The Mystery Experience: An Interview with Tim Freke
(by Lee Stephen Gawtry)
In his latest book, philosopher and author Tim Freke leads us on a journey through the nature of the ‘Mystery Experience’, via quantum physics, Gnosticism, the essence of Tao, meditation, Walt Whitman, Greek mythology, Buddhism, Dub Punk musician Jah Wobble, and Carl Jung. But what is the ‘Mystery Experience’?
“When you taste the mystery experience you know something which changes everything. It’s like dissolving in an ocean of love. There is such a feeling of relief and well-being. Like coming home. The whole purpose of spirituality is to help us let go into the mystery experience. And this is much easier than is commonly believed, because it is simply recognizing our own essential nature, which is always present.” Tim Freke
LSG: Most people will be familiar with the individual meanings of ‘mystery’ and ‘experience’, but uncertain of what the two words mean together. What is the mystery you’re inviting us to experience?
TF: Life is so utterly mysterious it takes my breath away. The ‘mystery experience’ is what arises when we become profoundly conscious of the mystery of existence. Normally we go about our business as if we know what life is, when really we don’t. In my new book I explore how our experience is transformed when we become profoundly conscious of the mystery.
The deeper we go into the mystery, the deeper the ‘mystery experience’ becomes. I take the reader on a journey into the depths of the mystery, because this leads to what is often called ‘spiritual awakening’. When we awaken we find ourselves entering an altered state of consciousness that is hard to describe … but there’s no missing how it feels.
There’s a wonderful oneness with the universe and a limitless love of being, which vibrates in every cell of the body. The search for meaning is resolved into a wordless understanding, which is so deep it must be felt not thought. It’s a spiritual, intellectual, emotional and sensual experience. It’s all embracing.
LSG: Is this experience in any way linked to the mysteries of the Greco-Roman world?
TF: I’ve studied and written books on the ancient mysteries, so they are definitely an influence. I see what I am doing as a 21st century version of what the ancient philosophers were up to when they explored the mystery of life.
LSG: The sub-title of the book describes it as ‘A Revolutionary Approach to Spiritual Awakening’. In what way is it revolutionary?
TF: My approach to spirituality is revolutionary because I’ve created a completely new language of awakening, which doesn’t have all the baggage associated with traditional spiritual vocabulary. This makes deep ideas simpler to understand, so it becomes much easier to actually experience the awakened state.
The new book is radical because it is critical of many commonly accepted spiritual ideas, which I feel have passed their sell-by date and are starting to smell funny. Often spiritual books shy away from being critical, but I feel this is essential if we are to move forward on our collective journey of awakening.
My philosophy is based on a new way of thinking that embraces paradox, which I call ‘paralogical’ thinking. That term can sound a bit scary, but it is actually very simple once you grasp it. I also call this ‘both/and’ thinking rather than ‘either/or’ thinking.
A paralogical approach to spirituality encourages us to both wake up to oneness and love the experience of separateness … to be conscious of the deep self and embrace our tender, vulnerable, flawed humanity… to transcend the mind and appreciate the power of the mind… to know deep peace and feel intense passions … to play in the present moment and evolve through the challenges of living in time.
LSG: You’ve been holding Mystery Experience retreats for some time now. Was the book born out of the retreats or was it the other way round?
TF: A few years ago I started using my new approach to spirituality to lead people to the awakened state on my retreats. I soon realized that something astonishing was happening, because nearly every person experienced a powerful awakening over the course of just three days. So I’ve become convinced that the ‘deep awake’ state is easily available to everyone if they approach life with the right understanding and practical tools. This inspired me to share these ideas and practises in my new book. The mystery experience means so much to me I want everyone to experience it.
LSG: I used to describe your earlier book Lucid Living as The Power of Now in a nutshell. It was short, succinct and easy to assimilate. The Mystery Experience seems to pick up from where Lucid Living left off. Was that your intention?
TF: All of my books have been leading to The Mystery Experience. It is the product of four decades of exploring spirituality. It offers a new vision of spirituality, which can help people avoid all the dead-ends I’ve been down on my own journey.
LSG: The book not only addresses the spiritual and scientific viewpoints, but also the shortcomings of both. Are they, as you seem to suggest, complementary aspects of the same reality – the yin and yang of existence?
TF: Science and spirituality offer opposite ways of exploring the mystery of life … and paralogical thinking allows us to embrace both. Superstitious spirituality and reductionist science can never be reconciled. But deep spirituality and deep science complement each other perfectly.
LSG: How do you think things have changed since Eckhart Tolle came along and advaita/non-duality entered the mainstream?
TF: More and more people understand that essentially all is one. This is a remarkable development that is still gaining momentum. But I come across a lot of people who believe they have to reject separateness if they want to awaken to oneness, which leads to a rather cold and colourless understanding of spirituality. When we dismiss the miracle of human life as a meaningless illusion we cut ourselves off from the ‘deep love’ that naturally arises when we realise we are both a unique individual and one with all. That’s the paradox of our identity.
LSG: In the past few years, authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have heralded a scientific backlash against religion and spirituality. Do you think it’s possible to find a middle way, a modern Buddhist path that reconciles the seemingly disparate views of science and spirituality?
TF: I like Dawkins and Hitchens because they oppose irrational forms of spirituality, which are now completely out-dated. But they are still fighting the battles that raged in the Enlightenment period. Things have moved on in science since the discoveries of Einstein and the quantum physicists. And now things need to move on in spirituality, so it can sit harmoniously alongside the amazing vision of the universe that 21st century science gives us.
LSG: In some ways, The Mystery Experience is a very brave book that goes further than most in trying to clarify what is meant by enlightenment or the awakened state. There’s also the sense that you’ve lived this – that it’s born out of your own experiments and experience. I’m not suggesting you consider yourself enlightened, but what’s your own background in this area?
TF: The whole book has come from my own experience of awakening, which started spontaneously when I was a 12 year old boy and has dominated my life ever since. But I suggest the idea of some ultimate ‘enlightenment’ is an unrealistic concept that needs to be questioned. Consciousness is always in flux. We are continually more or less awake. That’s the natural way of things.
LSG: The book also features ‘WOW experiments’ in some chapters. Can you say a bit about what they are and what their function is?
TF: I describe the mystery experience as the big ‘WOW’, because this is the word people most often use when they awaken for the first time. The experiments in the book are simple practices that lead to the WOW of awakening. I wanted the book to be both philosophical and practical.
LSG: You seem to have your finger firmly on the pulse, in a way that allows you to forge ahead into unexplored areas and ways of looking at life that are contemporary and yet somehow timeless. Do you see yourself as an explorer of sorts?
TF: I feel I’ve been exploring the frontiers of consciousness all my life. This book is me reporting back and offering people a map so they can make the journey themselves … because it’s really beautiful out there!
LSG: Unlike some writers, who talk of love but seem devoid of it, love seems to literally radiate from your being. Is there something that the rest of us are missing from our diets?
TF: For me life is essentially all about love. What I call ‘deep love’ is the experience that arises when we are conscious of being one with all. Only this deep love is big enough to embrace all the joy and suffering we experience. My greatest aspiration is not to achieve some sort of disembodied ‘enlightenment’, but rather to become an authentic lover of life.
LSG: There’s a sense that your passion and enthusiasm are not only contagious, but spring from a genuine desire to help people. The Mystery Experience takes the whole subject of enlightenment, awareness, and consciousness out of the arena of mysticism and into the everyday world where the majority of us have to live. Was that a deliberate move on your part, or a natural progression of your philosophy?
TF: My new approach to spirituality has arisen from my frustration with forms of spirituality that are too fantastical, otherworldly and inauthentic to really help us engage with life as we actually experience it. So in my new book I aspire to be radically real about the challenges we all face, so that we can live with our suffering and broken dreams, as well as appreciate the wonder of existence.
LSG: At over 300 pages, The Mystery Experience is a major work that has the potential to be as successful as The Power of Now. Not only does it fill in the gaps and answer many of the questions raised by Tolle, it also takes into account the changes of the intervening years, offering an accessible, balanced, worldview relevant to people today. Is that what you intended the book to be?
TF: Absolutely. I feel that something exciting is happening right now on our collective evolutionary journey. We’re being propelled to awaken to a new level of consciousness, which only an understanding of deep spirituality can help us achieve. Yet something stands in the way. And that is the state of spirituality today. It’s simply not up to the job. It urgently needs to evolve and mature.
At the moment spirituality is largely consigned to the fringes of mainstream culture. The hard truth is that it’s often seen by thinking people as irrelevant and irrational, which is unfortunately often the case. If we’re going to make the next evolutionary leap, spirituality needs to shape up. The task today is to evolve a new approach to awakening for the 21st century and this book is my contribution to that exciting project.
In our eclectic age this means synthesising the essential insights of traditional wisdom into a new and alive form. In our rational age this means clearly discriminating the art of awakening from dogmatic religion and groundless superstition. In our scientific age this means ensuring that spirituality can be harmonised with the awesome discoveries of science, so that there’s no longer a divisive split between our understanding of awakening and our understanding of objective reality.
LSG: The last ten years or so have seen an endless stream of books with ‘now’ in the title. In the coming decade, do you foresee a plethora of books with ‘mystery’ in the title?
TF: If The Mystery Experience is as big a hit as The Power of Now then maybe! If this happens I will be delighted, because I want people to embrace my ideas and make them their own. I want the book to help take deep spirituality out of the mystical ghetto and into mainstream modern culture. I want it to play a role in our collective awakening to oneness and all-embracing love.
Meet the author: Tim Freke is a philosopher or ‘lover of wisdom’ who is pioneering a simple new way to experience a profound spiritual awakening, which fully embraces our everyday humanity. He has spent his life exploring the awakened state he often simply calls ‘The Mystery Experience’. Tim has articulated his own revolutionary ‘philosophy of lucid living’ designed to help people go beyond ideas and actually experience a ‘deep awake’ state, which replaces out-dated spiritual jargon with clear new concepts which are simple to understand.
Tim has an honours degree in philosophy and is an internationally respected authority on world spirituality. He is the author of over thirty books that have established his reputation as a scholar and free-thinker. He is best known for his groundbreaking work on Christian Gnosticism with his close friend Peter Gandy, including The Jesus Mysteries, which was a top 10 best-seller in the UK and USA. In recent years he has articulated his own ‘lucid philosophy’ in Lucid Living, and How Long is Now?
Tim is also an innovative ‘stand-up philosopher’ – a concept he developed from the ancient idea of a philosopher as a travelling ‘spiritual entertainer’ who transformed people’s consciousness. He is the founder of The Alliance for Lucid Living, (The ALL), an organization dedicated to our collective awakening. He lives with his wife Debbie and their two children in Glastonbury, England. Find out more about The Mystery Experience at www.timfreke.com.
Gnosticism, Greek Mythology, issue 30, quantum physics