Tess Hughes - The Non-Event of No Self
Interview by Renate McNay
Renate: Hello and welcome to conscious TV. My name is Renate McNay and my guest today is Tess Hughes. Hello Tess.
Tess: Hi Renate.
Renate: Tess arrived this morning from Ireland—that’s where she lives—to just come and visit us here.. and do an interview, which is wonderful. Thank you Tess.
Tess, you were born into quite a big Irish Catholic family?
Renate: I see you have 9 brothers and sisters.
Tess: Nine children in the family…
Renate: Nine children..
Tess: And I’m number two.
Renate: Okay. And your parents were farmers?
Renate: You had your first existential crisis when you were eight years old?
Tess: Yes, about eight or nine; I was quite young.
Renate: What happened?
Tess: Well, living on a farm, there were always calves being born, pigs, chickens and new life coming all the time. In our house there was a baby every year or two. All the neighbors were having babies. So there was constant new life coming.
I did know that older people and older animals died. But I thought, “That’s just the way nature goes. You get born, you live your whole life, and when you are fed up living or you are old enough, then you are very happy to die..” And, that’s the way the world functions.
One day one of our calves died. I was really shocked by this because my world order was shattered. I didn’t even know this could even happen. Then it struck me, “Well if a calf could die, a child could die. If a child could die, then I could die. And, I could die any time.” I was really shocked by this; I was really upset by it.
I went and I checked with my mother. I asked her about it, “was this so..” and she said “Yes it is.” She said, “Everything that is born will die.” It’s extraordinary because I think it’s the classic thing that the masters would say, but my mother just said it naturally. “Everything that is born will die.” And, it could die any time, was my interpretation of it.
Renate: So you had a lot of fear? You started to have a lot of fear around death?
Tess: Around death, I did have fear.
Renate: And that eventually became your driving force..
Tess: Yes, that’s right.
Renate: To seek access.
Tess: Yes, yes. I just couldn’t dismiss it, ever. After that, of course, I began to see in my life plenty of evidence of people dying suddenly. Or, on the radio you hear of crashes and so on.
So, what my mother had said, about everything that is born would die—and it could die any time—there was mountains of evidence of that coming to me all the time. I won’t say I was thinking about it all day, every day; I wasn’t a miserable child or anything like that. I had quite a good life; but this was running in the background, always.
I could never fully shut it out. I did try to for many long years, and in many ways. But I used to think, “what’s it all about?” Later, when I was working in a job, I’m working very hard and trying to get money together to get something. I would think, “what if I knew I was going to die tomorrow? Would I still keep working so hard today?”
Renate: What would you do?
Tess: There was something, a fundamental conflict going on. Nobody had any answers and nobody was interested in talking about it either. I can tell you people are not that happy with you bringing up conversations about death when you’re in the middle of a party or wherever.
Renate: We actually see death as a failure.
Tess: Yes, but the evidence kept coming up, as I said, all the time. I couldn’t deny it so I started reading and stuff. I started reading philosophy and psychology.
Renate: Earlier, you were a teacher?
Tess: Yes. After secondary school I went to university and I studied science, maths, and I became a science teacher. But I knew, when I went to study science, that I was trying to find out the secret of the world.
Tess: What was the secret of the world? What made it go? Really, in a way, I was trying to find out (about the) death problem that I thought science would somehow be able to explain that to me. But I found pretty quickly that it didn’t. However, I got a job out of it.
Renate: Yes and you started reading classics?
Tess: Yes and philosophy, psychology—a lot of psychology and that kind of thing. I tried reading various philosophy books; I didn’t get a lot out of them because I wasn’t able to understand them.
Then, at some stage—maybe around the time I was thirty, this new genera of self-help books began to appear. They made a lot of money out of me because every new book that came out, I thought this would surely explain something of the fundamental problem.
By this stage, of course, I had realized that a lot of people were suffering from some kind of fundamental unhappiness. This is why all these books were coming out, that I wasn’t the only one going around with this worry, fear, or whatever.. just dissatisfaction.
The thing was, on the surface, I had everything and I knew it.
Renate: But you still had this nagging feeling, something is..?
Tess: Yes, it was there, “what’s the matter with me? Why can’t I just accept everything as it is? Why can’ t I just be happy? I have everything that anybody could want.” But still, there was something in the background bothering me.
Renate: But you had everything you wanted and you weren’t happy.
Tess: That was it, yes.
Renate: And if you go out in the street and ask people, everybody really, what are you looking for in life? Everybody would say the same—I’m looking for happiness.
Renate: Okay, so you started reading all the self-help books. Did you come closer?
Tess: I certainly.. those kinds of books, I was attracted to books that were talking about this problem of unhappiness. So, along the way I did get ideas and new questions came up. I began to be able to question things and ask myself questions.
I remember at one stage, when I was a teacher, I must have been reading a book—I can’t remember what it was—and the question of values came up. What do you value? Or, what’s worth valuing? I thought about this. Somewhere in the book this idea was, what values are you going to take into your life? Consciously choose some value. I decided at the time that I would choose the value of kindness.
This was actually very appropriate as a teacher because I’m a science teacher and a math teacher and lot of the kids, they just don’t care about it. They don’t like it. It isn’t delightful or interesting for them. But they were stuck with having me as a teacher and I’m stuck with having them in my class. I thought, under those circumstances, what is a good way for me to treat them? How can I.. wha can I do? So I thought if I had the value of kindness.. so no matter what was going on academically between us, that at least I would treat a child with kindness. Some of it was to just not be unkind, not to make a flipping remark or putdown remark—to be conscious of my words and to be sure they were at least nice; that some child wouldn’t go away hurt because they’d been overlooked.
That was one of the things I got out of it. I actively took that on in my life, that that would be a value. So, I got things like that, which I think were a move in a good direction. At least it was a move towards a degree of consciousness, I’d say.
Renate: But this was not your goal? Consciousness was not your goal?
Tess: Well I didn’t know about awakening or anything at that stage.
Renate: Yes, yes. You said—I was reading somewhere on your website or somewhere, your biography—you had thirty years of searching.
Renate: Thirty years of searching on a psychological path?
Tess: I’d say between twenty and fifty. The ages of 20, I’d say. Even though as a teen ager I was already very interested in things like Shakespeare or classical literature you studied at secondary school. It as very moving for me and did give me the clue that there was something serious to be thought about and discussed. Although I would have thought an intellectual or abstract level.. I hadn’t figured out to bring it right into myself.
Then, in those years between twenty and fifty, trying to understand psychology or psychotherapy.. the self help books then were beginning to bring it more personal. What can you do? What values can you choose? It was beginning to become more personal about the thing and trying to interpret things in relation to myself during that time.
Renate: It seems that you started to adjust certain things? Started to integrate into your life? Like being kind.. I don’t know what else changed in your life through..
Tess: Yes, I mean.. it was such a long, slow, gradual thing I suppose.
For instance I, at some stage, remember reading and thinking about honest and what did honest mean? Could you be 100% honest all the time, with everybody? I came across a book written by a Harvard University professor; it was called Lying. The whole book was about little ways in which we are dishonest with each other. You can’t really be totally honest with the world. I would even question if it’s even worthwhile? You are not going to walk up to somebody, you notice they are very heavy or something, and say something to them about it.
Renate: You get food in America.. (laughter)
Tess: Yes, but it just isn’t appropriate anyway. That may be practicing honesty; it’s also very unkind. Do you see where a conflict of values would come in?
Tess: But I did decide from myself, that it would be very important for me to—I call it—keep myself mentally clean. It would be things like, say for instance if I went into a shop and the person gave me too much change. If I noticed this—I don’t usually notice, I just put in my pocket—but if I noticed it, I could easily put it in my pocket and walk out; there would be no repercussions of anybody. But for my own self it was important that, if I noticed anything like that, that I would be totally honest. Basically, to keep my own mentality of myself clean.
It may be something to do with guilt, to not create any situations that might, afterwards, produce guilt.
Tess: So there was a certain taking of responsibility for myself.
Now I wasn’t in any way thinking that any body else should do this or anything, this was me taking responsibility for myself. I felt this was an important value. Getting away with it wasn’t.. didn’t.. matter. It was keeping myself clear and clean.
Again, Shakespeare said, “suspicion haunts the guilty mind..” So, not having a guilty mind removes all suspicion, which gives a great sense of cleanliness and contentment. Those kinds of things helped.
Renate: At what point did you become aware there is actually, not only a psychological path but also a spiritual path? What was the shift?
Tess: The shift happened in a way that was very clear to me in 2003. My first boyfriend when I was a teenager, his name was Richard Rose. My mother had died earlier in the year. This is my home town where I was born and raised, and he didn’t come to the funeral; he had been to my father’s funeral a couple of years before. I thought, “Gee, Richard didn’t come. I wonder if he’s okay?” Because he had told me he was having health problems. I wondered, there was nobody who would tell me now if he died. So I Googled his name and I didn’t get anything about him. But, I got this Richard Rose, Zen master, in West Virginia of the United States.
When I looked at this website and started reading it, something really happened to me. It was like I just became clear and alert, right there. It was like, what is this? I would read the sentences and I would every single word but I would still think, “But I don’t get what he’s saying.” I suppose I thought, “Well I’m going to challenge this..” I should be able to understand any English sentence if I know all the words.
The next day I went back to the website, and for the next 18 months I went to that website. There are a lot of websites linked to it and I started reading this kind of stuff. I was just utterly amazed because they were talking exactly about the kind of things that really interested me. Gradually, I began to understand what they were saying. That was when I really began to get focused and get clear.
There is such a thing as an end to this suffering and to this anxiety and this.. whatever. There is an end to it. That was a new thing for me because I just thought I’d go on for the rest of my life trying to be as good as I could. That was the deck of cards I got, and be happy with them. But here was a group that were saying, “No, no. There is an end to this. There is a way to come to the end of psychological suffering.”
Renate: It’s interesting because a lot of people say there is nothing you can do.
Tess: I would have thought that.
Renate: But there was something prior to that, I think. Again, I saw on the interview that you did with Tash..
Renate: You made this little diagram of two mountains—one was a hill and one was a bigger mountain.
Renate: And then you found this applique from Teresa from Avila and it said, “right here in the middle there is hardly anybody to get across.”
Renate: The reason for that is? Would you like to pick up..
Tess: Yes. I’ll tell you the name of the mountain. The name of the mountain is Croagh Patrick. I was born and raised at the foot of it, about a mile from it. It’s a very famous pilgrimage mountain. It was a place of pilgrimage from the druids a couple of thousand years ago and when Catholicism, or Christianity, came to Ireland, this pilgrimage site was taken over by the Christian movement by Catholics. To this day, the last weekend of July, there is a big pilgrimage up there.
But, as I showed you, the shape of the mountain is lower and long like this. Then it takes a curve and goes straight up. It’s a volcanic mountain.
I had read an article about Teresa of Avila. Now according to Teresa’s sister, there are seven steps in spiritual awakening. She was a spiritual director. Somebody asked her toward the end of her life, “What was the biggest obstacle that people encountered in spiritual development?” She said that, according to her system, that stage four was the single biggest obstacle. Everybody that came to the convent, they got through stages one, two and three—which I likened to the lower part of the mountain. And stage four is when it changes from being this shape, to going up. There are three steps up there and she said, “If people got across that fourth step, they had no problem getting the rest of the way, getting to the top.” When she was asked, “What exactly is the obstacle?” what she said was, “If I could get people past self-esteem..”
These two ideas of the mountain and this came into my head—happened to come into my head at the same time which is why I talked like that. But when that came up for me, I thought “Self esteem, there is something past self-esteem.” I couldn’t figure out what it was. There were no thoughts and no ideas coming to mind. So I thought the best thing I could do was start making a list of all the qualities of self-esteem that I had. There would be things like I’m well educated—that gives you a certain level. I’m a mother; you get a certain amount of status with having children. Just all the different qualities that we all know from a psychological level..
Renate: But there’s also another side, low self-esteem.
Tess: Yes, but there’s still self-esteem.
Renate: Yes, it’s the way you see yourself..
Tess: Yes, that’s right. How you see yourself.
Then you ask—I asked—the question, “Why do I see myself like this?” I see myself like this because of what the rest of the world has told me. My teachers told me, “You’re quite good in school..” Other people told me, “You’ve a nice personality; we get on..” so you have friends. Other people say, “You’ve made an awful mess of your career. You didn’t make a lot of money..” so you don’t feel so good in that.
The full collection of these messages that I got from the rest of the world are what make up self-esteem.
Renate: We could say your ‘problems?’
Tess: All of our problems.
Tess: But we got them from outside.
Renate: Yes, and we started believing them.
Tess: That’s right. And, we started adding to them. You have low self-esteem about something and somebody says something, and it goes even lower.
Tess: So they are basically all beliefs. I think I’m like this.. I believe myself to be like this because this is what everybody’s been telling me. And, along the way it gets tweaked and changed a bit. Being a sixty year old woman, the world treats you quite differently from being a twenty year old, so it gets tweaked along the way too, to accommodate these changes.
But, what Teresa was saying is getting people beyond that.. I was just going around, baffled. Get beyond.. what could be, beyond self-esteem? I wasn’t getting anywhere with it.
Then, I remembered during a couple of days in which this was going out of my head. I would think about it and anything that came up, I would be checking this idea with it—would I get any clues as to what was beyond self-esteem?
I remembered one day when I was a kid, my mother used to say, “I consider all of you to be God’s gift to us.” This was now a small farm, with a woman with nine children and new babies arriving all the time. You are God’s gift. I remember the feeling of her saying that, “I’m really precious. They consider me a gift, a gift from God. I’m beyond anything that they themselves could have created.”
When my own children were born I really did feel that they were gifts from heaven or something like that. They were beyond anything.. So that feeling was renewed in me as a mother. The mystery was just a fabulous mystery, that these little babies and these little people would come into my life.
I started thinking, what if I am a child of God? A divine child? I don’t know what language to use, but what if it is, that what I’m really created from is something other than this world? That there is something else there? Then I thought, if I’m a divine child, so are you. And you.. So I’m not special in being a divine child.. I AM special being a divine child but everyone also has this specialness.
What happened was judgment just fell away. How can I be criticizing a divine creation? Who am I to be finding fault with something that is a divine creation? It’s not my business to know why that creation was created or its purpose or anything in itself.
Renate: It’s a huge step!
Tess: It was a huge step in feeling. It was a huge step in feeling. It was like my face fell with, “Yes!” There was a real shift that happened there and it was a feeling shift rather than a thinking shift because suddenly the world looked peopled with divine creatures, animals and plants. Everything created from something that I am also created from.
In a way, what cemented the idea for me was (that) I was looking in my jewelry box one morning. There were three pieces of jewelry that must have been there for years and I never noticed this. It just dawned on me, there’s a broach, there’s a ring and I think it was a bracelet. They are all made from gold. And, I thought, “their value is in their golden-ness, not in the shape that they are, not in the form.” I thought divinity is the same kind of thing, it’s what we’re created from—the form can take any form. Gold itself doesn’t disappear when it gets melted down and put into another shape—it’s water mutable or something like that.
That made it a concrete idea for me, this idea of something divine which I can’t see or feel or anything. But, we all know it in ourselves. We know that there’s something sacred in us, don’t we, at some deep level. Regardless of what the world says, or..
Renate: It’s what we are looking for all the time..
Tess: It’s covered up..
Renate: .. out in the world..
Tess: Yes, we try to find it out in the world. Well, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven is within you.” If I’m to take that statement clearly—this would have been part of my reading, I suppose—saying what did he mean? He wasn’t saying it for no reason. So, if the kingdom of heaven is within me, how can I find it? How can I get there? That kind of thinking, and that kind of questioning, is what got me what I call ‘self-enquiry.’ Looking into what am I? Or, who am I? I was trying to find the kingdom of heaven, if he said it.
Plus, the Buddha had said, “What I teach is suffering, and I teach the end of suffering.” I would take that, that they are speaking about the same thing—the end of suffering and the kingdom of heaven. They are both trying to say the same thing.
So these great teachers—no just them.. many hundreds of others have been saying this.. there must be something to it. So, when I came across Tess, they said, “Yes, there is something to it. This is for sure and many of us have found it. You, too, can find it. It’s available to everybody; it’s your birthright. And here’s how..”
Renate: Something earlier, which I just love, when you discovered or inquired, into is there free will? Or is there not free will?
Renate: Again, that came from your Catholic background. You worked with the phrase, “Thy Will be done.”
Tess: We have spent years coming across lots of phrases and reading them on an intellectual kind of way, getting a certain amount and just glossing over other things. So, I would think that particular phrase, I had glossed over it a lot of times—seen it many times; it’s quite a common phrase that people know.
Then, one day it struck me, “What does this really mean?” I started looking, what’s my Will? And, thy Will? I didn’t have a clue as to what it was but I thought if these two words are used, there must be a difference.
I thought I’d make a list of every kind of thing that is happening, events that are going on, and I kind of classified them as ‘my will’ and ‘thy will.’ Having made that decision and taken out my piece of paper, ready to start making notes, the phone rang..
Do you want me to tell this story again?
Tess: So the phone in the house rang and I thought, number one for the ‘they will’ the phone rings because I hadn’t done anything about that. So, they will, the phone rings. (laughter) I went to the phone and answered it. It was somebody, a friend. We had a little chat and she said, ‘why don’t you come for dinner in a couple evening’s time..?’ and so on.
I’m there, at the same time, thinking ‘Will I say yes or no? Because is that my will or thy will?’ Part of my mind was, at the same time, thinking which way to answer? How would I know how to answer, whether it’s my will or thy will? I was expecting a voice from heaven to shout from the corner (laughter). Nothing was happening; there was just silence. I said, “Oh yes, I’d love that. We’ll come whatever evening it is.” That’s fine.
In the meantime, I was writing other things. But in a couple evening’s time we did go for dinner. When we got there, they weren’t all that welcoming, just a little bit ‘so you guys decided to show up after all..” or something. We were like, what’s this? So I got in, and it turned out, that I had agreed and they had invited us to come for dinner for 7:00 and we arrived at almost 8:00. In my head it was almost 8:00.
My will, thy will.. there is something going on here about my will and they will. So, the thy will was that there was.. this is how I figured it out in my head.. The ‘thy will’ was that there was a misunderstanding; and the ‘my will’ was that I didn’t want there to be a misunderstanding. I didn’t like that that happened.
Then I asked the question, how will I know when this ‘I will’ and ‘thy will’.. and over a little bit of time what I found was, every time things went wrong according to Tess, that was my will. Every time there was resistance..
Tess: So I became a bit smarter without having to go headlong into my will. When things were going against what I wanted, or my desires were not being met, or my wishes not being fulfilled, I began ‘oh that’s my will in operation.” The advice is not my will, but thine.
Another way you could put it, or often times, really it might be put to just surrender what is, accept what is..
Renate: Also, what needs to come in is trust..
Renate: That is also trust in thy will, that this is right not matter how it looks.
Tess: Sure. First, for me, first of all I had to get an idea what ‘thy will’ was and ‘my will.’ I thought—remember I said from Teresa, that was step four? There were three other steps after that.
Renate: On the spiritual path?
Tess: On the spiritual path, up the side of the mountain.
What happened after I became aware of my will and thy will—my will was wanting its own way and so on—other things began to emerge. At some point I came across of me taking credit for things and realized, actually, that was pride. Or, just not being grateful for things.
The following three steps, what would happen as I was doing this investigation, something would come up. I would look at it—I had gotten into the habit of looking at things, at myself. I think that’s the crucial thing, to start looking at what’s going on with yourself.
Then I would find.. what you said about trust, I remember one day thinking, “What do I really trust?” Do I trust that there will always be money in the bank to pay the bills? Do I trust that my children will continue to do well? Do I trust that my own health will hold up? At some point it came to mirror.. The question was, “where could I put my trust?” Could I trust any of these things?
Again, it struck me that maybe the message was to put your trust in the divine. Put your trust in God. While I didn’t feel it, when I thought that, I thought, “Okay. I’m going to put my trust in your now, Goddess, or God, because I don’t’ know what else to do with it.” I don’t feel awfully confident or anything but I’m going to do that. I’m going to try; give me a hand with it here.
The thing is, things then would emerge that would give you opportunities to reaffirm that you had made..
Renate: The practice?
Tess: The practice. Opportunities would come up and I would see them through the filter of, “well, I did say I would try to trust, and I will try to trust here.”
I think sometimes people maybe have the idea that if you become trusting, that you become passive? There is no conflict at all between being trusting and being fully active in your life. Sometimes, for people, they might feel conflicts like that would come up for them intellectually.
Does that explain? Does that give you an idea..?
Renate: Yes. But, as I’m listening to you, I just.. one thing comes so strong from your story is, how you took the time to attend to yourself. It’s like almost consciousness was attending to itself and you took the time to inquire into things and to find out. It seems like you never had to rush through life. You never had stress in your life; you had this faith and the time to attend to yourself.
Renate: Is this how you see that today?
Tess: Eh, yes and no.
Once I got in contact with TAT, my group, and I began to get some.. began to read books. I began to hear things. They were about self-inquiry. I really began to get some ideas at that stage about how I might do this and to personalize it. I had to do this for myself. I was fully responsible in doing this.
I would maybe read a little bit in the morning—or any time, whenever I had time. I was never really disciplined about anything but I would be standing at the kitchen sink washing the dishes, when I might think about something like trust. Or, I might think about my will and they will. I might be vacuuming the house and I’d be thinking about something like that. So, it came and went in between normal life.
The thing is we all have moments in our life, when we go to the bathroom, or when we’re driving the car or whatever, when we do have plenty of time to think about things..
Renate: It’s more like contemplating things.
Tess: Yes. I would say that ten years before that, what would I have been thinking about them? I am going down to the shop, now what am I going to get..? So I would have been putting my focus on the outside world and managing it. Now I began to have the idea of focusing within myself. There is plenty of time also to do the outside things.
So you actually don’t need a lot of time. It’s more that you need to get the idea that it’s really important to look within yourself. It’s well worth your while. What’s to be found is the kingdom of heaven. Nobody can find it for you. You are 100% responsible for doing this for yourself.
Once you get the idea.. it’s a goal.. that’s really important. I can’t imagine anybody who wouldn’t be able to fit in time to think about it.. to maybe read a little bit or anything.
I continued my normal life. I wasn’t a good meditator. I wasn’t a disciplined personality. So, I didn’t do that a lot. A lot of people take half an hour out every day and meditate. Maybe this is consciously what they are looking at? But I can say that you can fit it into your normal life. Nobody need know a thing about it.
Renate: It needs to be a priority, then you find the time.
Tess: Yes, you need to have.. I think the first step is for somebody to realize that there really is an end to suffering. There really is a purpose to my life—it’s mine and I have to find it. Other people are saying that they have found it and maybe I can trust them? Maybe, if somebody has the good luck of coming across people who have found this and one finds them trustworthy, then you begin to take the journey on for yourself. Nobody else can do it for you. They can, maybe, give you some hints or tell you how they did it. Then, you do your version of it, according to your personality and according to your circumstances and time.
But, it can go right along, right in the middle, of normal daily life.
Renate: What do you think about following a teaching, which was somebody else’s path?
Renate: Do you think that would work for somebody else?
Tess: It was very helpful to me when I came across the Richard Rose teachings. He wrote three or four books and when I read them, I felt there something to be very pure about them. I didn’t understand a lot of them. He used phrases, and so on—backing away from untruth.. well I didn’t know what our truth was. I couldn’t identify our truth so that I could back away from it—that kind of thing.
But then, in meeting some of his students, I went twice to the States for two weekends. Listening to them, I began to get a much clearer idea of what that was. It’s what I would call self-inquiry, which is generating questions for yourself. Like you might ask yourself..
One of the things I did, one time, was I thought “what’s this thing about liking people and not liking people?” I know that there are some people I like and some that I don’t. What is this in me that chooses to like and not like? And, do I have any control over it? Or what? Am I just a victim of liking or not liking or do I have any control of it?
Like that, I took out my piece of paper and wrote down the names of three people that I thought, honestly, that I liked. I looked at it and thought, is this a feeling? What is the feeling? Are these people I enjoy their company because there’s energizing conversation? Or because I feel not judged by them? There’s a warmness or tolerance about them? So I wrote down characteristics like that, whatever list I got between the three of them.
Then I picked out three people that I really didn’t like. I wrote down things that I didn’t like. What I don’t like is I don’t like being judged. I don’t like them because they don’t like me. (laughter) And of course the same would have happened to like.. you think if there’s nothing more to it, are we nothing more than one mirror reflecting the other? Do I find them.. I don’t like them because they are boring? What does it mean that somebody is boring?
Then, having got this bit of information from out there, I started looking at me. Looking within as to how I came up with these ideas or whatever. What was causing this filter of liking and disliking? Of course what I found was belief that are assumptions or expectation or needs that I had. I liked people that entertained me; I didn’t like people that bored me—but that was my problem. I was projecting onto them something about.. If I’m spending time with you, you’re supposed to be entertaining me. Talk about total selfishness. But, I wasn’t aware of it.
What it is, it’s about bringing what’s unconscious into consciousness.
Tess: That’s what beliefs and assumptions are. We are all full of beliefs and assumptions from way back when we were children or from our culture. For the most part, we don’t look at them.
People are afraid to look at them, actually. Because, if you look inside yourself and you think, “I’ll write down the names of the three people I like most,” it would be very inconvenient for you to find maybe that you didn’t like one of your children.
So you have to be totally honest to yourself. There is no point in doing it at all if you’re not going to be totally self-honest. But the thing is, I thought “what if I find something that I come across, what do I do now?” Then what came to me was you don’t act on it. You still treat a person exactly as is as appropriate and you don’t tell anybody; it’s nobody else’s’ business. This is a very personal journey, a very personal adventure. You must be able to be completely honest which is why you mustn’t tell other people about it. Because the minute you start to tell somebody else, a little bit a guilt, or a little bit of shame, or something will come in. “I can’t believe I feel like this about somebody..” What if you find you like somebody better than your own husband?
If you are honest with yourself and find this, it’s kind of like dangerous information, we think. But it’s not, if you fit in the piece of you still behave absolutely appropriately, as you always did.
Renate: Yes, yes.
Tess: But now, you know something about yourself.
Renate: You somehow bring your unconscious into consciousness.
Tess: To yourself, for yourself. Purely for yourself.
You don’t have to justify it to anybody or tell it to anybody. But you are on the path to finding yourself, getting to know yourself.
So, it does take a bit of courage.
Renate: It takes a lot of courage. (laughter)
Tess: Well, not really. The adventure is so interesting. What a shame to live your whole life without knowing who you are, especially when we have this opportunity to know who we truly are.
But, as I said, the way to deal with the courage aspect is to take it as a completely private, personal, business—not to be shared with anybody. Now if you feel sure it would be safe to share maybe with a teacher who has been through this because they know there isn’t going to be any element of judgment. But I mean, in your normal circle of life, your spiritual path is yours, personally, and it is your responsibility. You can’t let anybody else stop you.
We are so entangled with other people that we feel we are letting them down if we do something that is really important to us. But the thing is, the spiritual search is something you can do without letting anybody down in any way, or in any way changing any of your relationships with them.
Renate: So, as you were unraveling yourself, your unconscious, did your life change? Did people come up to you and say, “What’s happening to you?”
Tess: No, nobody ever noticed a thing.
Renate: That’s interesting.
Tess: I’d say things happened very gradually with me.
At some point, maybe five years ago, I had realized that I had become quite, maybe, eccentric in myself in so far as my values and beliefs. But I wouldn’t necessarily be telling this to, of if I did it would be in a conversational way or talking about the way we had changed over time, maybe with friends of our own age.
What I realized, I was no longer a mainstream kind of person, which I had been. It happened gradually over time, so it didn’t disturb anybody and it didn’t disturb me much either. It went along fine. I mean, there were things that surprised me about myself but also, it’s really an adventure. The adventure of yourself, it’s the greatest adventure. And, that all of us have the possibility of this truly great adventure for ourselves is awesome beyond words.
Renate: I think you went.. you lived for almost either years in America.
Renate: You did that to be close to the school or what was the reason?
Tess: No. When I lived in the States it was from 1986-94, long before I ever heard of TAT. I was teaching in a school there. I did go to workshops of different kinds, maybe did yoga, did some meditations things, got into a twelve step group for a while. I learned something from all of them.
I went to therapy a lot. When my marriage broke up when I was about thirty. It was the single worst thing that happened in my life; it was devastating. I lived in a country where there was a ban on divorce—not just that there was no divorce, there was actually a ban on it. So the concept of a broken marriage, you really had no options after that. It was just devastating. It was devastating for my ex-husband and it was devastating for my children and for all of our families.
So, when I went to the states I started going to therapy. We didn’t have much therapy in Ireland at that stage, around the early 80’s. Mainly, what I wanted to find out was what had gone wrong in this relationship because we had been madly in love. We went to college when we were eighteen, married as soon as we left college and we were madly in love. Ten years later, we didn’t have two words to say to each other. I really wanted to know what had happened. How could this have happened? I just had no understanding at all.
During these years of therapy and counseling, questions were asked and I got to look at questions in myself. In a way, I guess, self-inquiry started by new ideas being brought up to me and maybe being introduced to different kinds of literature. That really helped.
Renate: Let’s focus on the big event, which was in the year 2010. You went into a solitary retreat. No, the year 2009 somebody gave you a guest present and you went on this retreat?
Renate: Then you came back and you went back.
Renate: And on the last day of the retreat, what happened?
Tess: You just said it there, something about this big event. It’s a non-event.
Renate: I could always say.. we wait all our lives toward this event..
Tess: And it’s a non-event. I have to say that because.. It’s difficult to talk about it.
What happened in my case, was all week long there had been things happening. I thought there were things in front of my eyes. At one stage the whole world went completely silent and there was just silence—maybe for thirty seconds or a minute. So, there were things happening. I just opened my eyes and thought I must get them tested when I go home and so on.
On the night, packed up and ready to go home from the retreat. I sat into bed and as I sat into bed, turned off the lights. I was in a rural area and I was going to look out the window to see where the curtains pulled, or whatever, and there was a light over this side of the room. I thought, what’s that? I looked, and the light came closer. I still looked away—I don’t know why or how, but I know but I’m checking out the curtains.. this sounds extraordinary..
Then it came right up, it came right up into me, right up here. And inside, I don’t know whether there were people, or what, but they were inviting me in. It wasn’t just an invitation like, would you like to come in. It was an invitation that I could not refuse. So, I went in.
I don’t know what happened then, but I’m sitting up in bed and there’s a vision, we call it, going on at the end of the bed. And, I knew when this happened, I knew I had found what I was looking for. I think as soon as the light came or something. At some point, I was totally overwhelmed or overcome by “This is what I have been looking for, for all my life.” I would say my shoulders fell, it was like the relief of the world.
Renate: So what actually was it?
Tess: It was a vision. All I can say is it was an outpouring of creativity. An outpouring of visual creativity and I knew what it was. I recognized it and I knew it was what I had been before I was born into a body, and what I will go back into after I leave the body. I knew this. Nobody told me. There were no words, but I just knew this.
Renate: You said, “ I knew..”
Tess: I knew.
Renate: “I knew and I knew that I knew.”
Tess: It was just..
Renate: This huge relief?
Renate: Off your shoulders?
Tess: Just relief.
Renate: Of the world? What was it?
Tess: I don’t know what it was. I suppose that all one’s life, one is maintaining themselves. There is a certain energy or restriction holding yourself together, or keeping it all going, or something. It just went, like (sound of blowing air between her lips). You know the way you can’t say to somebody who’s uptight, relax? Well something happened and, relax.
Tess: That relaxation has remained. And, security. A sense of security.
Renate: So if somebody would ask to know, who are you, what would you say?
Tess: I know people always say that (laughter).
I am is all I can say.
Tess: I am.
Renate: That is beautiful..
Tess: That’s enough, when you know that. To know that you are eternally. I suppose the test is the body sitting here, the voice and everything that is talking to you.. that’s just the instrument through which the I am functions in the world.
In some ways I am much more me than I used to be. Even though I’m not here at all, I am much more me, I’m much free-er, and relaxed. I’m not trying to hold anything back from anybody, trying to be proper, or trying to.. whatever the things one would always be trying.. some awareness of one’s image. It’s just gone.
It’s totally natural. I used to hear about this before this happened to me and I used to thing, “but you look quite normal.” I don’t think an outside person can see what’s happening within one—what has happened. It’s a transformation of consciousness. What one is, as consciousness, is different—much more spacious, open.. I don’t know what else to say.
Renate: Would you say that everything that you did til that point—like your whole psychological past, spiritual past—made that moment happen? Or did that moment happen despite of all that? Or because of grace?
Tess: I don’t know. I did not do that moment. I had nothing..
Renate: It sounds like something was preparing itself for this moment.
Tess: Yes, very much. I very much felt that for three years. It was like being let know that you are pregnant; the universe is pregnant with you and it will play out in its own time. In the same way, once one is pregnant, it will carry on at its own. You have nothing to do with it, really, once it’s started.
Tess: I suppose I would be inclined to say that all the things that we are doing helped. Along the way they just gradually built up, or rather the ego just gets chipped away at, and chipped away at just from the various efforts and attempts.
Renate: And is the ego still sometimes present?
Tess: No. (laughter)
Renate: How does one know that?
Tess: I had read about this kind of stuff. I’d heard of it. So when this happened to me, and I told you about that night.. then the vision faded and I knew what had happened and I was as light as air. I turned over in my bed and I went to sleep; slept perfection—no dreams for about eight hours. I’m up the next morning and I’m standing in the kitchen making tea for myself. I think everything is so spacious, what is this? This little tiny kitchen is so bright and spacious; there is something missing. I wondered what is it.
I remembered leaving to go home to make sure I had my case and everything. I’m outside and I look inside to see what’s missing, can I figure out what’s gone. And, I just nearly threw up. I did that for a few times over the next week. There was something gone but I couldn’t remember what it was that had gone and I couldn’t remember anything about it. But, there was something gone.
Maybe over the space over a week or two, I tried a few times to look inside. Each time, the reaction was just one of nauseousness so I stopped it. (laughter) Then, I think it was maybe after Christmas or around Christmas, I had a book on my shelf called The Experience of No Self by Bernadette Roberts. In the meantime I did have Art Ticknor, my teacher from TAT. I would be able to ask him. I would say things and he would say things back to me. But I still didn’t really get that what had gone was the ego.
I suppose I had no idea what it would be like. It took me a while to put the two.. My mind wasn’t functioning very well at that time; it took me a while to put the two things together. I started reading her book and I thought, ‘Oh yes! That’s what’s gone!” It amazed me that I’d read so much about this and yet, when it happened, I didn’t put the two together for quite a while.
Tess: It seems to me that the personality remained exactly as it always had been.
Tess: It didn’t improve (laughter).
Renate: So the personality is how you move..
Tess: And how you talk, the kind of things you talk about, the kind of things you like and don’t..
Maybe I thought that the ego and the personality were the same, but they are definitely different. I’ve often looked to see how they are different but I can’t remember what the ego was like, so I can’t figure..
Renate: It shows how insignificant the ego can be.
Tess: Yes but I see it in other people speaking to me and I see how dumb in hearing it is, and what suffering it’s causing them.
Renate: Yes, if you believe in that, it’s very domineering.
Tess: I can see it. People say.. I can see what’s happening. It’s the cause of all the suffering.
If there is any way that you and I, with the work we are doing right now, can do anything to alleviate the suffering or to even give people a hint that maybe there is something real that can be done about this. But, you do have to take responsibility for yourself and there is help, if you are willing to do that.
Renate: What a beautiful story.
Tess: Thank you.
Renate: So now you live.. you told me earlier that your husband has cancer. You live quietly at home..?
Tess: Quietly at home, take care of my husband—my delightful husband.
I got a website up about a month ago, TessHuhes.com. I’m just learning how to manage it, technically. When somebody asks me a question I might right a little article and put it up on it. So hopefully I might be able to put some teaching or put, maybe, some useful thoughts out on it that may be of help to anybody. Because that’s how I got.. The internet is complete magic.
The internet is how I came across the group that I was helped by. I was nearly a year or two years reading their website, their links and all the rest, before I ever got in contact with them. But I was getting ideas. I knew they had come into my life by coming across it.
Renate: Would you say that life still has some challenges for you?
Tess: Yes. Life will always have challenges. Awakening doesn’t spare you from any of the rough and tumble of life. I think what does happen, though, is you are no longer confused about the tragedy being you, or whatever is going on. It’s like it’s the movie; that’s what’s going on. It might be painful—if you are watching a movie and tears will come over poignant things. It’s the same but you no longer think you’re the character that’s going to get mowed down or something.
There is also great humor. This is one of the things that surprised me—I call it divine humor. I just think divinity has a great sense of humor in its own way.
Renate: Well, I’m sorry Tess, we have to stop. But, I wrote down here, you were saying “one day we will all return to true nature.” It gives us all hope.
Tess: Yes. Yes. There is no other way. Behind I, true nature—real true nature—we don’t know that.
Renate: Of course.
Tess: The thing is, what can return to that, or find that, while they are still in a body and before they are faced with physical death. It makes it much easier for this.
Renate: Yes, yes. Thank you for coming..
Tess: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.
Renate: To share with us this courageous path.
Thank you for watching ConsciousTV. Bye, bye.
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