”Kneeling at the Altar of Creation”
Chapter 10, in Voices of Integrative Medicine, edited by Bonnie Horrigan. Churchill Livingstone Press, 2003.
Steven J. Weiss is a licensed osteopathic physician, board certified in neuromuscular/osteopathic manual medicine. Dr. Weiss consults in the field of chronic pain but also treats sports and performing arts injuries as well as prenatal and pediatric problems. He practices in New York City, where, for over 16 years he has devoted his work to clinical approaches that invoke and support the power of the human body to heal itself. Dr. Weiss is recognized internationally for his innovative and highly effective approach to clinical problem solving.
In 1973, Weiss graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania and in 1985 graduated from The University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, Maine. He completed his internship at Phoenix General Hospital in 1986. But in addition to this traditional osteopathic training, he has studied extensively with Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere, healer and founder of The Healing Light Center Church, and is an adopted child to the Zuni Bear Clan and a member of the Zuni tribe in the Four Corners section of New Mexico. He is the founder and medical director of The Medicine Lodge Clinic and the creator and director of The Altar of Creation training program for healers and health care professionals.
I interviewed Dr. Weiss at his offices in New York City. During the course of our conversation for this book, Dr. Weiss taught me to deepen my perceptual capacities by hanging my attention behind me on a floating hook, showed me his bamboo garden in the twenty-by-twenty foot walled in space out the back door of his Manhattan office, and let me touch actual bones from both human and animal forms while helping me to sense the differences in their vibrations.
“Where I am today and how I approach the challenges of healing is a weaving together of many different strands; many different teachers and lineages. I often tell my patients that I approach their bodies more like an engineer than a doctor. But I am also a student of energy medicine and Spiritual Law, an ecologist and part of the natural world, a child to the Zuni Bear Clan and a holder of Native American beliefs in my own way, and a licensed and board-certified practitioner of the rich tradition of osteopathic manual medicine. I am also a long-time student and perhaps an adept of Chinese internal martial arts, and a follower and supporter of the Bön religion of Tibet to name a few of the different strands. Each has contributed to my evolution as a healer and on a practical daily basis represents an important tool or piece of the map that I need to support my patients’ healing. Please understand that i never set out to find myself working so far off of the conventional medical grid. It is just that at so many places along the way i found that my training was insufficient to meet the needs of some my patients. I needed to explore new paradigms, find new teachers, and acquire new knowledge to provide me with the understanding and tools that i needed to bring them the help that they required. i acknowledge that i can not help everyone, and at the same time I have never been able to accept clinical failure. I always sensed that if i could just listen deeper, perceive more, and BE more present as a healer, that i could help more people heal at a much more profound level! And that has been the fire that has propelled my Journey… from biologist to engineer; to ecologist, physician, osteopath, and to becoming a healer who has integrated so many different healing traditions.
But in the beginning I was just raised to be a regular doctor. Except, when I got to pre-med in college, I developed such a resistance to going any further down that path. I hated the lab sciences and the courses and the nature of most of the people who were studying to be doctors. But there’s a saying that you’ll know the right path by having taken the wrong one. So in my junior year when I took my first ecology course it was like coming home! The woods and the natural world had been a refuge and sanctuary for me when I was growing up, and the study of the interrelationships in ecological systems made perfect sense to the way my mind worked. My world changed and I switched from pre-med to straight biology and graduated from college without any idea of what I was going to do next. In 1974 I attended the University of Maine as a grad student in ecology and entomology (that’s insects) and two years later joined the faculty of the University of Maine at Machias under a grant from The National Science Foundation and started my own environmental consulting company. And I loved it, mostly because I was living and working in the natural world. But I was living from grant to grant and was having real misgivings about my future in the academic world. When the NSF grant ended, and money for environmental consulting began to dry up, it was like a wall that I just couldn’t get past. I spent a lot of time praying, sitting on the cliffs overlooking the bay, asking God for a sign for what I was supposed to do with my life.
About this time, I developed a painful ulcerative condition on my feet so I went to a local doctor for help. He treated it as a fungal infection, which made it worse. I went to someone else and he said no, its bacterial, and gave me another medicine that made the condition even worse. I went to five different doctors in three counties and no one could tell me what the problem was or how to heal it. By this point I could barely walk. And then, in the middle of all this, my old football-injured left knee gave out. Suddenly I was unable to either bear weight or straighten my left leg without a horrible shot of pain going down the leg to my foot. So then I started going to orthopedic surgeons, none of whom had any idea as to what was wrong. The third one said, “I think we need to operate.”
“Excuse me,” I said, “but if you don’t have a diagnosis;
And he replied, “We have nothing else to offer you.”
I was crying in my beer one day when a friend told me to call this friend of hers who was supposed to be a great diagnostician on staff at the Lubec Medical Center located across the bay from where I was living. The doctor’s name was McIver. He was a stout, grizzly sort with a salt-and-pepper beard who maybe grunted more than he spoke. I was told to bring all of the medicines that the different doctors had given me so he could see what their presumptive diagnoses were and what they had done. He comes in, looks in the bag, looks at my feet, looks back in the bag, curses, and throws the bag across the room. “These guys are killing you,” he said. “They have no idea what they are doing. But I was a corpsman in the Navy before I became a doctor. I know a case of trench foot when I see one.”
He asked me what I did for a living and I explained that I worked as a marine biological consultant. He then asked if I had torn my rubber boots in the recent past. And, of course he was right- I hadn’t gotten around to replacing them and my feet were pretty much wet all the time I was working. You see trench foot is a moisture-driven problem where the increased moisture leaches all of the lubricating oils between the layers of the skin. The skin breaks down, ulcerates, and gets horribly inflamed and will continue to do so unless you actually treat the source of the problem. He spelled out a treatment program for me and within a few weeks the ulcers and the pain were gone.
Then, as he was writing on my chart and I hopped across the room to get dressed, he noticed that I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg. He motioned me back onto the exam table and it was then, as he evaluated my knee, that he told me he was an osteopathic doctor. Now, I‘d always thought before this that osteopathic school was where people went who couldn’t get into real medical school. But here was this brilliant diagnostician who’d begun to heal my trench foot telling me that he was an osteopathic physician. Then he kind of frowned and said, “I’m also training to be a surgeon and I don’t believe in osteopathic manipulation. But I think you have a knee problem that can only be successfully treated with an osteopathic manipulative procedure. I’m not very experienced at it but if it’s okay with you, I’ll get out a manual, read about what to do, and then do it.”
Well, he did this pretty forceful procedure and there was this loud crack. Having been in this field for over twenty years now I know that when the body suddenly gets what it needs to support its healing, there’s often a dramatic release of endorphins and a huge shift in qi—and the response can feel euphoric. Well all at once my whole leg and foot relaxed and the sensation I felt was one of warm oil pouring down through the knee into my leg and foot. When I stood up, there was no pain, absolutely no pain!
I was overwhelmed—not only had this doctor made a superior medical diagnosis (of my trench foot) to any of his MD colleagues, but also he had made a correct structural/mechanical diagnosis and actually done something with his hands to support the immediate healing of my knee, that didn’t even appear to exist in the MD’s world! Then Dr. McIver said, “I know who you are, Steven. Shelagh” (the woman who had referred me to Dr. McIver) “was telling me about you the other day. You know, maybe you ought to think about becoming an osteopathic physician yourself.”
In that moment it really felt like the hand of God was pointing in the direction of osteopathic medical school. To make a long story short, I moved to southern Maine and enrolled in the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. And there I had the supreme blessing of meeting and being taken under the wings of the handful of luminaries who trained and mentored me in osteopathic manual medicine and healing. With the exception of Dr. James Jealous, who was in his fifties then, most of them were in their seventies and eighties. These were legendary figures in the profession and some of the most skilled practitioners in the world. People like Dr. Ruby Day, Dr. Robert Fulford, Dr. Anne Wales, Dr. Larue Kemper, Dr. Carl Schoelles, and Dr. James Jealous. They were pretty much all followers of Dr. William G. Sutherland, the developer of the cranial concept and the founder of the practice of osteopathy in the cranial field, and they were masters of his subtle but profoundly powerful methods of supporting the power of the body to heal itself. For the most part now these practitioners are all dead, with the exception of Dr. Jealous, who is a still quite young and vigorous, and Dr. Wales, who will celebrate her ninety-ninth birthday this January, and continues to be an inspiration to many of us. But before they passed on they crammed as much training and guidance down my throat as they could and for that I am so grateful. I am first and foremost an osteopathic physician. That is the glue that holds together all the different strands of my healing practice. The science of osteopathy is my grounding in the body as a physical healer.
I worked as a carpenter’s apprentice in high school and when I moved to the north coast of Maine I took a part-time job rebuilding old houses with an old lobsterman and retired civil engineer. Capt. Dwelley taught me about Physical Law and the supreme importance of structural integrity as an engineering requirement for all weight-bearing structures (which I later came to realize includes people too). We rebuilt a lot of foundations and jacked up a lot of buildings to plumb-and-level, as a priority, and a prerequisite before we could do any other work on them. It’s funny because this structural integrity work- focusing on how people bear weight and their relationship with gravity has grown to become such a huge focus in my practice, and the results have been astonishing. It was kind of prophetic that that’s what I was doing long before I went to osteopathic medical school or began addressing people’s health problems.
If as humans we are spiritual beings inhabiting a physical body, then the physical laws of “the container” exert a tremendous influence upon Spirit’s ability to manifest in the body, which reflects directly on the health of the person and their capacity to self-heal and self-regulate. It’s interesting because conventional medicine essentially ignores structural integrity as a health requirement (to say nothing of Spirit) and the healing community, attempting to attend to Spirit, is very poorly trained and grounded in matters of the physical body in general- especially this idea of structural integrity as an engineering requirement for health and healing. Even the osteopathic community seems to have mostly forgotten these precepts- very few osteopathic manual practitioners seem to evaluate and treat their patients with respect to gravity and structural integrity. Troubleshooting engineers are trained to solve problems better than doctors.
Rev. Rosalyn Bruyere
In my early years in practice I began to find myself confronted with doors that my osteopathic training hadn’t prepare me to go through. I kept having the feeling that I was treating the tissue side of an energy-tissue interface and needed to get to the other side. I also had the increasing sense that if I was going to truly support healing for more of my patients, I needed skills I didn’t have yet.
A friend took me to a body symbology workshop on Long Island. The presenter, Rosalyn Bruyere, walked through the audience and said, “Who has a knee problem?” So I raised my hand. She asked me which knee and then she asked what happened? I explained it was a football injury to my left knee (do you remember Dr. McIver and Lubec, Maine?), and that in 1966 I tore the anterior cruciate ligament, the medial collateral ligament, and the medial meniscus. She looked at me—actually she looked through me—and asked, “What was her name?”
I gasped, “What?” And Rosalyn says, “The girl that you were in love with when your knee was hurt.”
I whisper, “Linda?”
And she said, “Yes, that’s in there too.”
I received a treatment from her on table in front of 225 people. As Rosalyn and her student/assistant started working, they were whispering to each other. Then Rosalyn said, “Check out how much he’s armoring, how suspicious and resistant he is.” When she put her hand on my chest, I felt this huge electric shock that made me feel like I was being defibrillated.
Rev. Bruyere is one of the most studied minds in the world and a phenomenal healer who is capable of generating and directing enormous amounts of qi. She is revered by several native tribes as a high medicine woman and has been enthroned as a living oracle of the Bön- the ancient, pre-Buddhist, indigenous religion of Tibet. The treatment she gave me changed my life and the things that she has taught me have changed my capacities and powers as a healer. I have now been a student of hers for 13 years. She has helped guide me to a place where I work and heal from a completely different reality that looks at the human body without the usual distinctions that separate tissue, energy, and Spirit and she has opened my heart and helped me surrender to Spirit and its Guidance.
There’s a huge piece of human existence that pertains to energy. As Rosalyn says, “Energy is all there is.” If we are spiritual beings inhabiting a physical container, then looking at Spiritual Law and energy (qi) is vital if we are to really address the needs of the whole being. So after many years of study with Rev. Bruyere, my approach to diagnosis and treatment includes considerations of the human energy field, the chakra system, and Spiritual Law.
Native American Traditions
Another thread of my work comes from Native American traditions, particularly those of the Zuni pueblo tribe of western New Mexico. During my first year of osteopathic school, I began experiencing troubling dreams that eventually led me to the strong feeling that I needed to go on a vision quest of sorts to the Four Corners region where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico come together. I wasn’t really prone to this sort of thing but the feelings were so strong! Following them led me to the Zuni Indian reservation in western New Mexico. Before the day was over I was sent to the house of a medicine man and ended up being asked to stay for two weeks. His mother-in-law, Mary, eventually adopted me as her son and as a child to the Zuni Bear Clan.
Through this experience, I met Jimmy Awash’e, a Zuni bone doctor and healer. Jimmy was struck by lightning in his late 30s when he was a sheepherder. He was in a coma for three days and left for dead up in the hills. He finally woke up walked 11 or so miles to town and said, “I guess I need to start doing healing, because while I was asleep, Creator and the Spirits of my Ancestors came into me and filled me with the knowledge and power of healing and then put me back together.”
One day, while I was newly on the reservation in one of the rooms of the pueblo with Mary, we heard this big commotion. A boy had been hit in the head with a baseball and was unconscious. But instead of calling an ambulance, they sent for the bone doctor. The unconscious boy, who had vomit all over his face, was convulsing lightly and he had a lurid egg on his forehead.
Jimmy sat down behind this boy, closed his eyes, and started chanting. After a while, I started to become aware of a change. Something was happening, not in Jimmy’s body, but in the air around his body. I’ve never really experienced anything like it. If there was a color around him, then the color was changing. If there was a shape to that space around him, then that shape was changing too. As Jimmy kept rocking back and forth and chanting, I watched this glistening, gold cloud started to emerge out of the ground and wrap around his legs and then up his body. When the cloud had filled the space around him it arced over around the boy’s body, where it appeared as an imperfect shroud—it had holes and tears in it. Everywhere there was a hole or a tear, Jimmy used his hands to work on it until the tear disappeared and the cloud grew smooth. When everything was smooth and the cloud was circulating evenly, Jimmy stood up, spit in his hand, pulled an arrowhead out of his pocket and put it on the boy’s forehead. There was a remote sort of sizzling sound and then the boy opened his eyes. The color had come back to his face and he looked around alertly. Jimmy said, “You can go.” And the boy left.
So I was sitting there pinching myself and asking, what facet of reality this was when suddenly I realized that I was alone in the room with Jimmy. Everyone had gone and left me there. He turned on the edge of his chair, leaned toward me and said, “I understand you’re in some kind of medical school where they teach doctors to heal. They thought you might have something you wanted to ask me.”
So I asked him, of all things, “How do you protect yourself?”
It was a stupid thing to say but it was such a part of my conditioning from first year osteopathic training that I just blurted it out.
Well, Jimmy jumped out of his chair, got real close to my face, and started yelling at me at the top of his lungs: “Who do you think you are? Do you think you can heal? Do you think that any person can heal? What more is a human being than just a bag of mud brought to this space by the Great Creator to do the work of his ancestors? All you have to do is get out of the way and you’ll never be hurt. There is nothing to be afraid of and nothing to protect yourself from if you only get out of the way.” And then he sat back down and we talked quietly for a long time. I had the same sense of electric shock in my heart that I had when Rosalyn “defibrillated” me several years later.
Jimmy died a few years after that, but before he went, I had a chance to spend time with him and watch him do healings during visits to the reservation or while I was completing an elective clinical clerkship I’d arranged with the Indian Health Service hospital in Zuni. I worked in the hospital by day and got taken around at night by my family to do healings on the traditional people who wouldn’t go to the hospital. The director of the hospital told me that they had a file in the basement that contained x-rays of cases in which Jimmy had done inexplicable things, such as re-crystallizing bone fractures overnight.
Whenever I asked Jimmy what he did to heal, he always said: “I get out of the way. I told you. The spirits comes through me; the Great Creator comes through me; the spirits of my ancestors come through me and they heal.” It was a mystery to me.
Years later, Dr. Ruby Day, a wonderful older osteopath from western Maine, was teaching me a particular osteopathic procedure. (She was one of the principal cranial osteopathic practitioners in the country and one of Dr. Jealous’ mentors- and someone with whom I was so blessed to study.) I was having real trouble getting the technique right that she was trying to teach me and we were both becoming frustrated. I asked Dr. Day how she originally learned to do it herself and she said, “Why, Dr. Sutherland just showed me how to get out of the way.” And at once I felt that electric shock in my chest and Jimmy’s words: “You just have to get out of the way!” reverberated through me like a freight train.
Then, Dr. Day showed me a technique that she had developed to help her do this. It was like some of the meditative techniques that I had studied and practiced. But Dr. Day’s approach was more practical and had a much more immediate effect of deepening my level of awareness while at the same time keeping me very present in my own body. I now can see that it is based upon a deep understanding of the energy field and the chakra system but I never had the chance to discuss this with her before she passed on. The effects of this practice are to alter and balance your own nervous system while at the same time deepening, expanding and clarifying your perceptual capacities. After Dr. Day taught me “how to get out of the way” (while I couldn’t stop thinking about Jimmy) the original osteopathic technique she was trying to teach me became easy and I quickly did it to her satisfaction. I have worked with and refined this “getting out of the way” practice for many years and on many different levels. I now teach it to my students as a powerful tool for listening to their patients’ bodies and to my patients as a meditative practice to calm their minds and support their own healing.
The Bön Tradition
Another thread comes from the Bön, the pre-Buddhist indigenous religion of Tibet. It is an ancient and very complete shamanic and mystical religious system, and way of life. Bön is the source of a number of healing, meditation and spiritual traditions that have been attributed to the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhists. I came to study this tradition because of Rosalyn Bruyere. It’s a long story, full of mystery and prophecy and messages from the Spirit world, but I’ll let Rev. Bruyere tell it herself. The story reached a climax several years ago with Rosalyn being enthroned as the oracle of the Bön religion. Many of us raise money in support of the Bön orphans, monks, monasteries, and schools. There is a deep connection between us and the 33rd Abbot of the Menri Monastery, the head of the religion and the equivalent of the Dalai Llama for the Bön and the many monks and llamas that travel among us offering teachings. The Bön teachings are exquisite and they’ve helped me a lot in my healing work. They also represent an extraordinary loving presence that seems to have some sort of past life resonance for many of us in the community. They teach, as do several other traditions, that the world is arranged on four levels: the literal level, the symbolic level, the irrational level, and the place where you break through to God. Not everything that occurs in the irrational always makes sense in the literal world and vice versa. I tend to appreciate the power that is in the irrational, but then my work is about taking it back to the literal.
So all of these different threads, and a few more that I won’t go into here are woven in my own journey and as a healer. Many of the most potent pieces come from outside traditional osteopathy but they have helped give meaning and power to my work as an osteopath and a healer. We are a continuum of Mind/Body/Spirit and we are healed by attaining unity between these, by remembering and reconnecting to all of our lost parts. In that unity there are no boundaries, no sectarian differences between any of the healing disciplines- only the body’s own truths and what is required for healing.
Teaching Others and The Altar of Creation
Two and a half years ago, commuting home on my bicycle, I was hit by a taxi from behind. In the moment where time stood still and I was bouncing first off of his hood, and then off the pavement, there was this sense that it would be a violation of law if I were to die in this accident. I was the beneficiary of so many teachings, and so many people had transmitted their love and knowledge into me—there was this sense that I couldn’t die before I wove it together and began sharing it with others. So I woke up with a drive to teach and share the lessons of my journey. I had already been teaching for many years but this was different.
I had a vision that I could build a community of health care practitioners that would span professional lines and develop a new standard of care that addressed both Spiritual and Physical Law- from an engineering, whole-system, problem-solving perspective: based on embryology, sacred geometry, energy medicine, qi gong, anatomy, physiology, teachings from Zuni, and specific elements derived from the science of osteopathy—basically all the things I had come to integrate in supporting my patients’ health.
I have to make a point here that I am not training people to become osteopaths or to do what I do as an osteopathic physician. To learn the practice of osteopathy one needs to go to osteopathic medical school, do an internship and residency and obtain a license to practice medicine. But there are many things within the science of osteopathy that are really truths about the human body and don’t belong to any one discipline. We have an obligation to share these with other health care professionals if it can help them become more successful in reducing the suffering of their patients in their own ways.
My quest these last 20 years has been to dig into the nature of human existence for the body’s truths and create a map of how my patients healed themselves to define how the body works, how it is put together, and what it requires to be healthy. Based upon the initial premise that the body is alive and therefore possesses the infinite capacity for self-healing and self-regulation, my goal as an osteopathic physician and healer has been not try to figure out how to fix my patients’ bodies, but to figure out what is keeping their bodies from healing themselves. It’s not about reductionism. In fact, it’s the opposite of reductionism, which is the process of taking a complex, multidimensional being and reducing him or her to a symptom, which we call a diagnosis, and then coupling that to a therapy that treats the body like its dead. This doesn’t produce very good results. Instead, we kneel in reverence at the Altar of Creation (an expression I have taken from Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathic medicine), we get our egos out of the way, and we allow [Creation] in the body to communicate to us how we can be of help. We find ourselves working with and in support of rather than against or doing things to the body and the clinical results are dramatically better.
The curriculum for the training program, The Altar of Creation begins with the simple process of getting out of the way and then keeps refining it, refining it, and refining it even more. This fine-tunes the students’ nervous systems as perceptual instruments, and, as it does that, guides them in beginning to construct a map of the body’s health requirements. It’s a multi-year, multi-layered, circular curriculum that’s intended to help develop the healership of the individual in stages. But it makes sense: first you learn to listen, and then you develop a map and a decoder to help you understand what’s being said and to guide you in your work.
Despite the fact of our uniqueness there are a number of things that all human beings require to be healthy. On the Spiritual Law side of the equation, there is a Breath of Life and for us to be truly alive it needs to ignite as a one-dimensional spark in us. The spark must then organize itself along a two-dimensional axis, which then stimulates a series of responses that creates a three-dimensional being reflective of the original formation of the embryo. This [process] is built into the anatomy. It’s built into the sacred geometry, and into the nature of the human body on many different levels. If this process isn’t happening, then the person is in shock, their perceptual clarity will be off, the person’s consciousness will be defective, and there will be a deeply impaired capacity to self-heal and self- regulate or even respond to appropriate treatments.
Equally important, as I started to talk about before, is the Physical Law side of the equation. Most doctors, therapists, and healers are not trained to work with structural integrity as one of the body’s most highly prioritized engineering requirements. However when a body is subjected to a violation in primary structural integrity and is forced to compensate [for defects in structure] a whole avalanche of compromises and consequences will ensue: from direct mechanical problems to indirect diseases or conditions such as spinal problems and pain, balance problems or gait disturbances, arthritis, muscle spasms, tendonitis, headaches, shoulder and arm problems, and even tempero-mandibular joint syndrome (TMJ), visual problems, and even hearing problems. But how and where the symptoms actually manifest in the body is irrelevant. The source of the problem was the primary loss of structural integrity. If we do reductionism to isolate the symptom and then attempt to treat it directly, the result is far too common: it’s like a puppy chasing its tail- the patient doesn’t get better or experiences only limited temporary relief. When I used to attempt to treat this way, I had a hard time “reading” the person’s body because of all of the strain and confusion in the tissues, and my results were unreliable and unpredictable, and generally pretty poor. But if instead we resist the temptation to treat the symptom and focus on digging down to the root of that symptom, evaluating the symptom(s) in the context of the whole body and its engineering requirements, we break through to another possibility of healing. We engage the possibility of identifying and curing the underlying deficit in structure, and then observing the body actually beginning to heal itself spontaneously.
This is how people heal themselves and how we can begin to truly support them in their healing. When I have a student or another doctor in my office and I initiate structural integrity into a patient’s body by raising their leg with a heel lift and thereby changing the shape of their primary weight-bearing mechanism, it blows their minds to see how many spontaneous changes- and I mean huge changes, that the patients’ bodies do on their own, while we’re just standing there watching. They watch things heal spontaneously that they would have otherwise spent many office visits trying to fix, unsuccessfully. And when there are healers who are sensitive to the human energy field they are astounded by how much spontaneous changes there are in the aura as a result of these seemingly structural corrections as well! And along with these other changes patients themselves report an almost immediate change in symptoms too, although that isn’t my initial goal- symptoms like posture, muscle tension, joint mobility and pain. And I am mostly talking about people who have been suffering a long time without any kind of lasting relief from anything they’ve tried. You see it doesn’t matter how many keys you’ve tried in a locked door. Until you try the right one, the one that that particular lock requires, the door stays locked. And it doesn’t matter how many healthcare professionals you’ve been to, how many acupuncture sessions you’ve had, or how many massages, P.T. visits, or even surgeries you’ve had, or even how many pills you’ve taken. If there is a primary loss of structural integrity, then nothing will change the violation except [fixing the structure.] You have to look at geometry of weight bearing and asymmetry, just as a structural engineer has to look at it in a building. So this is one of the major focuses of my curriculum (and my practice) too.
In my practice I see large numbers of people who have fallen through the cracks created by this blind spot in both the healing and conventional medical worlds. There’s this law that I jokingly call Weiss’s first law. No one taught it to me. I got it out of engineering texts and my years of rebuilding old houses- and it represents a realization that saved me. And it is: “The source of the problem is almost never where the symptom first appears. The source of the problem is almost never where it hurts.” In Chinese medicine it is stated: “He’s such a bad doctor that when a patient comes to him with head pain, he actually treats the head.” It’s hard for me to train my students to accept this because they’re trained to treat the body like it’s dead and “fix” the part that hurts or doesn’t move right. And it’s often hard for me to get my patients to accept this because they want me to attend to their pain in a literal way. If their head hurts they mostly expect me to treat their head.
Getting Out of The Way
In the beginning of the curriculum, honoring both Jimmy and Dr. Ruby Day, I begin to teach people the process of getting out of the way. Now, it is really hard to get out of the way. Our egos defy that process. It took Jimmy Awash’e a lightning bolt to have the capacity to get out of the way to the extent to where he could re-crystallize bone fractures. And I think if we attain that same “out of the way-ness” then we will be capable of the same level of healing. But while it would be cool to be able to re-crystallize bone fractures, I am not putting my name on the list for lightning strikes.
Essentially, you remove your attention by creating a floating hook out in space behind you and putting your attention there. For the purposes of the first course in the curriculum I guide the students into a meditative state, instruct them to create a hook in space that floats about 18 inches behind the second sacral segment, which is significant for many different reasons and creates a unique set of conditions in their bodies. Then I tell them to peel off their attention, like they’re taking off a wetsuit or a heavy winter cloak, and then hang it on this hook.
Once you have done this, the only really real work you have to do is to keep your attention there. It doesn’t like to stay out of the way back there. It doesn’t like to feel it’s separate from the rest of the body even though it is. It likes to get into everything. So your job is to keep it there. Stay somewhat vigilant about this. So devote a bit of your awareness to that job and bring the rest of your awareness back to me [or the patient or whatever is in front of you.]
And then there are a number of different phenomena that we observe. The room seems to expand and we become more aware of our surroundings. Sometimes our body seems to get very small or very large. There will be a perceptual shift and perhaps a loss of boundary between us, and the air around us. Students who usually don’t feel anything suddenly become aware of this enormous fire hose-type surge of qi running through bodies and perhaps out their arms and hands. I have come to call this surge of energy the creation wave. It seems to carry a broad set of frequencies of many different tones and vibrations. So we have nothing to do other than to get our attention out of the way in order for this massive flow of qi to spontaneously happen.
The Body as a Living Field
Then I start the first trainings by dividing the group into threes—I want one person on the table, one person at the head, and one person at the foot. Then I give a short discourse about how I was trained to contact the body- as if it were the most exquisitely crafted eggshell porcelain globe on the planet- extremely delicate and containing a sacred elixir. We have to hold and support the head or the feet so as not to even dent the surface of the eggshell or create any distortion. We have to make sure our hands are relaxed and the placement is correct and that we are not getting in the way. So it’s teaching people that they are entering a living field. There must be reverence. Every time you touch somebody, you’re communicating a great deal. How we contact our clients cannot be underemphasized.
Then I teach the students to wait and do nothing because the system will drive itself. And it will come to completion by itself when it’s done. It’s an educational experience for both the people who are the operators at the head and feet, but also for the person on the table. It is almost like the people at the head and feet disappear and the person on the table feels suspended in the air. There is a sense of being met and supported for one’s own uniqueness.
The people at the head and feet are always astonished at how much happens without them. First, perceptions deepen. Then awareness expands and they start becoming aware of all these things that are happening. Of course, the first tendency is to jump in and start getting in the way, so I have to keep helping them to pull their attention out and put it back behind them. Initially there is this constant struggle between their attention slipping in and then pulling it out and back on the hook. But the whole healing process that takes place is a continual observation of how powerfully, incisively, exquisitely, specifically, and comprehensively the body will heal itself. My goal in my practice, and what I teach, is to do less and less and support this self-healing process more and more.
Some of the things that might happen are that the energy field will shift itself, but that’s intangible for many people. More practically, spasms will release, tissue restrictions will spontaneously release, and joints will begin to move better. Muscles will relax; people may spontaneously shudder or their breathing will change, and they will often shift into a deeper state of relaxation or even experience emotional, auditory, or visual effects. Most people ultimately describe this state as a deep and profound healing of mind, body, and/or Spirit. Many get off the table after this simple exercise without the pains that have been plaguing them or just changed in some way.
So why aren’t patients able to do this for themselves- without us? Many can, but for the rest I really don’t know. There seems to be this need for a third force or a third individual to mediate the healing. You have the person and you have God, but there somehow needs to be the mediator. Also, on another note, if people can’t heal and regulate themselves they may be lacking some essential health requirement-like structural integrity or mechanical integrity or some other health requirement from the Spiritual Law side of the equation that is preventing them from healing themselves. It’s always trying to heal itself. The system will also guide me to what I need to do in terms of performing a specific osteopathic manipulative technique or procedure that will specifically remove the obstacle preventing the healing. We work to listen and we have a map to help guide us but ultimately it is a mystery and we can’t support everyone to healing, and don’t always know what we did or exactly what happened.
I perceive the human being as a continuum between energy and tissue, or energy and matter. I don’t look at them as separate. There are lots of ideas about the human energy field. Some people call it the aura. But there is an energy that is associated with our being, and it appears to have many different layers, each with a different function. The outer layer, referred to as the ketheric body, appears to be more associated with the affairs of the soul than of the body. You can perceive this layer. The innermost layer, the so-called etheric body is the energy most directly associated with the physical body. Interconnecting with and within the etheric body the tissues are formed, the chakra system exists, the meridian system exists, and there is this intimate relationship between structure and function. It’s in the etheric layer of the energy field that you see the dissociation, which occurs as a result of structural abnormalities, or loss of structural integrity and geometry. We exist as a continuum between spirit and matter. And my job as an osteopath is to sit and work at the interface, but as a physical healer to bring the healing from the energy back down and into the tissues themselves.
And at the end of his life, [Dr. Sutherland] had profound observations about the Breath of Life, the Breath of God, coursing through the universe, animating everything in its path. There is this place where there is God and the Breath of Life, and then there is this place where we exist. And there has to be a separation. At the level of our Creation there has to be duality.
Sacred geometry is about the Laws of Creation. It relates to the shape of how Spirit actually enters the body and how it lives there in health. In my practice and in my courses, I work with an aspect of sacred geometry I call The Sacred Count of Creation and as such it is a powerful engineering device or tool that both sensitively and accurately evaluates a person for their health and their capacity to self-heal and self-regulate. The Scared Count is so important in assessing and working with Spiritual Law that I have arranged the first three courses in the curriculum around it.
The Sacred Count is not easy to explain out of context, and students don’t really begin to get an understanding of how to work with it until somewhere in the second or third course. But I’ll try to explain. There is a place where the geometry will make sense and you’ll just have to trust me that there is great clinical importance to it: As I mentioned already there is a point that trained hands can find – literally a one-dimensional point where Life is transmuted into the body by The Breath of Life. That is the “one” of The Count that immediately polarizes into two opposing sparks. These then arc between one another and form the two-dimensional line or axis that is the body’s midline. That’s the [number] “two” of the Sacred Count. Immediately the body then organizes around its midline in three dimensions, which then initiates a complex coiling and folding of energy. That’s the three of the Sacred Count. As an event, this ONE, TWO, THREE, is the geometry of all that has to happen for Spirit to enter into the being and for the being to function in health. Any “errors” or defects in this count must first be recognized and corrected like any other prioritized engineering requirement, before we can expect the body to heal itself or begin to intervene with any other treatments.
When you hold the body and observe it, and you’re sensitive to the energy, what you see forming in front of you are discourses in anatomy and sacred geometry- even embryology, organizing, configuring and driving the body to health. Much of what I teach about sacred geometry comes from the lessons my patients’ bodies have taught to me. They can guide us to the place where sacred geometry, embryology, the structure of the energy body—and healing all come together. The movements and patterns of the embryo are how the sacred geometry becomes established in the anatomy and maintains the relationships that are preserved and maintained in the energy field. Understanding this guides you to where the healing power is, what the wisdom of the system is trying to do to heal itself and how to support that process.
I’ve recently begun to teach the second level course in the curriculum. Students start learning that there are many possible hooks and that by changing the hooks and changing the balance of how they hang their attention on the hooks, they can specifically modify their perceptions in favor of one perception or another- one part of The Sacred Count or another. When people work with this, they really start to see and feel more. As I introduce aspects of embryology that pertain to the sacred geometry of the body, that pertain to the movement patterns and the way that the energy forms, they start to see and learn things from the body they didn’t know before and perhaps didn’t think were possible. And that’s really exciting.
A Patient’s Story
Here is an experience I had when I was a third year osteopathic student and was in the Zuni Pueblo. One of the traditional religious people there used to be a tackle for the San Diego Chargers and a sergeant in the Marines in Korea. When he came back to the reservation, he became involved in the religions traditions and was a kachina for one of the big medicine festivals where he had to run enormous distances and plant prayer sticks all around the pueblo. But one year, he came up lame about three weeks before the celebration.
Many healers worked with him, but Paul wasn’t getting any better. Anthony, my brother in the family and himself a medicine man, had some idea that I might be able to help Paul. So I agreed to go. As I was working at the getting-out-of-the-way process, this voice comes into my head and says, “Steven, why don’t you check out his foot?”
Because Paul had a knee problem, I disregarded it. I worked for a little while and said to myself in best doctor’s voice- the voice I make fun of and call “Dr Wise:” “Well, his fibula is twisted a bit, his patella is off a little bit, and he’s got some swelling in the back of his knee with some tendon irritation, so let me work with that.” But the same voice came back, this time a little sweeter and maybe even a little patronizing, and said, “Steven, really, why don’t you check out his foot? Please.”
So I looked at his foot. It seemed that Paul had dropped an important bone in the apex of his arch. As a result there was a strain in his foot and ankle that pulled straight up into his knee. As I held his foot, “out of the way” I was aware of the shape of the health in his foot, an axis of energy running right down his leg into his arch from his spine as part of the “Two of the Sacred Count.” I was also aware of the straining motion present in the pathology and of the vectors that created themselves around the pathology, representing the injury. Going to where the energy guided me I put a thumb at one end of the axis of Health, under the bone of the arch and my other hand at the knee at the other end [of the Health axis]. I held the bone and gently began to lift it until the Health and the pathology, not the tissues, but the energy lines seemed to line up. I did what I perceived the system asked me to do. There was this wobble between the pathology of the displacement and the Health of the system, and I just held on until the lines lined up and the wobble went away and everything seemed like it was happier. I held it for a long time. When it tried to push my hands back, I just kept holding on to that bone in his arch and his knee. A force went up his leg and he shook. I said, “Are you okay? “
And he said, “Something is happening in there. I can feel it.”
I’m a little bit like Dr. McIver right? I’m not quite sure about what I’m doing. But I felt a series of very profound tissue releases in the bones of the transverse arch that traveled up his leg, through his knee, and into his pelvis. The bone in his arch, the external cuneiform, suddenly lifted back up into place almost spontaneously. And the whole time I was probably putting no more than a postage stamp’s worth of pressure on this bone, but his foot, ankle, leg, and knee reorganized. When I took my hands off to recheck his knee, he said, “That feels pretty good.” He stood up and he didn’t have any pain.
So that’s a literal example of how the healing can work, in this case it was in spite of myself- I had very little idea of what I was doing. I had considerable training by this point, but this was one of my first experiences in really surrendering and letting the body guide me, and the results amazed me.
I talked to some healers and some people on the reservation about the voice and they said, “The Spirit world is communicating to you and guiding you. It’s a blessing.”
Then I called Jim Jealous, Dr. Jealous- one of my earliest and most influential osteopathic mentors, and asked him, “What do you make of this voice?” His opinion was that Spirit was essentially feeling sorry for me and trying to help out because I was so inexperienced. “It’s grace for sure, and undoubtedly a real blessing, but they must realize you don’t know enough anatomy, so they have to give you direct instruction. My advice to you is to buy a couple of anatomy texts and really learn them from cover to cover. And maybe you should do another dissection or two. Then I suspect the voices will stop.”
So I made it a point to follow his advice and learn more and the voices stopped.
And they have been replaced over time by instincts. The voices have changed to understanding- a deep, knowing awareness of what’s under and around my hands, and perhaps, on a good day, real wisdom about what my patients require to heal themselves.
Observations about September 11, 2001
I live in Brooklyn and on most days rode my bike right under where the Twin Towers were. On September 11, 2001, however I was on my bike riding back downtown from an early morning homeopathic visit when it happened. By the time I got to my office, my first patient was there and she dragged me to the street corner to see. It was like a scene from a science fiction movie. People were crying, screaming, shaking, cars were stopped, people were just standing all around there with their mouths open, crying, “Oh my god, oh my god.” And as I struggled to move into observation I became aware that everybody’s energy field was completely blown apart. I stayed and treated the people who showed up for treatment over the next couple of days for the obvious shock that we had all undergone.
Then weeks and even months later, former patients started showing up at my office complaining of all sorts of old symptoms. The new patients had mostly the same story too. Even though these patients were coming to me with a knee problem, or foot problems, or a headache, they also nearly all complained of irritability, sleeplessness, difficulty concentrating and paying attention, and when I “got out of the way” and listened to their bodies, I realized there was a profound lack of any energetic integrity in their bodies and fields and there were disturbances in their Sacred Counts. I was also aware from that out-of-the-way place that their systems were hemorrhaging energy and that their second chakras were spinning in the wrong direction.
Their energy fields were warped and distorted. Their diaphragms were in spasms and the movement of qi that one should expect in the body was absent and very bizarre. I understood that diaphragmatic spasm often registered emotional or energetic trauma and registered as symptoms in the physical body and that that was probably responsible for the many different symptoms of which the patients were complaining, both directly and directly; especially the back-related ones (the diaphragm is a very strong back muscle). And many of the symptoms improved when I released the diaphragm spasms. But within a couple of days and with the collaboration of friends and colleagues we pieced together a scenario that explained the phenomena we were observing and guided us to effective diagnosis and treatment: The magnitude of the tragedy itself shattered people’s fields and sent them into shock right down to the level of the sacred Counts; the emotional data of the tragedy was more than the second chakra (the emotional center) could process, thereby causing it to essentially explode and begin to hemorrhage. It was being spun the wrong way to try to block the flow of energy through it to minimize the loss of qi. And the diaphragmatic spasm was there to shut the whole system down and reduce the flow of qi to the damaged parts. The patients were in shock and highly compromised, but they were still functioning on some level. What I first observed as pathology was actually a survival mechanism and an adaptation to the unthinkable overload that all New Yorkers experienced. The symptoms were there as an indirect consequence of the fact that their pain thresholds had dropped as a result of the shock and compensation and they began experiencing usually sub-threshold pains.
Initially I tried treating the symptoms themselves, but then I realized that if I first restored integrity to the Sacred Count and put energy into the second chakra and just held that, then the patients simply began to heal and regulate themselves. The second chakras started spinning correctly, their diaphragms relaxed, the qi began to circulate in a healthy way, the hemorrhaging of energy stopped, and the symptoms mostly went away on their own as the patients’ pain thresholds rose back up. It was amazing to witness how the body heals itself if it gets what it needs.
But if I hadn’t studied with Rosalyn Bruyere and didn’t have some understanding of the chakras, hadn’t gone to Zuni and learned to get out of the way from Dr. Day, or didn’t have an engineer’s sense of how the body worked, or hadn’t learned the sacred geometry of the Sacred Count, then I neither would have had the ability to understand what my patients’ bodies were trying to show me nor would I have had the capacity to do the work needed to support their healing.
What Medicine Needs
My whole journey has been to create a standard of care that is based upon the body’s truths- that is, the body’s own health requirements. First of all, we have never had a standard of care that is uniform across the board for all health care practitioners regardless of credential or specialty. What matters to a neurologist doesn’t matter to an acupuncturist or doesn’t matter to a homeopath or doesn’t matter to an osteopath or a chiropractor. It’s like we are treating different bodies and contradicting each other all the time, which is not only silly but a crime against our responsibilities to our patients.
And we are therapy driven. I think of this as a form of reductionism that ultimately treats the body like it’s dead. The difference between most complementary and alternative practitioners and allopathic practitioners is the therapies they use and not the way they think. Complementary therapies may be more benign, more herbal, with less morbidity, and fewer side effects but they are still often administered from an allopathic perspective. The therapies may differ but the thought process is often disturbingly similar.
We need to look at the body in a different way. What I teach and practice is not about the differences in what I do, but the different way in which I do it. When I recommend a surgery, it is the result of a totally different way of looking at the body that’s brought me to that conclusion. Reductionism is a disease of our culture—we want to make things smaller because we don’t have the minds to hold the paradox or the willingness to stay with the irrational.
Patients say to me, “But my MRI that shows that I’ve a herniated disc. And my surgeon says that the MRI indicates that I have to have surgery.” Yet there’s a whole movement in medicine that recognizes that there is often no statistical connection between the radiologist’s interpretation of the MRI and the patient’s pain! So we need to solve problems at their root more and perhaps promote often unnecessary and harmful therapies less.
We have created more rigid professional standards for our engineers than we have for our physicians and healers. If you own a barn with structural problems or if the roof is buckling and you call a structural engineer, if he doesn’t first evaluate and, if necessary, restore the integrity of the foundation before he does any structural work on the building, he is guilty of negligence. It is an open-and-shut case because the profession has established a standard whereby the entire community of structural engineers is required to evaluate the whole structure and restore foundation integrity as a priority, first. But I’ve seen people who have had multiple knee operations for a problem that ultimately was coming from how they stood and bore weight, but none of the surgeons or therapists ever really evaluated how they stood… before they operated or conducted months of painful treatment. Because they weren’t trained to or were professionally required to. It was not part of their paradigm; their data base.
We need a standard of care that holds us all equally responsible for working with a problem-solving algorithm based upon how the human body works: structural integrity, mechanical integrity, balanced muscular integrity, neuro-regulatory function, psycho-spiritual integrity, energetic integrity, metabolic and genetic factors, and occupational factors, to name a few of the most important parts. Whether you’re an allopathic physician, acupuncturist, chiropractor, healer, or osteopathic physician it is still necessary to look at all these things in order to truly serve your patients’ healing. We are so often treating the tail of the animal rather than the animal. We spend all of our time reducing people to effect and attempting to treat that (with poor results) rather than supporting the whole and trying to look at the cause… or the source of the problem.
Medicine as a practice of Healing is about the person on the table in front of you who has come to you for help from their suffering. Their bodies already know what they require to heal… and they and only they can respond to what we do and begin to heal (and correct and regulate) themselves! We have lost sight of that. What we mostly seem to do is impose our concepts and our egos and the therapies that we are trained to do to everyone we see. [To get it right,] I think we have to change something first in ourselves. We have to learn to listen- with our minds and our hearts and our hands. We have to let go of our concepts and really serve our patients and not our egos. We have to have the courage and faith and the training to allow them (our patients) to show us how we can help heal them. I think we have to make a change first in here, in ourselves (pointing to his heart)- in one health care practitioner and one patient at a time. Like Jimmy the bone doctor, I pray that we can begin to get out of the way and let the Creator and the Spirits of our ancestors come through and help us heal.”