Tom Shaver graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1979; interned at Saginaw Osteopathic Hospital; and was recruited to teach Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine and family practice at the West Virginia College of Osteopathy. From 1981 to 1996 he was chairman of the Department of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. He also served as director of medical education, and as medical director, in charge of physicians and students in the clinic of the college, and on the board of the Clinic Corporation. In 1995 he began teaching at the Vienna School of Osteopathic Medicine, and one year later left his appointment in West Virginia to begin free-lance teaching. “My students tell me,” he says, “that what I decided to do was teach people who want to learn.”
He has taught numerous workshops on esoteric healing and energetic osteopathy around the country, attended by a variety of energy- and bodyworkers, including many Rolfers. This interview was conducted during a workshop in North Carolina in August, 1998, by Siana Goodwin and Carol Agneessens, workshop participants.
SG: Tom, I was attracted to your workshop because you come right out and say, “We’re connecting the divine into the body.” Not that many people are so bold. I want to talk about how that experience happens for you, where you came from to get there. I also want to explore with you in working with spirituality, or the divine-how do we know what we know? It’s something that lingers at the edge of Rolfing, and for your work it seems to be in the center.
TS: It’s not even connecting the divine into the physical-the divine is throughout, and it’s getting us to be centered enough in our own higher selves, recognizing our own divinity, so that we can recognize it in others. That recognition changes the entire character of the interaction.
When a person walks through the door and you recognize them as a divine being, it may be the first time anyone has ever seen that in that person and acknowledged its existence in them. From that moment forward it’s a very different experience, and very central to interacting with them.
If we’re going to talk about healing, healing is about recognizing our own perfection, and then manifesting it in all dimensions, not simply mentally or spiritually. All these divisions are man-made divisions in this reductionistic style of thinking that we do. But we have to get back to re-integration, to the oneness and the wholeness that we all are, and we all are a part of. Being a part of the wholeness is actually a mistake in our own thinking too, because we can’t even be a part of it, we are it. A lot of people use the hologram as a metaphor, because if you take a piece of the hologram you still have the whole picture. Maybe with different resolution, but you still have the whole picture.
SG: How did this kind of awareness emerge for you?
TS: I’m not sure that I even know. It’s a progression, and at the same time it’s an inner knowing, it’s a recognition of something that maybe I’ve felt for a long time but didn’t even know. And maybe it’s some energy shifts that have catalyzed it. I suspect that’s a good part of it.
SG: What do you mean by energy shifts?
TS: As we reach up to listen to our own inner guidance and our own higher wisdom, we have to make a shift from living as a personality in the everyday world because something about that becomes not satisfying enough. You know, if it’s making money, or whatever the social consensus is-at some point in time a lot of people are coming to the place that they just don’t feel satisfied. I’ve gone through that phase, and just kept asking, “Is there more to this? What’s the reason to even bother being here?” Because some of it’s such a pain, why would I bother? There must be some higher order.
When you start asking to find some higher wisdom in yourself, doors open, if you ask long enough and hard enough. It’s not so much answers-but the teaching that you’re asking for and searching for starts to become available. Sometimes it manifests through people that you run into-teachers, or just friends and sometimes it manifests through some inner knowing. For me, the vast majority of the things that I consider important that I learned have come through the service work of the teaching that I’ve done. I’ll walk into a situation, and I need to answer a question, or I need to be able to help a person understand or achieve a skill. I may be able to do it for myself, but I need to figure out a way to help that person be able to do it for themselves, too. A lot of my asking has been directed in that way, for service, and I find that the answers or the information or the sensitivities that are required have been given to me quite freely.
I have teased it and played with it and abused it a little to see what would happen and see if things would get taken away-and they do. That’s an interesting process too, because something will be given, say a particular skill or a particular sensitivity, and one day you have it, and you’re using it and working with it, and then at some point you don’t have it. But you really used it and really liked it, it was really helpful and worked really well, and then you go about this process of-OK, I know where I want to go, I know what I need, and I even experienced it, so how to I get from where I am to there? And you just work at that, and eventually you have this skill or sensitivity that you have free access to, and you developed within yourself.
SG: But it originated perhaps like a gift?
TS: Almost like a gift. And who knows who did the giving of the gift. I don’t have a clue.
SG: How does this process fit for you with your medical training? Were they a simultaneous growth?
TS: No, actually I had to turn off that growth to go through the medical training, and then have some experiences to turn the process back on. I knew in the medical training that was; going on. I felt like I was leaving a string behind me to pull myself back along, but then when I went to pull myself back along the string, that path wasn’t relevant any more. Trying to think that I could have a space of time with a world of other experiences, incredibly intense experiences, and thinking that I could come back in and join right up where I had left off on my “spiritual path” or searching path or whatever-it didn’t work. The string was useless. So then I had to start over because I had a new reference system that had to be incorporated. Before I didn’t have that whole knowledge base that had to fit in that other world view.
SG: So the new reference system was the medical training-
TS: Yeah. Those were really two separate directions.
SG: So then what happened? Was that when the asking began?
TS: What happened was that I was married, and my wife had an extremely rare form of cancer. We searched out what the medical profession had to offer, the highest quality in the country, and basically they didn’t know how to respond to what she had. One of my graduate students told me about a teacher that he knew, we went and interacted with her a little bit and she got me back on track. She worked with my ex-wife and made some significant changes but she also gave me some nudges and opened some doors for me-asked some questions or gave me some exercises to do that opened questions, and that got me going.
SG: Was that where you started to get exposed to the aspects of energy in your work?
TS: More outwardly and blatantly. In my osteopathic training I started with cranial work very early on, after being in school maybe six months. Dr. Sutherland’s original students, who were teaching, realized that they couldn’t use the word “energy” and they couldn’t talk about it openly, but they guided us very effectively into working in that realm.
SG: How do you guide people’s awareness of energy and using that energy?
TS: I think probably the easiest way to describe it-it’s not intellectually satisfying at all-is that you first have to hold the person’s respect, and then, you tell them to do something that’s impossible in the way that they presently know how to reference it. They’ll first try to intellectually understand what it is you’re asking them to do, and they wont be able to understand it, and then eventually they get to the point where if they don’t make a shift in their way of looking at the statement or the question there is no answer. Then what they’re told to do happens and they step back and say, “Well, I don’t know what just happened, but I think it was what I was supposed to do.”
With some repetition they start to be comfortable making that shift. You trick them into making it by letting go of their everyday paradigm, everyday world view, everyday consciousness, and shift to an alternate way of looking at things. Then they find that the thing they were asked to do is in fact possible from that point of view. And it works. And the person gets better, of course otherwise you wouldn’t want to do it.
SG: Is this what happened for you were with teachers that you respected, that demanded something different from you and were effective in what they did?
TS: Some were, some were just difficult to be around. But some were incredibly insightful and intuitive and spiritually oriented-but never used any words that made you think that they might be religious or spiritual. It was a very guarded, protected time.
I can remember as a maybe a second year student going to our big annual conference of the osteopathic physicians that did manipulation. I had seen a little flyer that was almost secretly passed around about a workshop one person was doing that had something to do with energy. And so I went up to him and asked him, “What do you mean by this energy? I have a science background, I have a clue what energy is, but what is this?” And the reaction I got from him felt like to me-it wasn’t, I’m sure, what he did-was like asking W. C. Fields something: “Go away, kid, ya bother me.” And I became very indignant, that here was something that was within the realm of the mentors of osteopathy and they were not willing to share it-they protected it and guarded and withheld it, from my perspective. So I sought out more and more information and experience-like the Silva mind control things-learning more and more about the things that were not of the everyday realm of working. But I worked really hard to make sure that I wasn’t getting into things that had negative connotations-black magic and power and control trips, things that were to be used over other people. It was more internal self control and understanding and seeing how things worked.
SG: Some people have trouble with “energy” because it’s such a soft term.
TS: Yeah, it’s almost meaningless.
SG: So how do you feel about that? Having the credentials that you have, using the word “energy,” do you need to have a precise way to speak about it, a definition, or are you happy with saying it’s that thing that you feel, that experience?
TS: The times are real different now. Ten years ago, and especially twenty years ago, the word was pretty close to meaningless. Now, most people that I run into, as patients or students in workshops, that I would talk to about it have some kind of an internal definition or reference system for it. Sometimes in discussions you have to reference that the “energy” we’re working with does in fact behave like light, sound, magnetism, electricity, gravity, all forms of energy that decrease as the square of the distance. As you move further and further away, that character of energy that can be regulated from the hands or from the heart or from the whole being does in fact decrease. However, there is a character of energy that we work with that is not distance dependent and we really don’t know very much about that. We think it may fall into the category of working in the mental planes somehow, or working from the mind. Larry Dossey refers to local and non-local phenomena, researching prayer and other kinds of “energy work” that have non-local effects. If someone wanted to be more comfortable with the term “energy,” I would refer them to his work. The other source for looking at that kind of stuff is the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine. They’re centered out of Golden, Colorado.
SG: The other place that I think distinctions get mooshed is between energy and spirituality.
TS: Yeah, what’s spiritual and what’s religious.
SG: What’s spiritual, what’s religious, what’s energetic, what’s divine. Do you worry those over in your mind?
TS: I’m fairly resolved, fairly comfortable with how I feel about it. Anything religious is designed by man, brings in dogma, brings in belief systems, brings in all kind of man-made interpretation, and what I look at as spiritual or spirituality is more just pure-only of those realms and not of my interpretation of it. The experience of those other aspects of our existence that are non-physical. That’s part of what I’m trying to break down with my work and my classes-that there’s not a break, there’s not a definition between the two, there’s not anything that we can differentiate. The simplest way of looking at that is just to look at everything as movement, everything as motion or vibration. Or you could call it a manifestation of energy, and if we slow that down eventually it becomes a gas, and if we slow it down even more it becomes liquid, and slow it down even more and it becomes a solid.
What I’m saying is that in that electromagnetic spectrum, if you want to look at it that way, there are no breaks, there are no empty spaces that make one thing entirely different from something else. Again it’s our reductionistic thinking that says, “I want to -study the part of. this that has this characteristic.” Okay, so somebody studies that and learns about it for themselves, but so often then it’s not re-integrated, it’s looked at as something separate because that’s how they studied it. They dissected it out and studied it as though it can be separate, and of course it can’t be. What they studied was how whatever that phenomena was manifested only in the range they were looking at, not how it was manifesting throughout that whole spectrum. So what I try to get people to experience is that this expression of an individual of a being, as well as the healing, or therapeutic or facilitory interaction that we have, are on a continuum. There’s no breaks. If this person has a pain in their big toe there is a manifestation of that all throughout their whole spectrum of existence, from the densest physical matter to the most subtle energetic, whatever word you want to put on it. As practitioners, we need to be open to the fact that there is more to that person than the big toe pain. We used to joke in medical school about “the gallbladder in room 352.” Guess what, there’s a person wrapped around that gallbladder, and there’s a whole being wrapped in and around that person. Let’s just acknowledge that that exists, acknowledge that that person is really of the same essence that we are, that they have a divine spark within them, they are a child of God the same as we, they have a Christ light, or whatever terminology or metaphor you like to use, but start the interaction there, recognizing them as a complete spectrum of existence and then work with them in that way. And I think the interaction will be different.
SG: So even if you did not consciously-I don’t know if you could not consciously-decide you weren’t going to do energy work, you weren’t going to contact the divine but you walked in with that awareness and treated the big toe, you’re saying it’s going to be a different experience.
TS: Yes. Part of what I was really looking for with this energy medicine business was to see if there were explanations for experiences that I was having.
SG: Such as?
TS: Just that a whole lot more than the big toe changed when I worked with it. How come the person feels it up in their pelvis, how can they feel it in their head, how come their whole emotional aspect changes, how come their thinking changes and how they deal with me and the person up front when they pay their bill-what’s going on that all these things are changing as a result of the change in that big toe? What’s the continuity? All medical training is reductionistic: “What’s the pathology? What’s the physiology? They don’t have to be related, they can be separate individual processes.” Baloney! It’s all one function, in a being in which all of its whole continuum knows all of what’s going on.
SG: In this work the presence of the body spirit seems self-evident because so much more happens than you can possibly-
TS: Ascribe to a physical phenomenon.
SG: Yeah, exactly. Do you think you affect those areas of the being anyway, even if the person you’re working on has no belief in or reference to them, or doesn’t care?
TS: Um-hm. And I think it’s your responsibility, once you have an awareness or sensitivity, to hold that out to them. Not to rub their nose in it, but to meet them where they are the best that you can. Try to find who they really are, and what’s the focus that they bring to this interaction.
SG: You have knowledge, you have something to give in a session of any kind, but how do you safeguard against imposing your will, your ego, your concept of what’s best onto the person who has come to you for treatment, who often is in some ways very submissive, or helpless with what you’re doing, with trusting you?
TS: It’s a difficult problem. When people learn something, or find a new tool that they can bring into their practice, they feel so empowered that everything looks like it needs to be treated with that particular thing, with the end result or “goal” of that treatment as the goal. I think some of it is goal orientation, and that’s such a social thing. I do a lot of work to undermine that stuff, and when people come in and want to know what’s the end result of what I do-I don’t know, I don’t even have an expectation. I can’t, because as soon as I do, then I’m trying to make that person move in the way that I think is right. And God didn’t die and make me God so I don’t know what’s right for these people.
All I can do is ask and listen for direction from some intuitive instinctual source, and trust and follow that. I have the faith, because I have been at it long enough and seen it over and over again, that that level of understanding, that’s beyond my intellectual capability, is a much more cognizant, coherent, and omniscient source than my intellect can be, even at my best function. I actually am thankful for that recognition in my own part, because I see people who are much smarter than I am really struggling with the need to be able to understand everything, to be able to take it apart and put it back together. I can in all comfort come from a place where I don’t have to know, or it doesn’t have to make sense to me from the paradigm or the mindset that I’m in at this moment. I can set that aside and try my best to do what I’m intuitively or instinctually guided to do. Hopefully if I’ve gotten myself as clear as possible that’s coming from some source that’s more all knowing than I certainly am. The best part of the deal is, whatever that source is does an instantaneous read on the abilities and the tools and the aptitudes that I bring into the interaction with that particular patient or client, and then can direct me to do whatever is most appropriate that I can do. Not only in skills and abilities that I bring into it, but in aptitude to learn to do something new for a patient that I’ve never done before, never seen before, never been taught before.
A lot of what I’ve been taught has been taught to me in that way. I start into something and I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and it’s working-I can sense the energy moving or I can sense the physical change or I can sense the change in affect of the patient or some other indicator that says something is having a positive or an improving effect, even though at the moment it may feel like it’s taking them down into a deep hole, but staying with that they actually move through the difficulty and right on out and they’re clear of it. There’s a lot that happens if we can set our personality and our goals aside, give up that directionality to our treatment, and just be present with the person, recognizing them as an equal, as a divine being just as divine as we are, and then listening for directions as to what is most appropriate to occur in this time that we have together.
SG: One thing that’s been really nice in this class is watching how you work. With a huge background of treatment modalities, what you’ve taught about resolving spinal abnormalities, spinal rotations and fixations-you could teach mechanics-
TS: And I do, every year.
SG: -but the other way of viewing the continuity of body and all the energies allows you to say, “But the mechanics don’t matter, you look at this, and this resolves it,” without having to figure out-
TS: To impose a mental paradigm that then limits the possibilities of healing for that mechanical problem.
SG: So what you don’t do, is stick with that paradigm.
TS: No. You have to be fluid. I’ve made the analogy many times with music. You do have to learn the notes, how to make your instrument work, you do have to learn technical stuff, but then, once you know the notes, you know the scales, you know the chords, and you can read music, then you can kind of get a sense of what’s going on, and get out of the way and let the music come through. And it’s way more than what’s written on the page!
SG: It seems though that you teach people to listen to the music and dance with the music without them having studied the same scales that you have.
TS: Exactly. Because I’ve studied how people learn, and I’ve studied how to make that process as efficient as possible in working with medical students-a lot of whom don’t even want to learn what I have to teach. So the thing is then, how can I make it so effective and efficient for them to learn this material that they can keep their “A” orientation, even in a course that they have difficulty relating to? We developed tools and methods that are very efficient and go in very quickly and very clearly, and then give them the need to perform those skills, with examinations that are one-on-one, carefully observing their performance. They learn to rise to it. They learn to learn something in a much different way than memorizing facts and spewing them back on multiple choice tests. So we give them that opportunity.
SG: When you’re actually working on someone, I know that you have a sense of the whole energy flow, but are you aware of moving from one aspect to another? Do you scan?
TS: That is a way to learn, to deliberately pick regions and look what’s going on there. Those regions can vary from different parts of the body to different aspects of the field around the person, interpenetrating the person, or even what’s going on in the room around them-lots of different levels. But really, rather than consciously directing that process, I much prefer to shift into an inclusionary mode, rather than an exclusionary mode where I look in this spectrum, then that spectrum. Instead I say, “OK, I’m open to whatever is involved and going on in this process and I would like to be made aware of as much of it as my own system can handle.” Going into the interaction in that way, I begin to perceive or sense all kinds of things that are factors in what I thought might have been a sacroiliac dysfunction, a very dense physical problem. Then it starts extrapolating out into all the different things that could be going on with pelvic problems, all the other things that might be tied into it, at many many other levels. Then other things that might be helpful in the treatment process, from those other levels. So it expands out into a really marvelous symphony of a process.
CA: You talked about “fix-its”-at some point you decided that you had to go underneath just putting the vertebra back into place or changing the rib angle. What stopped you from just that limited view?
TS: Well, people would leave the office and the problem would come back by the time they got to their car, or by the time they got to their home. The motivation was really to find something that worked at a level that supported the change. OK, so we can move the joint, we can restore full range of motion-if it comes right back, what have we really done? Not much of anything. I start feeling guilty about charging people for stuff that doesn’t do any good.
CA: So actually this is connected to a much bigger context.
SG: Yeah, then you start saying, “How do I learn to do things that work more deeply?” What I had to do was volitionally say “I’m not doing this any more.” I started to work from a cranial osteopathic model, stopping my general practice-there were plenty of people to absorb my patients. I limited my practice, and scheduled long appointments, and said, “I’m just going to sit here, to see if these patients will teach me anything, or somebody will teach me something.” I had to put a lot of time in-several years of just sitting in a quiet room wondering what the hell was going on. I would get twenty second glimpses-I might get two or three-maybe at the most five twenty-second glimpses of what was happening with that person in an hour treatment. And then I was getting almost no feedback from the patients, because I was booked so far ahead that I never knew if it was doing any good or not. I might see a patient three years later and he’d say, “You know, I meant to come back, but I haven’t had any problem since that treatment.” Hell, I didn’t know anything went on during that treatment!
SG: And you were working in cranial mode at that point?
TS: I was working mostly in cranial mode.
CA: So you really allowed yourself to hang in this place of not knowing?
TS: Yeah. The thing there-I don’t think it’s appropriate now for people learning. We don’t have that kind of time. We don’t have three years to just sit. Learning to sit and be still is a very very very important skill, but we don’t have to do that in this type of work-you can learn that in meditation. You can learn that in hunting, you can learn that in fishing. But back then people were really afraid to teach us. They had been hurt, they had been chastised, they had been threatened, and all they could was to hold out to us that if we would get still and be quiet, the body would teach us. What that does from an experiential point of view is it builds a place of such faith-not belief-faith based on experience after experience after experience after experience of watching the results it?s a confidence builder in the long run. In the short run it’s a confidence tearer downer, but in the long run it can really give you a stable, solid base.
I’m hearing from different people what their descriptions are of experiences I had twenty years ago. I’d never heard anybody else had them, now people are putting words on this and sharing descriptions. And the funny part to me is it’s across professions, across modalities. It might be a psychiatric orientation, or it might be some other orientation, and the experience is similar.
SG: What experience are you referring to?
TS: How a person goes through a certain block or a certain problem they have. It could be physical or it could be well who cares, ’cause it’s all one thing-and their inroad is through one window, my inroad is through another window. The process that we describe, even though it’s through different windows, starts feeling and looking and sounding like identical processes, different access points into the system. It’s all just a matter of shifting perspective or standing still in the center of it and seeing how it’s coming in. It’s not a different person because I’m going to work with them cranially, it’s not a different person because I’m going to use allopathic medicine and medications and surgery or whatever. It’s not a different person because I’m going to look at them homeopathically. The window’s different, but the person is the same person. That’s the thing that we want to try to keep track of. It’s still one functioning unit of a being.
SG: So what do you think is the difference between intention and attention?
TS: Intention has a directionality and usually a goal. Attention is observant. You will still bring energy to whatever your attention is on, but your energy doesn’t carry an expectation with it, a demand for a certain manifestation. Attention allows the person to manifest however they want to, and you’re just going to watch it and you’re going to allow them to draw your attention to whatever it is that they want your attention on. You bring intention in, and you’re trying to make things happen. That brings no sensitivity or awareness of where or who that person is, what’s most appropriate for them in that moment. That’s the problem I have with approaches that use intention. I have heard people say, “My intention is that the highest will be done.” Okay-who decided what’s highest? Make sure that you’re real clear about that and you’re not judging that this wasn’t high enough and I think something else should happen because it needs to be higher. Just watch the show the show is going to teach you so much, because it’s so incredibly amazing, and incredibly beautiful it?ll put you on your knees in tears, in awe at the process. If we think that we could bring some higher knowing of what needs to happen than the being itself has-forget it! It’s totally arrogant and foolish.