Tim Freke is an internationally respected authority on world spirituality and the bestselling author of more than 20 books.
In our interview, he discusses his latest book, Soul Story, and shares his ideas on death, love, evolution, and the late arrival of God to the Creation party.
Audio interview available here.
More information on Tim.
MC: Death is a theme of your book. I like this part in your book where you write “You don’t prepare for death in your last moments but with every moment of your life”. So, it seems you might say, hearkening back to Socrates, that the purpose of life is to get ready for death.
TF: I certainly feel that the issue of death was very important even though the middle of the book has to do with death – the rest isn’t. One of the frustrations that I’ve had is I’ve felt for a long time that we need a new form of spirituality for the 21st century which can accommodate this immense scientific knowledge that we now have. And what I see is a lot of people attempting to do that – some very good, some not so good.
But one of the things, which is often missing, is addressing death. So, it’s quite easy to accommodate ideas of spiritual oneness and so forth with science, if you don’t bring in the question of what happens when you die. That is a major diversion point. It becomes very hard then to bring these two worldviews together. So my whole dilemma is – I like to think of myself as a thinking person. I try and doubt and question everything I can. But there is an experience which I’ve had since I was a kid which I teach to others and which is so central to me – I call it Gnosis.
You can call it whatever you like – deep awake. In that state, there are intuitions which arise so powerfully that I can’t dismiss them. Intuitions that say this process that we’re in is incredibly meaningful. It has purpose. That it’s fundamentally good, despite all the terrible things that are also going on. And that death is not the end. And everything in my own experience keeps pointing towards that. But that’s very hard to accommodate with the dominant worldview of our day which goes: how can life have a purpose? Now we know there were 180 million years of dinosaurs. Really? Can we then talk about life having purpose? That’s crazy. Or, now we see the relationship between the brain and consciousness we should dismiss this idea of surviving death as simply wishful thinking – fantasies, for those who aren’t intellectually robust enough to face the truth.
I’ve wanted to come back on those views and go, “no.” I do not believe those are the only credible positions, philosophical positions. I think we can develop a new Gnosticism which is intellectually robust, which harkens back to Socrates and that deep questioning. But it also honors these deep intuitions which human beings have and which I certainly have.
MC: And it seems to me that to really understand death, each one of us has to have an experience with something deeper. You have your deep awakening experience. Is that really how we start dealing with death? Or is it as you might say in your book, really trying to understand what life is about?
TF: Most of my work in the last decade has been about sharing the experience of Gnosis. No words can replace the experience. You need to know this for yourself, and most of my work is like you said traveling the world, taking people to a direct experience of the Gnosis, so they know it for themselves. And there’s nothing that can replace that. However, in this paradoxical world in which we live, it feels like it’s also not enough.
We’re also living out the story of our lives. So, then we still need a philosophy of understanding – a story – that we tell about what existence is — which can actually address the whole range of our experience. That is what this book is. And this is why I think it is the most significant book I’ve ever written.
It’s is a really fresh philosophy of life which attempts to genuinely explain how life can be, on the one hand sober, and on the other hand so sublime. Why we live in a world where this evolutionary spectrum, if you like, where all present at the same time.
We’re surrounded by simple matter. We’re surrounded by the huge variation of life and we’re experiencing this newcomer, this latest thing in the evolutionary process that we call psyche, which means the soul. This experience you and I are having right now of a non-material dimension full of ideas and images – but no matter. And this is where we’re connecting in this conversation in the world of the senses.
I’m making funny noises with my mouth. And you’re hearing funny noises. But in the world of the soul or the psyche, or the mind – imagination – that non-material experience we all have – that’s where you hear meaning. And I’m sending meaning, and that’s where we’re connecting on a completely different dimension. So, I wanted something which could rely the whole spectrum of experience and bring back the purpose and meaning to life and death.
MC: It seems in a lot of ways the Gnostic attitude is more you might say real than ever or more valuable than ever. As we were just saying, we are beings that are in a way dual. We live in two worlds, and it’s a matter really of understanding or making those two worlds blended to each other or understand each other.
TF: Yes, the time we first connected was during the time I was working on Christian Gnosticism. I had done a book, Jesus and the Lost Goddess which was a seminal book for me but a very esoteric work looking at this ancient philosophy and how we can understand it.
My feeling is that why I enjoy the Gnostics so much and respect them is that they reinvented – they took this ongoing evolution of philosophy, and they reinvented it for their own time. They took it further, and it was a new thing. And we keep needing to that, I think.
For me, Soul Story is a reinvention of the Gnostic strand in the light of the fact that one part of the ancient philosophy has turned into science. And one part has turned into spirituality now, and we need to bring them back together. And the fundamental insight again kind of goes back to stuff I wrote in the books on Gnosticism is that there is an evolutionary process happening. This evolutionary process is the potentiality of, let’s call it Spirit – using the ancient name.
The potentiality is realizing itself in an outpouring of ever more emerging possibilities. And this is something which both worldviews, science and Gnosticism, have in common. What we need to do, though, is update Gnosticism because we have information which the ancients didn’t have.
So most, nearly all forms of spirituality despite the sense of outpouring that I mentioned, still have a view that we’ve fallen. That there’s been a mistake. There’s something wrong. We’re trapped by an illusion We’re encumbered by our ego. The separate self is holding us back that shouldn’t be there, there’s something bad. And that’s why we’re in such suffering.
What the modern scientific view does which is so liberating, is it goes, no – no, everything is actually getting better. Everything is evolving. The good things or the deeper things are arising on the basis of more primitive things. The most obvious example is the first period in the 13.8 billion years of evolution which has brought us to you and I having this conversation – most of it was taken up with the evolution of matter in all of its complex forms.
And once that had happened, you get the evolution of life in all of its variation. And once that’s happening, then you get the arising of this whole new phenomenon or soul – this experience of a clearly different dimension that we just take for granted which is absolutely the most important thing about us. And it’s taken all those 13 billion years to get to that point, and for me, what that points to is that we need to stop thinking of soul or God as something which pre-exists evolution. Rather, it’s something that’s coming into being through evolution. So, the thing which is controversial both for science and spirituality which I want to explore, is that the immortality of the soul has emerged through the evolutionary process.
The soul dimension which we experience after death has emerged through the evolutionary process. It wasn’t there before. We haven’t fallen from somewhere. We’re evolving into it.
What starts as a land of vague shades becomes an idealized version or horrendous version of everyday life, Valhalla sort of image – then that turns into the big religions coming into being, these incredible religious views of what happens after death and then today you get this whole range, this richness. Normally, that’s just dismissed as cultural conditioning. What I’m suggesting is this dimension we call the imagination has come into existence through the evolutionary process and therefore the ability of the soul to survive the death of the body has arisen for the first time with that.
And that’s what we experience. We are experiencing it right now, and we can go into it after death and experience in greater detail. Not that it was always there, but because the deepest things are emerging last. So, soul and survival of death – these are deep things which are taking a long time to reach. In the purely biological world that doesn’t happen. And in the pre-biological world, it’s not even an issue.
For me, the key thing is that the whole process has been evolutionary. The purpose has evolved. It wasn’t there at the beginning, hence the reason it’s all a bit chaotic, and 18 million years of dinosaurs. It’s not conscious. No one’s doing this.
As soul rises – so does the deep purpose, which is implicit and inherent in the nature of the universe, actually becomes explicit for the first time. We can start exploring as we’re doing right now, in the soul, by having conversations, by sharing ideas.
MC: It definitely explains our friend the dinosaurs. I think one of the essential parts or the part that spoke to me in your book is in one section where you write, “God didn’t create the universe, but comes into being through the universe.” I think that’s it right there. We are creating a divinity together.
TF: This is where the book ends up. This is where it’s all kind of going. It kind of starts with being about science and ends up with theology, I guess. For me, that’s the most important idea in the whole book. But one that I need the whole book to get to. Because what I’m suggesting is that the great problem with God – I experience this being of love, I’ve experienced this since a kid, sustaining and supporting me. But I’m faced with how can that be really – this being of love? When there are hundreds of years of dinosaurs for instance, but also the ancient problem of evil. How can there be so much suffering in the world? Why would any good God – and you know the Gnostics have addressed this for centuries, allow all the terrible things?
If God’s at the beginning of time, he or she or it is a monster and insane. I mean, only an insane monster would spend 13.8 billion years doing every mad thing to get us to this point. But if you reverse it, if you go the deepest potentials arise last, then what I’m exploring is that God, this transcendent being, is the latest thing to arrive.
So that we’ve moved from matter into life, then to soul which is where we are, and then through us awakening to oneness, through human beings, individual souls experiencing this profound awakening to Spirit.
The fundamental oneness from which everything has arisen, which is potentiality, realizes itself as this profound oneness. That anyone who experiences awakening immediately comes into contact with which is marked out above all by love. God, then, is not a transcendent being that is all good and all powerful, but instead is simply all good and partly powerful because it’s arising from this.
It’s becoming more powerful, but it’s not running the show. It’s not responsible for all the terrible things that are happening. Because this goodness which we are part of the process that is emerging is coming into existence through us, and we’re playing a role of bringing into existence.
MC: It reminds me of two things the Gnostics speculated on – this alien God – this God was all good, but he was also all information trying to soak into the universe. He wasn’t all here; he was just simply trying to awaken us to who we are.
That also reminds me there is a past guest, Steve Dee, who’s a chaos magician and he’s also a Gnostic. He’s very much into Baphomet. I asked him, “Why do you like Baphomet so much?” “There is so little to know about him.” He said, “Well, he’s an unfinished god that we’re building together.”
TF: That’s exactly it. I sense that there is a power which is sustaining us, and the more we tune into it, the stronger it gets and the stronger we get in it. One of the great ways I’ve come into this is to talk about in the after-death state. It may be a clear way of pointing out what’s different; and what I’m suggesting to a lot of spirituality that people are often familiar with. Because in the near-death experience and people have reported this, well, forever. On the deepest level, there’s an experience with a Light which in the Tibetan Book of the Dead is called the emptiness of potentiality or the luminosity of potentiality. Clear light in the void sometimes it’s called.
There’s pure light. One person I saw describing their NDE, described it beautifully: the love light. There is this incredible light, and it’s loving, and people see it as God or the deepest thing – whatever name they give to that. Now, the traditional view which you get from the East is very clear in Buddhism: life is a mistake because you’ve fallen into this duality and we’re stuck, and we need to get out.
Your job when you see the clear light is to dissolve into it, as nothing had ever happened. And be free and then no more suffering for you. You’re done.
To me, what I’m suggesting is the complete opposite of that. The whole point is to not to dissolve into it. Because if we dissolve into it, the duality of subject and object consciousness itself will end. I suspect we dissolve into it every night in the deep sleep state. The art it seems to me is to develop our individuality or individual soul for it to be robust enough to stay individual within that experience of profound oneness so we can stay conscious of the oneness.
What we’re doing here is becoming souls capable of staying conscious in the oneness of spirit which needs us to individuate to an extreme degree – that we’re really strong enough, robust enough in ourselves, deep enough to sustain that awareness. And when we do that we are bringing the love light into existence so we reach filaments within that light so the light which we’re connecting with is the communion of souls. It’s the coming together of souls particularly in the after-death state, but also now, into that awareness of oneness is what is creating the transcendent being. Just in the same way that through the evolutionary process at some point hydrogen and oxygen got it on together, and we had water for the very first time.
And just as in the evolutionary process at some point, single cells got it on and we had multi-celled organisms like my body for the first time. In the same way, individual souls in the non-material state that we’re experiencing right now come together as one by awakening to oneness. And when they do that, individual souls are like cells in the individual body which creates this transcendent being which is a being of oneness and love because it’s all one.
I think it’s a new take on the very old Gnostic idea that we are the limbs and body of Christ. It’s that coming together so that through our conscious oneness this transcendent being which transcends and includes us, but is bigger than us, just like my body transcends and includes all the different cells within it, is arising.
And that is where this whole evolutionary process is headed. Far from being completely meaningless and arbitrary, it’s heading towards this creation of transcendent being which we experience as love.
MC: It reminds me of years ago we did an interview on your excellent book, The Gospel of the Second Coming. And there’s a line that I’ve always loved, “life is foreplay, death is coming.” You’re being tongue and cheek and in the Soul Story you write, “life is good and death is safe. I know I keep coming back to death but as you and I have gotten older and when we did an interview years ago, I had just lost my mother. I lost some people that I loved, You, Tim, lost loved ones not that long ago.
Death seems to be something we have to face. I mean there are times when I wake up during the day, and I look out at the beautiful trees and say, “I’m going to die.” This seems to be the end. What is going on? So, this seems to be a powerful thing we need to address.
TF: Yes, absolutely. And one of the frustrations I had was reading evolutionary theorists who I admire, people like Ken Wilber and others. But what I find missing and I’m not saying it’s missing in their thought, I just couldn’t find it in their work – was that they would show this whole evolutionary process but never talk about death.
First, maybe we should just talk a little about time a little bit.
MC: Yes, we have time to talk about time, Tim.
TF: One of the foundations, as you know – one of the places I start – is with a new conception of time which is central for me. First of all, I’m somebody whose philosophical method is to look at just what’s in from of him. So, I’m looking at the moment right now. And what I’m seeing is a stream of time. I see a stream of experiences which are in time.
It feels to me like time is a fundamental reality. As often as I have said myself that time is an illusion – I think the truth is, it really isn’t. It’s actually the reality we confront. And if there were no time, there would be nothing. So, there’s this incredibly important phenomenon of time. And everything exists and we say it exists in time, but I think it’s more than that. Everything exists as time so that I’m aware that I’m thinking of myself as a thing, but really, I am a process. I’m an event, and so are you. We’re meeting as events, but then everything is, the plant in the corner of my room, my desk, the ceiling, and everything else. Everything is a process because it exists in time. And if you watched it with a time-lapsed camera that would be obvious.
I think we need to make time really important. We must get away from this idea of things existing as if the now was independent from time, which it isn’t. It is time. And then the big change which I’m suggesting is that we change the metaphor with which we understand time. The common metaphor in our language in time is that time “passes.” I’m suggesting that it’s not adequate. That a better metaphor is that time accumulates – that there’s more time now than there was when we started this conversation.
There’s more time now than when we talked last time. There’s more past that has accumulated. And all of the past which has accumulated hasn’t gone anywhere because it’s all implicitly present in the moment. Implicit in this moment is you calling me to have this conversation. Implicit in this moment is you contacting me and us deciding we do this. Implicit is our first conversation. Implicit is my learning to speak and your learning to speak. Implicit is everything. The illusion of the solar system, the big bang itself. Everything that has ever been is implicit in this moment.
And if one thing were different, this moment would not be this moment. It seems to me that time has accumulated, and the universe is made of time. It is the accumulation of the past. And it’s that accumulation of the past which leads to the evolutionary process of increasing richness. There’s just more and more.
There’s more time now than when I started talking about time. We are growing all the time through the accumulation of the past so that right now everything I have ever been is meeting everything you have ever been. And in this moment, we are shaping coming into form. So that life becomes a process of soul formation. We’re forming who we are with every experience we have; we form who we are. And so that the purpose becomes we can engage. It’s happening anyway. The whole purpose of existence is the realization of new possibilities.
As souls, we are doing that. We can’t fail. We can’t fail to do it. Every moment will be something new. It’s never a moment that has happened before. We’re always formed in a new way. But we can consciously engage with that process. We have choice. So, we can choose to form ourselves. We can choose what experiences we have to some degree. We can choose how we react to the experiences that we get that are beyond our control. And in so doing we are creating all autonomous individual soul. As that becomes more conscious, we build into it – more awake state, more Sophia – more wisdom.
As we build into our past, we are then wiser and able to sustain higher levels of consciousness. So, that as we catapult out of this being alive and experience at death, we’re able to go deeply into the trans life experience. Having left the cosmos, we can catapult into the depths of, what I call, the Imaginos. We can find the clear light of potentiality.
We can be one with the love light and experience that bliss which we can touch now, but really experience that for a while. While in one way we will sustain it and then we’ll fall away and go through a process of becoming wiser again. And that seems a way of restating this ancient intuition which is finally making sense to me as a 21st-century man.
MC: What do you see after we die? Do you see a reincarnation – a spiritual evolution to other dimensions? What is usually your answer, Tim? Where do you stand right now with whatever downloading the Pleroma is giving you at this time?
TF: I think the Pleroma is arising. The potentiality is where it’s all come from. But the deepest things have arrived last, so this is the kind of reversal that I’m playing with from some traditional Gnostic views. The “what’s arisen” is the imagination. That’s what it is. The imagination has arisen from biological life and has taken on an independent existence.
So, what happens at death? Well, the experience I’m having right now of sensation will stop because the body will die. But I’m not the body. I have a relationship with this biological entity, the body, and I’m very pleased I do. But fundamentally I exist on this non-material level. I can’t die because I’m information on a different level and that’s clear to me as I look right now. That’s what I am, and therefore the experience of imagination continues.
So, we can enter that domain that’s been called so many things: the astral, the Pleroma or all these fancy names. But we experience it as soul, as mind, as imagination — which once you stop thinking of it as an accidental by-product of a piece of meat and you see it as a whole dimension that anyone who’s done any exploration of it soon finds out.
It’s a vast domain. Then we get to experience that for a bit. Now my intuition is very much that the ancients were right: there is a process of a cyclic process of moving between states. So that we can go into the Imaginos for a while. We can experience the clear light of potentiality. There comes a time in the after-death experience where you can’t sustain that level of consciousness anymore.
And you find yourself coming into what I call a psycho-symbiotic relationship with an organic form of life through the body. And there again I’m choosing it, just trying to address what we today call reincarnation or what the Greeks used to call the state the soul movement – the psyche movement. What I’m trying to suggest is there is the metaphor symbiosis just as we’ve seen in the animal world – the biological world different forms of biological life coming into symbiotic relationships with each other.
And the metaphor which actually isn’t in the book – but which I have been developing more recently because it seems to help people because it’s familiar – is to talk about computers. One needs to be careful with this analogy but it’s helpful in this respect. When I think about when I wrote the book Soul Story, I wrote it on the computer, but all the information was backed up in the cloud. It wasn’t even backed up. It was on the cloud.
What I was doing on the computer was affecting it somewhere else and if my computer were to be destroyed, which eventually it will be, it would still exist. And it could be downloaded on a completely new computer. At which point, it would have a symbiotic relationship with that new computer which is everything I did on the computer would affect the information on the cloud – even though the information on the cloud can exist completely independently of the information on the computer.
I think it’s a modern analogy for this sort of faring which the ancients explored and which I’m reinventing.
MC: One of the trends you hear especially in new age spirituality is that there is no past. You are only the present. But as you write in your book, and it ties in with what you’ve been saying, you really are your past.
TF: One of the things which makes me laugh is that I’m getting older. I’ve been around spirituality since I was twelve. Being in the present moment or putting your attention on your being, which is always in the present moment, is the key to loving life for sure. But time is real. This sentence which I’m saying will only make sense to you because of time otherwise it would just be a syllable or not even that. And the words only make sense because there was one before it, there was a whole sentence. Time is not an illusion.
That’s how crazy it is. And then to get this idea that you are your past, and again that’s not saying your past traps you. It’s not saying, “Oh, you’ve had a terrible thing happen and you’ll never get away from it” or “you did a terrible thing and you’ll never going to be able to forgive yourself.” It’s not that. It’s just that everything that’s ever happened, good or bad, has shaped you. And you know that. We know that’s what makes us “us.” The only real reason you’re different from me is you’ve had a different set of experiences.
You are the oneness of being, experiencing Miguel and I am the oneness of being, experiencing Tim. And there’s something similar, and then there’s difference, and the difference is our past. And then it becomes, how do you live with that past? How can you turn your past into a foundation from which you can live a more emergent life?
How you can shape your soul in the most emergent way possible. How you can realize what the ancient Romans called your genius – your daemon – your deepest being. How can you bring your individual genius – your deepest thing – into existence based on who you are so far? I can’t become somebody else. But I can transform Tim. I can transmute Tim. I can take the pain and I can turn it into wisdom for instance. I can take the bad, and most of us have experienced this. Sometimes the worst things we experience become the source of our deepest wisdom. We transmute it from lead into gold. And that is what I’m saying not that we’re trapped in the past, but that we jfust need to see that everything just is the past. And then engage with that process. So that this moment right now is the past meeting the possible. Everything that has been meeting everything that could be.
So, here we are on that cusp. In that paralogical, paradoxical moment where all potential. This is completely fresh and creative, and it contains everything that’s happened before. And then I am a creative being who is choosing to say these particular words to you in the hope that I’ll say something of value to you and the people listening to this conversation.
And that’s where I’m engaging with the process through conscious choice.
MC: Another word Tim that gets bandied about a lot is of course, “love.” What is love, Tim?
TF: Love is very important to me, and it’s certainly where the book wants to end up — because the transcendent being and the quality of it is love. Because I think that is because how oneness feels. When in love is how we feel in connection. So right from the most basic form of sexual love, the two become one. Love for your children – love for your activity – love for what you do – love for the place. But it’s evolving. Love is also evolving. So, what starts as limited in particular as you come into the Gnosis, as you recognize the fundamental oneness with all – this big love – this all-embracing love arises.
I feel philosophy is for people who love ideas. But what I’m trying to do is provide an intellectually robust foundation for experiences that arise in the deep white state that, for me, are essentially quite child-like. When I come into the deep white state, the deepest, deepest intuitions I have are as you said earlier, life is good. Death is safe, and what matters is love. That’s what I know. And I don’t know all of this philosophy. This is me making my best suggestion and in a way that I hope will be useful.
What I know is that life is good. Death is safe and what really matters is love. How can that be true? Because I know it is.
That’s the impulse that’s made me want to write the book. And in the end, what really matters is love. So, for me, it’s about creating a philosophy which enables us to engage with these seemingly naïve statements with confidence. We can go out into the world, a world which is lost at the moment, experiencing a soul crisis. It’s dominated by this soul-destroying objective scientific worldview. It takes all this wonderful knowledge that science has found and hitches it up to this incredibly blink philosophy. The universe happened by accident. It has no meaning. You’re here for a few seconds and go “what the hell” and then you’re gone.
And increasingly thinking people are drawn to that philosophy because they feel like there’s no option. And what I want to do say there is another option. And these seemingly naïve sentiments are deep, and we can hold up our heads and go: life is good. It does have purpose. It does have meaning. Death is safe.
It’s not just with childish wishful thinking to talk about an after-death state. These are profound and deep things that deserve our attention, and from that we can then live far more positively to engage with the evolutionary current. We can play a role in bringing heaven to earth. In bringing the goodness we can imagine into this world. And that seems to be a large part of what we are capable of doing.
And for me writing this book is my attempt to take some of the goodness that I can imagine and bring it into the world and share it.
MC: You mention philosophy, and I think this is important to address. Basically, a philosopher is really a storyteller, somebody who has a vision to the other world, somebody who tries to understand death. What I’m getting is you’ve advocated this not new philosopher but what philosophers used to be and I’m sure you’re saying: we all can be philosophers.
TF: Absolutely, Miguel. Well, you know Philo’s Sophia – lover of Sophia – a lover of wisdom. That’s what a philosopher was originally. I’m very future orientated and I’m looking to the possible. I also like to go back to the roots. We can learn a lot from this. I love to go back to roots of words, So, for me it’s a love of wisdom.
Plotinus talks about the job of the philosopher is to awake people to the vision, and for me, that’s been central and the job of the philosopher is for himself or herself to awake to the Gnosis and then to share it. And then to share not just the experience but how to live from experience. My concentration probably in the last 10 years has been mainly on how to share the experience – how to have the Knowing.
The key with that seems to be is we need a story. And we have stories. The Christian fundamentalist story – God is somebody who created the world in seven days. And don’t think about dinosaurs because that’s embarrassing. Then later he killed his only son to get us off the hook. That’s all a bit weird too, but don’t think about that too much because it’s all going to turn out well as long as you are members of the cult.
There’s other stories, like the Muslim story and the scientific story where the universe just arose just for no particular reason one day and it just happened by accident. But don’t worry about it cause you’re only here for a moment and then you’re gone so you might as well buy more things and fill up your life with distractions because it’s pretty painful if you really look at it in the eye.
These are current stories that lots of people buy into. They don’t think about them too much, but they buy into them. And it feels like, no, we need a much better story. So Soul Story is a story. It’s a philosophy book but it’s a story about what this is that we’re in. I’m sure it’s not the end of storytelling. I’m sure someone will come along soon and do something which takes it on further. but it’s my attempt to contribute to where we’re at now.
Let’s have a story which incorporates everything we know scientifically with all of this deep spiritual wisdom in a new way that actually makes sense to us.
These are my suggestions. This is where I’ve gone to. I hope it will be helpful to you.
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