Galway psychologist aiming to become Ireland’s equivalent to Eckhart Tolle
Gerry Hussey wants to help people 'be proud of who you are and care less about what other people think'
Gerry Hussey at Sandycove in Co Dublin. Gerry has written a self-help spiritual book called Awaken The Power Within. Photograph: Laura Hutton
Performance psychologist Gerry Hussey is sitting on a bench near the Forty Foot swimming spot in south Dublin, looking out to sea. We are meeting to discuss his new self-help book. The book is not out yet, but already booksellers are reporting pre-orders from several thousand people. Over the past few years through wellness events, personal coaching and webinars he has built up an engaged community of people who are interested in his “spiritual and scientific” approach to health.
The name of the book is Awaken Your Power Within. The title, embossed in gold, glints in the afternoon sunshine. While the country has been coming down with mindfulness discourse in recent years, there hasn’t been a Power of Now/Eckhart Tolle figure writing for the Irish market. This is the space Hussey is aiming for. There’s a quote on the front describing Hussey, a Galway man, as “a modern-day sage”. That’s David and Stephen Flynn, aka The Happy Pear, talking.
It was The Happy Pear, he says, who “put the squeeze” on him to write the book. They have been clients and friends of Hussey’s for years, benefitting from his coaching on everything from letting go of fear to self-limiting beliefs.
“They were always telling me to share this with more people . . . they said ‘if you don’t do it then we’re going to write a book with all your learnings in it and we’ll sell it. It’s up to you.’ They gave me an agent’s number. They were very gracious and gave me the kick I needed.”
He rang the agent and told her he had a book he wanted to write. She asked what it was about and he said “a mix of psychology, spirituality and neuroscience”. He didn’t have a word typed at this stage. The agent asked for a proposal but instead of a proposal he says he wrote the whole book in three weeks. “I wrote it quickly but I’m 10 years thinking about it.” When he sent it to a publisher he was nervous but he got an email back to say “it was tremendous . . . a book that needed to be written”.
The subtitle is “Let Go of Fear, Discover Your Infinite Potential, Become Your True Self”. On the back of the book two questions are posed: “Do you sometimes feel that you’re not walking your truest path in life? Do you wish for a better understanding of who you are and what you really want?” These are questions many have been pondering during successive lockdowns which may also account for the interest in Hussey’s first book.
Hussey is known as The Soul Coach and is co-founder with his wife Miriam of Soul Space, “an empowering movement that focuses on raising consciousness, awakening inner potential and inspiring greater health”. Miriam used to be a pharmacist but is now an integrative health and wellness coach. She has just taken their son Elijah, who has just turned one years old, for a walk around Sandycove to get him to sleep while Gerry and I sit on the bench discussing his path to becoming “a sage”.
He grew up, a sports-obsessed middle child of eight, in “a loving family” in Glenamaddy, Co Galway. The book opens with him describing how as a child and young adult he has “zero self-confidence, zero self-worth”. He describes feeling suicidal as an adolescent and being wracked with anxiety through young adulthood. “When I was a young boy I became angry at my family, my teachers, my friends. Eventually, having been angry at everyone and anything external, I turned my anger inwards and declared war on myself. Anger turned to hate, ferocious, sustained self-hate” he writes.
He tells me there was “no big trauma, nothing that should have made me feel like this . . . I’ve come to believe that there are multiple ways we can experience trauma . . . the human being is not equipped to deal with the feeling of being unlovable. The need to love and be loved is the ultimate driving force, it gives us life and passion. When you think you’re unlovable, that’s a trauma, in some ways the biggest trauma. Everywhere I went I compared myself to others, my father, my brothers, and I seemed to be failing . . . the feeling of being not good enough, the feeling of not being loved is trauma in itself”.
“They were unusual thoughts for an 11-year-old to have and whether it’s a gift or a curse, I’ve always had thoughts beyond my years.
“When I looked at other people they seemed happy,” he continues. “I wanted that. I’ve come to realise my friends were equally as unhappy as me, but we couldn’t have that conversation. In the west of Ireland in the 1980s, we didn’t know depression. We didn’t have that language. I didn’t know what panic attacks were. And so all you have is the perception of other people’s happiness. And I desperately wanted to feel as happy as they looked. I thought there was something wrong with me.”
He eventually went on to study psychology and philosophy in All Hallows College in Dublin, a pursuit that gave him purpose after years of hating school and feeling “stupid and dumb . . . I made this huge effort to try to become somebody of value, I was doing every job I could to support myself through college, I had no downtime.” After four years of study, he embarked on a master’s degree and experienced a period of ill-health – breathlessness and a racing heart. He was hospitalised for two weeks where a heart condition was suspected and later discounted. The doctors never got to the bottom of his health issue but he believes it was his central nervous system “pushed beyond its limits. Nobody mentioned anxiety or panic attacks or asked if I was stressed out. I was physically fit and healthy.”
In hospital he had “time and space” to think about what he’d learned in college and how he could apply it to himself. He cites this time in St Vincent’s hospital, in a ward full of much older men, as his time of greatest learning. “Here I was a strong, physically fit athlete in a room full of old men thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be here, this is wrong.’ I let that go, I started to ask why am I here? And every day I’d listen to the men and write down what I’d learned. I asked myself questions. Now that I’m dying – I thought I was dying – will I be remembered? Did anyone love me? Did I love anyone? I’d spent my whole life denying who I was, terrified I was a reject.”
It was a turning point. He went on to enjoy a successful career as a sports psychologist, working with rugby players, supporting Irish boxers and cyclists to Olympic success. Meeting his wife Miriam led to the creation of Soul Space. And now he’s written this book.
The first half is about the power of letting go. Using his own learnings and experiences, he says, has let go of all of his past baggage and negativity and is living “the life of my dreams”. In the book he explores how to let go of “past traumas”, “old thinking”, “restrictive mindsets” and “the dis-ease of distraction”. The second half of the book is about “the path to your true self”. Chapters titles include “We have many states of consciousness but we don’t use most of them” and “The incredible mind-body connection”. He advocates the WIN (What’s Important Now) strategy and encourages positive self-talk. Inevitably there’s a good dollop of daily mindfulness and meditation.
I ask whether he thinks that we, as a nation, have perhaps reached peak mindfulness? We already know all of this stuff, do we need yet another book on it, even one rooted in science? (There is a lot of accessible science in the book from gut health to the importance of a healthy vagus nerve to the parasympathetic nervous system).
“I think there’s still a lot of unrest,” he says. “Our anxiety levels are through the roof. Our depression levels are through the roof. We are filling the hospitals and instead of a clever Minister saying, ‘Let’s ask why people are getting sick?’ they say let’s build more hospitals to treat more sick people . . . a long time ago I stopped looking to the HSE for information on how to proactively manage my health.
“I think we know all of this but if you lined up most people are asked: are you meditating regularly? Do you practise self-compassion? I don’t think most people are.” This is why he included a section of the book about how to implement the insights from the book into an everyday routine.
Hussey already has most of the next book written. It will, he says, “go deeper and wider”. His wife Miriam arrives back, pushing their son in his pram. The couple are going for a swim, something they do most days, in pursuit of their own health and wellbeing. Before he heads off, I ask Gerry why people should read his book. “It’s not a book for the sick or unwell. If you are living a life of joy and health and vitality it’s going to help you live that,” he says. “And it’s also for you if there’s something in your life you think is missing. If you’d like to have more self-compassion, be proud of who you are and care less about what other people think. This life is really, really short. You get one shot at it. It’s time to get living.”
Awaken Your Power Within is published by Hachette Books Ireland