My Andrew Taylor Still

Ricerca e scienza

di Maximilien Girardin, Founder and teacher at Evost &Morphologicum

A peculiar title for an osteopathic article, though it is in its “Wesen” (essence) profoundly sincere and genuine… I view today’s osteopathic professionals as belonging to one of three categories that I refer to as: ModernBelievers, and Die-hards.

I define the Modern group as having little to no interest in, or appreciation for, A.T. Still or his writings. Rather, members of this group perceive both Still and his ideas as obsolete.

I refer to Believers as those who pay lip service to A.T. Still, making us think that they find him important, because—of course—he is the founding father of our profession. However, when Believers are questioned in detail, it becomes evident that they view Still as important because they trust certain out-of-context quotations and stories about a mythical figure. The Believers have read virtually nothing of Still’s original writings. They readily accept second-hand descriptions of Still and interpretations of his work, and they perpetuate this faulty information with silly stories they have taken for granted without verification.

The Die-hards are fascinated by the exceptional figure of A.T. Still. Seen from today’s perspective, he had such strange and different ideas—and he had such trust and conviction in his ideas that he put them into action to heal the sick and diseased. To be honest, this author belongs to this last group. I also know a few other Die-hards—the outliers, of which there are likely only a couple handfuls worldwide. Neither term—Die-hard nor outlier—is adequate to describe the deep-seated respect that these people have for A.T. Still. Nor can these terms convey the Die-hards’ endless quest to reveal the meaning of Still’s words (both in his time and in our time).

So why talk about “My Andrew Taylor Still”? Because that is the only Andrew Taylor Still I can talk about; it is the one I sense having a connection with. Is he real? Very probably not, but in this author’s mind, objective reality is only a tiny part of what concerns people and their ideas. Individual perception is our sole reality in those domains, and, as with a stone, we can chisel and chip parts of this perception away for our entire lives—and slowly a certain Form appears. For some, this Form may be a piece of art; for others, it is just a piece of rubbish gathering dust.

Thus, I find that I can talk about my own perception only as it is in the process of creation—in the raw Form. Continued polishing will reveal new details each and every day…

“My A.T. Still” was a peculiar man, formed by the specific environment and times in which he lived.1 What I have in common with the person I affectionately call “Drew” is being an outdoor Nature’s man and being observative by necessity. Real Nature has nothing to do with the walk in the park where you hug trees. Nature is raw, savage, and true; it has no sentiment or feelings; it does not judge—it simply is. The complex interactions of Nature tend to be reduced to a few basic no-nonsense realities: organisms must constantly adapt to survive; they eventually reproduce; they live within a limited timeframe; they then disappear and make room for new organisms and new complexity. The cycle of ever-changing environments and systems is constant and forever. “The only permanence is the constant impermanence or change.”

There is much more finesse, subtlety, and delicacy in these forever-ongoing processes and balances than anyone unfamiliar with raw Nature might suspect. Being in that environment teaches you that everything in Nature—whether it is mineral, vegetable, or animal—behaves according to certain principles. There is a single fundamental Mechanism that encloses all algorithmic trees of principles—what is so often called the “Law of Nature.” The awe, respect, wonder, and, finally, enormous trust that one develops for Nature’s Mechanism is only possible by spending a great deal of time in raw real Nature and by being diligently inquisitive. One must expand observational qualities for even minute microcosms, while never losing the “big picture.” If one does not adhere to these principles, one’s personal limit-date of expiration is prompted.

This peculiar mix of qualities led “Drew” to be very hungry for knowledge, while understanding everything through the comprehension of the Mechanism of Nature.

The result of this analysis is an apparent “contradictio in terminis”: “Drew” loved individuals, ideas, and concepts for their truth as Nature’s creatures and creations, but he loathed everything that carried people away from Nature’s Mechanism—whether those things are concepts, ideas, or groups.

“Drew” had such a profound trust in Nature’s Mechanism that he spent his life trying to find ways of acting in accordance with his convictions and the Mechanism of Nature. “My Andrew Taylor Still” was a true man—true to himself and true to his love for Nature and life—even in the face of contrary winds that civilization and modern society threw at him. These contrary winds included “heroic medicine,” the Civil War, the evolution of “modern science,” eugenics or “species embetterment,”and other exactions thrust upon him during his lifespan. He was so true to his beliefs that he forewarned the profession by writing to Arthur Hildreth, D.O.: “You need not fear our enemies who have contested every advancement we have undertaken. They cannot harm us, their kicks are only a 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.” 2 3

The osteopathy of “My Still” was supposed to address the depth and truthfulness of living and acting according to Nature’s Mechanism in terms of health and disease. In Still’s eyes4, the success of osteopathy, and the social recognition and status that went with this success, depended on staying true to this vision and not the reverse.

“My Still” recognized that, in Nature, Function (i.e., behavior) emerges first as a solution to a problem—it is a “polarity in space and time.” When the Function is potent and lasts long enough in the right environment, it results in a particular Structure. But then a shift happens—the Structure starts to direct or steer the Function. This is a form of specialization that reduces the adaptability and the possibilities of the Function… it is a loss of potential and potency. It is a hazard for the health of the Function (because of the loss of adaptability). Now that the Structure is present, it needs a specific environment and, thus, specific conditions to maintain its optimal potential or health.

Example: In an embryo, a big difference in concentration will provoke a flow in the intercellular matrix (diffusion), when this flow is potent enough and has a clear direction, and lasts long enough, it becomes a trajectory ( a function) but in and around this trajectory a vessel will selforganize (structure). Once the vessel has formed it steers the trajectory.

This is where “My Still” saw the task of the osteopath—to maintain the freedom of the Structure so that the Function has the optimal conditions and environment to express itself (i.e., the normal, harmonious, or health of the Form.) This concept is very important, because it reveals the capacity of “My Still” to be aware of the dimensional factor—such as “the thousandth of an inch”4… not only gross mechanics, but the subtle tissue balance conditions of the microcosm.

“My Still” is hungry for the advances of science—the facts and ideas. “Drew” is not against scientific development and evolution. On the contrary, these were among the pillars that formed the fundaments of his osteopathy. However, he recognized the hazards and dangers of being carried away and misled by pseudoscience and trends in the world of academia that are so impregnated by the sick (i.e., non-Nature) aspect of society that they draw one away from the truth—the Mechanism of Nature. “My Still” is very cautious with these deviating trends. “My Still” loves “Form as being the indivisible unity of Function and Structure,” and he trusts the fundamental principle of self-maintenance or self-healing.

“My Still” admonishes us—in all circumstances—to stay true to one’s Nature-based philosophy and to Nature’s Mechanism. These truths serve as our security check for not being carried away by pseudoscience and the hidden agendas of social recognition, status, and ego-constructs.

“My Still” acknowledges Nature and sees the human creature not as something outside it or above it, but as a product of Nature’s complexity and harmony—of Nature’s balance.

“My Still” acknowledges the danger of exactions that tend to happen when one lets down one’s guard, awareness, or humility. He emphasizes the necessity of being an integral part of this Universe’s Mechanism, rather than trying to rise above it.

“My Andrew Taylor Still” was a peculiar man in a peculiar environment. I know that I will never be able to fully understand him. Nevertheless, the facts of advancing science and the philosophy of “Drew” will continue to serve as a lifelong thread of brilliant advice. The most pressing message of “My Still” remains: “…an osteopath is a lifelong student…of Nature.” Thus, I will continue to chisel my stone, polishing it and discovering its marvels, until attaining my personal limit-date of expiration…

Thank you, Drew, for that gift and for your views on the applications of truth… What about the Modern group and the Believers?

The Modern group is not important, because it is auto-destructive in essence. If you ignore your own history and even deny its importance, you’ll accumulate Form errors so rapidly that natural selection will catch up with your behavior… you can’t beat Nature’s Laws.

The Believers believe whatever they choose, demonstrating no genuine personal curiosity. This represents the worst side of humankind… believing with little or no reasoning… no self-questioning and no self-awareness. It is “My Still’s nightmare.”

Tyrannical rulers are not the worst that humankind has produced. That designation, rather, belongs to the huge mass of followers and believers who do not care and do not question, and who simply believe and accept the exactions of the tyrants. This same mass of believers—who bear the real responsibility for the tyrannical exactions—furiously look for the guilty to judge and punish when the inevitable fallout of tyranny rains down on them. In this way, they might sleep tight, telling themselves that they have done the right thing, without ever looking at their own responsibility. And they can continue believing unwarily.

I suspect that “my Still” wanted to awaken such Believers, but it was likely to be a lost battle from the start. Perhaps “my Still” showed his most brilliant side when he wrote: “Never surrender, but die in the last ditch. This is a war not for conquest, popularity, or power. It is an aggressive campaign for love, truth, and humanity”.


1 The American Pioneer Frontier, a ‘libertarian’ cooking pot, where many idea’s, philosophies and spiritual concepts where stewing, transforming and regenerating new flavors all the time, as it went by. As the author is not American, he knows he will never be able to grasp that specific part of Drew.

2 Hildreth Arthur, The lengthening shadow of A.T. Still, 1938 Simpson Printing Company P. 21

3 Inter Linea: The Journal of Osteopathic Philosophy, Vol 2, number 3, September 2000, pg 1, 10-12 4 as this author understand it.

4 Philosophy and Mechanical Principles of Osteopathy, A.T. Still, Hudson- Kimberly Pub. CC Kansas City , MO, 1902, p 18