Tim Freke is an English philosopher and author of 35 books, translated into more than 15 languages, including a Sunday Times bestseller and Daily Telegraph ‘Book of the Year’. He is one of ‘The 100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People’ on the 2020 list in Watkins Magazine (# 50) and the winner of ‘Author of the Year 2020’ in Kindred Spirit magazine. Freke is the founder of ‘Unividualism’, which combines evolutionary science and deep spirituality to offer a visionary new understanding of the nature of reality and the purpose of life.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in a smallish, somewhat bland, country town in the Southwest of England called Yeovil. But as a teenager, I met some extraordinary life-explorers there who have remained close companions ever since. My hometown is also special to me because I had a number of profound awakening experiences there, including my first taste of the ‘deep awake state’ aged 12 on ‘Summerhouse Hill’. This was the first time I felt what I call the ‘Big Love’ which unites everything as one. It was utterly beautiful and emotionally overwhelming. I knew my life had changed for good and I’ve gone on to explore this state experientially and philosophically ever since.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Ahhh …. I wish I had previously know everything I’ve realized since. And the older I get the more I feel that! The young Tim seems well-meaning but very naïve. How could it be otherwise? In particular, I wish I had been able to deal better with two aspects of myself that were constantly in conflict: A would-be monk and mystic interested in withdrawal and enlightenment … and a creative artist, hedonist, and rule-breaker interested in changing the world. I vacillated wildly between these two sub personas for a long time before the uncivil war inside me passed, because I become something else altogether … a devoted parent. Then both Mr. Monk and Mr. Rock ‘n Roll sorted out their differences and found a way to get along.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
So many! Here’s a couple …
‘If you want to be spiritual stop the mind from thinking.’ No. If you stop thinking you won’t become enlightened you’ll become stupid. It’s taken millennia for human beings to learn to think, and that hasn’t been a mistake. We just need to think clearly … and also to appreciate the silence as well.
‘Get rid of the ego’. No. Egotism is really unpleasant self-centeredness, but the ego itself is your individual identity, which is beautiful and necessary. The individual self is not an illusion. You are really are an individual… of course, you are! But also all is one. Both are true. It’s both/and not either/or. The self is not an obstacle in the way of awakening to oneness, it is the foundation from which we can come into the deep awake state.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
In recent years I’ve looked after both of my dying parents. It was tough witnessing the decline of such vibrant people, especially when I could do nothing to alleviate the pain. But I realize that I didn’t want to spiritually transcend and avoid the suffering … I wanted to be right there with them in the suffering because I loved them. I saw for sure that love is strong enough for this. And I saw that in the midst of all the heartache, moments of utter magic and deep connection would happen, which mitigated and redeemed it all.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I try to be as authentic as possible, to question everything (especially myself), and think creatively. (I’m also willing to give three answers when only asked for one!)
What is your morning routine?
These days I wake about 3.30 am and wish I was still asleep. But I make the most of it meditating or doing philosophy (as well as dosing and perhaps a bit of worrying about stuff). Up around 7.00 for a shower … and this is often where I get my best new ideas. Then into my garden office by 8.00 to answer all the messages I’ve been sent, so I am clear to work on ideas without distraction for the rest of the day. Then around 9:00, I make breakfast for me and Debbie my wife. (I’d prefer it much earlier, but she likes to take her time in the morning). I used to be a night owl, working till late, but as I’ve got older I’ve fallen in love with the feel of the morning.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
If I notice myself thinking ‘I’d never do that’, I like to examine ‘why?’, and this often leads me to try out the activity. Recently this happened with weightlifting, which is something I’ve never remotely considered doing. (I have been much more of a Tai Chi sort of person.) However, the son of a friend of mine started doing private fitness coaching so I signed up as his first client. Now, as I go into my 60s I can genuinely say I am stronger than I have ever been in my life, which mitigates how much my body is waning in other ways.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Being strategic with my time is very important because I’d never have written so many books otherwise. I like to focus intensely and be undistracted, so I can immerse myself in a project. When I was younger I’d often work through the night, but I can’t do that now, so it has become even more important to be organized by listing all the things I need to do, and then prioritize which one’s I intend to address in any particular day. This means that when I get to the end of the day’s list I can let myself go completely into creativity.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Different books have been influential at different times in my evolution, but generally, I find myself moving on and seeing them in a new light over time, which means I rarely recommend books to others. But I’ve found over the decades that I’ve continually returned to the poems of Walt Whitman for inspiration. I am moved by his passionate affirmation of life, humanity, and optimism in the face of suffering. I relate to his deep natural mysticism that feels authentic and raw.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
In one of his books, my friend Thomas Moore wrote “The soul has an absolute and unforgiving need for regular excursions into enchantment.” In my experience, this is well worth remembering to stop life becoming black and white. (Tom is the bestselling author of Care of the Soul).