Tess Hughes Interview with Mario Pallua, Croatia 2011
What was your life like prior to starting seeking?
Pretty normal and mundane- raising a family, teaching school, running my household.
What got you interested?
I had an expereience of fear of death at around age eight or nine which left me with a constant underlying awareness of death. Much and all as I tried to ignore the reality of death, it remained as a background conundrum all along. It was in an effort to get rid of this anxiety or deal with it in some way that I stumbled into the spiritual arena.
You mentioned that you were seeking without knowing that there were other people seeking something. What did this first seeking look like? How did you feel at that time, it must have felt pretty lonely?
Yes, it did feel lonely or at least I felt isolated in my concern about death. I did not know anyone else who was willing to take it seriously or admit that they also worried about it. To me it appeared as if others were not concerned about the fact of death.
It was not so much that I was worried about dying as about what, if anything followed death. In other words I needed to understand what death was about in order to know how to live my life.
Looking back, I’d say my earliest seeking was already evident in my love of Shakespeare as a teenager and in my love of poetry and classic literature. In these areas I was looking for guidance on issues that mattered to me.
I was looking for guidance on what values were worth paying attention to in my life.My concern was that if life mattered at all then I needed to find out why it mattered and live in alignment with that.
You said that your path took off after getting involved in TAT and their self-confrontation groups. At the time, what form did your spiritual work take?
Coming upon TAT was a major boost to my spiritual search. For the first time I met people who seemed to have something I could really relate to and wanted. I articulated this quality to myself as integrity. When I told one of them that my main concern was about understanding death he told me that this is the core of all spiritual seeking.
Here were people who lived normal householder lives, were unpretentious, simple, wise and willing to share how they had found what they had found for free. And, most importantly they were saying that they had found “the pearl beyond price” as advertised by every religion, in all cultures in all ages and that this was equally available to me. I understood “the pearl beyond price” to be an understanding of what death is.
Prior to coming across the TAT group I had not met anyone who claimed to be enlightened and who lived a householder life.
Here was a group where several people had come to know the meaning of death and they assured me that I too could awaken to this mystery. They also offered guidelines by which to achieve this awakening, which are the teachings of Richard Rose, the founder of the TAT group.
In finding this group I was exposed to teachings, such as Ramana Maharshi, Eckhart Tolle, William Samuels, Vedanta, which were new to me. I also heard about the experiments of Douglas Harding, which I practiced. These teachings, along with the Richard Rose teachings focussed my idea of what it was that I was seeking and gave advices on how to achieve the goal.
Prior to coming across TAT my spiritual seeking was more along the lines of self-help books and various forms of meditation.
One teaching I got from TAT, which was the necessity for solitary time, seems to me to have had a profound effect on my progress.
Looking back, what is spiritual work all about?
In a nutshell, I’d say it’s about self honesty. It’s about seeking to understand yourself right down to the deepest roots. It’s about having the courage and determination and ambition to want to know what or who you really are. It’s about refusing to be fobbed off or distracted or cajoled by anybody or anything into accepting anything less than the whole truth and nothing but the truth of who or what you are.
What was the emotional drive behind your search?
The fact that I was unable to ignore the fact of death.
As seekers, we often see delusions or beliefs that bind us, but cannot seem to get over them. Are there any particularly traumatic or funny ones that stood out in your seeking years?
The belief that there was somone who knew more about me than I did about myself was a major delaying factor in me taking the spiritual search seriously. I thought priests, or psychologists or philosphers had a better understanding of life than I did. I was trying to learn from them.
It was only when I began to realise that nobody could know me better than I could know myself that I began to look seriously within.
You often mention that you are more of an intuitive type, rather than a rational, linear type. For those of a more rational inclination that find this difficult to conceive, how does it feel to be in an intuitional head? How are questions approached, asked and answered?
I think that everyone is intuitive as well as rational. Some people do not acknowledge or recognise that they are intuitive because living as we do in the scientific age, rationality is valued more that intuition.
Intuition is our direct line to our Source. Rationality is a tool of the world. Rational thoughts can easily be justified and tested in relation to the world. Intuitive thoughts are more personal, specific and less difinitive. They are often in the nature of possibilities. For me, as time passed I came to recognise and rely on intuitive thoughts and dreams as a means of guidance on the path.
What do you know for sure? That I am, really there is no “I” to be but there is Being.
What is enlightenment?Knowing that which is eternal in you- that which survives death of the body and the mind.
Are you sure? Yea!
What advice would you give someone just starting on the path?
Trust that there is something to be found, do everything you can to find it. It is within you.
Find fellow seekers and remember that nobody else can find the answer for you but there are teachers and guides who can give some clues as to how to seek yourself for yourself.
What would you tell someone that despairs of ever finding an answer for herself?
Dispairing is a mood, it passes. Observe it, the thoughts, beliefs, assumptions that are associated with it. Search for the source of your dispair and see if it is really valid.
Maybe, even try to give the whole seeking thing up and observe what happens.
What is your view on the neo-advaita it’s-so-simple teaching? Yes it is simple but simplicity is not necessarily easy. The mind thrives on complication. The most masterful violinists also appear the simplist but that masterful simplicity was acquired through effort. Paradoxical I know, but it is the same with mind. It’s as if we need to learn complexity in order to understand and achieve simplicity and appreciate it.
The neo-advaita teachings that recommend not doing anything, there is no one to do anything, no need for a teacher, etc all contain a level of truth but it is not useful guidance to the seeker, in my opinion.
Do we need to work on this, or is it more of an uncaused epiphany and seeing of the obvious? Is it obvious?
I needed to work on unearthing the beliefs and assumptions and expectations that were driving my behaviour and emotions. Along the way change gradually happened, assumptions were thrown out, behaviours and beliefs changed and so on.
Eventually a point came when there was an epiphany, it seemed to come out of the blue but I am pretty sure that this epiphany would not have happened if the ground work had not been done.
All the major spiritual traditions of the world link the notions of dissolving the ego with the occurrance of an epiphany.
This is how I describe what happened to myself; that the work of deconstructing the ego finally came to an end and then an epiphany, which I call an awakening, or Self-realisation occurred. This epiphany showed me what I am before birth and what I will return to after death of the body.
It is what is eternal in each of us.
Since this epiphany heralded a major transformation in me. The world is not longer hostile in any way.
How and what is Tess doing these days? What happened to her suffering?
It’s been over a year now since what I call “The Awakening” happened. Since that time there has not been a hint of anxiety or worry or defensiveness. There is no motivation for anything to happen.
There is a distinct difference in the way life is experienced. It is a state of unknowing, with no desire to know anything other than what is happening in this moment.
I can best describe it by using the phrase the Buddha used when he said “the end of suffering”.
Tess is continuing to live her life exactly as it was before the awakening. I take care of my home and my husband.
Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed!
You have a website up and have started to teach. Why do you teach? How do you teach?
Yes, I have a website up but I am not teaching really, nor have I any desire to.
The setting up of the website is a response to a desire that arose to let people know that there really is such a thing as awakening or enlightenment and that it is a natural thing that is available to everyone, regardless of circumstances. I suspect that it is more common that is often realised.
How can I not share “the end of suffering” with the world? This is the driving force behind setting up the website and using it as a forum to put pieces of writing out in the world.
I did not come across any teacher or teaching in Ireland when I was desperately seeking guidance for many years so I felt the need to share something that may be helpful to others who find themselves in the situation I was in a few years ago.
I wanted to let people know that ordinary householders who do not necessarily practice any religion are just as likely to awaken to their true nature as anyone else.
Spiritual fulfillment is available to everyone, if they look for it and do the necessary work.
I respond to anyone who contacts me through the site and also to people who come to speak to me personally.
I do not know if you’d call this teaching.
What and where is the truth? Is it far away?
The only answer I can think of for this is what Richard Rose said, “You can only become the truth”. Becoming the truth is a matter of removing the veils of ego that are hiding it from view. Removing the veils is done by questioning the motives and desires and aversions and willfulnesses that arise in your daily life. The truth, Reality is within you all the time, just hidden from view by the beliefs, assumptions etc.
For some of us, this life thing can be pretty confusing. How best to approach it?
Confusion sounds like conflicting beliefs or assumptions or expectations. Look to see what are the conflicting beliefs, etc. are.
Find some strategies for self-inquiry, some friends who are into this spiritual seeking and read books that are dealing with this topic. Prayer helps, if you are willing to trust that there is something that hears your prayers. Be aware of your behaviours and intentions as much as you can.
It’s best approached with determination, courage, confidence and a willingness to do the work.
Trust that there is something Divine within you, the source of your creation, engage it in conversation and listen to your intuition for guidance.
That which created you is always aware of your intentions and efforts to return home.