We recently interviewed Jeffery A. Martin, the co-founder of the Finders Course, a program for training individuals to achieve higher states of consciousness based on over 8 years of academic research. Offered 3 times to date, the Finders Course has seen impressive results. More than 70% of participants who completed the course report having persistent forms of an “awakening” experience, and 100% say that they are happier than they were when the course began, even those who rated themselves as “very unhappy” at the start of the course.
What is it like to be part of this innovative program? Reality Sandwich invited 3 Finders Course alumni to join Jeffery in a roundtable discussion about their experiences and the course’s lasting impact. With us were:
- Catherine Dameron, a Business/Leadership Consultant from Paris, France
- Paul Buxton, 62, co-owner and manager of a garden center from North Wales
- Rebekah Reese, 62, a semi-retired photography agent from Texas
The next offering of the Finders Course begins January 10. Reality Sandwich readers can receive a 15% discount by using this link.
Ken: Let’s start by discussing your expectations for the course. When you started, where did you think it would take you?
Paul: I was at the end of a period when I’d experienced a lot of difficulties. I’d become disconnected, disillusioned, mostly due to physical and material matters. I had a very spiritual upbringing, but I seemed to have lost the plot altogether. Not quite suicidal, but about as low as I possibly could be. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I ended up doing a survey and was eventually invited to join the Finders Course, whatever that was. At that time anything was better than where I was. I had no real expectation or understanding of what it was about.
Catherine: I had talked to Nicole, Jeffery’s partner, about the research that they were doing — that it was helping people achieve higher states of well-being. I was interested in their ideas about different “Locations” in terms of what it meant to be enlightened. That was very interesting, to make it specific — it’s not just nirvana all day long. My objective was to go through the experience and to reach higher states of well-being and quiet.
Rebekah: I went in with a totally open mind, did not know what to expect, just open to whatever. Like Paul, I had read the novels Jeffery co-wrote, The Fourth Awakening series and The God Formula, and I trusted the science in them. I knew that Jeffery would not do anything other than the best course he can do, so I felt very fortunate to be picked. My goal was spiritual evolution. How can I raise my consciousness to a higher level? I call myself the happy test subject, because I was in a nice place of well-being before, but since then it’s increased exponentially.
Ken: What did you find most surprising about what happened in the course?
Rebekah: I think what surprised me, and all of us, was that we were all so successful and that we shifted consciousness, awakened during the course. I think it surprised Jeffery as well, the level of success and the wonderful bonds we all made with each other.
Paul: Over the period of the first part of the course, I very gradually transitioned to a state of well-being, which is something I haven’t experienced in many years. I never took time for myself, always too busy running around doing for other people and what have you. This course gave me time to do all sorts of things that I toyed with over my lifetime. Part of the training teaches you to take time out, and I still find up to 2 or 3 hours a day for the practices, and this is a year after the course began. Now I can return to it whenever I need to.
Initially my work was finding that time, being trained. I was being led in the right direction, with very careful orchestration, if you like, from the course teachers. It was a marvelous experience. I saw my fitness levels increase. It was quite incredible, even just a month or two into the course.
Ken: Paul, how did you first realize that something was happening for you? What were you actually doing?
Paul: For me it was quite insidious. I think people around me noticed the changes more than I noticed myself. It was the dropping away of sloth, that was the biggest single thing that I noticed. The chatter was going, the general day-to-day worries and anxieties were dropping away at a terrific rate. That was what resonated for me initially. The lack of fear, of worry, of anxiety. That was the biggest impact for me initially.
Ken: Catherine, did you find any surprises?
Catherine: My biggest surprise was the amount of time I created to work on this. Jeffery says you should commit up to an hour and a half a day, and at some point 2 or 3 hours a day, particularly on Saturday when the new program is posted online. I started in the beginning of August and for a lot of August I did 2 hours. There were weekends where I’d spend 6 or 7 hours a day! I finished the course a month ago and I’m doing a lot less, but I still have a taste for a good hour a day. Not an obligation, it’s like having a nice glass of wine.
Ken: So what are the actual practices?
Catherine: On Saturday a new video is posted, but before doing the video you do a summary of the week. How do you feel? What has happened to you? How many times a day did you do the different activities? That self-reflection and self-measuring was important. As a shorthand we tend to say meditation, but there are in fact a number of different activities and some of them have nothing to do with meditation. Then the new video says what we we’re to do for the next week. The video came out on Saturday evening my time, in Paris, and my group had a sharing. We’d get together to share how things had gone.
Ken: Jeffery, could you talk about these practices? Describe them for someone who isn’t familiar with the Finders Course.
Jeffery: Absolutely. It’s a mix of practices. The core of the course, the thing that it was created around, are the methods that rose to the top during our research into what we call Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience. We have an 8-plus-year research project looking at people who have achieved various extraordinary, fundamental forms of well-being. These are sometimes called “enlightenment,” “non-duality,” “persistent mystical experience,” stuff like that. Of course there’s a lot of baggage and spiritual salesmanship around all of those terms.
People who undertook that research with us were given a form and were interviewed to provide data about what worked for them. We looked at all of that, and only a handful of things rose to the top. Some of them were across all traditions, like, for instance, a mantra based meditation practice. Pretty much every tradition has some sort of mantra based meditation practice, whether they recognize it as that or not. Other practices were very narrowly available, they didn’t appear across the wide range of traditions.
Ken: Could you give examples of what those might be?
Jeffery: Sure. One of them is a direct awareness-type method. This involves placing your attention on awareness itself. Now that sounds simple, but as I’m sure all of these folks will tell you, it’s rather tricky. In fact, we spent many weeks on that activity, trying it from different angles, in order to wrangle everybody into it. Some things work for some people, different things work for other people.
We also combined traditional methods with newer ones. When I say traditional, several of them are centuries, even millennia old. Other have been created in the last 40 to 50 years. It’s not all ancient practices. We also include some of the gold standard exercises from positive psychology.
In the first part of the course, we’re combining methods in a way that really gets people’s well-being up. You heard Paul talk about his well-being boost over the first part of the course. It’s carefully engineered to do that, to get people into a regular practice slot of an hour for whatever technique that we’re working on, so that they learn to set that time aside and make it a habit. The intent is also to start winding them down into an experience of deeper awareness.
That’s the focus of the first half of the course. We need people to be at a certain level of well-being in order so they can go on to the second half of the course. We do a second set of psychological measurements in between the first and second halves. If you are not at a certain level, you don’t proceed. If you are, you move onto the rest of the methods.
At that point, the positive psychology material is largely left behind. The second part of the course hits you with the hard core stuff, or what we think are the most effective methods, the methods that rose to the top during our research. The first part of the course is necessarily preparatory, to introduce you to the methods of the second half.
This includes techniques like mantra-based meditation. But with something like mantras, for example, there’s many ways to do it. We’re very specific about the activities that rose to the top for us in the research. Even within each one of these methodological technique-based families, there’s many variations. The ones we’re using are highly specific.
Ken: Rebekah, which practices worked best for you, and which did you find were not as effective?
Rebekah: For me there were 3 key things that led to the awakening, or the shift of consciousness. One of them was very early in the course, and Jeffery just referred to it: the deepening into awareness, and the group sharing of an awareness. You really go into a focused state. I resonated with that, lived with it for a couple of weeks, and it led to my initial awakening.
Then the forgiveness exercise or we did — releasing or dissolving the desire to change a person or a situation. Letting go of all that is really freeing. Also, the non-duality of the direct inquiry really resonated with me, with the loss of the ego narrative self. The acceptance of the present moment as it is. There were a couple of methods that led us toward that, the acceptance of the present moment. If you can key into those 3 things, it’s very freeing, and will lead to a shift of consciousness. That’s what did it for me.
Ken: Paul, which practice had the strongest impact for you?
Paul: The forgiveness practices were so important for me, because I had a lot of bitterness, a lot of anger about things from the past. Things that I knew I should have risen above, but never found the right technique to achieve. Now that’s all gone.
Ken: What do you think made the practice effective for you?
Paul: We had to literally look back in our lives, which I find difficult. I had to go through pretty well everybody, every experience. It was an intensive practice. I started with a list of about 150 names. Mostly people who had just trodden on my toe, or maybe punched me in the stomach as they’re passing — metaphorically, not literally. I looked at that and said, well really what harm is it doing me now? Can I let go of that? Can I love it, can I share it, can I just release it and allow it to be? That’s what we did with literally every experience.
Some were quite difficult and had to be done on more than one occasion. It’s several weeks before you can actually get around to loving that thing that maybe you hated, or that was so important in your life. Nonsense, absolute nonsense, it needs to go! It’s needs to be forgiven. It needs to be released. It’s something you do yourself, but it was very well directed, the way the practices reinforced it. Now I can truly say that anybody in my past I can look at and love unconditionally.
Ken: That’s such a hard thing to do. Do you think this worked for you because you were finally ready for it, that this was just the right moment for you?
Paul: No. I actually talked to Jeffery about this. I’d always been at this stage. I just never realized it.
Ken: You only had to bring your attention to it.
Paul: Bring my attention to it in the right way, so I could deal with it, look at it in the right way, and understand what it is to be alive in this moment — now. Rebekah talked about non-duality, about living in the moment, in the now. Our other friends talked about the amount of time we have. Time just does not exist in this state of awareness, because everything is at this moment. Time just disappears.
Time has extended for me so much that I have more time than I know what to do with! Every moment is completely fulfilling, as well. Living in the now. For me this was very, very important — so releasing. It’s just indescribable.
Catherine: After about a week of the forgiveness practice, I realized that the most difficult person to forgive is myself. That was a big surprise.
It’s an everyday practice, and I didn’t get through my whole list of names. You feel the resonance you have about each person, and if it’s not positive, how do you convert it inside yourself to positive? It’s very powerful, and you can do a little bit every day. It’s impressive to see the list of people — with all the hang-ups and negative projections — a month later and see how much has changed.
Ken: I’m curious if the practices involve movement or a connection to the body in any way?
Catherine: Yoga movement, no. One of the exercises that was the most powerful for me was something called the eraser method, which is breathing and just being aware. We were told to do it for 30 minutes a day — be in contact with your body from your toes to your head, and then back down again. There were different ways of doing it. One that was very strong for me was focusing attention on my body up and down, while smiling at the same time. Wow, to feel yourself having a smile…! It’s really powerful, and in the beginning not easy. I feel it changes something inside of myself when I do that.
Most of the practices are not Oming and meditating. Before the course, Nicole told me that we often have the impression that doing a lot of meditation is what’s going to help you change states. Whereas, in fact, there are many other activities which will help you more.
Jeffery: There were two things that surprised us. One was that a handful of methods rose to the top of the data when there are so many others available. If you search meditation on Google, there’s over 100 million results. It’s amazing that just this handful of methods emerged. And the matching thing amazed us, as well.
Ken: What’s the matching thing?
Jeffery: If I were to give you a list of the six top methods our research identified, that wouldn’t be nearly enough to work for everybody. Even if I gave them to you with precise direction about how you were to do each one, there would still probably be only one, two, or at the most three that you would find a lot of resonance with.
And that’s not even the whole picture. The most remarkable thing was what happened when we experimented with arranging the practices in different orders. There seems to be a real effect from doing practices in a certain order.
Then we added the positive psychology stuff, which is there to deal with the “dark night” problem, because some people have intense negative emotional reactions to some of the practices. This dark night is enshrined in a lot of traditions. Of course, if you have a study like ours, which covers many people, some will say, “I never had that, I don’t even know what that is.” So you start thinking to yourself, okay, maybe the dark night is not required. But if you were in a tradition that believed in it, you would think, well that’s all part of the progress. I have to go through the dark night. We’re trying to figure out how to mitigate it, and wound up with this complicated cocktail.
Everything in the course is precisely timed. A lot of things are happening on a lot of different levels — with positive psychology practices, with meditation practices, with practices that are, in some cases, really a little of those, or neither of those depending on how you do them. It is a complicated protocol. I hope that we did a good enough job to make it look very simple, and that it is relatively easy to go through. But from our side of the fence, there is really a lot of work and complexity that went into producing these type of experiences.
Ken: Rebekah, you said that at a certain point you feel that you had an awakening. Of course, this is a very hard thing to describe, but I’m curious what that means to you.
Rebekah: Well, that’s just a conceptual description. I think of it more as a shift of consciousness. The terminology is “awakening,” or it seems to be, so I’ve used that. You can use any term you like, but 10 months into it, as of this month, I’ve really just relaxed into being. Let things come as they come. Accepting things, rather than resisting. Just a profound deep sense of peace, of love, of clarity, of perception. Fundamental constant well-being, with all my emotions still very much intact. I just relaxed.
Lately I’ve put some attention on integrating inward and outward states of awareness. I can just go: zoom out, zoom in. This awakening is a new clarity, like taking a fog filter off a lens. You see things from a wider perspective. But instead of analyzing it, which I did at first, I’ve just relaxed into it.
Paul: I’m not quite at the same place as Rebekah. For me, my emotions don’t jump up and down like they did before. I have this immense sense of well-being, peace, contentment, and oneness with the world. Most people wouldn’t even notice the change, but within there is a huge, huge change. During the course, we talked about the headless worry. I stand still and will passes through me. It is most peculiar. Driving, walking, even sitting has become a new experience. There is very little difference between what’s out there and what’s inside. There’s a complete feeling of oneness and unity. Especially being in the moment, as I am all the time now. Everything takes on a different perspective. Time almost stands still.
Everything is as it should be, including the things that we might perceive as being horrible and nasty: wars, disease, the so called injustice. It’s just heartening, it’s just as it is, it’s just the whole thing which I am intimately connected to, as we all are. I’m not jumping up and down with joy, but I have a peace inside that I could not possibly describe to anyone. Everything is just as it should be. It certainly wasn’t perceived to be before this course.
Ken: For many people, the word “awakening” has a mystical resonance that also suggests ecstatic states. What I’m hearing is something very beautiful, but different than that.
Catherine: I found Jeffery’s description of Locations very useful in this regard. He talks about Locations 1 through 4, and 4+. These are reference points, descriptions of well being. They include the silence of eternal chatter, the ability to reach full acceptance of outside events, feeling connected between the inside and outside. There’s a whole list of criteria for each Location, instead of saying there’s a single point of nirvana, or bliss, which also tends to be non-permanent.
If we are looking at a permanent, ongoing experience, then you can ask, At what point do I have silence inside of myself? At what point do I feel forgiveness for myself and others for what happens? At what points do I have a high state of well being? You have a series of reference points, and you can say, Where am I at on that list?
Through to the very end of the course I’m going, Oh shit. I would like to reach enlightenment, the states of bliss, happiness, and floating around on a cloud — which is a state that exists — but it also makes it difficult to go out and make a living every day. What’s state do I want to be in? That’s an interesting reflection to have for oneself.
Do I want to reach this state where I have universal love for all human beings, but I no longer have a personal intimate love for children or spouse? Some people go, Wow, I don’t know if I want to lose that in my life. There are states where that’s what you have “attained.” There are states which make it difficult to function in the business world. Are you prepared to do that or not?
Awakening is not just a thing that happens to you so that you have it forever, and you float around on your lotus. There are specific criteria that you can notice evolving and changing within yourself, and then decisions you face about what level of enlightenment, or wakefulness, you want to have in your life.
Jeffery: Let me address this notion that there’s this enormous euphoria that is unimaginable and ongoing, non-functional in a way — a bliss that is associated with awakening. Our research included years of communicating with well over 1,000 people who have Persistent Non-Symbolic Experiences, people from many traditions around the world, including those at the top of these lineages, all the way to atheists. A lot of people have this state come to them out of the depths of depression, and not because they actually seek it. Some are literally about to commit suicide, then it just happens to them, and they don’t go through with suicide.
There’s a lot of complexity here both inside and outside of the religious and spiritual world. And a tremendous amount of what I call spiritual salesmanship. I do think it’s understandable. You have something that is so amazing, and you know that it would be incredible for people to experience. How to you actually motivate them to try for it, especially if you don’t have methods that reliably get a bunch of people there? I think you’ve really got to concoct some stuff in order to keep people motivated, focused, and on point.
There are claims like, “You hold out your hand and an orange appears in it. You can manifest things at will. The world opens it arms wide, you never struggle again. There will be no aging. There will be no illness.” Frankly, the euphoria and the bliss are part of those claims, as well.
First of all, I didn’t meet anybody who had an ongoing state of euphoria or bliss. Not one out of all of those people, whether it was exalted religious leaders, or programmers, or meat packers, or others who were just living their lives. However, there were a lot of people who had those experiences in a temporary way.
In fact Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist, wrote about this in the 60s and early 70s — he documented very well that ecstasy is a powerful part of the temporary version of these experiences. It can also be a powerful part of the transition into more persistent forms of this experience. What happens, I think, is that you’ll often have this euphoric rush, that exalted experience, but normally it’s a temporary-type mystical experience. It will last for a week or two or three before it starts to taper down, leaving the real deal in its place.
A lot of people miss the real deal because they’ve been so conditioned to think that the euphoria and high arousal are where it’s at. They’ll think “Oh I had it for a few weeks, but now it’s faded.” In the course we try to teach people to pay attention when that happens, to not lose what’s left in its aftermath – which what the real deal is. You need to sink into that and lock it in. That’s how you live in the persistent non-symbolic state.
Ken: Jeffery, in developing the course you looked at various lineages, and the distinctions they make about the different aspects of awakening. Could you characterize the state that the course is intended to bring people to, within the context of those lineages?
Jeffery: I would say that we are not focused on getting someone to anywhere that’s on a religious map, a spiritual map, or whatever. Our persistent non-symbolic research was beneath all of that. What we’re trying to get people to is that foundational, fundamental shift. Now, how they experience it is very much up to their own ideology, belief system, internal programming, genetics, and who knows what else. This includes their religious context.
For instance, if someone is very religious, let’s say that they are Christian, and they have a shift into a more persistent “mystical” way of experiencing the world. That would be the term they’d usually use for it in their tradition. Maybe it’s just because she asked Jesus into her heart, and had a powerful conversion experience. Or maybe she’s been doing contemplative prayer for decades and finally something happened. However it happens, Christianity is more focused on what we would call Location 2 and 3 for the most part.
Some might view Location 2 as an initial place they transition into. It’s a place where a tremendous amount of self-referential thought falls away. Things get much more positive in terms of emotionality. Negative emotions are much rarer, and they fall off quite rapidly. There are all sorts of changes like that, but that’s not their goal. Their goal is Location 3, as they would interpret it. For them, Location 3 can feel like a merger with the divine. You have this one underlying emotion of joy, and love, and whatever else, but not that exalted type that you’re talking about. It’s a very deep, fundamental peace, “the peace that passeth understanding” — that type of notion. You can feel this intense merging with the divine.
Even within Christianity, how that manifests depends on the sect. If they are a believer that the Holy Spirit is what fills you, then they feel a merger with the Holy Spirit. If they believe that it’s God the Father that they merge with, then they feel the merger with God the Father. If they feel it’s Jesus, then they feel a merger with Jesus. Even within a sect, within a tradition, it can still very much be belief and ideological based in terms of how it is expressed.
But our research addresses what’s happening underneath the surface. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Buddhist experiencing an equivalent Location 3 experience, or a Christian, or from 10 different sects of Buddhism, or half a dozen different sects of Christianity. Regardless of all of these different ideas about how it’s proper for it to show up, when you dig deep down under the covers, what’s happening in terms of cognition, memory, emotion, and perception is basically the same. The Finders Course is essentially engineered to work underneath all of that.
How it is expressed for each person will be very different, in part but not entirely based on the Location that they land in. You’ve heard different Locations expressed here today during the interview. They will also be different because of personal beliefs. For instance in the Finders Course, some people have woken up to Location 3 with very different experiences. Some people in Location 3 experience divine love. Others have a sense that everything is consciousness, but don’t have a sense of the divine. It just wasn’t part of their ideology, their belief system, or whatever they were programmed with beforehand. Under the hood they can both clearly recognize okay, yeah, I have these changes, so Location 3 is where I’m at.
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Jeffery A. Martin recently did a webinar presenting the results from the 2nd offering of the Finders Course, and you can see a recording of it by clicking here.
The next offering of the Finders Course begins January 10. Reality Sandwich readers can receive a 15% discount by using this link.
Image by Allie Wojtaszek, courtesy of Creative Commons license.