My personality just fell apart - Jez Alborough
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome once more to Conscious TV, and my guest today is Jez Alborough. Hi Jez.
Jez: Hi Iain
Iain: I first met Jez nearly 40 years ago at an Encounter group in London. We will go on to that a little bit later. We got back in touch with each other a few months ago. During that time Jez has been a very successful author, sold many millions of books around the world and he’s been illustrating and writing children’s books. I have one hear called ‘Hug’, and we’ll do at the end of the programme a piece about his career as a writer of these books but he’s here today on Conscious TV to talk about something else, because he had a very strong experience many years ago when his personality broke down. That was a big, big challenge for him. So, we are going to explore his life, find out how he got to that point. What it was like, very difficult at times and then how he slowly remerged and almost reinvented himself, in one way. So, Jez you were telling me earlier on, when you were young you used to get asthma attacks, which were quite difficult because you almost couldn’t breathe when you had them.
Jez: Yeah, I’ve never had anything like it since, thankfully. It was a really hard start because breath is life. I don’t know how old I was, I think 3 or 4 when it kicked in. I remember the bad attacks would come around my birthday which is quite interesting. I was in a position where you are fighting for every breath, really fighting, so it was like death is around really, it’s not far away because if you can’t get that breath. So, something in this system was stopping me breathing normally. Its not that I couldn’t do it, or my body couldn’t do it, didn’t have the capacity to do it, but something was expressing itself that didn’t want to breathe in.
Iain: You also said, we talked about it once that you had to be calm. It was like there was no option. Somehow you needed to be quiet otherwise
Jez: Yeah, bear in mind I was very young, so this is nothing to do with any technique or trying to do anything. It just kicked in and I found myself in a place of stillness and watching because if I didn’t, it was like anything could upset it and make it become worse. The only thing that the system knows is that it wants that breath, that breath inside you. It just happened.
Iain: It disappeared after a time
Jez: Yeah. It is an interesting link to what happened later in my life and what I write about in my most recent books which is about that very awareness. It is amazing to think, obviously it’s instinctive, it’s pre… it was almost before my personality even developed. There is a theme of awareness which I call choices awareness. That was the first time maybe I experienced it, consciously perhaps.
Iain: You feel you were quite affected, you found out later that your mother had post- natal depression and you feel that really impacted you, don’t you?
Jez: Yes. I didn’t know about this at the time, but I found out many, many years later and the story of my life kind of made a bit more sense. I also link it to the asthma too. I found out… it’s funny how families have secrets. For some reason my wife became the kind of depository for family secrets. My mum would confide in her things that she never told me, my dad did sometimes too. So, my wife learnt that when I was very young, mum was post-natal depressed for the first year. Basically, the way I see it, understand it, is that she couldn’t… it’s not that she didn’t love, but she couldn’t love…
Iain: She couldn’t express it
Jez: Express it, be in it, she was in this depression. So, that’s a pretty tough start because one thing we all need is love, obviously. I link the asthma with that.
Iain: Yes, because you … we’re going to talk later about trauma in your life, that’s kind of where it originated
Jez: Yeah, definitely
Iain: We all have trauma in different ways
Jez: That’s what I call my wound. I think we all have our wound; everyone’s is a different shape, a different texture, and a different feel and that was mine. It was like a scene… it created a scene running through my life. Some people have it much later I think but for me it was right from the beginning. I’ve heard some people say it is impossible to heal this because you’re too young. You’re not even conscious when it’s happening, I’ve found that’s not true, that it is possible to heal it. I think the reason it is possible to heal it because that very same awareness that appeared when I was talking about the asthma. Something is able to go back and re-experience what happened. I don’t even know how it’s possible because I wasn’t properly conscious. I was a conscious being, but I wasn’t self- conscious. I didn’t know what was happening, I didn’t even know my mum was post-natal depressed. I didn’t know I was deprived in any way, but I felt it. That was the experience of this being and that wound is what shapes us, one side of us, send us on our journey, and has this massive effect on the creation of this personality.
Iain: They say the building blocks of our personality are pretty much in place by the time we are 3 years old. So, anything that happens that’s deep before then really impacts us, and that the trauma is held in the cells of the body.
Iain: We’ll come on to it, but the process is so fascinating in terms of the way you’re … we’ll go on to that. We’ll keep it in sequence. You had these two sides of yourself, you had the trauma that was kind of hidden away there, but you were also very creative. At school you loved to do drawing, but you also loved playing football. You were outgoing, weren’t you as a child?
Jez: Yeah, this side of my life I call the character. For me the character is one’s talents, quirks, the things that make you different to your brother who has had the same upbringing, but I’m totally different to my brother. So, the wound led to a side, obviously a lot of pain. I wouldn’t say I was massively depressed in my life; I knew what that was and certainly experienced it’s effect in that seam running through my life. The other side was very outgoing, very confident. I loved life. I had a lot of joy. I loved playing football. If I did something, I did it fully. I remember being out in my back garden and I’d seen somewhere footballers training. They’d put things down and they would dribble in and out. I would do that on my own garden. George Best was my hero. I wanted to be like him, be as fast as him, doing the kick ups and everything. So, I had football and I had drawing, which right from the beginning I loved and seemed to have a talent for. Those were my two great joys. I think despite that start, my character got to live itself out and I wouldn’t say I had a terrible childhood in the other side of my life, at all. I had a good time really.
Iain: You had a strong life force.
Jez: I think so yeah. If there was a classroom, I wasn’t one of the shy ones.
Iain: A little bit later when you were a teenager you used to have these openings that would often happening when you were cycling by the ?? (9.19), just talk about those
Jez: I think it first happened when I was visiting a friend who lived near the river. We used to play ping pong. We had these fantastic ping pong games. Once again that was something…it was a great joy. How fast can you go, how well can we play? So, together collectively we had this fantastic thing that we shared. I was cycling home. I’m not saying it was caused by that. I was cycling home by the river, talking about the first time, something happened which I’d never really experienced before as a conscious adult, which was … I don’t think this is unusual, I think a lot of people have openings, but this was how I experienced it. My spine felt full of golden light, my mind became very peaceful, still, in a kind of bliss really. I didn’t know what this was. I’d never heard of anything light it. The odd thing is I didn’t tell anyone. You might thing that of an experience so strong, you might go back and tell your parents or something, but it was just between me and life. It didn’t decide not to but that’s the way it happened. These happened every now and again, not that regularly but their impact on my life was huge because they brought a message with them. The message was that the life that you’re living and the personality that’s living it at school – I was 16 – the suffering side of it that came from the start in my life, asthma, upsets, girlfriends, whatever was one side of it, but there was something else that was nothing to do with that, that was before that. It was amazing, that’s why I call it an opening, an opening beyond personality. These brought up these questions. What are they? I guess throughout my life I was always trying to find what they are. What do they mean? How do you get them (laughing)? Of course, who wouldn’t? You have a blissful experience you want to have it again.
Iain: When you had the openings, there was no trauma experience at all, or was there?
Jez: Oh no, quite the opposite. I’m not saying when the opening finished, I was in trauma all the time, like I said I had an ok childhood, but it was like another angle, another perspective on this life. I’d cycle home and by the time I got home it was usually gone. I remember trying to maintain it. So, there’s this feeling in the spine and you’re cycling along trying, I don’t know how but trying to maintain it. Of course, it never did stay. That’s another thing when you want it you can’t summon it up.
Iain: You can’t hang on to it
Jez: No, but you…it did start a quest in me. I think that quest definitely stayed with me all the way through my life. Of course, when I was getting into seeking with teachers like most of us do, that was a question I held, and I never really got, I don’t feel a good answer. I think in the end I had to find my own answer.
Iain: In the notes you gave me the openings resulted in you having these questions for yourself. What is personality? What is suffering?
Iain: I think a lot of us that go on the seeking path, we have these questions that start at a certain stage, and then the questions get a bit more formed in terms of practicalities of what you want to explore. What is personality? What is suffering? They are very deep questions to have at an early age.
Jez: I don’t think I had them in that form, maybe I didn’t name it like that when I was very young. I think that when I was very young and having them, I was just hoping they would happen again. Perhaps as more suffering came into my life, they became more important. Where was that place again? I need some of that. What does it mean?
Iain: Then you found a book called ‘I am the gate’
Jez: Yeah, I did. It’s a collection of talks I believe by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who everyone knows now as Osho… rebranding (laughing). You go through your life and something comes in and suddenly your life takes this turn, and everyone knows that feeling. There is a feeling that you’ve got to in that direction, you’ve got to check this out. You had the same thing because you joined the same community, hence we met at the Encounter Group. This guy seemed to be so wise and I thought, well surely, he’s got the answer
Iain: And the answer you wanted was what?
Jez: The answer to those questions. What is the personality? How…what is that space that I went to, where is it? What does it mean? I could have had a life were that had never happened, and I would have been just identified with this personality, its suffering all the way through, and that would have been my life. I think a lot of people, most people, that’s their experience
Iain: ninety –nine % of people live that way
Jez: Most people watching this aren’t like that otherwise they probably would not be watching this. Something blessed happened and I’m always grateful to it, but the journey to find those answers wasn’t easy
Iain: That Encounter Group, I can only remember little bits as it was a long time ago, it was very much about bringing your feelings, your emotions… taking a risk and bringing them out into the open. You were allowed to say anything really.
Jez: I remember them as quite a release. It was new. We’re English, in our families, we’re not of like Italian or Jewish families were everything is out in the open and wild. For me it was quite new, tell me what you think, come out with it. I remember it being quite exhilarating, scary and very new. It was like a whole new world.
Iain: You made a commitment to become a disciple, a sannyasin of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and we both realised a few minutes ago that we probably took sannyasa the same time
Jez: Same day even
Iain: Same day, amazing
Jez: Ocash ?? (pointing to Iain) and Andash ?? (Pointing to himself) 15.57
Iain: That’s right. My name meant space within yourself. What did your name mean?
Jez: Oh God… one who is capable of love, I think.
Iain: Very good
Jez: That’s nice isn’t it (laughing)
Iain: In a way the most significant thing that happened for you that day apart from taking sannyasa, was you met the woman who was to become your wife Rikka (16.20)
Jez: I did. I thought this was a momentous day in my life because I was taking sannyas but it turns out to be the reason. It was momentous but for the reason my wife was sitting in. She was a sannyasin sitting in the audience and we met there. So, that day when I took sannyas was the day I met my wife, and the day you took sannyas.
Iain: We both had an adventure; we both did lots of different kinds of workshops
Jez: And then we went like that (separating hands). Oh, you mean in sannyas
Iain: yes. It was … we’ve talked about this, maybe some people watching the wild country series on Netflix, shows all the legalities and dramas around the sannyas movement but unfortunately it didn’t really show what ordinary sannyasin like you and I got into which was immense
Jez: Why we went into it
Iain: I got immense things out of it, the meditations, the workshops. Obviously, the interview is about you not about me, you found out more about yourself through all of that work
Jez: I did. I did a graphic design course, a degree in graphic design illustration, people say well did you learn a lot? Well no I didn’t. I did by just being there and drawing all the time. It wasn’t like I had this lesson, and then this lesson, and then we learnt that. In art it’s not like that and I think I fell that about sannyas. It was the experience of being around people like you, other people who were letting go or exploring themselves that was the thing for me. We were guided by someone who had a hell of a lot of insights and that was great but that side of it, the organisation, I couldn’t stand that side of it really.
Iain: Yes, as I say for us it was for what we got in terms of the environment and the meditations. That all broke apart after a few years for us. From what you told me before you did a lot more workshops with other people, read a lot of books and you were still exploring. You still had the opening sometimes, and the trauma. You had the two sides still running.
Jez: It became more important. I suppose as I got older when the suffering was there it was quite bad sometimes. They became more, things to hang onto. The search became more intensified, I really want to find the answer, what this is.
Iain: Also, your career was really taking off, children’s author, illustrations, and the writing as well
Jez: Yes. So, that side of me that I painted a bit for you as a youngster, the character side, was great because it created a career. I had that kind of ability to apply myself and some talent. Like I said whatever I do d I tend to do it fully, I kind of through myself into it. After art school… I loved drawing and I loved writing. Picture books are an art form in which I could do both. So, I ended up there and hopefully have still got it, this career that’s been going on for 35 years. So, that was a very positive joyous side of my life.
Iain: But then something started to creep in more dramatic, didn’t it? You would be giving talks and …
Jez: Like I said , there are these two sides, and the side that was suffering, the seam as I call it, going through started to kind of… for a long time the creativity, the character, the success, the career was just leading the show. So, I had a good run, a great time really and this (suffering) was kind of over- shadowed by that. But energy wants to be heard in the end, and in the end, it’s not going to go away. In the end it (suffering) started kind of poking through. In the end even pulling down that incredible force of creativity. I used to give talks to teachers, librarians, I’ve done many of them. One time I was in Manchester doing one, and before I went on, I just suddenly… I just didn’t know how to do it anymore. It was terrifying. There was like a pre- shock. If the breakdown was an earthquake, that was like a pre-shock. I brushed it aside and hope it would never happen again.
Iain: So, it was like a little a panic attack type of thing, you were having
Jez: Sort of, but I feel it was more than that whatever I normally had that allowed me to do that job wasn’t available to me. Six months later I was driving down to the West Country, funnily enough not too far from here, in Reading, that was when the breakdown fully… that kind of substratum poked through, and bang, this (creativity) was stopped. Absolutely stopped because the personality kind of fell apart, fully. Unlike the pre-shocks I couldn’t bring it back. I couldn’t get back into who I was.
Iain: So, when you say you couldn’t get back into who you were, who was the one trying to get back? Isn’t that the personality, another part of the personality?
Jez: I would say no it isn’t. I would say that it was like the consciousness that watched the breathing when I was a kid.
Iain: Ok. So, at that point you started to find that, you may not have got it completely clear but you started to realise the personality was something that was driving you to a large extent, and you had had this success. That was starting to break up or not working so efficiently and there was something else there that could see that was the case, but that something else still wanted to get back to normality, to being the way you were.
Jez: I definitely wanted to get back because the place I was thrown into was hell. I definitely wanted to get back.
Iain: It was hell
Jez: Screw this spiritual stuff
Iain: It was hell because you felt you couldn’t function
Jez: I couldn’t function, I didn’t know who I was. Whatever the pain was that was behind it, the lid was off it.
Iain: So, your trauma was coming out, would you say that?
Jez: I had no protection. Normally we all have a wound and we all have ways to deal with it. Many people deal with for their whole lives and never actually confront it. I was doing that myself in some ways. My career was fantastic, it was creative, it was an expression of love, but it also had the benefit of distracting me from the pain. Suddenly all those ways I had of dealing with it were just taken away, the doors opened. All that underneath stuff in the subconscious, the pain from my early life was exposed and I couldn’t pack it away. I couldn’t distract myself. I couldn’t therapize myself out of it, nothing helped. I mean nothing.
Iain: So, your thinking process was overloaded with the trauma and fear and anxiety
Jez: Absolute fear
Iain: That’s a terrible state to be in
Jez: You can’t sleep, your heart’s like this (indicates beating rapidly). I remember driving out West and we pulled into a Reading service station, got out the car, it hit me. I was lying on the floor and Rikka said “get on the earth, walk it will help”. We tried all the tricks. She’s a Tai Chi teacher so she knows all the stuff, nothing helped. In the end these tears came, I couldn’t stop crying. It was weird, there were families around and adults looking at this grown man on the ground crying. It was like why are you crying? I don’t know. Paramedics were called. They didn’t know what was going on, they weren’t trained for this. I was taken to a doctor; he didn’t know what was going on. He was awful, dismissive, thought I was wasting his time basically. I was given a pill to tranquilise me enough to get home. I couldn’t drive home so, I had to get a train home. That evening I was sitting at home thinking… sometimes life is going here (indicates a direction), then it goes here (indicates change of direction). I was going down to Cornwall, now I’m sitting here and can’t function. I’m in this pain and I don’t know what it is
Iain: Life can be so ruthless at times
Iain: And when it hits you it can be a real challenge
Jez: Yes, and I guess the next thing is, how do you respond to that? That’s the challenge isn’t it?
Iain: I’m just looking at the notes you gave me beforehand, I think it was the doctor who came to see you after that particular incident. He asked you if you felt you were dying
Iain: You did actually feel you were dying but not in a physical way, you were dying up here (pointing to the head)
Jez: No idea why he said that, it doesn’t seem to make sense to me, but it was the only bit sense he said, as I did feel like something was dying of me
Iain: Then you almost became a recluse for quite a time
Jez: Yes, about six or seven years I would say, it just went on
Iain: Six or seven years?
Jez: There was a period when I just couldn’t go out, I couldn’t handle it. you realise that the personality does a great job, this thing of meeting people, you have a boundary, you know who you are, you know who they are. You go to town and you handle the noise. You can do things and navigate the world out there, the world of man. Because all that left me, I was like a baby on a motorway. I was defenceless, it was all painful I couldn’t watch TV for a long time. Then there’s this question… people say did you see your family? The thing about breakdown is that there’s a lot of shame associated with breakdown I found out. It’s one thing to have a broken leg, your body is ill, we know the way that it is, and it goes. But if the mind breaks down, this is from what I’ve found out, is the personality’s fear because if the mind breaks down, that’s the operating system. The personality has lost its control. I think out there in what I call the group personality, there’s a subconscious knowing of this. So, breakdowns are pretty taboo. I think they are more taboo than cancer now. So, even within my own family, they weren’t being unkind, but they just didn’t know how to handle it. They were scared. They felt sorry for me I think, but they didn’t know what to do, what to say, and they were really upset. It was hard for me because I didn’t know what was going on. So, to be with people who would look at me with really worried faces made me feel worse. I just wanted to be on my own because it was like it made it worse for me.
Iain: You were saying that stimuli, like having the TV on were just too much…
Jez: Too many thoughts
Iain: You wanted silence basically
Jez: Yes. The one thing I did, I remember the day it started. It was a Sunday afternoon sitting on the sofa, I started writing. I have written a journal most of my life. I think that’s part of the self- examination thing but here it became my tool. It was like the only thing I had to hold onto. I think what wrote, I think there’s a theme here, was that same consciousness that watched the breathing. Something outside, this conscious awareness was watching what was going on. I found if I could go there and just document what was happening, there was some fine sense of release, as there was this tiny gap between me and this hell.
Iain: Yeah, so there was, it wasn’t necessarily a part of you, but there was something that functioned ok, when the personality was malfunctioning.
Iain: Something else was still functioning
Jez: Yeah, that’s the amazing thing
Iain: And that starts to calm things down a bit when you know something’s functioning
Jez: Well yeah, something was doing ok, but I don’t want to make you think that then it was all ok. This was like hanging onto a tiny bit of wood in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in a storm, but at least I had that. It wasn’t big at first but at least every time I wrote about what’s that sadness about, or had a memory or something, there was just this little gap that awareness helped, that gave, that was documenting it. I kept and have got all these journals that saved me, that writing and of course I’m a writer anyway so that came naturally to me
Iain: You also told me at one point that Carl Jung talked about creative thinking
Jez: Creative disease I think
Iain: Creative illness
Jez: Creative illness yeah
Iain: I think that’s his red book that wasn’t published for a time, that talks about that
Iain: So that was someone famous you knew whose work was highly regarded that had gone through something similar to you
Jez: That really helped me, it was just like a paragraph, but the idea that he had gone through that himself and also that his attitude to it was… instead of that look I got from people “ my God, what’s happened to you? You used to be so confident and creative, you can’t do anything now. What happened to you”? This look of terror from people. So, from Jung there was this message that this could be creative, there could be something in this that could be positive. That really helped me
Iain: Yeah. Talk more about that because at one point you decided this challenge you had, the personality breaking down was almost like a master to you, like a teacher to you
Jez: Yeah, I think maybe that sprung from this Jung thing. My relationship to it, I saw it as a thing , this kind of demon almost that had taken over my life, that had stripped me of everything that made me feel ok and had utter command over me. I couldn’t do things. I remember trying. I had a lot of will power, I’ve always had a lot of will power. I think that’s what helped me in my career, I’m sure you’ve got the same. Like I said, I couldn’t drive back from that event. Months later we had to hire someone to drive the car back. There was this symbol of my life, like the car was in the garage, it wasn’t going anywhere. I tried to get into the car and drive, even that was really hard.
Iain: Too much
Jez: Yeah, how do I get back? Will I lose the way back? One day I went to my parent’s how which was about fifteen miles away, that was a major thing. I thought I’ve done it. My heart was racing. I got there and I just collapsed again. My dad had to drive me back, my God (shaking head). This was a very special moment between me and my dad. My dad was of the generation that didn’t show their emotions much and here I was sitting in his car sobbing and sobbing and didn’t know why. He’d never done therapy. He didn’t have any truck with all that really, but it was so sweet because in the middle of all that he didn’t say anything other than there’s no shame in crying. It makes me almost tearful just thinking about it. It was such a moment of compassion, so I thank him for that. He’s gone now but that was beautiful. It wasn’t always that easy with him (laughing). I think that brought out the best in him
Iain: But you slowly after a time started to find your feet a little bit more didn’t you?
Iain: I don’t know about your feet, it’s the wrong phrase but you started to emerge
Jez: Gradually, a little bit more. I shoot forward a few years but then I was like this damaged being. I didn’t know who I was anymore and what was my relationship to what I was before and could I still do it. One night… the suffering reached an incredible peak, there were times when I thought I was going to die and leave the body. I didn’t choose it; I just felt this thing happening. It was just like the energy was going to shoot up out of my head. My wife watched this happen. She was great, she grabbed my feet. She said you’re loved, you don’t need to go and brought me back. The suffering was bad sometimes. I couldn’t even tell you like what, it was just so intense. One night when it was really bad, I had this kind of awakening in the middle of the night, the absolute opposite. So, going back to the original openings this was even bigger. I don’t know how it happened, but I was suddenly thrown out of the pain. I thought maybe this was it, maybe this was all it was about, I’ve been leading to this. It’s over, it’s over. I came down in the morning and Rikke said “what happened to you? You look different and the whole house is full of light”. I said, “I don’t know, I went to bed and woke up in the arms of infinity”, that’s what I said, that’s the phrase that came to me.
Iain: You woke up in the arms of infinity.
Jez: Yeah, it literally just came to me that phrase, I didn’t even think what it meant. The next day I started looking terrible, I felt terrible again. This is how it went for a while.
Iain: So, it was like a glimpse of something…
Jez: Quite a big glimpse, a really big glimpse but awakenings are awakenings, they don’t last
Iain: I think at some point you did see a psychiatrist, but they couldn’t help you at all
Jez: Yeah, early on. I felt I should be practical about this. The people who study mental health and breakdowns maybe they know more than me about this, they should do so, I thought I’d go along. I saw somebody who was quite high up and thought she’s going to tell me what’s going on. The main question is can you help me? She said “no, I can’t stop it, the only thing I can tell you is it will stop but can’t say when”
Iain: You resisted the route of going with drugs and just dampening things down
Jez: The reason for that was the awareness thing, I didn’t want to avoid. We were talking about seeing this demon, this thing in a different way and having a different relationship to it so, when I started seeing it as a teacher, that’s when things got slightly easier because rather than fighting it. My relationship to the breakdown was I can just about bear this, go away, when is it going to stop? When I saw it more as a teacher, I relaxed more into it as much as you can and started to bow down to it. If you’re going to slay me, what are you teaching me, what is this? It really helped in a way, because even if in bad times, you can relax into them if you can the whole dynamic changes. That’s the only thing you can change. You can’t stop it happening, you can change your response to it
Iain: You can, and I think what happened to you is more common, maybe not quite so dramatically, but is more common than people make out. There are so many spiritual stories about all these wonderful things that happen, openings, the visions, and all kind of things, and swept under the carpet a lot of the time, is very challenging shifts in perspective. It can take years for these shifts to integrate reorganise itself, a new kind of way of being in life to emerge. You also told me before that when you felt a bit better you tried to go back to your old world of doing the children’s books and going on promotional tours and it didn’t feel right anymore.
Jez: I felt like I was wearing someone else’s clothes, it didn’t fit anymore. It felt like I was playing a part, whereas before I was in the middle of that part. I was playing a role and didn’t feel so good in it. That was strong, so what do I do now. I’ve been through tis thing now, just about crawling, staggering along now, seeming to function a bit, but I’m not seemingly… I hadn’t stopped doing it totally, that life as it was, doing promotions, tours, doing readings, visiting schools that sort of thing had stopped. So, I thought what now? I don’t really know what I’m meant to do. Once again, when I let go into that, that was a really big thing to because I guess then the next big thing started to open up
Iain: But you see again, I think you have to give yourself a lot of credit because so many people, they don’t want to let go of something that’s kind of working, and that’s their identity, as that person, their way of earning money. They keep running, they’re a bit bored with it but they keep running and keep running. It’s so sad that people do that because like you if they had the courage to say that doesn’t work anymore, let’s see what wants to appear. It may not appear straight away, it may take time, it usually does take time, but then something new can emerge
Jez: Yeah and what emerged for me, there is a line right back to those first openings so, the kind of fulfilment of them, really. My personality collapsed that day. In the years afterwards, I examined it, every part of it and wrote about it. I knew about this emotion, why I felt like that, what my mum said. What my dad said. You get bored with it in the end so, I knew this thing
Jez: It did help you at the time didn’t it
Iain: I think you need to know it before it can fall away. I always say everything has to be seen, every last little hidden… let’s be very clear, I don’t think you have to see everything in order to have an awakening or to experience what shall I call it , awakening. It’s not a kind of sequential thing, when you cleared all that, then you’ll have the awakening. Absolutely not true, I had mine right in the middle, I had it all the way through my life so, I don’t think those two are related at all. But in order to get to a place when that personality does fall away, in what I call the shift I feel I found there is a process that has to happen where this thing which governs and lives your life, no longer has any power. It kind of loses its power, that identification with it. That sort of just happened. It almost happened in the background. I couldn’t even put a day on it. I wouldn’t even know what year to put on it, but I know it happened. I knew I’d never ever be lost in the idea that that personality that was built on that wound, that pain, was me. I knew I was the one who watched who wrote those journals so, in that sense there’s no going back. Who knows what’s going to happen? Everything keeps opening but that was a defining moment and a change that has led me to write these books.
Iain: You talk about its not the death of the personality, it’s the death of the identification with the personality
Jez: Important difference because you might say, is the personality still there? Or, do you still experience? I can say yes sometimes I still could experience it. I would say if it was like that (spreads hands wide apart) it’s now like that (draws hands closer together), the power of it or the patterns. So, there’ll still be patterns there or memories because this thing has been around my life forty or fifty plus years. It has a momentum, it’s like an energy, a force of energy, this galaxy this whole thing going on. But instead of being right in the middle of it, you’re over here (indicates to the side). When you’re over here (to the side), it’s the investment in personality, the belief you are it, that keeps it going. That’s what it feeds on, when that is taken away, the whole thing kind of starts losing its power
Iain: Yes, and it’s more than that, it’s also the consensus reality of the personality. It’s fed not just inside, it’s from everywhere the personality. You need this and that, it builds it up and supports it.
Jez: Of course, and this society, the society of the whole world, the group personality of mankind is built around personality. It’s not built around seeing beyond it so, you become an outsider in one sense.
Iain: So, you’ve written, obviously we started with one of your children’s books to give context there, but you’ve written two books were the inspiration is very much come from your experiences. You’ve written ‘The Story of You’ and ‘The infinite Journey’ and they’re going to be published shortly on White Crow Books. So, just talk a little about what’s in each book. I’ve read them through quickly, I know there’s a degree of autobiographical experience in there, but you also include how you see reality. When you say the story of you, that’s the story of not just you, but of everyone…
Jez: Everyone reading it, the human story. The story of being a person and what happens to us. I’ll tell you how the books came about. Way back when I wasn’t fully out of the breakdown I did try and write after I had the awakening about what I’d seen. I was pleased with it as a piece of prose, but it wasn’t very user friendly, it was a bit dry. So, I’d given up on the idea of ever catching this in a book. I thought ok well that was worth doing but it was never going to come to anything. About three years ago I was talking with a friend about these sorts of issues, he said, “these discussions are quite good we should record it”. He had an online magazine so he said maybe I can make some articles about them. So, we went for a walk and recorded our talk. He said, “we could make something of this”. One thing I realised from these discussions was a discussion… here you’re controlling this beautifully, there’s a sort of order to it, but my friend has got a hell of a busy mind. So, we’d be going here, and he would mention this and then this subject would come up. What I realised was if I was going to do this subject, it’s such a huge subject, there are so many layers to it, I had to be really clear and do it in a certain order. If you talk about something that is really complicated and you haven’t described the ground rules, the A, B, C of it’s just going to confusing. So, that became important to me. Writing stories is all about releasing information. You imagine if you’re watching a detective story, if you release a bit of information at the wrong time the whole thing doesn’t work. A good storyteller knows about releasing information. Because I’ve been writing stories all my life, I’ve kind of applied that to these books. I thought what do we need to know first? Where do we need to begin? What’s the overview? How do we build it? I wanted to control very carefully the steps and that’s what I’ve done in these books. It became quite long, so it became two books because it was so long. So, two entities kind of emerged and they do tell the human story. We talk about oneness, love, how we become a being, childhood. There’s psychology, there’s sociology in it because we all experience it. What is it like to join a family? What effect does that family have in shaping you, in shaping your personality? We talk about the wound, the personality, we go through all these things. I get to this platform where I can describe my take on what the personality is, what emotions are, the need to distract from our pain, where it comes from. There are all these elements that build into our personality, which we then walk around thinking that’s who I am. The minus of that is that the personality is were the suffering comes in. If you’re at all interested in going beyond suffering and not just taking drugs to avoid it, or other means to avoid it. There’s a confrontation that needs to happen. What is this thing and where does this suffering come from? So, these are the sorts of thing I deal with chronologically throughout a life. That was my take on it
Iain: ‘The Story of You’ and ‘The Infinite Journey’, all our journeys are infinite, tell us a little bit more about that
Jez: In that I talk a bit more about openings and what does it mean to have what I call the shift beyond identification. What does that actually mean in a life that is lived? Because there are many myths I think, about what that means, about some ideas about perfection, you are way beyond emotion or anything else. I thought I’d put those right the way I see it. I think there are a hell of a lot of misconceptions bout this and also about how this is taught. How does abuse happen in cults? This is a subject I thought I couldn’t miss because it’s all coming out of personality. How do you have these teachers who know so much, who have reached this apparent level of wisdom? Yet around them, we mentioned Ocho, there are hundreds of them… I remember when we went to Oregon, suddenly there were people walking around carrying guns. What’s that about? I thought this was a place of love. Almost every day there is another story about some Buddhist teacher who’s been caught abusing. How does that fit into all of this so, I write about all of that because what I found gave me a really clear angle on why that happens.
Iain: Well the great thing is the core of your books came out of your personal experience so, it’s not like its’ all theory for the sake of it. It’s a thing built on solid ground in one way.
Jez: Yeah like I said in the first book I tried to write it was too dry. I realised people like to hear personal stories, they’re humans, I’m a human who has had ups and downs. It makes it more relatable. The other thing is the books are written in the form of this discussion between me and my friend Matthew so, there are also his real-life responses to what I’m saying, and his stories come into it. So, it’s a way of opening it up and making it hopefully more accessible because this is very human. I’m just a regular guy. This just happened because of these openings and I followed. I’m not some special guy in any way. People do sometimes present themselves who have had these sorts of experiences as special, which to mean looks ludicrous.
Iain: Ok, we’re going to stop there but we’re going to do a short part two just talking more about your children books because I think it’s very interesting where the ideas come from and how that career has worked for you. So, thank you for watching Conscious TV. Thank you very much to Jez. We’ll put more information about his two new books coming out shortly after these credits.
‘It all started with a Bare Bear…’
Iain: Hello, welcome to Conscious TV. I’m sitting here with Jez Alborough. Hi Jez
Jez: Hi Iain
Iain: We’ve just done a longer interview about his life. I wanted to do a shorter piece about the creativity he puts into his children’s books. He has sold over 8 million books which is a lot of books to sell. He’s an illustrator and an author. We’re just going to find out the origins of Jez’s talent and what makes him tick in terms of doing the books, where the ideas come from etc. So, Jez when you were a youngster you had the two passions of football, writing and illustrating pictures. One thing you told me was at you were at school what you loved was the books. I remember the exercise books. One page was blank, and one page had lines on. That really inspired you didn’t it?
Jez: Yeah, I felt very at home there. It was like a representation of two sides of me, writing and drawing because I drew all the time, and then I could write stories about what I drew. I think there was a sense of, this is not just on a sheet, this is a formalised book. It was like a little for taste of what I would be doing for thirty-five years, later on, of course because that was primary school
Iain: So, drawing was one of your natural talents wasn’t it?
Jez: Yeah and it was really odd as I don’t do it myself
Iain: Well we’re talking about your career then (smiling). I think what you told me was you would see a picture of a celebrity and you’d draw your own caricature of the celebrity
Jez: Yeah, I tried to catch a likeness and I’d studied people who could do that. It was interesting, like doing a linear version of someone’s impression, in a way. So, I studied people who were good at that like H M Bateman. There’s a beauty in lines and I used to read comics. Of course, comics had the frame and the text underneath and then I moved onto to Rupert the Bear books. I don’t know if you remember, if you ever read them, they had frames like a comic, but they also had a bit of the text written in rhyme underneath which I loved. I loved A. A. Milne and his writing, Winnie The Pooh. At some point in my life the two came together and I wrote rhymes that went with drawings and that became my first book.
Iain: It’s a real art, especially old comics, to tell a story. You’ve got the visuals and some narrative underneath, but you can get caught up in a real story. What’s going to happen next just like watching a movie.
Jez: The interesting thing in it as an art form is what do you say in the pictures, what do you say in the words? You don’t want them to trample on each other’s feet. They are both doing their job, and which one is the best tool to say want you want to say at any point. It’s a fascinating art form, I love it. It’s a bit like the equivalent in music lyrics and music. A poem is one thing, lyrics are very different to poems, they work in conjunction with the music not necessarily without the music. Put them together and magic can happen. The interchange with that lyric and that change of cord can do wondrous things. That’s the sort of stuff I love.
Iain: I know originally you tried to get a job as an editorial illustrator but that was tough wasn’t?
Jez: Yeah, because it was really hard to get jobs, really hard and I was just out of art college. But it was when I realised, I had a slight head start on some people because I didn’t just draw, I wrote as well, then I tiptoed into this area of children’s books. I had this character of this bear and I showed it to a publisher, and he could see I had something, and that’s how I got my first book.
Iain: But you got your inspiration lying in the bath, didn’t you?
Jez: I did
Iain: Two line came to you
Jez: “To keep warm in the arctic air, a polar bear wears polar ware”. Those lines jumped into my head
Iain: This is the first book ‘The Bare Bear’ (shows book). There are those illustrations for those first lines, lying in the bath
Jez: I don’t know from where they came but I knew they were important, but I can’t afford to get up in half an hour, twenty minutes and forget this. I literally got out of the bath dripping and wrote those two lines down. That’s where it all began, I think I’ve done forty-seven books now
Iain: Was it hard to get a deal, with this publisher Earnest Benn?
Jez: It was hard when I was trying to do the editorial stuff but when I got this, this wasn’t because somebody and this is how it works. You need someone to get what you’re doing you always need that. There was someone who saw I had something, some quirkiness, some comedy in what I do. Thankfully to him, this guy called David Langridge, he started me off, put his trust in me.
Iain: Had you written the whole book that you showed him?
Iain: You just gave him the core of the idea?
Jez: I had a page of drawings, a few scribbles and that opening line I think, but I didn’t have the rest of it. I didn’t know what I was doing, about colouring in a book, how many pages you get, how long it should be. Somehow it came together. I look at it now, it’s a very strange book. I developed through the years, definitely.
Iain: Isn’t it a great example of having the courage to follow something? You had an idea, it wasn’t completely formed, but you were willing to pick up the phone. Knock on thew door of the publishers and say I’ve got this idea, here’s a sheet of drawings and some narrative and it leads to something.
Jez: Well I was trying to start a career. I’d finished my training. I’d been to art school and I needed to do something. I wanted to do something with the talents I had. That’s all I had. You knock on doors, you try, and you try.
Iain: You kept going and the first one that was really successful was “Where’s my Teddy”, great title. Which I have here somewhere (shows book)
Jez: 25 years anniversary copy. Now all books last that long. You write these stories and some of them die and don’t last very long but this was my first big selling book. Before that I was being published so I was successful to an extent, but they weren’t selling much. So, this was a massive change for me, that was 1992.
Iain: This one ‘Hug’ says here over one million copies sold world- wide, and there’s only really one word in the book hug, but lots of great illustrations.
Jez: I was talking about the interchange between words and pictures, this was a book that I took it to an extreme. I thought can I write a book with just one word, I think there maybe one or two others in there, whereby the word hug is used in a different way, in every different scenario. It’s about a chimpanzee searching for his mother for a hug. What I try to do in my books is find big themes, because that’s what you’re trying to do, to capture something we can all relate to adults. The parents and the children. So somehow, I managed to do that with that one. That’s my biggest selling book by far
Iain: So, what do you feel is the secret of what captures people? So, why did kids love… because the parents have to pay the money, but the kids have to say isn’t it a great book. The word gets around. So, what is it that draws people to ‘Where’s my Teddy’ and ‘Hug’? ‘Where’s my Teddy’ has got a happy ending so that helps to an extent
Jez: Yes, it’s scary though. So, people were put off it because they thought it was scary. It explores fear. What is it that brings them to it? That’s’ the million- dollar question. I don’t really know. I could try some answers. Story -telling that’s well executed, I would say. Like I said, its’ that ability to take something that’s big and complex and boil it down to a very simple idea. Here’s a boy and he’s lost his teddy, this is what “Where’s my Teddy” is based on. He’s walking through the scary wood to find it. He hears this sound, a great big bear comes… no, I haven’t read it for a while. First of all he sees a great big teddy bear, then he hears a bear whimpering, and the bear’s holding his teddy which is tiny. He thinks what happened to you why did you get so small? So, obviously it’s an exchange. The bear has found the little teddy Eddie has found the bear’s big teddy. So, it’s all based on that. It becomes a very human thing, we all need our comfort, and the bear needs his comfort. So, instead of the child being scared of the bear, he realises oh he needs his teddy too. So, it’s relatability I would say by the children and the adults
Iain: Did you get the whole story first and then do the illustrations? Or, did things emerge?
Jez: It kind of emerges. It can happen in different ways. There’s another book you’ve got there called ‘The Duck in the Truck’ that started with that rhyme, ‘The Duck in the Truck’. So, I love playing with words and rhymes, so I was just playing with the words that rhyme with duck.
Iain: Great illustrations in this one
Jez: Duck, truck, stuck, muck you hear that, I hear that and hear a story. A duck stuck in the muck in his truck. That’s how that one came about
Iain: There looks like a lot of drama in this book
Jez: Yeah, I think I also invested a lot, I try to anyway. It’s all about feeling. They are animals that talk but they are representing real things, a sheep that’s scared, a duck that’s waddling across trying not to fall. So, there’s comedy in it trying to make characters that you can relate to, that the child can relate to. Also, there’s a lot of love in it. Not to sound pretentious but if you write for children, you’re writing for beings who as I see it are in a state of grace, of innocence and love basically, young children anyway. If you write for them you’ve got to tune in to that place. You’ve got to know what it’s like. I remember I had to feel myself as I was at that age with that openness and innocence, then combine that one with the adult knows about storytelling, humour and all of that. So, I think it was a mix of those two things
Iain: Ok, thank you. You’ve pretty much stopped your world of children’s books, but you’ve left a great legacy…
Jez: I have to say I haven’t fully stopped. I’m hoping I’m going to go back to it and use some of what I’m writing in adult books to bring them to children
Iain: You’ve done to two adult books and you’re doing so music as well I know. So, your creativity is still emerging in different ways
Iain: Ok Jez. Thanks very much
Jez: Thank you Ian
Iain: I might read “where’s my Teddy” tonight
Jez: Bedtime reading
Iain: Happy ending, that’s what I need at night
Jez: Sleep well (laughing)
Iain: Ok, thank you and thank you for watching
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