Jenny Rush: Healing from Chronic Illness
Lyme Connection newsletter editor Janet Jemmott recently attended a Lyme Thriving retreat in coastal Maine where author Jenny Rush introduced patients to her outlook on healing from chronic illness. Jenny began the program with a discussion of ontology – the study of being human, what she refers to as the “beingness” of being human. Jenny believes we can use this understanding to access deep peace and fulfillment, and that, in turn, can be deeply healing on an emotional and spiritual level. What follows is Janet's conversation with Jenny.
Tell me about Lyme Thriving
When I look into the Lyme community, as big as this community is, the energy is focused mostly on what’s not right, what needs to be fixed. There’s very little focus on bringing into the conversation what is right and what can be done to heal at an emotional level. Chronic illness is a deeply emotional experience that causes many things to surface - previous traumas, incomplete relationship issues - all of which are magnified by the illness experience. I wanted to create an opportunity for people to bring their attention to something uplifting and loving and empowering, and to give people tools for how to address their challenges so they are left empowered and content, even in the face of a difficult situation. So Lisa Hilton and I began the teleconferences in early 2012. We recorded the calls so people who can’t be on the live teleconferences can listen when they have time.
And then we invited Lyme health care providers to be occasional guest speakers, focusing on alternative care treatments and education. We chose to focus on natural care because so many people cannot afford to visit doctors and are self-treating. This way, if something resonated with them they could implement treatment options. The teleconferences are directed toward emotional and spiritual topics. Everything just unfolded from there, including the retreats, one-on-one coaching, and the book.
I had started visiting people in person, but realized it would be more efficient to have four or five people come and spend the weekend in my house, so I chose a weekend and said, alright, who wants to come and spend a couple of days together. As it turned out, thirty people responded, so I had to find a place where we could all stay, and that was the retreat center in Maine. So, the very first retreat was like a beautiful accident.
In your book, Lyme Thriving, you say: “Being productive was one of my ways where I was continually proving my self-worth.”
It seems like a lot of Lyme people are Type As who lose self-worth when they’re not achieving. What can they do with these feelings?
It is common for patients to experience guilt because they’re not producing or contributing in ways they did when they were well. This was my experience too. I remember having the realization that if I wanted to be productive sustainably in customary ways, I had to be well. If I was going to override how unwell I felt, in order to be productive, then I had to dramatically slow down my activity level. At the time of this realization I felt like I was going to die from the illness. I had to take care of myself and it had to be a priority, despite the guilt. I knew in my heart that if I just pummeled my way through the illness, forcing myself to be productive, the illness might actually take my life. That was a crossroad for me.
Lyme patients focus so much on what they need to get well, be it supplements, rest, or diet, that it seems to subsume your spirit. Does your mind get in the way of the consciousness and awareness you’re speaking about?
Our thoughts (mind) are the veil between the consciousness we are and our expression of it. We can remind ourselves to bring the love that we are to our illness experience: attending to doctors’ appointments, taking supplements, resting. We can do this by creating a context that’s empowering and loving rather than fearful and resistant. An example of a fearful and resistant context is: I’ve got these bacteria in my body and I’ve got to kill them. An example of a loving and empowering context is: I’m going to love, support, and nourish my immune system back to health. Creating a loving context was very helpful to me. I’m going to embrace my body as it is. I’m going to love it with nutrition. I’m going to love it with detoxing. I’m going to be kind to it with supplements. I’m going to love it with all my doctor’s appointments. I shifted the focus from what I didn’t want to what I did want.
And that’s what your chapter: Context is Decisive, is about?
Yes. There’s the opportunity to bring love into your life, even though tick-borne diseases are so difficult to deal with, even though it’s all day, every day. Imagine if each time we did something for our body, we were mindful and chose to bring kindness to everything we did. We have the opportunity to implement this all day long, as a practice. We get to create it authentically, to really create it. Like, okay, when I take this pill, it’s going to go in to the body and the little cells are going to say: Yay! I’ve been waiting for this! We have to create a practice because we are not used to being so kind to ourselves.
You use the word, ontology. Can you explain it?
Ontology is the study of ‘being’ a human being. It is about understanding how we operate as people, the automatic ways of being, the automatic responses to challenges in life. When we understand our behavior and what prompts us to react in certain ways, we no longer have to live life in a series of reactions to our circumstances. When we understand our automatic reactions, we can pause and in that pause we are free to choose our response. A powerful aspect of this work is distinguishing our way of being about something, and shifting it if our current way of being doesn’t leave us empowered. Our way of being informs our choices. For example, are we being loving when we’re taking our pills, or are we being fearful? If we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves, we can distinguish our being-ness and shift if how we are being is not serving us.
My introduction to ontology was through a training and development program, but to this day, I implement the tools of distinguishing in my day-to-day life. I notice what I’m doing and my state of being. I notice my interpretations of my experiences, and check to see what I’m making up and believing to be true.
Have you trained yourself to think that way?
Implementing the tools from training started out as a practice. But like anything, the more we do something in a particular way, the more it just becomes a standard way of operating. The training was incredibly helpful and empowering, so choosing to implement the tools was an easy choice. Being disciplined with them took more time.
There is the inward facing path, discovering or uncovering our true essence. We spend our lives incorrectly identifying ourselves as the body-mind, but the more we investigate who am I?, the more we reveal to ourselves who we truly are and always have been. Our essence is peace, fulfillment and love. We don’t have to learn to be this; it is who we are.
We are loving by nature, we are compassionate by nature, but when we are not we have the opportunity to distinguish how we are being, why we are being that way and, perhaps, see hidden beliefs that we have been holding as truth. We can’t learn to be who we really are - we’re already that. But we can distinguish where we are not being who we really are and shift our behavior. Introspective work can be done much more effectively and efficiently when we put our judgments aside. As an example, rather than: I have failed and am such a loser, drop the judgments and look clearly at what happened and what you can discover about your interpretation of what happened. We can’t move forward while we are beating ourselves up.
So it’s the judgment about ourselves and others.
Yes, especially ourselves. The more judgmental we are towards ourselves, the more judgmental we are of other people. If we notice that we’re really judgmental of other people, we can lay odds that we’re also really judgmental of ourselves in the same way, and that we haven’t forgiven or brought understanding to that aspect of ourselves. We have beliefs informing our behavior. But we can drill down to discover where that belief came from in the first place. When we uncover a hidden belief and bring the light of awareness to it, how we experience life will shift.
The title of your book is Chronic Illness as an Access to Quantum Healing. What is quantum healing?
The healing I’m talking about is not so much about physical healing as it is deep emotional healing. The deepest and truest healing is discovering that who we essentially are is perfect, whole and complete. When we identify with our true essence, our relationship to all our life experiences changes.
When we discover a belief or emotional block that is unresolved, and we dissolve it in truth, then right in that moment it changes our experience of life, and that experience is described as healing. It can be incredibly transformative. As an example, discovering a hidden belief that you are not worthy and then dissolving it in the truth - that you are worthy - will alter how you respond to life. You will say ‘no’ when previously you would have said ‘yes’, and you won’t be concerned with what anyone else might think. You will tend to yourself appropriately because you are worthy of your self-care. You won’t be so hard on yourself because you will know at your core that no failure can reduce your worthiness because you will see failure as an event and not yourself. This one single realization about your self alters life across the board. This is quantum healing.
Quantum healing can be a single event, or more commonly, it can be a series of events and understandings that broaden the base of your knowing your self. It’s what’s available when we’re willing to get quiet and have a look and be honest with ourselves about what we’ve done with our experiences, whether we have big traumas or small traumas, and how we have interpreted them. Our interpretations, when they go uninterrupted, become a truth that we keep playing over and over again in our minds, and they cause a great deal of suffering.
As an example: we may have a life-shattering trauma as a child, and then although what happened during the event is no longer happening, we continue to experience emotional trauma. When we put judgement aside and look at the continuing emotional challenge, we can reveal what meaning we created about the initial experience. As soon as we see we created the meaning, we get our power back. From a place of wisdom and love we can see why we interpreted the experience this way. But we can also see that our recurring thoughts about a long-gone event keep it alive in our current experience. This is not a failure; it is normal human behavior. Being willing to look at it clearly is incredibly empowering. The resolution of a past trauma makes a future available to us that no longer includes this past experience. And once we get that power back, you create a new future for yourself that doesn’t include the past trauma.
An important part of this process is honoring what you felt emotionally during the experience. It might be: I don’t feel important, I don’t feel worthy of love, I don’t matter to anybody. Whatever the feeling is, acknowledge it. An emotion felt without a story attached to it does not linger.
So where do people start?
I think we start wherever we feel most uncomfortable, whatever aspect of our selves is unresolved, where we feel irritated or twitchy about something. It’s the knee-jerk reaction. It’s where there’s a button being pushed repeatedly.
It might be that you walk into a doctor’s office one day and the doctor or nurse makes a comment to you that you feel yourself having a strong reaction to… that’s where you start. There’s only right now, so you start with right now, right in the moment. So you could begin with: What was my experience in that moment? It might be that your answer is, Wow, what a jerk that person is, they have no compassion. But when you are willing to go deeper and ask yourself, What is my actual experience? You might discover that you felt unimportant, unloved, unsupported, abandoned; whatever it might be, that’s where you start. Over time you may notice that you repeatedly experience one of those emotions, and in just the noticing, you will begin to reveal your patterned response and underlying belief about yourself. These opportunities for self discovery are available all day long, every day.
I want people to recognize how wonderful and wondrous they are, no matter what they’re dealing with on a physical level. Because something shifts when they discover for themselves the wonder that they are. I can sit with somebody and tell them that I see the wonder they are; but it’s for them to see it; nobody can give us those things. It’s just like when we’re all alone and dealing with an illness, if you want the experience of love and support, it’s not that you have to receive it from someone else to experience it, you can offer it to yourself as a way of being and you’re immediately in the experience of it.