I bought "The Mystery of Existence" because, like TIm Freke, I have a longstanding love affair with an unfathomable, exotic, alluring, mysterious mistress: existence. Not the existence of this or that, particular things, but existence pure and simple. Is'ness. The raw fact that any "this or that" exists.
For about the first hundred pages of Freke's book, I felt like he and I were on almost exactly the same mystery-loving wavelength. "Yes!" I kept saying to myself, as I read passages like this:
"The mystery of life is so enormous it takes my breath away and leaves me speechless. It's not some riddle I will one day unravel, but real magic to be marvelled at. It's not a darkness my intellect can illuminate, but a dazzling radiance so splendid that my most brilliant ideas seem dull.
I may go about my daily life as if I know what's going on, but the truth is I really don't know what life is. Nobody does."
Absolutely. Again, what we're talking about here isn't the particulars of life, such as how the brain and body are fashioned, or how evolution has brought about us humans.
Rather, Freke is pointing to the unarguable fact that nobody knows why existence exists -- or even if "why?" makes any sense when the question pertains not to the existence of some particular thing, but to the famous query "Why is there something rather than nothing?"
There is nothing more mind-blowing than to ponder the astonishing mystery of "is." Personally, I suspect that the fascination we humans have with the philosophical, religious, and mystical questions surrounding why existence exists is a byproduct of our all-too-human cognitive abilities and brain processes.
A more advanced alien intelligence might look upon the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" with a resounding Huh? This is a meaningless question. The answer is obvious. Which, however, we wouldn't be able to understand.
As shown by the quote above, at first Freke seems to agree that because nobody can know anything about the basic "is" of existence (in part, or in full, because any answer presumes a pre-existing "is," such as God), everything within existence, including life, is fully submerged in the all-pervading atmosphere of mystery.
Freke correctly says that we need to have our stories, but these don't penetrate the mystery. There are religious stories, scientific stories, philosophical stories, poetic stories. Each of us picks and chooses from these stories, elaborating and adding upon them in our own ways. Then we over-confidently say, "This is what life is all about."
Given how Freke started off his book, I figured that he would maintain a core position: the mystery of life and existence can be intuited by us humans, but never really known, understood, penetrated, or grasped. After all, Freke said: "I may go about my daily life as if I know what's going on, but the truth is I really don't know what life is. Nobody does."
Well, this isn't the stance in the latter part of the book. Nor in the Mystery Experience retreats that Freke puts on and talks about frequently, sometimes in a rather annoyingly infomercial sort of fashion.
Because we're told that actually Tim Freke DOES know what life is all about.
"As a person I am a form in the flow of time. But the deep self is outside of time. It is timeless being... I think most of us have this sense that our deep self is the same now as when we were much younger. I know I do... What I am is timeless awareness witnessing TIm's journey through time.
When I live lucidly I see that I am both mortal and immortal. The person I appear to be in time had a beginning and will come to an end. But the deep self isn't in time, just like a dreamer isn't in a dream.
As a person, I'm a body that is born to die. But the deep self can't die because it was never born. My essential being is immortal, because being by it's very nature must always be."
Freke believes that God, or timeless awareness, becomes conscious of itself through the consciousness of beings in time, like us humans. A Koranic hadith has Allah speaking somewhat similarly: "I am a hidden treasure who wanted to be known." This notion also is akin to HIndu teachings of atman and brahman, soul and God, part and whole.
To which I say, fine. But it was disappointing to find such a large dose of mystery-dissolving spiritual dogmatism in the last two-thirds or so of the book. Mystery takes a back seat to various exercises taught at Freke's workshops where people are shown how to get in touch with their "deep self." Finally, he says:
Our pilgrimage has led us to deep love, which is the sacred ground towards which we have been heading all along. When we're conscious of ourselves as an individual expression of the primal oneness, it's an experience of all-encompassing love, This is the heart of the mystery experience.
I can't agree. The heart of the mystery experience is to experience the mystery of life/existence (they're linked, because only conscious living beings can be aware of cosmic mystery). In his workshops, and in his book, Freke claims to know what this mystery consists of. Spoiler alert! He writes:
"My deep love affair is with God as the ground of being and Goddess as the appearances of being. The natural world is an objective expression of the unconscious oneness from which we have arisen. It is the unconscious foundation from which conscious bodies have evolved. When I see the numinous in nature, I see the mystery in the manifest."
OK. That's Freke's story. And it's an appealing story. I can understand why other people would resonate with it. To some extent, I do myself.
I just wish that Freke had stuck with his initial "nobody knows" theme, and emphasized that how he looks upon the mystery of life and existence is his personal way of relating to unfathomable mystery. Religions attract converts by claiming they -- and only they -- understand the ultimate nature of the cosmos. But no religion has any demonstrable evidence to back up its claim.
And given the seeming impossibility of anyone knowing how, why, or what existence is all about, no sage, prophet, guru, or other person ever could penetrate the mystery. Freke can't either, notwithstanding the author's claim to be able to lead people to a "spiritual awakening."
All that said, and I've said a lot in this review, I still liked "The Mystery Experience" and can recommend it to lovers of existential mystery. Just be aware that the mystery will remain shrouded in darkness after you finish the book, even though Freke claims to have illuminated it.
If you want to read a book that truly honors the mystery of life and existence, I more highly recommend Jack Hass' wonderful "The Way of Wonder." Hass views any attempt to de-mystify the ultimate mystery of being to be disrespectful -- even sacrilegious in a sense, though religiosity shouldn't be associated with the mystery of existence. Read Hass and you'll understand what Freke needs to understand about cosmic mystery: leave it mysterious.
[Note: this review is of the print edition, not the Kindle edition. Both new and used print copies can be bought via Amazon, even though the print listing says the book hasn't been released yet.]