interaction between the external primary respiration and the patient, and then we perceive a deeper healing that is different from other approaches.
With a functional technique, the patient gets better within a few days, but with the biodynamic model, the treatment only starts when the patient leaves the practice and it can last a few months. The patient is left to his own devices, not only in terms of the lesion, but in terms of the neutral point or his health. Consequently, we would need another term for this approach, but it didn't occur to me until I started giving courses that I was asked to give. I gave two courses which I called "Biodynamic Approach to Osteopathy". "Biodynamic" because you treat with a model that follows what Blechschmitt recognized in embryology and what Sutherland also expressed later in his life. This is not a functional approach, which tends to focus on segments. Rather, one looks at the patient as a unit. And it's not about an idea, it's about a sensory experience... I was very surprised that both courses had 700 participants enrolled, even though I hardly advertised. I was not prepared for that. I've been giving courses ever since.
Torsten Liem: You speak of the "Breath of Life - What is that?"
It is wasted time to talk about it, as no one is actually talking about what it really is. No one will tell the truth as it is a great mystery... The human being has the potential to possess the perfect answer to the Breath of Life. But most of us are so busy thinking of ourselves, being very mentally inclined, that our answers are garbled or limited. Through the centuries, however, there have been prophets and saints, people who just know everything and have responded to the Breath of Life without thinking, which in a way is the equivalent of the word "divine."
They heard "Turn left" and did so without thinking or asking even though there was a 10 meter high wall in front of them. The Breath of Life told them "Go through that wall" and they did it without thinking about whether it might be stupid or crazy. The Embryo is the perfect answer to the Breath of Life. It embraces wisdom, geometry, transcendence, is made to heal, with an abundance of love for all fellow travelers. You know it when you experience the effect of a pure response to the Breath of Life. One knows when the response to the Breath of Life is pure, the neutral experienced is limitless. Through this limitlessness, a sense of fullness can be experienced, and beyond that, a sense of grace.
It is important to understand what I am saying, because it is the feeling of grace that overcomes us. When no more movement can be felt, then for a second we become perfect, perfect, even though we are already chasing the next experience. The trick to the Breath of Life is that it cannot be experienced if one has the desire to experience it. We don't have the choice to walk towards it, it walks towards us. Those who wanted it didn't talk about it much because it's not a matter of technique. For us who do anything to get to the other side, this grace is not felt. The Breath of Life is a mysterious presence of Love itself that is everywhere. The first effect that the Breath of Life produces everywhere is perfection. And thereupon change sets in. As a religious person, the idea might arise that "good and evil" exist, but as a doctor, that is not our concern. We are there to serve the patient. We cannot allow ourselves to judge what is good or bad for the patient, we must remain neutral. The fact of looking at a patient like a lesion disqualifies us as caregivers. The Breath of Life allows us to take a neutral position, one that corresponds to love itself, which does not spring from our own hearts, but from the heart of the world. This is a difficult subject, because some people are not at all comfortable with the idea that the Breath of Life can accomplish everything, and not just partially. However, for us this is important because in our line of work we don't want to oppose the patient and it doesn't matter if they are good or bad. Our job is to really heal them and maybe that way they have no one to oppose. For us the Breath of Life is something completely different because we cannot take a philosophical position. Everyone who enters our practice experiences the same service. There are no religious dogmas.
Bruno Ducoux: You talk about the biodynamic model being present in osteopathy and that is almost like saying that America existed before Christopher Columbus discovered it. Now we are beginning to discover something that was already there. Has the biodynamic model also been mentioned in the scriptures?
There are only five or six people who have perceived it, including Ruby, Dr. Becker, and a few others. When Ruby taught me, I was among a privileged few. Ruby was already a professor before she attended an osteopathic training facility, so she already knew how to handle information she was absorbing through teaching at Sutherland. When I started studying with her, she didn't have another student, she didn't want one. She was very secretive about the subject. She waited a long time before she took me into her confidence, maybe 6 or 7 years. And maybe I wasn't trustworthy until then, She had a personal teaching program that was tailored specifically for me. And she taught me the same way Sutherland had taught her. She was precise. Every time I asked her questions about Sutherland, she would look me in the eye, with her steel-blue eyes, her white hair, her one-meter-five, her forty pounds, and make me feel afraid. And each time she simply replied to me, "He was a very kind man." What we must continue to realize is that Dr. Still, at 86, said, "I love my patients because I see God in their faces and bodies." He saw more than their lesion, their suffering. He saw in their forms something divine, supernatural.
In a sense, he thereby gave me permission to realize that perhaps a divine image was standing, lying, or sitting before me. The teaching I received gave me permission to have such thoughts. I did not thereupon feel myself to be a non-osteopath at all when I began to recognize the perfection and perfectness in the patient. You must not "revisit" a lesion in the patient. In a biodynamic approach, you have to know about the limitation of the lesion, in the sense of restriction, and something about the force vectors of the previous event. In a functional approach, on the other hand, it is important to know the degree of mobility of the lesion. In a biodynamic approach, the wave and the presence of the primary respiration will give us the diagnosis and prescribe the treatment, and as Dr. Becker used to say from time to time, "When the treatment is finished, then you can begin the analysis. "If you put your hands on the patient, you may discover a lesion that is still there when the treatment is finished. Perhaps the lesion will not have disappeared until the following visit and then none will be detectable. Certain anatomical regions can be detected. However, one makes a big mistake if one names what is found after an anatomical region, since, for example, there is much more than one shoulder in the anatomical region of the shoulder.
Bruno Ducoux: Don't you think that those who don't use the biodynamic model, but use structural biomechanical techniques, can reach the same result?
But certainly, they get to the same place. It is important to remember that the biodynamic approach is an educational model of osteopathy. There are many therapists who use structural techniques and arrive at the equilibrium point before applying force, who experience it through the patient's experience and who are magicians. But they have a hard time teaching this practice. I have seen therapists who use structural techniques with little force, who perceive that a change is happening in the patient, and who guide their patients to a neutral point. Osteopathy today can only match the admirable intelligence of its forefathers by learning to teach what they practiced, and that is what the question is about. In the end, in fact, I will ask you not to consider seriously what I have taught you, for you already possess the skill. The greater part of osteopathy has always remained a mystery because we don't know how the individual osteopaths got there. They don't talk about it, but they have their own model. All I'm doing is exposing one thing that's always been there. Did Still do that? I don't know and I don't care. I've seen osteopathy suffer all my life because their forefathers didn't respect it. They took osteopathy upon themselves, but could not explain it in simple terms, and thus reached only intellectuals who had no practical experience. Moreover, they could not teach well because they did not know what to say. I myself did not have a great education, I grew up in the woods, I am not a learned Englishman or writer.
Bruno Ducoux: Do you think that the word "osteopathy" is what corresponds to our art?
There are already quite a few discussions on this subject in France. First of all, I have to laugh every time there is a discussion about the word osteopathy. One should not take it too seriously. One should not argue about osteopathy, it is too beautiful, one should approach it more romantically! Here is my little osteopathic anecdote: I am sure that Dr. Still knew that the first function that occurs in the embryonic germinal disc is the movement of the neural tube, and he knew that hidden in the bones was the secret about the magical divinity of the complete program. What then is the very first task of the embryonic germinal disc? It is to secretly form the musculo-skeletal system, which is the first system to technically appear. What an ingenious starting point! That reassures everyone!
Torsten Liem: What do you think are the most important qualities for us practitioners?
The first thing to do, in my opinion, is to go back to the original motivation. The first time you had the thought "I want to help people". And then to go back there again and again from time to time to ask yourself, why did I become a doctor, why did I want to become an osteopath. Because the thing that we often forget is our work. Our work is not to give a treatment, but to take care of people who are suffering, not to forget the patient and treat him. Our work consists in discovering "the normal" and "the wholeness", so one must learn to approach a patient and be present. For how many patients does what they found when they laid hands on them match the answers they gave during the initial interview? Patients often tell us stories, almost tall tales. The reason a lot of things don't happen is because patients don't trust us. They show up at our offices and look at us as doctors. The worst thing that can happen. Our work is a privilege. It triggers anxiety to sit down and face a patient, 7, a patient who mirrors us. It is sometimes uncomfortable to realize that this suffering person is just as stuck as you are. Is it possible to let your spirit be humble, you can do more for people and let God's grace happen. Too many doctors forget why they are there. They work for their money. I have never been poor since I have been practicing. I have never sent back a bill, I have never had an insurance claim due to poor practicing. It is a privilege to serve the public. Consequently, this doesn't happen to me. I've always been paid or not paid, but I've always had enough money to live on. This must be done in an innocence. Osteopathy is in the service of suffering in the world and not in our personal service. Osteopathy is at its best when the patient rules the moment. And the wisdom is to be there to serve....
Torsten Liem: You talk about the relationship between the patient and the practitioner being important?
No, it is the relationship between primary respiration and the patient and the practitioner.
Bruno Ducoux: Is osteopathy a science?
If science were unlimited, I would say yes. But if you are talking about modern science, I will say no, because modern science, economically speaking, is based on research, which in turn is based on its own dogmas. If you look up the meaning of true science in the English Oxford dictionary, it says: "Any observation of the natural world which can be repeatedly proved, by eyes or hands." Osteopathy is not a study with one double-blind study, but with hundreds of blind studies. When you get to a concept, everyone will call you crazy, they will disagree, and after 20 years of arguing (it should be stressed in passing that one should not argue), they will come back to tell you that it does work and that the concept is validated. Osteopaths represent a much more difficult group than any other scientific grouping. The scientific approach of this professional group is difficult. In my opinion, in every way, and I think that is reasonable. With the biodynamic approach, there is another element: we strive to restore health in everyone. We do not strive to fight, but to express the same, and that this serves to help people. We learn a lot thanks to those who share their ideas and experiences with us. When one arrives with a new idea, it is thoroughly taken apart, and that is a good thing.
Bruno Ducoux: But aren't we wasting our time?
If the purpose of careful investigation is to bash an idea, yes. But if the goal is to look at the matter objectively, that's fine. It's never about defending your position, you have to state it openly.
Bruno Ducoux: What would you say at the moment of your death?
I wouldn't say anything, I'd just be grateful. It's been an extraordinary life. Imagine I have had the privilege of seeing a flowing lesion, the fluid body, the fluid wave, the embryologic field... and the privilege of talking about it. I have been allowed the privilege of seeing the health of my patients that I didn't think I could see. That's why I didn't believe I possessed the appropriate abilities, and that's why I didn't possess those abilities. But God gave them to me. I don't know how, all I know is that I thought I was lost...and one day, BOOM, it happened! I am very very thankful about that. However, if it had happened to me five years earlier, I would have stood still despite all the glory! I would not have experienced the health of my patients and I would have limited myself. I would have continued to be stuck without knowing it. And I would never have seen how wonderful it all is. When you lay hands on your patient, it is by God's grace. You feel it or you don't.
Interview with Jim Jealous by Bruno Ducoux, Torsten Liem - Osteopathic Medicine, issue 10/2001;