September 28, 2023
Is enlightenment the same as being happy all the time? Or being at peace all the time? Or something else? What is "fundamental wellbeing"? What are the "locations" within fundamental wellbeing? What is "persistent non-symbolic experience"? How effective is the Finders Course? Are control groups necessary when researching enlightenment?
Jeffery Martin is the founding director of the Center for the Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness (nonsymbolic.org) and a research professor and director of the Transformative Technology Lab (transtechlab.org). Prior to his current affiliation with Stanford University, he was Distinguished University Professor, William James Professor of Consciousness, and Dean of Research at Sofia University. He spent the last 15+ years conducting the largest international study on persistent non-symbolic experience (PNSE) — or as it's publicly known, Fundamental Wellbeing — which includes the types of consciousness commonly known as: persistent awakening, enlightenment, nonduality, the peace that passeth understanding, unitive experience, and hundreds of others. He has authored, co-authored, or co-edited over 20 books and numerous other publications. Learn more about him at his website, drjefferymartin.com.
SPENCER: Jeffery, welcome.
JEFFERY: Thanks. It's great to be here.
SPENCER: I'm really excited to have you on because I heard about the Finder's Course many years ago, and I was just immediately intrigued. It's such a fascinating project. I have so many questions for you. I'd just love to pick your brain on it.
JEFFERY: Sounds great. Let's get going.
SPENCER: Alright, so why don't you tell us as a starting point, how you got really interested in enlightenment, and then we'll start maybe with the qualitative research you did.
JEFFERY: Pretty accidentally, actually. I had had a really good run in business and entrepreneurship and things like that. But I didn't quite feel as happy as I thought I should despite all that success. I felt like I'd done everything the world told me I should do in order to be happy. And there I was — not unhappy, not miserable or something like that — but it didn't seem fair to me that, given how hard I'd worked, there were people out there that seemed to be a lot happier than I was. And so I basically had been working on that for a long time. I'd taken all kinds of seminars. I'd done everything that I could do, bought everything that I could buy, to try to change that, because it seemed like the true wealth in life was really your quality of life and your wellbeing. But at the end of that, there were still people that were happier than I was, and it was obvious that they were. And me being the highly-competitive Type A, that didn't seem fair to me. And so I basically set out on a journey to become the happiest person alive, literally, that old competitive nature. And here we are today.
SPENCER: Out to out-happy them.
JEFFERY: Out-happy them, exactly. Yeah, it's funny now, looking back, obviously, I don't feel much association with that old character. But that's how it started.
SPENCER: That's really interesting. And then you started doing interviews with people who claimed to have enlightenment. Is that right?
JEFFERY: I did. Basically, what I did is, I changed my life completely. And I went back to school, to learn how to... It seemed like nobody was going to be able to sell me this. There didn't seem to be a product out there or anybody that had figured it out. I felt like I'd run out of stuff to buy, basically. And so I thought, "I'm gonna have to figure this out myself." And so I went back, just to reskill myself. At that point, I had a couple of master's degrees in things like technology and management and stuff like that. And I went back and learned scholarly research, rather than just business and technology type of research that I knew before that. I know there's a big difference between that and science. And so I basically learned how to become a scientist, and became a scientist. And then I started asking myself as a function of those degree programs: who's the happiest out there? Is there a group that's happier than others? Or is it random people or whatever else? And I really just began looking in that direction. Ironically, it led here. It led to people who experienced what we'd call persistent fundamental wellbeing or, academically, we refer to it as persistent non-symbolic experience, or ongoing non-symbolic experience, depending upon whether or not it's a year or less in terms of how long someone has persistently experienced it. So that's the story. Basically, it wound up being these folks. And I was surprised, I initially thought they were going to be crazy [laughs]. I thought their claims seem psychopathological. And so the first period of time in researching these individuals was really a very skeptical period of research where I was more or less trying to disprove their claims and find psychopathology in their claims and things like that. And obviously, we didn't succeed at that. And so I started to have to take their claims quite seriously, which I've done ever since.
SPENCER: Where did you find these people that claim to have this form of enlightenment?
JEFFERY: That's a great question. I was within the academic system and just starting out, and a budding scholar and all of that. And it became very evident to me that this was not a politically acceptable direction to inquire into scientifically within the psychology and neuroscience or whatever academy. And so I was a successful person at that point. I'd built quite a few organizations and been involved in many more in a successful way. And so I had some political savvy to me. And I thought to myself, I better make sure that I don't run afoul of all this. So what I did was I basically went around and asked people who had an interest in this and were senior academics, how to go about it, and not get myself in trouble. And if I did find something at the end of the day, not have what I found be invalidated from a research or scientific standpoint or even from a political type of standpoint, frankly, within the academy. So I basically took their advice in finding the early research subjects and that involved a few different criteria. They said you've got to use one of the really established criteria for this. So I picked the criteria from a guy named William Stace, whose criteria had largely become a benchmark in the science of mysticism in the psychological academy. There was a good measure from a guy named Ralph Hood, who's a legend in the psychology of religion and spirituality space, basically won everything you can win, and is really remarkable. He wound up becoming one of my dissertation advisors. But he had a great measure that could be used for it called Hood's mysticism scale. And they said, "Okay, so what you need is a criteria to judge people on and then you need to have a set of criteria that is very solid for finding your subjects." And that basically, from them, wound up distilling down to: they have to be in an established religious or spiritual tradition that has this as a part of it, an accepted part of it. 'Accepted,' meaning it's got a set of rules around it. You can say this person fits this criterion from this religion, or this person doesn't fit this criterion from this religion or spiritual system or whatever it was. And then they have to meet that criteria not in your judgment as an external party or researcher coming in. But rather, there has to be a group of people, a credible group of people within that religious or spiritual system that agree, "Hey, this person fits our criteria. We have an established criteria, this person fits that established criteria." And so that's what it took initially, to become a research subject.
SPENCER: Did you just start calling Buddhist monasteries? How do you actually source people like that?
JEFFERY: It was not easy. One way that was pretty obvious is, there's a lot of people that have written books that fit that criteria. And so we were able to basically begin by just going through books that had been written and seeing if the various books had someone behind them that matched that criteria. It did eventually make it down to more or less cold-calling monasteries and stuff. It wasn't just Buddhist or Eastern type of stuff. It was also Western stuff. The Sufis are obviously into this in Islam. There's a good mystical tradition in Christianity. There's a mystical tradition in Judaism. There are mystical traditions in what science might clunkily call more animalistic-type spiritual systems, or nativist-type spiritual systems and things like that. And so the Eastern ones — like Buddhism and Hinduism — obviously factored in but so, too, did the Western ones.
SPENCER: Before we go into your findings, you mentioned that you got pushback in academia. Could you give some concrete examples? What was the nature of that pushback?
JEFFERY: Yeah, sure. [laughs] I remember I was taking (I think it was) my first neuroscience class at Harvard and I was doing really well. The teacher had basically just written on one of my (I think it was a) midterm or something like that. Basically I had gotten his attention and he wrote on this midterm, "People like you are the reason they should change the grading scale and allow us to award A-pluses." And so I wound up with a private conversation with him out of that, which is not an easy thing to get. He found out what I was interested in. I actually used the word 'consciousness' in conversation with him and I literally just got severely rebuked for even using the word 'consciousness.' And it was made very clear to me that the word 'consciousness' was not an acceptable term that was going to be used in William James Hall, which is the psychology building of Harvard — at least not anytime soon — and that I really needed to get with the program, scientifically and stuff like that. It was right from the start on stuff like that, and then even years later, after I published my dissertation, I wrote an article out of it — which actually, I never got around to resubmitting anywhere — but I submitted it to the Journal of Religion and Spirituality, which was a place that I review other articles for. In other words, I'm in their peer review system as someone to provide credible advice for what could go into that journal. And I co-wrote it with Ralph Hood who obviously, like I said before, is an unbelievably well-known and highly-respected guy. It was actually a derivative of his Hood Scale for Persistence, which is not an insignificant contribution to the literature, that we had to do as a function of doing my dissertation. And the senior editor of that journal basically just sent me a nasty email back and I forwarded it to Ralph. And Ralph just sent me a one-sentence reply, that was something like, "Welcome to academic politics." [laughs] It's kind of in every direction, stuff like that. There's an interesting thing about that journal which Ralph told me as part of that, he was filling me in on the story there. And he basically said that it was originally the APA's journal on religion. And then there was a movement to start a journal for research into spirituality. And in order to shut it down, they basically just renamed the journal that had something to do with religion, as the Journal of Religion and Spirituality so that they could basically gatekeep and keep spiritual articles and stuff out of it. Stuff like that, it's all over in the mainstream part. On the fringes, it's not there. And so you could publish all day long in places like the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology and stuff like that. You just have to be willing to be taken a lot less seriously from more mainstream academics, unless you're someone like Ralph Hood who's got a zillion other articles in major publications and occasionally throws one in that direction.
SPENCER: Do you think that's because they view spirituality as unscientific or is there something else going on?
JEFFERY: I don't really know. It was very clear early on that part of the issue from a psychological standpoint, from the early professors I had on the mainstream side of the fence, that there was just too many anti-materialist claims that they felt were being made. They really felt like the whole area was seeped in too much anti-materialism and it made it just too problematic to try to research from a serious scientific standpoint. But we didn't find that to be the case, obviously. We approached it from that standpoint and had a lot of success over the last 17 or 18 years, or however long we've been at it at this point.
SPENCER: Okay, so let's go to the interviews. Can you tell us a bit about how many people you ended up interviewing? What was the mix of people? And what was your approach to talking to them?
JEFFERY: Sure. So the first phase of the study actually involved about 1200 people all around the world, and we started off with doing surveys for them, not actually interviews. We would send people basically batches... This was the first advice I got, that I had to use gold standard psychology surveys that had a lot of literature already behind them, and then send them to this population and see if they discovered anything separate, anything different about this population that could be distinguishing. And so we sent all kinds of stuff: developmental measures, positive psychology measures, psychopathology measures, you name it, we sent it. I have to say, [laughs] a lot of our early participants were real troopers on that, because we would basically send them several hours of measures to do and then they would send those back, and we would send them a batch of several more hours of measures to do. We just kept doing that until finally, somebody was like, "Okay, I'm not filling any more of these out." And we computed all of those and we basically didn't find anything that was that significant. The anxiety and depression measures and stuff like that, obviously, these people weren't anxious or depressed or anything like that.
SPENCER: Were they really much happier than the general population?
JEFFERY: Yeah, sure, but they say that out loud. That's just claims they make out loud. And so there was nothing groundbreaking about that. Some of the gold standard academic measures in that space would show that. So that was actually really kind of disheartening to me, because I thought for sure that they would show up differently in this wide range of measures. And there was nothing spectacular enough about that. Interestingly, my early mentors, people like Ralph, were not bothered by that at all. In fact, they thought that was pretty cool. I didn't understand that or appreciate why that was at the time. But then I asked, "Well, what should I do next?" And they said, "Well, you got to go out and talk to these people." And that made sense to me from another standpoint, because what we were really wanting to do was get to neuroscience. We were wanting to collaborate with people that did fMRI, or do EEG on them ourselves, or collaborate with other people that DEG or MEG or whatever else. We wanted to get to brain measurement around these people. And brain measurement is hard. I think people watch TV or something, and you see some newscast, and they have some image of some neuroscientist sitting there and he's scanning through all these slices of the brain, and they take the classic TV shot over the person's shoulder, and there's just this brain that appears on the screen and it goes through all these different slices. You can see all the inside of it, and it's like, "Oh, wow, and there's the skull and, oh, that's so neat." But the reality behind actually doing brain science is that, if you want to do it in a groundbreaking area like this, you can probably count on spending, at least two, three, five, seven, (maybe even longer) years, trying to figure out how to design the experiments for it. It's not like you just take a picture of the brain and out pops knowledge that is useful. You have to really figure out how you're going to design the measurement paradigm, the testing paradigm, what it is specifically that you're going to look at, all kinds of stuff like that. The easy part in neuroscience is putting somebody in a scanner, and having them do some tasks, and then analyzing it. The hard part of neuroscience is figuring out what the heck those tasks should be to capture meaningful information about what's going on with them. We were in an area where people hadn't really done that much. And so I obviously went around and talked to the people who were interested in doing that, some of whom were doing it a little bit. Most of them were doing meditation studies and I was trying to co-opt them into doing studies on people that were persistent, which they didn't think they could find. And so we would arrive with our participants and things like that. But long before all of that, I wanted to go talk to them and I was really relieved when we got to go talk to them after that initial measures thing. Because more or less the only way that you're going to figure out how you could design later neuroscience experiments is really kind of by digging into them with a cognitive science-based interview process, which means asking them about cognition, thoughts and thinking, affect, things like emotion, memory, perception — eventually, we also threw in 'sense of self' as a fifth one — and basically going out and digging into them very deeply. Our interviews were like, six hours, ten hours, 12 hours. I was with people all day, basically one person a day, for quite a long time. In fact, I go speak at spiritual conferences and stuff, where some of these people are also speaking. They're like, "You were the guy who showed up at eight in the morning, and refused to leave my house until it was time for me to go to bed." [laughs] It's kind of funny, but that's really what we did. We went out and we just talked to them. And we really did just massively in-depth interviews with them to try to figure out what was going on with them. And we did that initially so that we could do the neuroscience design later on and try to figure out what it is that we should test. We did a lot of little tests along the way to see what should be included or excluded and stuff like that. But what actually came out of the interviews, I think, is one of the most important things of the entire project that was totally unintentional. But it turns out, nobody had ever gone around all these people and talked to them from a cognitive science perspective. There's very little research in this area to begin with. It was usually done by PhD students that went out and found five spiritual teachers or something, and then went out and did some interviews with them, maybe gave them some measures. And what they did is they let those spiritual teachers just run right over them. They'd sit down with a spiritual teacher and the spiritual teacher would just start rambling about spaciousness or emptiness, or the presence of the divine or whatever, and they would write it all down, and they would go back, and they would do some grounded theory analysis on it or something like that. But that was not really helpful from a more meaningful scientific perspective. Whereas what we somewhat accidentally did, frankly — intentionally for the neuroscience, but accidentally for the qualitative research that we actually wound up becoming really well-known for — is we basically went out and we asked them about their thoughts, their emotions, their perception, their sense of self. And we did it in English. We did it in the language of psychology and the language of cognitive science. And we forced them to drill down with precision into their phenomenology in ways often that they never had before. One of the reasons those interviews took so long was because people would often have to pause after I asked them a question, and search their experience. Can you imagine somebody who's had millions of students, been asked tons of questions, and you're asking them questions that just stumped them, where they have to sit there silently because nobody's ever asked them that before. And that was basically what we were doing. Everybody was asking them about love or asking them about God, or asking them about whatever. And we were like: Tell us about the nature of your thoughts and thinking and emotions. How has your memory changed over time? And let's do some perceptual tests. Or tell us about how this or that perception shows up, things like that. And so that actually wound up being really groundbreaking because it went across all of these different populations, and it created a Rosetta Stone across them in the spiritual space that had never existed before.
SPENCER: So why is it that the survey didn't find anything interesting, do you think?
JEFFERY: That's a really great question. And I think the answer took a long time to really get to and understand, I would say, and a lot more years of survey administration that we did with protocol experimentation when we were transitioning people so that we can do pre-post analysis and things like that. But what we've come to really understand is that these surveys basically aren't designed for this population. One thing that we did right from the beginning of the surveys is we would include comment fields under every single question in every single survey, and then we would usually include a comment field about the survey at the end. And what we got were just enormous amounts of criticism from the research subjects about these tests. They basically just kept insisting that these things were horrible and didn't really measure anything that they felt really related to them or their experience, or whatever. We came to appreciate that that was more or less the case. Some of them, like the anxiety or depression ones, or the happiness ones, or whatever... Ultimately, what percent are you happy or unhappy or neutral every day. That's one of the major measures. It's really that simple. And you just put the percentages in; of course, they have to add up to 100. That is obviously something that anyone can fill out, including someone in fundamental wellbeing. But when you start getting to some of the psychopathological things or whatever else, they just don't make sense to the way this population experiences the world. In the early years when we were doing these measures, and frankly, even throughout the entire project, people have really hated doing the measures. And it was really for that reason, they just were a terrible fit for them. And so eventually, we collected enough data that we really began to understand why that was the case, in many cases, on a question-by-question basis. So for instance, there are even some problems with depression measures or anxiety measures or something like that. So you might have a depression measure, for instance, that scores a question negatively, that asks about how much you like to be alone, or do you prefer to be alone or whatever. "What percentage of the time do you prefer to be alone?" If you're a late location finder, more or less, you prefer to be alone pretty much all the time, if you can get away with that, meaning that somebody has very deep and fundamental wellbeing. But that kind of an answer is viewed as a negative answer on a major depression scale. There are even mismatches like that where even for the scales that did show a difference, the reality is that they're not accurately really measuring what's the case for the population.
SPENCER: Let's talk about definitions for a minute because you've mentioned a few different terms, and I want to make sure the listeners understand them. You mentioned fundamental wellbeing, so what's that?
JEFFERY: Fundamental wellbeing is just our public bucket term, basically, for this type of stuff. We had a lot of problems with language in the early years of the research in trying to get subjects to participate with us. We'd write somebody and we'd say the word 'consciousness' and they would be like, "This has nothing to do with consciousness. This is experience," and we'd use 'experience' with the next person, and they'd write to us and they'd be like, "This has nothing to do with experience. This is all consciousness." Or we'd use both of them and we'd get an email back saying, "This has nothing to do with either one of those. This is beyond consciousness. This is beyond experience." How are we ever going to get any of these people to take us seriously? They would get tripped up on language and then they would just write back and say, "You people clearly will never be able to understand this, scientifically." We had to solve that, and the way that we ultimately solved it was by just using our own terms. And so we just started trying a bunch of terms when we would contact potential research subjects. We just made a list of them. We kept just going down them, and eventually the one that won was 'non-symbolic experience,' initially 'non-symbolic consciousness,' but it turned out more people like the word 'experience' than 'consciousness,' but they didn't get hung up on consciousness or experience anymore because of that word, 'non-symbolic.' They just like that word. That word in some way spoke to them about their experience. We got that from a Suzanne Cook-Greuter paper. Suzanne Cook-Greuter is one of the world's great developmental psychology researchers who has an interest in this space and has written some papers around this stuff, and has really done a wonderful job of advancing the science in the developmental side around this. She had 'non-symbolically mediated consciousness' or something like that in one of her papers and I thought, "Oh, let's add that to the list. We'll try that one out," and that one wound up winning. So we didn't use words like enlightenment or nonduality or persistent mystical experience or whatever, when we contacted people. We just told them, "Hey, we're researching persistent non-symbolic experience," and people more or less just looked at that term and were like, "Okay, well, what do you want to know?" And then when it came time to start talking to the public, 'persistent non-symbolic experience' just seemed clunky for them. And so we thought we needed a term that really is derived from what this actually feels like, and in simple terms for the public. We really thought about it, and a lot of people inside the project wanted us to go with 'extraordinary wellbeing,' because they thought it would be more "market-y," like people would be like, "Oh, extraordinary wellbeing, what's that," and, we might be able to get more interest in it. But I really felt like it needed to be the most accurate description that we could find for it in just plain English. For me, that is 'fundamental wellbeing.' There's just this fundamental sense that things are okay when you experience this stuff. And so that's where that term comes from and that's what it stands for.
SPENCER: So persistent non-symbolic experience, it's really just trying to point at the full set of things you're studying, whether it's enlightenment or transformations of consciousness, or what have you. It's referring to all of that. Is that right?
JEFFERY: Yeah. Last time we added them up, I think we had something like 300 different terms that we'd actually gotten from research subjects over the years, in terms of what they called it. Obviously, that's a problem if you're trying to centralize a research project around something. So we wound up with a more neutral term.
SPENCER: Earlier, you mentioned this distinction between persistent and ongoing. Could you explain that a little bit?
JEFFERY: Sure. Our original term was 'persistent non-symbolic experience' — well, consciousness, then experience — and that was defined, really for my dissertation, as you having been in this continuously for more than a year,
SPENCER: Like without even a moment of losing it?
JEFFERY: Yeah, exactly.
SPENCER: Not even a moment of losing it, really permanent.
JEFFERY: if it's persistent, it's persistent. And if it wasn't, then it was temporary fundamental wellbeing, or no fundamental wellbeing, those are basically our categories. And then, somewhere around 2013, 2014, we started experimenting with transitioning people rather than just researching people that were already there. We started in 2006 or so. The project had been going for a long time and eventually reached the point where you want to be able to measure the differences more precisely. And so we started to work on transitioning people, and we were successful at that. But we realized we had a problem, because our primary term for this had been defined in the literature as you being in it for more than a year. And so we're like, "Okay, what about these people that just came out of our research protocol, what do we call them when we're writing papers and stuff? Or giving presentations at academic conferences or whatever?" We needed another term for less than a year but still persistent, and so that became 'ongoing non-symbolic experience.'
SPENCER: So they have it every moment, but it's just the amount of time hasn't been...
JEFFERY: ...a year, yeah, exactly. According to the data back in the early days, if somebody had made it for about seven months, it looked like it would lock in as persistent more likely than not. And it looked like people could lose it a lot more easily at less than that. And so we just rounded it up to a year, basically.
SPENCER: Let's talk about the different locations of enlightenment and how you develop them and what they are.
JEFFERY: Sure. That all just came out of those early interviews. There wound up being all kinds of different experiences of this and they were all grounded in the cognitive science interviews. And so they're grounded in differences in sense of self, which we added later, the later interviews. Those weren't in the first 30 or 40 interviews or something. And then cognition, affect, perception, and memory. And so mostly, what we talk about is how those things change, and how they cluster together as reliable (frankly) groups of changes between different people. We don't like hierarchies. We don't want to imply one is higher than another or better than another or anything like that — we think any place in fundamental wellbeing is pretty extraordinary — and so we didn't want to have levels or anything like that. And we wound up settling on a nomenclature of a continuum; think of an old number line. It's flat, and nothing is higher than anything else per se. It's all just a long one continuum. Everything's a number on that line, and yet, you can express things by positionality on the line. And so we chose the phrase 'continuum' initially. And then we chose locations along the continuum. And so that's where the term 'locations' comes from. They're locations along a continuum of related types of experiences, which are these non-symbolic, these fundamental wellbeing experiences. So Location One is the lowest on the number line, so to speak, the lowest on the continuum. It's where most people transition to, in fundamental wellbeing, and its hallmark is really just simply a change in how it feels psychologically for you deep down. The way I like to talk about this is, if you're ever eating outside at a cafe, and you throw a little breadcrumb to a bird or whatever, think about what the bird does: the bird pecks the breadcrumb, but that's not that simple, is it? In fact, first the bird looks around, and it makes sure that it's not going to die before it pecks at the breadcrumbs, because it's got to take its eye off of the environment, which could be a hostile environment. So it really looks around carefully to make sure that it can take a quick peck and survive. And then it takes the quick peck, and then it looks around again, to see if it can survive. I was saying this at a conference one time, and one of my friends was there, and he came up to me later and he was laughing. He said, "My bird has been living safe in our house in a cage for its entire existence. It literally has no threats, and yet it still eats in the exact same way that you're talking about." And of course, that's the case because it's just wired in. We are just animals — we don't like to think about that — but we're basically just animals. And so we have the same wiring. Our wiring is, at its core, survival. Virtually everything that we do, in some way, boils down to survival. And so deep down inside of us is that same uncertainty that that bird has, that something might be not quite right about this moment, and we better be keeping an eye out for it. And that is the foundation of the problem of the human condition from a psychological standpoint, which is a condition where we have a fundamental sense of discontentment that lies at the base of our moment-to-moment experience of life. And it really just boils down to this survival thing. For most of human existence, we should have been incredibly grateful for that, because it wasn't safe. But now it's pretty safe. I mean, I don't know where you're at today. I'm recording this in basically a penthouse in Puerto Rico, with the ocean lapping outside the window. And I'm not concerned about somebody coming bursting through the door with a gun to kill me or some wild animal ripping me limb from limb or something like that. My life is fundamentally safe. I'm not worried about getting bad food from the refrigerator, or going out to a restaurant and having to be concerned about, is this milk or is this white paint, like was the case one time for me when I was in India.
The bottom line is in the developed West, in the developed countries in general, regardless of where they are in the world, our lives are pretty safe these days. So we don't really need that uncertainty wiring that was so important for most of humanity's history. Now, there's a lot of places in the world where I could be living, where that wiring would still be useful. And so we're not saying there's some sort of universal change that's good for everybody. But one of the things that happens with fundamental wellbeing in Location One is that fundamental sense of discontentment changes. And it changes from that sense of discontentment to a sense that everything is fundamentally okay, not in a way that if a gunman did burst in here, that I wouldn't be able to react, like I'd be blissed out or peaced out or something. Obviously, you're still functional. I mean, I run pretty sizable projects and whatnot. Nonetheless, my moment-to-moment experience, and moment-to-moment experience of any Finder is a sense that things are fundamentally okay. Now in Location One, that can actually be in the background, and so it might be something that a Finder has to look for because Location One can be a pretty shallow location in fundamental wellbeing. But if even in the worst moment — your spouse divorces you, your boss says you're fired and you're never going to work in this industry again, your parents die, whatever — if in whatever your worst moment is, you look down deep and, somehow even in that moment, paradoxically, things seem okay, well, you're in fundamental wellbeing. And if you've got to look for it, probably, you're in Location One. So that's the big change that occurs at Location One. There's all sorts of ancillary things that come from that. Most people have this chatter in their head that is not very nice and not very nice to them specifically, lots of self-criticism and things like that, that basically loses its steam. When you have some sort of negative conditioning — your spouse comes home and knows exactly what button to push and starts pushing it — you might have a very brief reaction, but something that might have bothered you for an hour or a day or a week or a month falls off pretty quickly and then doesn't bother you anymore. And if that happens enough, it deconditions to the point where the trigger doesn't even work anymore no matter how hard your spouse tries to push it, or how extreme they get with it or whatever else. There are some tremendous benefits to living life from this perspective. Location One is something that isn't really noticed much by the religious or spiritual communities. It's not something that's really focused on by them. It's just something that we noticed that emerged in the research. Really, Location Two is one of the things where you start to see a lot of the Buddhism and the Eastern stuff coming into play, and it brings in something called nonduality. It's not a very hardcore form of nonduality but it is nonetheless nondual perception. What that means is basically less of a separation or no separation between subject and object. This can actually be very subtle. It can be missed by people. A lot of people miss it. We have these interviews that we have to do with people, often to help them see it. Part of that is because, once you shift into fundamental wellbeing, and especially start getting to places like Location Two, you're just a lot less self-referential. That critical voice in your head, that voice actually was serving a purpose in a way, because it was constantly pointing out what you were doing and had a lot of self-reflection involved in it. When that dampens down, you don't have as much self-reflection. Believe it or not, you can even miss the true transition to fundamental wellbeing because you're just not self-reflective. You're not asking yourself, "What is my state in this moment?" not saying to yourself, "Am I experiencing X? Am I experiencing Y?" like you do if you're pre-fundamental wellbeing. In Location Two, the main hallmark is really the first glimpses of this non-separation between subject and object perceptually. That's a perceptual thing, and that can be very subtle, as well. It can be very strong in Location Two. It can be very subtle in Location Two. Location Two is a very big landscape. If you're coming from Location One, Location Two feels better, frankly, from a wellbeing standpoint than Location One does. Those self-referential thoughts and triggers, psychological triggers and stuff like that, they're continuing to diminish. You would have a mix of positive and negative emotions in Location One. You can have a mix of positive and negative emotions in Location Two as well, but as you really deepen into Location Two over time, and that deconditioning process kicks in and all of that, you wind up with a much more positive experience of the world. And then Location Three is the classic end of the Abrahamic mystical traditions, really, and some of the Eastern ones, and it is dual again, actually. I was having dinner one time with John Hagel, who runs part of the TM movement, I think the North American part of it or something, has run for President with one of the alternative parties and stuff. He's a physicist. He's a really interesting guy. He's a cool guy, he's a nice guy. And we were at some consciousness conference sometime speaking, and we're basically just getting a bite to eat before, and he was running me through his latest slide deck that he was going to use for the presentation. And he came to this slide, and I'll be darned if it didn't have his Vedantic or Vedic interpretation of the first four locations in it. And what was interesting to me is that, in this table, one of the columns was dual/nondual. And his first one was dual and his second one was nondual, and his third one was dual again. And that's not something that we've seen a lot of, from the Eastern religions. And so I asked him about it and he's like, "Oh, no, it's very clearly there." It's just often frowned upon, or people don't talk about it much, because there's this assumption that if you've made it to Location Two, and you're nondual... nondual is a big attainment and people don't like to think about the fact that the next stage that they may be making it to, feels like a little bit of a step back from that standpoint. And so Location Three is basically subtly dual again. It has a single emotion, a single positive emotion that feels like a combination of love and joy and compassion, and sometimes some other things depending upon the culture or the person's programming. At any given moment, it feels like one of those is more forward-facing than the other, so it might feel like there's more love present in the experience of being alive in this moment. But nonetheless, the others are still there. It's still clearly one meta emotion that's being experienced. There's a sense of union with the divine or a panpsychist type of experience, pretty much what you would expect out of a mystical Christian's mouth or a Sufi's mouth or something like that. And then Location Four really kind of falls off the cliff compared to that. There is this really well-known Catholic mystic — I think maybe one of the greatest Catholic mystics — who was alive until a few years ago and lived in Los Angeles actually. Her name is Bernadette Roberts and she wrote some phenomenal books. She was one of our research subjects on the Christian side of things. I would go to Mass with her and she would take the Eucharist and she would just have these phenomenally transcendent experiences from the Eucharist and stuff like that. She was a Carmelite nun in her youth, and she was following the standard Christian mystical path. And she was just checking off the boxes: John of the Cross, yep, check this box, check that box, whoever it was, the different people that she was using as authoritative sources, mostly from the past. So she was literally just like, "That was their experience. Yep, I finally reached that in my experience, another box to check." And then one day, she basically fell off the end of the Christian mystical tradition, which ends at Location Three, and she fell off into Location Four. And it was a really difficult period of years — one could say decades in her life — trying to come to grips with what happened because Location Four is very different from Location Three. For starters, there's no sense of the divine. God goes away. Can you imagine that for someone like her, feeling like you'd spent all these years in this maxed-out union with God effectively, and now that just is gone? The other thing that changes is your sense of agency disappears. Basically, that's the sense that you can think anything, do anything, it seems like everything is just synchronistically unfolding. It's not that you can't see your mind thinking. You can see your mind thinking, but you can't really be involved in it. You're as much an observer in your mind as anybody would be that was looking at it from the outside. So you keep functioning in life; these other layers of the nervous system continue to function, but you don't have a lot of say in what they do. You're kind of along for the ride. And so there's no sense of agency, there's no emotion, even love for your child and stuff like that goes. So obviously, the divine love and stuff like that, that Bernadette was using as a benchmark of her progress in her spiritual life, went. The sense of the divine and panpsychic sense, as I mentioned, goes away. And so it's a really different experience. People basically describe Location Three as feeling like the peak experience of humans, and Location Four, feeling like you're an alien among humans, at that point. So the first four locations are locations that anyone seems to be able to land into. In our research, we've had people transition directly to Location Four. As an example, we had that right in our pilot project with the first six people that we researched. Generally speaking though, more people will land in Location One then Location Two, and Location Two then Location Three and so on. And by the time you reach Location Three, it's pretty rare. Location Four is very rare. It doesn't end there. It goes beyond there to location five, six, seven, eight, nine, it keeps going. But very few of your listeners are going to have any clue what I'm talking about if I go too much further.
SPENCER: Locations One through Three, they sound kind of awesome. They seem to have a lot of nice qualities, like you feel really happy and have all these positive emotions and less negative self-talk and so on. Location Four sounds kind of insane. Should someone actually want to go into Location Four?
JEFFERY: The thing about Location Four is that the word that is most often just blurted out by research subjects early on in a Location Four interview without any prompting is "freedom." There is a sense of freedom that enters at Location Four and frankly, later, that is beyond even the ability to imagine even just one stage back in Location Three. And what we think that really comes from is, in Location Four, there really is a true freedom. Location Four is nondual again, by the way, and it's much more intensively nondual than Location Two is, even though most of the Buddhist and spiritual literature and stuff like that, that tend to nonduality is more or less Location Two-type stuff. And so they obviously regard that as a serious form of nonduality. It certainly is amazing to experience but it's nonduality-like, compared to Location Four. And so that sense of freedom we think comes from absolutely no longer caring at all what people think of you. And that doesn't happen, no matter how much someone thinks it does — they might report that it does — but experimentally, we can always get around that and we can determine that it's not the case. And no matter how deep someone is in Location Two or Location Three, there's still a piece of them that is caught in the social fabric, if you will. That is not the case in Location Four and the disappearance of that provides an unbelievable amount of wellbeing and freedom. Now it also brings downsides. As you can imagine, if you don't care what people think about you anymore over time as your system reprograms, it can very easily reprogram in a way that makes you kind of a jerk in terms of other people's perspectives of you. People that are in Location Four or later generally want to be alone. And we've figured some of that out with neuroscience. One of the things that's interesting about that is, there's this network in the brain called the default network that seems to have a lot to do with your sense of self. You always have to put in 'seems to' because you never know when the whole thing is going to be upended by somebody's research tomorrow, this type of stuff. [laughs] But it seems to have a lot to do with it. And there's this spot in the back of the brain called the posterior cingulate cortex, which is like a main hub on that network. That's a spot that you see a lot of changes in with people that are in fundamental wellbeing. And you see a lot of reduction in activity in that spot for people that are in Location Four even versus people that are in other earlier locations. And what's really fascinating is if you take a Location Four person, you put an EEG headset on their head, which basically reads the electrical signals coming from the brain — their 'brainwaves' is a common way to say that — and you just leave them alone with themselves, that area is profoundly quiet. And then if you start to introduce language, if they start to be able to hear language but not quite in a way that they can make it out, the PCC starts to tickle to life. And if they can make out the words, and it's in a language that they understand, it tickles to life more, and you can imagine a continuum that goes all the way up to them being in a situation involving language where they feel like they actually have to respond with language. That really brightens up. That really lights up that area. And with each one of those corresponding stops, there's a reduction in an internal sense of wellbeing. And that's very undesirable. If you're experiencing that, you want a maximum experience of your peace. Thus, you choose not to be around people who are talking all the time, or whatever else. And so there's all sorts of neat little things that we've uncovered like that.
SPENCER: So if we think about this continuum that goes Location One, Two, Three, Four, and beyond, what is that access? Is it about rarity, like as you go up higher numbers, they become more rare? Or is it about the level of happiness or level of peace? What's increasing there?
JEFFERY: That's a good question. The ordering actually comes from the order where people are most likely to transition from one to the next. It's not that we looked across things, and we were like, "Okay, what's going up? What's going down?" We put them in the order based on what seemed to be the natural biological flow or progression of things inside people. And so people will go from Location One to Location Two, Location Two to Location Three. Not always, sometimes they would go from Location Two to Location Four, but on the whole, they would usually go from two to three, and then from three to four. And so that's basically where that comes from. Once we did that, it turns out those kind of make sense. You can see a change in emotion as an example. In Location One, it's more or less a mix of positive and negative emotions. In Location Two, it's getting increasingly positive. In Location Three, it's just one single, positive, impersonal emotion that's left, could feel like a divine version of that love/joy thing, could feel just like an impersonal version of it. There's really no personal emotion that remains at Location Three. And then at Location Four, there's no emotion. And so it's almost like there's a change in emotion, from normal emotion range, to increasingly positive, to maximally positive, to no emotion. And so you see the same thing with self-referential thoughts. By Location Four, there's basically no access to self-referential thinking or anything like that. It can still be happening, but you're watching it happen, you're not involved in it. It starts off with plenty of that still happening and you are involved in Location One and still plenty on Location Two, unless you get really deep into Location Two. And then in Location Three, it's dropping off. So it's the most in Location One. It's less in Location Two. It's less in Location Three, and so on. There did turn out to be trends like that but really, they were ordered just because that's the way nature seemed to guide people.
SPENCER: You mentioned this dual versus nondual idea a few times. I think you said that Location One and Location Three are dual and Location Two and Location Four are nondual. For our audience members who are less familiar with this, could you explain what you really mean there?
JEFFERY: Sure. Sometimes you'll hear it described as a sense of oneness or something like that. It's a sense that there's just one thing. I think nonduality and its original Sanskrit means something like 'not two.' I assume in their language, they could have just said 'one' or 'one thing.' They chose to specifically say 'not two,' for a certain reason. If you're really in nonduality, you can understand why they would have made that choice. Talking from a Location Four standpoint right now, there's just the sense that there's just this showing up, whatever you're looking at, I don't care. I'm looking at a microphone and a large monitor, and a camera with a teleprompter on it, and studio lights and a window with the ocean beyond it, whatever else. So it's not that I can't differentiate these objects. But nonetheless, the sense to me is that it's all just one arising including me. And I can't draw a distinction between these things that are arising and me being some separate thing that is arising independent of them or anything like that. And so the confusing thing about nonduality is that there's a lot of different versions of it. There's many different kinds of it, for instance, many different ways that it can show up in Location Two, and that's where you get a lot of these fights between different spiritual teachers or between different sects of religions, or different religions in general, or whatever else. There's a lot of disagreement around the concepts of things like nonduality. And then, God forbid, somebody goes from Location Two to Location Four, and that's a whole other thing. So nonduality is actually a really complex topic. But that's the gist of it. That's the simple thing.
SPENCER: My understanding is that you develop these locations by conducting a huge number of interviews and trying to look at what clusters together. If you have this trait, you probably have this other trait, trying to carve reality at the joints. My experience trying to do this with psychological concepts is that, even if you do a really good job, there's gonna be a lot of blurriness. There's going to be people that fall between the cracks, or aren't well described by any of the clusters or whatever. And I'm wondering, does that happen? Do you find a lot of people who are like, "Well, we can't really tell if they're in Location One or Two, or this person is kind of an oddball, and they don't really fit this structure at all."
JEFFERY: It's very, very rare. One of the problems that we have, especially with late Location Finders, is that it can take a really, really long time, sometimes more time than we really have to devote to them. And the reason for that is just simply their utter absence of self-reflexive capability. And so you've just got to spend hours asking them questions and trying to get their system to forcibly self-reflect from external stimuli.
SPENCER: You're talking about people with really high location numbers? Is that what you're saying?
JEFFERY: Yeah, exactly. Even in Location Four, you can run across this. It can be frustrating from a research standpoint. And so there is that type of limitation. The other thing is, there's another axis that we haven't talked about. You have the continuum and you can think of the continuum as an X axis. But then there's a Y axis of depth. And we've only really started talking about the Y axis in the last couple of years. We're right now just talking about it in terms of four main layers of depth. If you get involved in some sort of Western nonduality type spirituality system, mostly what they're talking about is layers of depth and location, too. And so if you read a book like our book, The Finder, or as you look at our research paper on the locations or something like that, it might not make a lot of sense in terms of matching your experience. And the reason is because the other axis is missing, and you're spending all of your time in just one of these locations. And so like, Location Two sounds right. But on the other hand, you've had all these differentiated stages or experiences within Location Two, they seem to be all mentioned there, but in a smear when you're just talking about Location Two. And the reason for that is simply because you haven't really looked at the other axis. And so the other axis — we call them layers or layers of depth — and when we combine the extent of the X axis and the Y axis, the system is extremely precise. And it's very rare for someone to slip through the cracks of it. Sometimes people are in the process of a long-haul transition. Most transitions are pretty instantaneous. I think in our early research with the first batch of people, 1200 people or so, I think it was something like 70% of them (I have to go back to verify this, but I'm pretty sure it was something like 70% roughly) had an instant transition to fundamental wellbeing, 30% of them had a more gradual transition to fundamental wellbeing.
SPENCER: That's permanent, you're saying, right?
JEFFERY: Yeah, like a persistent transition.
SPENCER: They transitioned and then they were just there forever?
JEFFERY: And that's not talking about additional shifts that they might have had to a new location, or to another layer of depth or something like that, just the first transition. Thirty percent of them, though, phased into it over a period of time. It wasn't an instant transition. Now, in our work, when we're transitioning people, those numbers are kind of flipped. Most people who use our protocols actually phase into it. They generally don't just pop into it. So I would say it could even be 70. It was for a long time. We were tracking this. I haven't tracked it in recent years. But in the early days, the numbers were literally flipped, like 70% of people phased into it and 30% of people had an instant experience of it. We actually think it's better to phase into it. We just think it's more healthy for the nervous system. But that's a whole other hour of conversation. [laughs] So our protocol is designed to err on the side of phasing people. But one of the things that happens as a result of that is it has given us a lot of very useful data. Because let's say you go and you use the protocol, and it's a six-week protocol or something, and you get lucky and you transition early on in the protocol, maybe in the first week or two. You still got another four weeks or something to go. And so what actually happens at that point, is a lot of people drop out, which is annoying for us from a data collection standpoint, but also bad for them, we think, because I understand their perspective. They came to get fundamental wellbeing, they got fundamental wellbeing, and now, they don't want to meditate for an hour a day for another six weeks or something like that. They just want to sink into fundamental wellbeing. I appreciate that perspective. But we think that what we often see, data-wise, is that if people stay with it, they'll probably wind up leaving the protocol in a deeper place with fundamental wellbeing, so where they might have left in Location One, they might leave in Location Two, for example, if they continue to work the protocol and don't just drop out on us. And in fact, the majority of people who drop out are in fundamental wellbeing when they drop out of our program, which is kind of funny. We don't lose a lot of people; we usually have a 20 to 30% dropout rate. And over half of those people are generally in fundamental wellbeing, in their measurements and stuff before they drop out. One thing that it allows us to do is, it allows us to see what happens when people are phasing and that includes phasing between locations. So let's say you wake up, and you have a transition to fundamental wellbeing in week two or something, and it's Location One. Or maybe it's Location Three and somewhere around week six, you have a transition to Location Four. It's useful data for us; we've collected a lot of data like that over the years from these transition protocol experiments. But one thing that we've noticed can happen to people is that they can phase between locations in a similar way to the way that you can phase into fundamental wellbeing. For instance, you might be on Location Three, and you might be in the process of phasing in to Location Four and we might do a data sample on you. And it might sound like you're in some weird no man's land between Location Three and Location Four. For instance, you might still have that single positive emotion but you might not have agency anymore. Or you might have had agency drop off and emotion drop off, but you might still have a sense of the divine. And initially, it was confusing for us. We're like, "What's going on here?" But then you just sample them a little bit later, when they've either gone back and locked in Location Three again, or have gone forward and locked in Location Four and those ambiguities disappear. And so what we learned is that some people will phase in between different locations. And during those moments, they don't precisely match either one of the locations, but they will eventually when their system settles on one of them.
SPENCER: So which location are you at?
JEFFERY: I'm fluid, usually. What that means is we've called my version of hyperfluidity, which means that, at any given instant, my system can be in any number of different locations. And it's actually optimized more to the present experience. And so that will even change while I'm doing my interview with you. There will be times when you ask a question where it's better answered from (say) layer one, the lowest layer, of Location Two or something, and then it might be another place that's better answered from layer three of Location Two, or layer three of Location Three or something like that. And so my system is quite fluid. I've experienced locations out to about Location 19. And so I've had a pretty good range of breadth in this so far.
SPENCER: So does this mean that you're happy at all times?
JEFFERY: I'd say I'm peaceful at all times. It's less about happiness at a certain point. I think when you're starting off — when I started off — it was to become the happiest person out there, whatever. It was, obviously, about happiness to me. But I don't think it's about that per se anymore. In fact, that's been a problem in data collection for us: we often have to ask about happiness and wellbeing. Because at a certain point, people will turn the corner and they will be like, "My happiness answers just don't really matter to me anymore. It's more about being able to capture it with wellbeing or degree of peace," or something like that. So ironically, the thing that started this whole thing is a lot less relevant to me in terms of subjective moment-to-moment experience.
SPENCER: So suppose you're put in a really horrible situation, like someone you love dies. What is your experience? And how does it differ than it would have if you hadn't gone through this whole learning process?
JEFFERY: I haven't really had too many of those experiences. I don't remember how many years ago now, but while I was in fundamental wellbeing, I had a very serious health condition. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. I remember going into surgery and thinking to myself while I was laying on the gurney, "I could very well not wake up from this." And up to that point, I had really wondered — I think I was in Location Two back then, but it might have been later — up to that point I really sort of wondered, "I don't seem to have a fear of death anymore. I don't seem to be concerned about death anymore. But I wonder if that's true. I wonder if I were put in a situation where I literally might die, if there would be some sort of panic in my system, or some sort of unhappiness in my system, about the circumstance or something like that." And it sounds maybe crazy to say, but it was kind of cool to be in that situation and to actually feel, "Now my system is totally at peace." I wake up, I don't wake up, to go either way is not going to affect my happiness (if you want to call it that, or my peace, or my wellbeing). In this moment, I'm totally at peace, no matter how this thing turns out." And so that's an example. Another example is a year and a half ago or something, my father died. He is the first parent that I've lost; I don't have any brothers or sisters or anything. So the only family I really have is my dad and my mom. I was traveling in Costa Rica, doing some stuff for the project, and had to fly back at the last minute. And it was another one of those things that I had always wondered about. I thought to myself, "How solid is this wellbeing going to be? Or even, what's best for a situation like that? Is it like, if you don't allow some parts of your nervous system (that sort of older, primitive parts of the nervous system) that go through a grieving process, is that going to lock in some sort of messed up pathology that you're gonna have to then deal with later?" So it was interesting, because I was really able to go into that experience of having thought about what would happen in a circumstance like that for many years. And knowing what I wanted to try and experiment with and get a firsthand experience. Of course, I've heard it described by a lot of other people from fundamental wellbeing standpoint, but I hadn't ever experienced it myself. This could sound a little cold, but I really use that experience, to the greatest extent that I could, to take my system way, way down to a lower type of fundamental wellbeing to where it could feel grief and could cry and things like that, and then take it way out to later locations where none of that was going to happen, or is just persistently in peace despite the circumstances. And I've actually made a video out of that — I don't think I put it out publicly. I think I just put it out to the alumni of our research — where I really sort of went into depth into that. I kind of put that to bed, but if I'm remembering correctly now, what I really felt was best was to remain in a higher location or layers or whatever someone had access to. It didn't seem like there was really a need to or an importance around going to lower locations and places where you could have suffering that would still exist in this system. It didn't feel like not doing that was suppressing anything, or doing that was, in some way, some beneficial catharsis, or anything like that. So anyway, that's how I answered those questions.
SPENCER: So do you not experience negative emotions anymore, except when you choose to? Like if someone jumped out with a gun, would you not experience anxiety?
JEFFERY: That would depend on where I was at in fundamental wellbeing at the time. If I was way, way down, like Location One or something, sure, I would experience anxiety. I would be unlikely to be in Location One, but you never know. These things can be the case. And so, these things really depend on where someone is at in fundamental wellbeing in that particular moment. But I've been in dangerous situations in fundamental wellbeing. And what seems to happen is that my system goes to a location that's optimized for dealing with that, which is not a place where you're fearful or in some sort of panic reaction. It's a place where you're far more efficient. I mean, if you're terrified, you're probably not optimally functioning, in terms of surviving that situation or whatever. And so it does that for me, basically.
SPENCER: What's the distribution of how much time you spend in different locations?
JEFFERY: It varies dramatically based on just what I'm working on or what I'm doing. So eventually, I went beyond fluidity. And there's something beyond fluidity that we call integration. There's a couple of different ways to view fluidity. Fluidity can be across locations. So I could go from Location One to Location Two, for example. And that is always fluidity. So you're always fluid across locations. But within a location, the layers of depth, you can be fluid across them. If you go far enough with fundamental wellbeing, you start off being fluid across layers and locations. So let's say someone is in Location Two all the time; they've never experienced any location. They landed there, they're deep in there. Probably what's happened is that they've climbed their way up from layer one to layer two to layer three or something in Location Two over the years, maybe following some spiritual practices that help them to do that. Layer two is about spacious emptiness. And so if they run some form of Buddhism — it's all about spacious emptiness — they probably climb their way up to layer two and stuck there. If they were in a fullness/presence type of spiritual/religion type thing, then they might have made it up to layer three. These things are not easy. People spend a lot of time in the real world trying to get to these. For some reason, I think just because of our research, we're able to move people around quite easily. But people that are doing this in traditional environments and stuff, they can spend their whole life trying to make the layer two of Location Two and never get there. And so it's a huge deal. I'm talking about these in very simple or trivial ways. But I don't want to give the impression that these are trivial things for most people, because they're not. Basically, you can be fluid — what will happen is you'll probably retain access. Let's say you climb your way up to layer three in Location Two, and you have that sense of fullness and presence, and it's like this all pervading field, and that type of thing that is sort of your subjective experience — but it doesn't mean that you won't have access to layer one. Layer one is the mind; it's your thoughts and emotions. And it's the thing that makes you effective in the world. You still have agency in Location Two. You still have access to layer one and Location Two. But what happens is you basically sort of experience layer one through layer three. So you don't switch, generally, to layer three. You don't go from having an identity of this all pervasive presence or field (or whatever it's showing up for you as) to being identified with your thoughts and emotions again. You can operate through the skill of your thoughts and emotions and whatnot, but from a very layer three type of perspective. So that's the default type of way that fundamental wellbeing shows up for most people. They really work on it, though. They can get to a degree of fluidity with the layers. And fluidity means that you wouldn't really be switching. And so if you're doing stuff in layer one and you're fluid, you're switching to layer one. If one minute you're in layer three, and I say, "What are you?" You might say, "Oh, I'm this infinite field of presence (or whatever)." If, in the next minute, you're in layer one of Location Two, and I say, "What are you?" You're like, "I'm my thoughts and emotions, I'm this individual conglomeration of thoughts and emotions and genetics and stuff like that." And so you're actually having an identity shift with fluidity that you're not normally having if you're just having a dominant experience. And most of the traditions are all about the dominant experience, like "Get as deep as you can; just stay there." Whereas, fluidity allows you to kind of optimize your life for the real world. You're not living in some monastery. Your environment is not optimized for just 'pedal to the metal, go as deep as you can'. In fundamental wellbeing, it's helpful to be able to have better integration with the rest of your life. And that's often accomplished by people with fluidity type standpoint. There's one thing that's beyond fluidity, at a layer level, and that is integration. So if you have integration — for most recent periods of my life, I've generally had the experience of integration of layers. And what that looks like is — there isn't a dominant experience of a layer. It's still in a location. So I was still fluid across locations. I might be in Location Three one minute, Location Two in the next, whatever else. But of the four layers, in each one of those locations, there wasn't a dominant experience. If you would have said, "Where are you?" It wasn't the spacious emptiness of layer two, it wasn't the all pervading field or presence or fullness or whatever of layer three, it wasn't the thoughts and emotions of layer one, and so on. It was a simultaneous experience of all of those equally and without a dominant fixation of identity in any one of them. You're sort of all of them. You're not any individual, one of them. That's integration. I've been there for a long time. I just pulled myself out of that, so I'm fluid again, because I'm doing this course for some of our alumni. And more or less, it requires me to not be integrated. And so I've had to sort of go back, in a way, to my hyper fluid days.
SPENCER: It sounds like happiness is not the right word for what you are. But would you say that you have one of the highest wellbeings of anyone on Earth?
JEFFERY: Yeah, I feel like I've definitely hit the lottery. This was the right decision for my life, for sure. I not only got what I wanted, but I got so far beyond what I could have imagined ever wanting, in terms of the direction of happiness and wellbeing and whatever else. It's amazing. One thing that I think is important to also note is: there is a trade off. And so, if I want it to sustain the highest form of wellbeing that I could possibly experience in every moment, it would really be to go to as later location as I could. The problem with that is that it's fundamentally non functional for the rest of my life. Basically, it involves (I don't know) buying some cabin or something in the middle of nowhere, where there aren't people for hundreds of miles around or something, and finding some way to be in that type of environment. And that doesn't fit my life. I have responsibilities to this project, I have responsibilities to other people. And so as a finder, one thing that you're always doing if you get sort of these expanded ranges and opportunities in fundamental wellbeing — and it's not just sort of you landed one spot, you deepen in one spot — one thing that you're always doing is you're kind of trading off piece for functionality in the world. We say, when someone initially lands in fundamental wellbeing, in a way, they're kind of landing in a peace prison. Some people like to call it a peace palace; they don't like my term prison. But I think prison sums it up pretty well, in the sense that it's like you sort of land in the spot, and it's got a wall around it. And inside that wall is peace. As you approach that wall, you're really sort of approaching remaining psychological conditioning. You maybe can put yourself in a situation where you never have to encounter that psychological conditioning. And if you do that, you can happily live in peace in that little peace environment that is within your field of experience for as long as you want. So you could live in deep peace forever, if you can orient your external life well enough to never run against any of the walls of that peace prison. Over time, what's going to happen is your psychology is going to decondition, it's going to recondition, it's going to change. It was programmed for years with the basis of a highly suffering individualized sense of self — sort of a traditional narrative sense of self that everybody has, an egoic sense of self as popularly called, whatever you want to call it — and as the years roll on, as a finder, your nervous system just naturally reconditions itself more and more and more from a basis of peace, from a basis of being a finder. If you think about the way our nervous systems work, there's always conditioning things. There's Ivan Pavlov and his famous experiments, and nearly everyone has heard of, where he had these dogs and they were in the basement of Leningrad Research Institute that he was at, around the turn of the century, the 1900s not the 2000s, and Pavlov is playing with conditioning on dogs' nervous systems because it's very close to our human nervous systems in that way. It's a great analog. And what he's doing is the classic experiment with dog food. If you give someone food, quite naturally, their system is going to start salivating to prepare for the digestion of that food. You don't have to think to yourself, "Okay, mouth, salivate." It just salivates. If you pair another stimulus with that, in his case it was ringing a bell. So we would ring a bell, and then he would give a dog food, it would ring a bell, and he would give a dog food, he would just keep doing that, such that in the dog's nervous system, it basically paired up bell and food together. And so you could just ring a bell and the dog would start salivating because it assumed food was gonna follow. Why is that even possible in the first place? It's possible because our system is constantly doing that with everything in our environment. It's constantly conducting experiments. It's constantly paying attention. And it's constantly programming itself. We're these giant habit machines, just for the efficiency of glucose consumption in the brain and stuff, as many things as our nervous system can habituate, can make some of that that we don't have to consciously, it would do. And so it's constantly analyzing everything. Whoever's out there listening to this podcast right now, you as the interviewer listening to it or whatever, your hands are in a certain position, you're sitting or laying in a certain position, your feet are in a certain position, you have no idea why they're in that position. You have no idea. You weren't thinking to yourself, "I am going to position my left foot at a 45 degree angle to my right leg. And I'm going to slowly move it at a six hertz pace, up and down, beginning with the toes," right? No, you're just fidgeting with your foot in a certain position. You have no idea why you're doing that. That's totally out of your conscious experience, right? You're doing it, because in every single moment, your nervous system is paying attention and programming and reprogramming your nervous system and your habits, and trying to optimize it for what it thinks is best — what it guesses is best — for your life. And so it's always doing that. That's why the Pavlov experiment worked, and so on and so forth. So what happens is, before you're a finder — assuming you didn't grow up as a finder, which some people do, but the vast majority of people don't. They've transitioned to fundamental wellbeing some point later in their life — up to that point in their life, their entire nervous system, every single experience that their nervous system has ever had, had basically been covariate with the suffering of their former egoic, narrative, self (whatever you want to call it), which was a lot of suffering. And so as they go through life after the after the transition to fundamental wellbeing, assuming they land in a relatively low location — like Location One or two, or something like that — all they can count on is that, as their spouse comes home and knows how to push all of their buttons, even if that was the day where they transition to fundamental wellbeing, and they landed in Location Two, and their experience of the world was amazing, the minute their spouse comes home and knows exactly what buttons to push, that's all is still programmed in there and is still married to their old sense of self. And so, it can still produce suffering. Now, what happens is it reprograms. So if you think about the rest of the Pavlov-dog story, if you keep ringing the bell, but you never give the dog food again, eventually the dog's nervous system figures it out. It's like, "Ah, turns out that bell had nothing to do with food. I don't have to salivate when I hear a bell? Well, let's stop doing that." So, our systems are constantly learning. They are these giant learning and habit machines. They are constantly learning. They're constantly reprogrammed. So as your wife or your husband comes home and they start pushing that button, the more they push that button, guess what happens? Because memories are volatile, our conditioning is very volatile, our systems are always learning, they come home and they push that button, and let's say the first reaction time is an eight out of 10. They push it again, it's a six out of 10. They push it again, it's a four out of 10. They push it again, it's a two out of 10. They push it again, it's a zero out of 10. Right? Why are you no longer reacting in that situation? It's because your nervous system has been reprogramming in each one of those times. There was something about your own sense of self that caused suffering when that button was pushed, but that old sense of self is gone. Now you have a sense of self that's rooted in fundamental wellbeing. And so, as conditioning is triggered, your system is learning. And it's learning from the new fundamental wellbeing, not the old neurotic you. And so it's reprogramming itself, and over time, this is basically what happens. But you can also just land deep. You can land in Location Four or something. In which case, like a lot of this conditioning, this conditioning stuff is just out of sight. You're not going to react to it, it's not going to bother, you're not going to care about it. Your personality might still very well be intact. So from the external, your spouse may think, "Oh I've triggered you just like I've always triggered you." But internally, you don't experience any of it, you don't experience any suffering, you don't experience any upset. It might actually be amusing to watch, internally, your body react to some conditioning that your spouse is triggering or something like that. And it deconditions a lot more rapidly, or later locations are finally like that.
SPENCER: We don't have too much time left, and I really want to try to give something practical to our listeners, in terms of if they're interested in creating fundamental wellbeing, what sort of approaches can get them there. I know that you developed The Finders course. I've had a couple of friends go through it. Unfortunately, I don't think either of them have fundamental wellbeing now. But they both did enjoy it. But in any event, my understanding of the course is essentially you have people try many different meditation techniques like breath focus at the tip of your nose, or body scanning, or mantra, or headless way. And then they try each of them long enough that they can see if that technique seems to be working for them. I guess it's something like an hour a day for a week or something like that. And then, they end up focusing on the techniques that seem best for them. I might be getting details wrong. Do you want to elaborate on that?
JEFFERY: I think that's totally right. And so the protocol has about a 65-70% success rate. Sorry, your friends fell outside that. [laughs] Although it's interesting, because that's a really minority of people that do. And so for you to know a couple of them might say something about who you're choosing as friends as well in your own psychological programming.
SPENCER: They both had a positive experience with it.
JEFFERY: It will make you happier irregardless, but it doesn't transition everybody.
SPENCER: You're saying that 65% of people who go to this 45-day course end up permanently for the rest of their lives in Location One or higher, right?
JEFFERY: It's actually higher than that. But yeah.
SPENCER: Because that's just like an astounding claim, right? To be honest, when I hear that claim, it makes me trust you less because I'm like, "There's no way 65% are permanently, for the rest of their lives..." But do you stand by that, that is actually the finding? How did you get that 65% number?
JEFFERY: Let me back up on that a little bit. We use the term persistent, not permanent, because we don't follow people until they die. We've done that from the very beginning of the research, right. We do have some research subjects from even the early days of the research that we followed now for almost 20 years or something. But academically, the reason we very carefully chose the word persistent non-symbolic experience, even though people would say (research subject would be like), "No, this is permanent, I could never lose this," whatever else. Because, scientifically, you're not following them until their deathbed or something. Even if they are, can you research them on their deathbed? It's tough to say, right? And so, we think about this in terms of persistence. What we know about persistence from longitudinal research, with the protocol and stuff like that, is that there's a balance in a way. And so, actually, we could increase our numbers a fair amount, if we actually just had people fill out surveys, even just like a month after the protocol ended. Because there are always people who continue to practice, who found the thing that seems to be moving them in the right direction, and they continue to practice, and they transition. And then they write to us and whatever else, but we don't include that. Mostly, that's just habit. We're just trying to keep the data consistent. We made a certain research design a zillion years ago, in 2014 or whatever, and we've just basically kept it the same so we can compare the data across it. And so we're a bit of a victim of our own research design.
SPENCER: So where does that 65% come from? Can you just walk us through how you get to that number?
JEFFERY: Yeah, sure. But let me not shortchange your other question, which is: what should people be doing and how should they be thinking about this, because that's probably more important than whatever statistical things. We can come back to the statistical thing at the end if you want to. But let me get to the thing that can actually make a difference in people's lives. So the thing that was most fascinating to us was, when we started working on a protocol to get pre and post data — in other words, to be able to measure people before and after the transition to fundamental wellbeing, for so many years we were only able to measure people who were already in it — we really had tried so many things. We tried every kind of brain stimulation and neurofeedback and all sorts of neuroscience-y type things like that. We kept an eye out throughout the whole research cycle before that for anything that seemed like it might be more reliable. The reality is, things aren't that reliable, that are in the public marketplace. People that often wind up using our protocol, it's usually a last ditch effort for them frankly. They're often people that have tried everything else. And they don't like the idea of us. Oftentimes, spiritual seekers and stuff often don't like our project because we're so scientific. And we often hear things like, "You've just taken the magic and the mystery out of this." A certain percent of them eventually get to the point where they're just so frustrated with having not made progress, that they try it out and transition. So for many, many years, those were like a lot of the people that took our program. Now, it's just generally people who hear about us, a lot of friends get referred or whatever. So back when we were trying to figure out what we might be able to do to transition people, we knew that we hadn't found anything that we could use. And if you think about a neuroscience protocol, you can't spend $1,000 basically, or even $500, doing a pre-scan on someone and then not have them transition. If you have like a 1% transition rate — which would be a really great transition rate for a lot of these public type systems — you're just gonna go bankrupt trying to do that from a research standpoint. And so we knew that we couldn't do the kind of research that we wanted to, unless we could find a protocol that allowed us to transition enough people to make it economically feasible, frankly. And so, we really worked on that. And we failed at it forever, until we didn't. And the thing that we actually wound up working with was the funniest thing ever. It was just so surprising. It turns out that on our intake forms — we ask a lot of things, there's a lot of things in our data that we've never even bothered to analyze just because you haven't gotten to it yet from those initial like 1200 people or whatever — one of the things that was on those intake forms for those people was we literally asked them the question, "What worked for you?" And you would think that that would be the first thing that we would go back to. Like, why wouldn't we just look at those answers? But the thing is, I just felt like these people were so inaccurate at being able to describe their life before fundamental wellbeing. It's like, once you're in fundamental wellbeing, it kind of colors your experience. I had a lot of suffering in my life before fundamental wellbeing. It's not easy to build companies and stuff like that, right? I'm not saying I was in war zones or something. But startup founders are probably some of the least happiest people on Earth. And I was definitely one of them. And so, even though I was constantly trying to manage my own wellbeing and I wasn't miserable, still, it was that whole thing that started me on this path. So anyway, even as I look back on my history, it seems like I have had the most amazing life, like my life is just awesome, I can't remember a time when I was suffering or unhappy, I know that's all bullshit. It's all just wrong because I know I had a shit ton of suffering in my life as I was building businesses and stuff like that. I detected a similar pattern in the research subjects pretty much right from the start, so we didn't really believe a lot of what they said about pre fundamental wellbeing. And we ignored questions like the one that wound up mattering. And so we went back. At some point, I had one of our research people look at this question of what worked for people. And it turned out, there wasn't actually that much stuff that worked for people. And then, it turns out that quite a few of the people had done more than one of those things, but it wasn't the same thing that it worked for everybody. To make a long story short, we found, basically, that there was a one-two sort of punch. The one is: you really do need the methods that are like the best methods that you can possibly find. And I think the easiest way to figure out what those are, all of our methods and our protocols are modified, they're modified on the latest things to the brain or whatever. It's to be more effective. But if you were just in the public, and you were just Googling this, one of the things that I would look for would be longevity. For instance, mantra-based methods have been around forever. They're across Western religions, Eastern religions, to sort of nativist type spiritual religions, animalistic, spiritual systems. That's like everywhere. So maybe there's a reason for that. Maybe that's something you should try. Now the problem then becomes that there's a lot of different forms of them. And so then it becomes a question of: what can I use in terms of the type of mantra that is best? And there, I think you just look for modern evidence. And so, is there a type of mantra system that has a whole ton of people saying, "This worked for me to transition me to fundamental wellbeing." Well, it's not going to be a ton of people, but you can detect how some of them clearly seem to have more success than others. And so, I think there's the sort of 'stand the test of time'-ness that can help you to figure out the methods. And then there's newer methods. You mentioned the Headless Way. Headless Way, I think, is one of the best methods out there. A successful method is a method that transitions maybe like 5% of people that use it. And so it's not like 30% or 60% or something like that. Otherwise, you'd see people going on retreats and doing these methods and transitioning. But Headless Way is certainly one of the most successful. It comes out of the late 60s, I believe, with a guy named Douglas Harding. It's been kept alive by, more or less, one of his students named Richard Lange. You can learn it free online at headless.org. I think, if you're one of those people who's tried everything, it's probably the thing that's most likely to transition you, ironically. It's funny, because it's the thing you're least likely to want to admit transitioned you. And so, when we would interview people in the early days and we would be like, "Tell us about what you use to reach fundamental wellbeing?" People would be like, "Well, I did 3-5 years of Dzogchen, Tibetan meditation, and studying under this and this and this and all these different lineage holders and whatever. And I'd go, "Oh, great. Well, did that do it for you? And at what point did that and what was that like?" "Oh, no, no, it wasn't that that did it for me." "Oh, okay. Well, if you find that didn't lay the groundwork, what did it for you?" "Well, it was...[fakes cough]." They almost couldn't say it. Because it seems like such a ridiculously silly method to do. You basically are pointing at your head, at your face. The idea is, you get to the point where you realize you don't have a face. It just sounds ludicrous, right? But it's incredibly successful, especially for people who tried a whole bunch of stuff. And so, you basically want to look, in contemporary methods, for things that people are just like, "This just worked for me." And a lot of people are saying it. Another one is the direct inquiry type methods of Liberation Unleashed, which is another website people can go to. We have learned that people transition from two different types of methods: either awareness methods or direct inquiry type methods. Methods kind of fall into one of a few different categories. But most people are going to transition from awareness based methods. It's how we can put out a six-week course that focuses on awareness methods, and more or less, count on 65-70 something percent of people in a given cohort transitioning. So the other one is direct inquiry. Not everybody is going to drive with an awareness method like the Headless Way. And so if you don't, then what you want to do is you want to find some good direct inquiry people. And I think, you can go to Liberation Unleashed, and they have a whole thing where they do that. So that was one thing that we discovered, that you basically had to find the best methods that you could. And then, there isn't one that works for like 80% of people, so you've just got to see what works for you. And it turns out, you're looking for a fit between you and the method. No matter how much psych data we collect, we've never been able to match people up to methods. So, we don't know what the X Factor is. We've tried even advanced algorithms, you name it. Whatever this is, somebody's going to crack this egg at some point, but we haven't cracked it. We don't know if anybody's cracked it. So more or less, what you have to do is just do trial-and-error with good methods. What our protocol does is we distill down the top methods, we modify them to modernize them, and then you just have to try one after another. And that leads to the answer to your next question, which is, we found that you'd need to do a method for one hour a day for a week. And that's all that it should take, if you're in sync with a method for it to transition you. That sounds crazy to people in the modern spiritual world, because they go from retreat to retreat, and they spend months on retreat, and sometimes they don't transition. I've got a great story about this. One of our researchers went to Burma and was interviewing some of the famous Theravada Buddhists — I think it was meditation masters there that had their monasteries and stuff like that — and she arrived at one of them (I think, the most famous one). And for some reason, this super famous guru guy took a real liking to her to the point where he was apparently giving her food off of his own plate while they were eating together. And some of the nuns at the monastery saw this, and they were like, "Who in the world is this person that our teacher is giving food?" And so they befriended our researcher. And these are like 90-year-old nuns. These are like ancient nuns, they'd been at this monastery since they were kids. And so when she wasn't interviewing the teacher, or conducting that research, she wound up spending a lot of time with these nuns and interviewing them when they were in fundamental wellbeing and all that. They told me something really interesting. (This is just one representative story. I've got other examples like this.) They said that when they were young nuns, when they were just in their early years at the monastery, it was extremely common for people to transition within a week. So people would arrive, and they would transition to whatever form of fundamental wellbeing (stream entry in Theravada Buddhism or whatever it was) and it would happen within a week. In fact, it was so regular, within a week period, that if someone hadn't transitioned within a week, they were literally noticed and given specialized help the second week to make sure that they transitioned by the end of the second week. Now, if they don't transition by the end of the second week, they will continue to work with them. But if they were still there at the end of the month, it turns out what they actually did was call the authorities, which they said was the army — I don't know much about their country, but they basically said they call the army — because the person was, in all likelihood, hiding out from the law at their monastery. It was so normal for them to just have people transition within a week or two weeks at max, that if somebody didn't, they're like, "Okay, this person's hiding out."
SPENCER: I don't understand that story, though, because wouldn't it be the case that they'd have to try many different techniques? So even if it would take one week to transition once they found the right technique...
JEFFERY: No. See, that's the beautiful thing. What happens is, over the course of the years, this gets less and less and less to be the case, to the point where now it's rare for somebody to come there and do a three month retreat and never transition. And so our researcher, of course, was like, "Why do you think that is?" And one thing they'd really thought about over the years, as you might imagine, and the one thing that they could correlate it to was new forms of media coming into the population and increase in the popularity of forms and media. And what they really felt like was that each time a new form of media — these are old nuns; it wasn't America where radio had been around for a long time before this — and so as these new forms of media came into their country, they noticed what they thought must be changes in people's (they weren't sure if it was their) attention system or what it was. But they felt like over the years, their method had fallen increasingly out of phase (if you will) with the population, that for who knows how many years, hundreds of years maybe. They had had this method that had been refined for their culture, for their population. And it just had reached a point where it had been tweaked and just reliably worked for that population. I think it was a noting type of practice. And that over recent periods, that basically had changed. And so the researcher said, "Why didn't you change the methods? Have you changed the methods? Have you tried to revise them?" And they said, "No." Ironically, what's happened is that we've advocated in some cases for things being changed. But what has happened is that their system has doubled down on the dogma. These are not actually uncommon stories. And so what we think of as methods today, where it's like, "Wow, 5%, that's a homerun method," it seems, were way more effective at one point in time. They had been refined for centuries. They were much, much more effective, even in the last 100 years in some cases. And yet, the people that are in charge of these systems just haven't chosen to sort of continue to keep them up. They've, more or less, gone into sort of these more dogmatic modes, which is why I think when we get a hold of these, and we tweak them with modern understanding of the brain — like, I don't know what a brain looks like 90 years ago, but I know what it looks like today — and what cognition looks like today. And I know it's changed in the last 10 years, because there's all kinds of studies on that kind of thing: how has social media changed, how has our phones changed, how video games changed. People look into all that. There's a lot of research on that kind of stuff. You can see how to bring things more back into alignment and restore that effectiveness. So anyway, the bottom line is: do we think that if a method is really effective, and it's matched to you, it shouldn't take more than a week of a one hour a day practice. You have to do an hour because there's something that happens in like the 40 to 43-minute range. It seems like it relates to heart rate variability and some stuff like that. It doesn't matter. There's no device that you can use that makes a difference in terms of that. But basically, if you want to relax, if you want to get sharper focus, you can meditate for five minutes a day or 10 minutes a day or 20 minutes a day. If you want to transition to fundamental wellbeing, you should really be making it past that 40 to 43-minute point. No way of knowing what's true for you, so we always say something like, "Just meditate more than 45 minutes, add another 15 minutes on, doing it for an hour." Because in that last period is where there's really the sweet spot, where you're really making the most progress, from a fundamental wellbeing standpoint, in your system.
SPENCER: It's super interesting. Last topic I want to touch on with you is just that 65% number. Can you tell us about the research you do? How do you get to that 65%? What does that look like?
JEFFERY: Yeah, sure. So when we first did the transition protocols, we were doing one-on-one, trying to just develop cocktails. We had the methods, we didn't know sequencing mattered. Sequencing turned out to matter. It turned out to matter if you were doing positive psychology at certain points, like all these different things turned out to matter. And so it was just, more or less, experimenting with people one-on-one, collecting preliminary data. And obviously, in a one-on-one environment in the lab, that's useful because you can very precisely tell where someone is at in fundamental wellbeing. Needless to say, they got good enough that we started thinking, "Let's do a group." And so we did a group, I think, in February of 2014 or something like that. It was a six-person pilot. It was six people because the institutional review board for that, which is basically what in any university governs the ethics of your research and the safety of your research and stuff like that, was like, "Look, nobody's ever put a bunch of people through a bunch of techniques like this for four months." It was a four-month protocol. It was actually a six-week protocol back then, initially. But they're like, "You've never done it. Nobody's ever done this kind of thing. And it's always been one thing or two things, but nobody's ever done like 20 things, or whatever you guys were doing." They didn't quite fully grasp what it was, the difference between the positive psychology methods and the other methods, but whatever, we get it. So it wound up being six people because they wanted it to be a number that we felt like if everybody went crazy, we could psychologically support all. So, it became a six-person pilot. And out of that six-person pilot, one person disappeared. He was a South African person. That person didn't complete it. The other five completed it. They all transitioned to fundamental wellbeing, not necessarily during it. I think two of them transitioned after it maybe. The first person transitioned, I think, about halfway through the protocol. We had somebody go from location zero (nothing) to Location Four; that was suicidally depressed. So we had this really interesting data. And still, in that case, I didn't believe it. I thought there's no possible way that we could do this at a group level and this many people could transition. And so I just dug into those people with interviewing them and trying to figure out: where they were misunderstanding, where they were at in fundamental wellbeing, and all of that. They turned out to be in it. One person later did fall out of that, and the others have remained in it, that completed it. So the next thing that we did, we went back to the [inaudible], we're like, "Here's what we learned." And they were like, "Okay." And so then I think we did like a 10x. I think we did like 60 people or something after that. We put them into groups of six, because it turned out that group of six thing is working well. So we put them into small groups of six. 60 people was a lot of people, and so we started thinking to ourselves, "Crap, if this is like 100 people, or 200 people, or if we get this up to decent sample sizes for this research, it's going to be enormously time consuming to do individual interviews with all these people." So we started to work on — starting with Finders Course two. I think it went through maybe Finders Course five or six, I don't quite remember — basically getting the ability for people to self-evaluate where they're at in fundamental wellbeing. That's a very difficult thing to do, because of the self-reflexivity dropping away. But we eventually got to the point, with the help from all of the participants — there were as many researchers as they were participants — helping us to really refine the language, helping us to figure out how it shows up in their head and how they needed to hear it, and all of that type of thing. We eventually got to a point where people could do a pretty good job of determining where they were at in fundamental wellbeing. The only thing that fell short is that there were always people who felt that they weren't experiencing fundamental wellbeing who were, there were always people who felt that they weren't experiencing fundamental wellbeing who are either experiencing temporary fundamental wellbeing or experiencing persistent fundamental wellbeing, and they just couldn't, for some reason, get to an understanding of it. A lot of that, when we dug into it, turned out to be their belief systems. They were coming from a spiritual system that had some specific...they weren't sitting on their cushion on a full moon, facing east and a blue light came from the horizon and hit them in their third eye and felt like a certain thing in their spine. And so they weren't going to say they were in fundamental wellbeing. So some people just weren't willing to use our definitions, just because of their own dogma. And that, we just learned to live with. The interesting thing about the data during those experiments, it was about 73%, eventually about 70% average, as we refined and shortened it. The interesting thing about those numbers is that, if we were to go into those remaining people and actually interview them individually, it pushed the number higher. We chose not to do that because we hadn't done it early on. We were sort of wanting to keep the same protocol for comparison purposes. But also, because it was the same attitude that you have. It already sounded so impossible to people. People are already so conditioned towards 'this is hard' or 'this should take a thousand lifetimes' or whatever, that it just became sort of undesirable to go the extra mile and spend the time quantifying the tougher cases. And it didn't actually become something that we did until at least a couple of years later. And what happened then was we, more or less, had a situation where people were complaining that they would go through our protocol, and then they felt basically abandoned by the project. Our perspective was, "Look, we're a research project, we're researching what happens pre and post in these certain ways in fundamental wellbeing, we're not teachers or something. Go find spiritual teachers now, that can help you figure out what to do with fundamental wellbeing from here." That's not our thing. We're in the university lab. We took a lot of criticism from people that had gone through the protocol, had used it successfully, and basically felt kind of abandoned at the end of it. And we started to hear from them that they were having difficulty finding spiritual teachers that they would learn Location Four. And Location Four is no emotion, and the spiritual teachers would be like, "Where's your love?" Or they would come to a Location Four spiritual teachers with love, and they would be like, "You're not in fundamental wellbeing, you need to have no love." They were just all these mismatches that were happening. And eventually, enough of that piled up pressure-wise on us, just from a responsibility standpoint, that we started thinking to ourselves, "You know, let's just start another experiment. And what we'll do is we'll do a longitudinal research project on the development of fundamental wellbeing. And as part of that, we'll help all of these people out, who right now feel like we're just abandoning them." And so the function of doing that, we needed a lot more accuracy. We needed to know whether these stray cases actually are not in fundamental wellbeing. What percentage of people that say they're in temporary fundamental wellbeing are actually in persistent fundamental wellbeing, which is a lot of them. And so, we started to have to quantify that more specifically, because we needed people for the follow-on research to be more accurately assessing where they were at. And so today, what happens is if you left the last 45 days to awakening cohort, you would have received an enormous amount of education on a lot of these gotchas that we've discovered over the years. You'll basically be inheriting 20 years of our knowledge in how to assess this and what you're missing inside yourself, how the self-reflection thing has changed, and how to get around that, and all of that. And so, you would be assessing yourself, essentially, all the way along, at the end of each session, before the sessions even begin. A lot of people are in fundamental wellbeing but don't realize they are. And it's because the public perception of it is so wrong, frankly. There's this belief that you have to be nondual, and it has to be a certain type of nonduality. There's just all these beliefs out there. When COVID hit, we ran our first short protocol because, at the time, we were doing brain zapping. We're basically doing transcranial ultrasound, one of the most advanced forms of brain stimulation. There's very few people in the world even working with it. We had one of the most advanced labs in the world for working with it. We were trying to basically just directly stimulate people into fundamental wellbeing. We're trying to mess with fundamental wellbeing with direct brain stimulation, all of that. And COVID hits, and you can't do that anymore, because you can't have people coming into your lab anymore. And so we had to do something else. What we chose to do is shorten the protocol. We kept the Finders Course Protocol running, but more or less, we weren't thinking about it anymore. It was something we hadn't thought about in years. Because the data had been consistent for years, there was no new knowledge for us there, there was nothing that was interesting there, we just kept running it so that people could use it. But now that we're all sitting at home, we thought, "Well, we know what we can do with this protocol. We know that 60% of people wake up in this protocol using the awareness methods. So why don't we just make an awareness based course? And it can be a six-week course, a 45-day course. And it can just focus on the awareness methods. And we know that more than 50% of people that take the program will transition from that, so let's just make that and put that out there. Everybody's talking about how depressed everybody is at home with COVID, and there's all these mental health crises. Great, let's do something about it." And so, I think we let (I don't know) like 1000 people (or something) take the initial intake of that. And we'd learned something really interesting from that. First, that it was when we shortened up the thing and refined the protocol a little bit, it wound up being 65% of people that transitioned. But more interesting than that was that something like half of the people — I don't know the exact number anymore, I don't remember slightly less than half or slightly more than half it was right about half of the people that came in — the first thing that they get in that first week is they get our 20 years of knowledge on how to figure out if you're a finder. And it turns out that half of the people came into that course thinking that they weren't a finder, thinking that they were still a spiritual seeker. And they were actually finders that came in, in fundamental wellbeing, like 50% of the people.
SPENCER: So they already had it?
JEFFERY: They already had it, but they didn't know it because all of the public stuff on it was like indecipherable for them to be able to determine it.
SPENCER: Wait, so you're saying 50% of the people who enrolled are already in fundamental wellbeing?
JEFFERY: Yes, people who enrolled thinking they weren't in fundamental wellbeing.
SPENCER: So then, the 65% number that transitions, that's among the people that didn't start in fundamental wellbeing?
JEFFERY: Exactly. That's among people who don't start in fundamental wellbeing. We screen that out at the front. And then the others, we look for what changes occurred in their fundamental wellbeing while they go through the protocol, because it actually winds up being helpful for people in fundamental wellbeing who usually move into later locations. So anyway, I think the thing about fundamental wellbeing is that it's a lot more common than people realize it is. And it's a lot easier to get to than people realize. The hard part is not getting to fundamental wellbeing. In most cases, the hard part is integrating it into your life, really. It's the developmental trajectory and the other side of fundamental wellbeing.
SPENCER: I have to say, I really love that you're researching this. It just seems incredibly important. I think that the thing that I would really love to see is a randomized controlled trial, where half the people get some kind of meditation, like they're doing, let's say, Headspace app for the time, half the people get your course, they're evaluated on exactly the same criteria, it's double-blinded, or at least blinded to the researcher so the researcher doesn't know who is in which group. That, to me, would be very, very interesting to see. So I'm wondering, have you thought about running that kind of research?
JEFFERY: We thought about it in the early years. Our problem back then was that it was a four-month protocol that was three and a half hours a day for people. And it was extremely hard to get someone to be willing to be on a waitlist, and to do a bunch of stuff that didn't come from the research for three months, and four months, and all that. And so, in the early days, yeah, we did think about that. And we thought we should do that. We don't really think much about that anymore, to be honest. I don't think it matters that much. It is not some massive amount of evidence out there. We collaborate on a lot of projects, we have a lot of projects to measure people from a fundamental wellbeing standpoint. It's not like we see tons of projects out there that are like six-week meditation courses that are transitioning a bunch of people or anything like that.
SPENCER: Well, absolutely. I think that it's incredibly rare, the kind of results that you're seeing. But I just think, for me, it's a little bit harder to take the 65% at face value, when it's a subjective pre-post evaluation, as opposed to something where you have a control group.
JEFFERY: Yeah. I really just think this is one of those times when a control group doesn't matter. However, we're going to be continuing some research. We've just done our first batch of people who are doing a ketamine trial. We took people that were like your friends who didn't transition. I think we have a list of something like 500 of those alumni. And we sent them all an email, and we basically said, "Why don't you come back, the protocol has probably changed a lot since you used it. Go through the protocol, let's see if it works for you or not, and we're going to do a couple of extra things that you can do." One of the things that we've done is we've tried to figure out who are these people that aren't transitioning. And so, basically, the full protocol is not actually 45 days. You go through a six-week thing, about 65% of people say they transition from that. Then we have another month that the people that don't transition can use an additional four methods. And the people that come out of that are usually around 70 to 80% of people that have transitioned using those. And so what we did, and during those COVID times, because we had all the staff time and nothing to use it on because we were doing brain zapping before that, we basically had our chief clinician just do individual sessions with everybody from that 1000-person experiment (or whatever) that didn't transition. We just offered an interview. We offered sessions to those people. And we asked our clinician to see if he could figure out what was different about those people. What was it about this protocol that even if they went through the extra month — which more or less is all of the methods from the original Finders Course Protocol, just in kind of abbreviated form — why are they not transitioning? And he discovered a couple of key things. He discovered that, for some of the people, it was a belief system thing. So it was like, "Well, the blue light didn't hit me on the third eye" and whatever else. So some of that. Some of it is just having a difficulty in believing that they could have transitioned, or that that is even something that's possible for them, thinking that the change that they experienced is (whatever) wishful thinking on their part or something like that. So, some of them were belief things like that. The others seem to relate primarily to typically undiagnosed intense trauma, often childhood trauma. And so he would basically just do a few sessions with these people and transition them. So frankly, from those early parts of the protocol, we more or less are approaching 100% success rate, if you put someone through all this. And so we thought, "Okay, well, let's go back, and let's take all the people who didn't transition and offer them a free course, basically say: just go through this thing again, use what's the latest, greatest version of it, just go through it, see what it does for you, see if it transitions you." We had, I think, about 250 people (or something like that) sign up for it. I think something like 120 actually wound up doing something. And then we thought, "Let's have some subgroups on this. So let's have some subgroups where our chief clinician works with those subgroups and see if he works with them." We had already conducted research on this during COVID. And we knew that if he worked with people, while they were going through the protocol, that they would be more likely to transition. But we hadn't done that with just starting with tough cases. We just did it with everybody that came in. And so, these were the tough cases. And we're like, "Great, it's the tough cases, let's see if that matters." And I actually don't know if that matters, because we haven't looked at the data yet. I assume it probably did, but you never know. And then the other thing we did was a ketamine trial, where we were doing micro dosing ketamine. So somebody that used to be associated with the lab years ago, was now in one of these ketamine startups. She was a neuroscientist, and she's working for like one of these ketamine microdosing startups. And I just happened to see her on Facebook that she was doing this. And so I reached out and I'm like, "Hey, have you ever thought about testing a protocol like ours?" And she's like, "Totally, let's do it." And so, we basically got it into this trial of these people that...I was kind of surprised that more people didn't take us up on it. Only, I think, 30 or 40 people wound up doing the ketamine out of those 200-250 people or so that applied that basically signed up to do the program. But we don't know how that's turned out yet because I haven't analyzed those results yet. They just finished this week, and all of their results aren't in yet. But what we have seen from the anecdotal data, as people went through, is that the ketamine seemed to really help some forms of meditation. There were some methods in the program where it clearly didn't do anything, or the people didn't feel it was useful at all. And then there were other methods in the program where it's like a game changer, it seems like. And so from just those results, regardless of what turns out to be the case with terms of more people transitioning to fundamental wellbeing or whatever, I want to do a larger public trial associated with this. And so not just our hard luck cases, like your friends, but the people that are just randomly coming in to some new course, or something like that. And then, on the back end, just see what that data looks like. I suspect that data is going to be okay. And so, the next natural thing to do after that is where I think an RCT makes sense — randomized control trial or randomized clinical trial, depending on how you want to look at that. It could really be both for this. We know that we can blind whether or not someone is really getting the ketamine, for instance. And so, in theory, we should be able to have a pretty complicated design that even blinds us, and blinds to people, as to whether or not they're getting ketamine because that can be done at a pharmacy level, where we just never know, we just treat them all like they are getting it, except for the group that is intentionally not getting it obviously for a comparison group. And so, anyway, I think there are times when RCTs do make a lot of sense, and we're totally into that. But just generally speaking, the protocol just has so much data and there isn't really an example of people just placebo in answering that they're in fundamental wellbeing. We have done those kinds of tests. We have taken our stuff and done it on people that never claimed to be in fundamental wellbeing, and they'll come out and fundamental wellbeing. We've done it on spiritual seekers. And sometimes they're in it, and sometimes they're not, regardless of their beliefs about it. And so, we've done a lot of stuff like that. That just makes me think that an RCT on the main protocol would just, more or less, be a waste of our time. But I don't think an RCT on the ketamine thing is a waste of time. I think that we should do.
SPENCER: Jeffrey, thank you so much for coming out. Really appreciate it.
JEFFERY: Oh, thank you. This was a lot of fun.
JOSH: We checked in with Jeffrey after the recording of this episode to better understand a claim that's made on the Finders Course website. The claim is: "In a series of initial experiments involving over 200 people, approximately 65% of them transitioned to fundamental wellbeing." The figure quoted here comes from a study that we'll link in the show notes. The study measured results as follows. At the end of the course, which was seven weeks after it began, participants were asked whether they were experiencing fundamental wellbeing. If so, they were asked to identify which "location" they believed they were experiencing, if any. The study says that 65% of those that had not reported they were in fundamental wellbeing at the beginning of the course reported being in fundamental wellbeing at the end of the course.
JOSH: A listener asks: "There are a bunch of different therapeutic techniques out there for psychology like CBT, EMDR, IFS, shadow work, etc. How can we best put them together or make them work in the most effective way? And when is it appropriate to use one and not the other?"
SPENCER: It's a big challenge because it's hard to show that a technique even works on average, let alone to figure out, well, when exactly should you use this technique versus that technique or how do you personalize it to a specific person? Those are much harder research questions than does it work on average. And does it work on average is actually a really fraught and difficult question and much debated, right? So if you're talking about evidence, I think there's by far the most evidence that cognitive behavioral therapy works, but that doesn't mean other things don't work and it doesn't mean other things don't even work better. They could. It's just hard to tell. But the way that I think about this is really trying to get to a causal story of what's going on with a particular person and a causal story about how these different techniques work. Because if you can point to a specific person's problems and say, ah, I understand that A is causing B is causing C for this person, and then you also have a similar causal story around the techniques, you're saying, ah, I know that this technique, what it's doing is it's intervening on this particular kind of situation in order to cause this outcome. Well, then you can start matching those causal stories together and saying, for this person, this kind of set of techniques might work better because it's addressing the type of causes that they're dealing with. And so just an example of this, suppose that someone believes that they're a horrible piece of shit, right? Like that belief, you could imagine, could cause a lot of negative consequences, like, for example, low motivation, depression, and things like that. And so then if you had a technique that's specifically about addressing these kinds of self-limiting beliefs, well, that may make sense for that particular person because it seems like the self-limiting belief is directly feeding into their depression.
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