I'm glad that I ignored my qualms about buying TIm Freke's "The Mystery Experience." Ninety pages in, I'm liking the book a lot.
Not surprising. What's not to like about mystery? And Freke has a pleasing way of talking about what we don't know about life, existence, the cosmos, and other Big Questions.
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.
Not even the guys in white coats?
What about the pope?
Are you kidding?
Or my enlightened guru?
You obviously haven't spent enough time with him.
Or some really smart philosopher like Socrates?
He was famous precisely for knowing he didn't know!
Well Jesus then?
He didn't really exist... haven't you read my bestseller about Christianity?
There's got to be some special person somewhere who's got the whole thing sorted out?
Look. I'm not saying nobody knows just because I don't know and I can't imagine anyone smarter than TIm. I'm saying it because I've come to realize that it's impossible to know what life is.
What do you mean?
Could we ever really explain the mystery of life with words? Would it take a sentence? Or a paragraph? Or a book? Or a whole library of books? Could any amount of words explain away the mystery?
I guess not.
Human beings have created a mountain of words to explain the nature of reality, but under all the words the mystery of life remains as magnificent as ever.
So we can never say what life is with words.
Exactly. And that's why, as the great mythologist Joseph Campbell once said, "The person who thinks he has found the ultimate truth is wrong."
So it isn't just me. Nobody knows what's really going on.
In the ancient Hindu Rig Veda it says 'Who knows the truth? Only the God who sees in the highest heaven. He only knows. Or perhaps not even he knows?'
Now, the main question mark I'm encountering so far with Freke's approach to mystery is this:
I heartily agree that life (even more, existence) is a mystery, and I also agree that nobody knows how to solve the mystery -- or even how to approach it. Yet Freke has written 332 pages about the mystery that nobody knows anything about, and has a thriving seminar/book business based on his approach to not-knowing what can't be known.
This was my original qualm, which arose after I took a look at Freke's web site. It seemed too slick and commercial for my tastes, with all the talk about "a revolutionary approach to awakening."
How the heck does someone awake to a mystery?
Usually we think of a mystery as something we awake from, in the sense of suddenly saying "Ah, now I see what's going on." But Freke says, "I started my spiritual journey because life was a mystery that I wanted to solve. But I've discovered that the question is the answer. Life is a mystery. That's what life is."
I used Amazon's Look Inside the Book feature to do just that. Then I bought "The Mystery Experience," having been reassured that Freke wasn't another New Agey nondual wordsmith who proffered smooth sounding platitudes with no substance.
Also, I realized that if I was attracted to the book, what difference did it make if Freke had a slick website and a thriving seminar business? Good for him. He wasn't putting himself forth as a guru who knew the truth about ultimate reality; he was trying to get people to understand that nobody knows what life and existence are all about.
However, we do need our stories.
Stories come in words. Words, as Freke said above, can't explain away the mystery of life. My feeling is, nothing can. Including mystical intuitive aha! wordlessness -- a position that Freke seems to hold also.
So, are stories about the mystery of life useless? Not at all. We just need to understand that they are our stories, subjective, personal, idiosyncratic. They don't explain what life is all about. They aren't guides to an objective reality beyond everyday human experience, as religions would have us believe.
Here's how Freke talks about the mystery and the story.
Life is a mystery about which we tell stories. We all have a personal story about what life is, which we use to help us navigate our lives. A story that helps us understand what's going on... that gives us a sense of who we are... that gives life meaning. Our stories are wonderful. I love listening to people's stories. I'd love to hear your story.
We need a story to help us understand life, because if we didn't have a life-narrative we'd be lost. The problem is that we can easily mistake the story for reality. We can invest so heavily in our beliefs about life that we forget that we really don't know what life is. We can become so caught up in our opinions that we miss the breath-taking mystery. And when this happens, life becomes mundane and empty of wonder.
When I become embroiled with my story I find myself living in a kind of trance. I'm certain I know what's going on, even though I really don't. I exist in a state of numbness that I call 'normality' and I feel only half alive.
But when I wake up I can see that my story is just a story. If I look deeper I discover that hidden behind my story is the pristine, virgin, untouchable mystery. And that's when the mystery experience spontaneously arises.