• I eliminated my impostor syndrome and dramatically reduced my work-related anxiety. I did this in a way that I think can be replicated. 
  • Different techniques work for different people. If you want to get the benefits of meditation, you should experiment widely, then drill down on the methods that work for you. Don’t just try the same technique for months or years and hope you’ll eventually “get it” or give up and say meditation doesn’t work for you. Explore then exploit. 
  • Loving-kindness meditation is underrated and should be the main-course meditation for a lot of people. 
  • This 55-minute video is the 80/20 of the course. If you like it, you will probably like the rest of the course. 
  • I recommend the Finder’s Course for most people. If you follow the instructions, you will very likely become happier. If you prefer and are good at self-directed learning, you can do your own self-directed course and get similar benefits. 

What makes the Finder’s Course different: methodology

Applying science to meditation isn’t unique to Jeffery Martin’s course. Fortunately for the world, there’s a whole movement around this. That being said, I haven’t heard of anything that seems more likely to figure out how to actually achieve enlightenment (or fundamental well-being (FWB) as he calls it, which I prefer). 

Most science I know of is doing things like putting meditators in brain scans and seeing if anything is different from regular brains, or running RCTs to see if meditation makes you happier. This is foundational and important to do. However, it’s very black box thinking and doesn’t give you any gears-level understanding of how to achieve fundamental well-being. 

Meditation classes usually teach a variety of different techniques. Which techniques are causing the change? Most studies focus on averages, which ignores the thing we’re most interested in - those outliers who don’t just start feeling less stressed but have eliminated suffering. Who are living in states of profound bliss and serenity. How does that show up on a psychological item asking “On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are you with your life?”?

The Finder’s Course on the other hand clearly followed a methodology that was truly trying to solve the problem. The way he did this was to find over 1,000 people saying that they had achieved fundamental well-being, and he went and interviewed all of them. The interviews would often last up to twelve hours. He asked them what their experiences were, what had gotten them there, and ran them through batteries of psychological tests. 

From this exploratory research, he started pulling out patterns. You can read some of the results of his research in his book. He took the top findings out of his research and turned it into a course. It was formerly called the Finder’s Course (a play on the usual spiritual terminology of people being “seekers”).

He continues to do science on the course, and this is part of what most intrigued me. It’s mandatory for the course to take a whole battery of psychological evaluations before and after, such as PERMA, satisfaction with life scale, CES-D Questionnaire, etc. After doing a week of each technique, he also does a shorter survey. 

The results from this he claims are that 65% of people who finish the course achieve fundamental well-being. This is an incredible claim, and I figured it was probably just hype. Then I spoke to a friend he said that he’d recently done the course and could now go into fundamental well-being at will. This is what inspired me to give it a go. 

Before I started the course, I publicly pre-committed to writing about my experience, regardless of how it went. Usually, people only write about something if it goes particularly well or poorly, and I wanted to help even that out. 

So, without further ado, here’s my review of the course.

What’s in the course and how it works

Experiment with different techniques to find your meditation “fit”

The main thing that I liked about the course was its underlying strategy: 

  1. Experimenting widely. They got you to experiment with a wide range of meditation techniques, all for the goal of step 2: 
  2. Finding your fit so you can find one that works for you. 

Explore first, then exploit. Don’t assume that there is The One True Meditation Technique. 

What Jeffery found was that people who’d achieved fundamental well-being hadn’t just used one technique to get there. Some people got there mostly through concentration practice, others through insight practice, others still through headless way techniques, and so on. 

He explains his thinking and guides you through a few techniques in this 55-minute video. I’d watch it and if you like it, take the course. This is extremely representative of how the course is. 

An aside on why if you hate concentration practice, you might enjoy mantra meditation

Interestingly, this video might have had as much impact on me as the whole rest of the 6-week course. I’d always struggled with concentration practice, especially on the breath. It had never really done anything for me except cause boredom and frustration. I’d had more or less the same experience with other meditation objects such as listening to the waves or focusing on other parts of the body or a candle. 

When I tried the mantra meditation he describes in the video, it led to massive breakthroughs in my concentration practice. It went from a mostly boring trial of willpower to one of the most reliable techniques in my happiness workout routine. About 85% of my concentration practice sessions now involve intense joy, with about 40% of the session being spent in joy. 

This is for a few reasons. 


You can’t not “hear” the mantra. 

The breath has always been the bane of my meditation existence. Whenever I tried focusing on it, my breathing would get really shallow and soft, making it really hard to tell what was happening there. I was constantly asking myself “Is this the breath?”. It’s really hard to concentrate on something that’s so subtle. 

The mantra, on the other hand, is under your control. You can make it as “loud” or as “quiet” as you want. You can slow it down so that you only move on to the next word after you’ve fully paid attention to the current one. You could even say it out loud if you want. I personally find that if I’m starting to get way more distracted, I can just start “shouting” it in my head, and it makes it vastly easier to focus on it. 

Teachers often say that the breath being subtle is a pro because it forces you to beef up your attention muscles. I think this might be true if you’re already at a certain level of concentration practice, but for me and I suspect many others, it’s too hard too fast. It would be like trying to run a marathon on your first day of taking up jogging after being a couch potato your entire life. You’ve got to build up to it. 


It’s easier to focus on things that are pleasant

Some meditation teachers talk about how calming the breath is. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of people. But for me most of the time it’s pretty darn neutral. Or it gets weird when I’m having interesting meditative experiences, which then takes me out of the experience. 

The mantra on the other hand is deliberately and consistently pleasant. And that’s just so much easier to pay attention to! It’s so much easier to get yourself to do enjoyable things, and if your mantra is about being grateful for your life, that’s something that will be easier to get your brain on board with. 

Naturally, this only works for mantras that are pleasant. That’s one of the reasons I recommend against mantras that aren’t in your native tongue and that you didn’t choose yourself.


The mantra is your thoughts

The main distraction in concentration practice is your thoughts. However, if your meditation object is a mantra, then that is a large part of your thoughts. Your thoughts consist of other things too, like images and urges, but a huge part of many (but not all!) people’s thoughts are verbal commentary. So if your meditation object is the internal narrative, it’s easier to not get distracted and more clearly see when it goes away. 

I highly recommend trying it out. And just experimenting widely with a bunch of different meditation objects. The general principle of experimenting widely and then drilling down on the ones you find suit you best seems really strong. 

Some potential meditation objects that aren’t just the breath:

  • Sound of waves. Just find a track on Youtube
  • Bells. Just find a track on Youtube
  • A mantra. Two that have worked well for me
    • “I thank the universe for my life”
    • Thich Nhat Hanh, synced to two cycles of breath:
      • In breath: “Breathing in, I calm my body and mind.”
      • Out breath: “Breathing out, I smile.”
      • In breath: “Dwelling in the present moment”
      • Out breath: “I know this is the only moment.” 
  • A metronome. This works particularly well because you can track your “resolution” of moments of awareness per second, and slowly increase it. 

Structure and techniques covered in the course

Techniques covered

  • Body scan
  • Concentration practice
  • Loving-kindness meditation
  • Noting
  • Noting gone
  • Group awareness exercise
  • Gratitude practice
  • Sending a letter of gratitude
  • Setting intentions / making “wishes”
  • Writing what you want people to say at your funeral
  • Positive visualizations
  • Cancel, cancel
  • One-off acts of kindness
  • Forgiveness practice
  • Headless way practices
  • Unprovoked happiness

The techniques are taught via pre-recorded video. Throughout the course, you’re supposed to meditate one hour a day combined with short ~3-minute exercises you do when you first wake up and when you go to bed. There’s no enforcement aside from them asking once a week in a survey which days you meditated. I’d highly recommend doing the course with a friend or partner to help you stick to it. 

The course was $249 last I checked. It’s a bit pricey for an online course, but the price definitely makes you more motivated to finish it.  

Results: ambiguous data and imposter syndrome cured

So, I took the course. Am I enlightened now? Have I achieved fundamental well-being? 

Unfortunately, no. 

Did I improve my happiness? The results are ambiguous.

I’ve been tracking my emotional well-being and other metrics for the last seven years, and there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable change before and after the meditation course beyond noise. 

On the other hand, my emotion tracking is not very sensitive to changes. One of the hardest periods of my life only showed a 0.6 change on a scale of 1 to 10. This was mostly because my coping mechanisms were so good that they masked my misery. 

On the whole, I’m inclined to not be too concerned about the numbers, because the real headliner of the whole thing is that it probably cured me of my impostor syndrome, reduced my anxiety around work massively, and just made me a much more confident person. 

How I got rid of impostor syndrome with loving-kindness meditation

I was a confident kid, then I worked at 80,000 Hours back in 2013, and living in Oxford gave me impostor syndrome. Turns out that basing your confidence on being a big fish in a small pond only works if you stay in a small pond. 

Between 2013 and 2022 I had more or less chronic low confidence and high anxiety around work. I tried everything to get rid of it: concentration practice, CBT, IFS, emotional coherence therapy, exposure therapy, ACT, talk therapy, and just plain old reason. Nothing made a dent. 

Then the first week of the Finder’s Course was doing an hour a day of loving-kindness meditation. I’ve done a bunch of loving-kindness meditation in the past, but it was always more of a “dessert” technique. After I’d had my vegetables of concentration practice, I could treat myself with 2-5 minutes of loving-kindness at the end. It was never the main course. 

This first week though was one hour day on just loving-kindness. 

It was amazing and profoundly changing.  

There are a lot of different loving-kindness techniques. The one that I was doing was the one where you:

  1. Think of something that easily makes you feel loving-kindness. Often a beloved pet or good friend. Pick somebody uncomplicated. Build up that emotion for a bit, really building it up in your mind. Think of scenes that are particularly compelling. Maybe try saying in your head, “May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.” or anything else that resonates with you. 
  2. Maintain that feeling and think of something harder to feel loving-kindness towards. Build up, like weight lifting. Start with somebody maximally easy, then pick somebody slightly harder, then slightly harder than that, etc. 
  3. If at any point you lose the feeling, go back to the easier level. Re-establish the feeling of loving-kindness, then start ramping up again.

At first, I focused on feeling loving-kindness toward others. That’s always been pretty easy for me. It was lots of fun, just radiating love towards people in my life and the world. 

Then, inspired by this amazing post by Charlie Rogers-Smith on self-love, I tried turning it on myself. What if I tried radiating loving-kindness towards myself instead of others?

Immediately, a wall slammed down in my mind. 

“No,” a part of me said. “You definitely cannot love yourself.”

I immediately burst into tears. 

So, you know, a perfectly healthy reaction.

While this session wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable one I’ve ever had, it was possibly the most fruitful. After a brief temptation to avoid such negative feelings, I realized that this was the clearest signal I was ever going to get to dig deeper. 

I decided to dedicate the week to loving myself in particular. I started with an easy source of loving-kindness, then tried to find things about myself that were easier. 

At first, everything was hard. 

Could I love myself when I was doing good things? No. 

OK, how about bad things? Heck no! 

Maybe I could imagine liking myself when I was a kid? Still a no. 

OK, what about as a baby? Surely there can’t be any reason to not love myself as a baby! 

Nope. I was a pudgy baby. And clearly you can’t love pudgy babies.

Eventually, I found my “in”. I could imagine being my mom, holding my baby-self, and feeling how she felt about me. Even if I had a lot of self-dislike, I am extremely confident my mom loved my baby-self. 

From there, I was able to build up. I realized it was easier to love myself when I imagined previous times in my life when I was suffering. From there I felt love for myself in particularly potent scenes from my childhood.

After a while, it was easy. I then started applying the same strategy, but towards feeling confident directly. So establish the feeling of confidence by imaging a scene that brings it up easily, then start working towards harder and harder scenarios. 

There’s more to it than that, but this is already becoming a rather long post. I think it would be useful to have a fully written up explanation of my techniques for anxiety/confidence, so I’ll write that up in a separate essay. If you want to hear about it when it comes out, just follow me on Twittermy personal blog, or set the forum to notify you when I post next. 

Overall though, it’s been about six months since the shift, and it’s felt remarkably stable. There have been a couple of times where I’ve reverted to beating myself up again, but it’s lasted max a couple of hours. This is especially amazing because I haven’t done the meditation regularly for five months now, and I’ve never had a stretch of confidence this long in the last ten years. 

Of note though, while I was practicing regularly my confidence was about a 9/10, and since not practicing regularly it’s stabilized at around a 6.5/10. This is still amazing though compared to my 3/10 confidence previously.

And a friend of mine went through the course with me and she hated the loving-kindness meditation week. So I already know this won’t work for everybody. 

However, this has affected the quality of my life and my work so much that I think most people should give it a shot. I feel way more resilient. I feel far less anxiety. I feel more motivated to work on AI alignment. I’m far better at receiving feedback because it doesn’t threaten my self-worth. I feel more secure with my friends. I enjoy my work more because I’m not constantly beating myself up. 

Try one hour a day for a week and see how you feel. 


Things I liked and disliked about the course

Spiritual blue balls

The lovingkindness meditation week was one of the happiest of my life. But then it was the next week and it was a meditation that was most definitely not a fit. It followed this pattern, where I’d be super excited about a new technique, then I’d have to put it on hold until the end of the course. By the end of the course, I was so glad it was done so I could just focus on the ones that were working for me. 

Of course, I don’t think this is a flaw really. This is to be expected if only some techniques fit you. This would have mostly been fine if it hadn’t been for-


The weird obsession with the nose

Following the first week was around three weeks of concentration and noting practice that nearly destroyed me. It was your typical concentrate on the breath practice, but they firmly insisted you could only pay attention to the nose. Most teachers usually let you choose between the chest and nose, wherever you feel it the most clearly. 

But not this class. 

In this class, it was nose or bust.

The problem was - I couldn’t feel my nostrils at all

In the lecture, he said that everybody had sensations in their nostrils unless there was something really wrong with them. I mean, if you shoved a chili pepper up your nose, surely you’d feel it? 

Sure, I’d feel that. But that’s a far cry from sitting still and having my breath get softer every minute. 

I asked if I could focus on my chest since that was so much clearer to me and they said no. That I should just keep focusing on the nose area and usually feelings will start coming up, and if there wasn’t anything, just to focus on there being nothing.

Focus on nothing. . . 

This worked so poorly that it has become a joke in my house about me ranting about the Nostril Weeks. 

It lasted about three weeks, and I did an hour a day, even when I got covid part way through. Funnily enough, covid actually made it better because then I could feel my nostrils because my nasal passages were so blocked. 

It was torture. Eventually, I could feel the slightest of sensations on the out-breath, but it was so subtle it could have just been my imagination. In the end, I periodically added a mint-scented medicine to my nose so I could feel something there, but then it was mostly slight pain, which is a difficult meditation object. 

Why did they insist on the nostril? I don’t know for sure and they didn’t answer when I asked why, but I have a few hypotheses for their reasoning. One is that they wanted you to focus on a really narrow patch of sensations. This would help you achieve more genuine single-pointedness. The other is that they were giving pre-recorded video lectures, and it added complexity to the instructions to allow for multiple meditation objects. Finally, maybe there’s something special about the nostril that leads to more enlightenment that’s hard to put into words.

In the end, that was just a really difficult three weeks, and I wouldn’t recommend it. I think if I had just switched to doing concentration and noting practice on a mantra or my chest, that would have been way better. If you have the same issues, I’d just give the nostrils a couple of days, to see if maybe you can sensitize the area, and if not, switch to a meditation object that’s a better fit for you.


His epistemology wasn’t the worst, but also wasn’t the best

If you are allergic to non-rigorous epistemology, I would stick to:

  • Sam Harris’s Waking Up app
  • The Mind Illuminated
  • Joy on Demand
  • The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction crowd

I haven’t looked into his studies’ methodologies, but from my experience with them, I would put high odds that the 65% number is exaggerated. For instance, there was definitely a lot of social desirability bias at play. There also wasn’t a follow-up survey to see if the effects lasted. And the usual methodological problems that plague psychological studies, such as endless room for p-hacking.

However, I think you’ll be seriously missing out on a lot of really important psychological wisdom if you can’t learn from people who have sub-optimal epistemologies. Just because somebody believes a lot of things that are wrong doesn’t mean that everything they believe is wrong. 

To be fair, I don’t think his epistemology is bad for a meditation teacher. In fact, it’s far above average. However, he definitely made some very bad arguments in a substantial fraction of his videos, and his surveys imply that he believes in meditating leads to good things happening to you (i.e. law of attraction). Just wanted to flag it for the people who are more sensitive to that sort of thing. 


Publicly promising to write about it as a commitment and learning device

This isn’t part of the course, but it’s something I wanted to share because it worked so well for me. Before I started the course, I committed to writing about my experiences, and this definitely made the course better for me. Knowing that I’d said it publicly made me stick with it, even when it was really hard. It also made me learn better because I knew that I would have to explain it to people afterward. I highly recommend it.


The polish of the course could be improved a lot

Right now a huge drawback to the course is that it looks a little scammy and unprofessional. I think if they invested in improving their website that would go a long way toward improving their offering. 


The importance of hour-long sessions

I’ve always been averse to doing longer meditation sessions. Giving up even half an hour of my day feels like such a sacrifice. When Jeffery said that it was imperative to do an uninterrupted hour a day, I really didn’t want to believe him. 

And yet, I put at least a 20% chance that I would not have fixed my impostor syndrome if I hadn’t done hour-long sessions. My initial insight into my lack of self-love was 45 minutes into a session. I think part of the reason I was able to avoid noticing this side of myself for so long was that I just looked away if I got too close to it. 

I have also noticed that I haven’t hit diminishing returns for meditating yet. I’ve regularly practiced anywhere between 10 minutes and 2 hours per day, and with 10 minutes a day, I barely notice a difference, whereas when I do 2 hours regularly, it feels as if I’m floating on a cloud of joy all day. 

Of course, 2 hours is a lot and I’m not sure it’s worth the trade-off compared to counterfactual uses of time. However, I think it’s correct to model meditation like exercise: doing even a small amount can help, but it’s hard for most people to do it too much. 


Different meditation techniques do indeed work differently for different people

My favorite week by far was the loving-kindness week. For my friend, it was the worst. I mostly felt nothing for the body scan week, and my friend practically got drunk on it, feeling super giggly after each round. 

It might seem obvious in retrospect, but I feel like this is a really important thing to both acknowledge and work with. This is by far my favorite part of the course. If you do the body scan and aren’t feeling anything after a week, just move on. Life is too short to waste on techniques that aren’t doing anything for you. 

The Buddha is famous for saying to not take his word for anything but to try it for yourself and see if it works. People say that, but then don’t walk the walk. Jeffery Martin does, and I love that about the course.


Do I recommend it? 

Overall, yes. I don’t know of any courses that have as good a chance of leading to substantial increases in your well-being. 

If you’re excellent at self-directed learning, I think you can get most of the benefits outside of the course, or maybe make it even better. Simply commit to doing each of the techniques for an hour a day for a week. I’d consider adding other techniques too, such as internal family systems, cognitive behavioral therapy, journaling, and other techniques you’ve tried in the past with some success or you think might work well for you. If you don’t have the commitment device of paying a large sum of money for it, I’d add some alternatives. Making a public commitment on social media and/or doing it with a friend or two would probably do it. 

Better yet, pre-commit to writing your own review of it. I’d be really interested in hearing about other EAs’ and rationalists’ experiences with the course, and it’s an amazing commitment device. 



New Comment
31 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:34 AM

Wow, great to see a review of the Finder's course here! I have a bunch of thoughts, but let me first say that most mainstream meditation teachers are not happy with Jeffrey Martin. Taking a bunch of thousand-year-old techniques offered for free elsewhere and making people pay 250$ (this is much better than a few years ago, when it was 4000$) for them goes against basically all the norms of Buddhist and meditative culture. The techniques are considered priceless, and there is no price high enough to reflect the value of awakening, so it's in very bad taste to slap a price on the techniques. That said, I also know a few people who got legitimately awakened on the course, but they all had very solid prior meditative chops, and practiced way more than the minimum of 1h a day. I am very very skeptical that people are actually getting awakened (on the technical "first cessation = stream-entry" definition of awakened) on the course. There are a bunch of stages on the path to first awakening where you feel things that might fit the words "fundamental wellbeing", I've had stages where I went weeks on end being beatifically happy throughout the day, nothing being able to break through my calm joy, and it still wasn't awakening. There were 4 of these cycles of me believing I was awakened before realizing I wasn't (this included 2 teachers who confirmed I was awakened), before I abandoned trying to label my experience and I just practiced.

Awakening is heavy stuff, and doesn't necessarily reduce suffering in the way you expect right away, the catchline from Daniel Ingram is "Suffering less, noticing it more". It's such a heavy shift from everyday consciousness that most people kind of struggle to adapt to daily life at first, and they need a deliberate practice to reintegrate to family and work life after the experience. The higher levels of awakening bring even greater changes to daily life, one of my teachers who practiced intensively for 30 years used to say "if I could show an untrained person my experience of this moment, they would scream away in terror and incomprehension". He said this while smiling and claiming that the very thing that would terrify normal people is what brings him ultimate fulfillment. Getting used to the leviathan of Emptiness takes time and practice.

65% awakening rate is a batshit insane rate for something that only makes people practice 1h a day for 4 months. To give you a sense of comparison, in the 1980s the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts invited Mahasi Sayadaw to give a 3 month retreat course based on his method of Noting. On this intensive, 3 month, 12h/day meditation retreat, they had a 10% awakening rate by the standards of the teachers there, which are some of the best meditation teachers in the country. This was such a huge fraction of awakened people that the main teachers at IMS, the largest meditation center in the US, permanently changed the main technique they taught to Mahasi Noting. And it wasn't like IMS hadn't tried telling people to mix techniques to see what resonates with them. Awakened people are out there, and some people do stumble into it with minimal practice, and I wish it were this easy to get to it, but It's probably not. 

Wow, great to see a review of the Finder's course here! I have a bunch of thoughts, but let me first say that most mainstream meditation teachers are not happy with Jeffrey Martin. Taking a bunch of thousand-year-old techniques offered for free elsewhere and making people pay 250$ (this is much better than a few years ago, when it was 4000$) for them goes against basically all the norms of Buddhist and meditative culture.

I see no good reason why Buddhists idea about how one should think about money should matter a lot to the average person who reads this post. 

To me, this sounds like: "A lot of people reject Jeffrey Martin because of bad reasons instead of looking at the merits of what he teaches."

*shrug* I wrote that to give people a sense of how he relates to the wider meditation community. If he was really teaching something different and his 65% success rate was true, then 250$ would be an absolute bargain, hell, even 100 000$ would be a bargain for that.

Yes, you describes that the relationship is that he primarily gets a bad reputation for reasons that don't matter to the rationalist community and not for the merits of the techniques he teaches.

What I took away from this comment was: Mainstream meditation teachers are not happy with Martin because he has redefined "awakening" to mean a thing that is good and people want (being happier), rather than a thing that is strange and possibly bad that people don't want, and is teaching people the good and wanted thing instead of the weird mysterious thing.

Not really. Martin's "Locations" 2 and 3 are somewhat in line with traditional definitions of awakening, his course is, in fact, aiming at the weird esoteric stuff, not the low-hanging-fruit that techniques like MBSR are picking. It's his "Location 1" that is more contentious, where he seems to place the bar lower than other traditions. The course itself still seems net-positive to me, even if I disagree with charging money for the techniques. I just don't want people to self-diagnose as being in "Location 1", and think that they're awakened by the more common definitions. Thinking you're awakened when you're not tends to hurt your practice more than the inverse.

As an aside, being happier is a relatively early fruit of the meditative path. You can learn to do something called The Second Jhana, where you basically generate happiness on demand. What happens after you get that is that you realize that happiness wasn't actually what you were looking for, there is a more fundamental problem to be solved than just not being happy. Somewhat unintuitively, being happy isn't enough to truly Satisfy, it works for a few months while the novelty hasn't worn off, but it's not the ultimate answer. For that you need the strange and scary esoteric stuff.

As an unenlightened person, why would I want satisfaction while living in a world that has things I want to change? I guess I’m asking if drives persist with perfect contentment, and if so, how?

Very good question, I'm not too sure why you got downvoted, this is a point very frequently discussed in meditation circles. It is true that at some batshit-insane high point of meditation prowess (that basically only the most extreme of monks get to), you have the option to literally just sit there, full of contentment, ignoring thirst, hunger and pain until you just die. Hermits that renounce the world do exist, and this is a pitfall of the meditative path that needs to be avoided, the good news is that knowing about the pitfall gets you 90% of the way to avoiding it.

There are examples of the exact opposite of a hermit, the highly accomplished meditators I know are extraordinarily productive, one guy in particular said that at some point he could just sit there programming for 16 consecutive hours without getting bored, getting tempted by distractions, or anything else, day after day after day. Shinzen Young is an advanced meditation teacher in his late 70s now, and he's trying very hard to change the world (from the pov of his own values). I'm not advanced enough to actually understand how this works at the high levels, but from my own experience I notice that the drive to improve the world starts coming more from compassion for others, rather than from the desperation of seeking my own happiness. I know I have the ability to ultimately be content no matter what happens to the world, but I still know that changing the world would be good, and I still work towards that end. 

In the end I don't really have a good answer for you apart to say that the pitfall does exist, but that knowing about it gets you a long way to avoid it, and that there are lots of examples of advanced meditators who still work unbelievably hard to improve the world.

"Awakened people are out there, and some people do stumble into it with minimal practice, and I wish it were this easy to get to it, but It's probably not."

Having read the preceding descriptions, I find myself wondering if I'm one of those stumblers. If "awakening" is defined by the quote you provided, "suffering less and noticing it more", that's exactly how I feel today when I compare to myself a few years ago. In casual terms, I'd say I've been blessed with the almighty power of not giving a crap; I know exactly when something should feel bad, but I can't bring myself to let it affect my mood, because I've successfully and singularly focused myself on what truly matters and can never be taken from me. The thing is, I'm not a meditator; although it's been recommended to me plenty in other circles, my feeling has always just been "I don't need it", because I'm very adept at directly editing my cognitive schemata. If I really want to change something about myself, I just do it, and it happens. So I got to this point simply by finding a very compelling reason to put in the effort of changing how I internally relate to external circumstance, and it worked. So I'm curious how you would precisely define "awakening", or as others call it "enlightenment", and how would you advise one to self-diagnose whether or not they've got it?

I haven’t looked into his studies’ methodologies, but from my experience with them, I would put high odds that the 65% number is exaggerated.


From his sales page

"In our scientific study involving 245 people...

65% of participants who completed The 45 Days to Awakening Challenge and Experiment persistently awakened.


Another couple hundred people entered the program already in a place of Fundamental Wellbeing..."

Sounds like he's defining enlightenment as something that ~50% of people already experience.

Elsewhere he describes 'Location 1' enlightenment as a background sense of okayness that doesn't include any kind of non-dual experience and can be interrupted by negative thoughts and emotions.

I can believe that people agreeing with a statement like 'underneath everything I feel that I'm fundamentally okay' might be measuring something psychologically important – but it isn't what most people mean when they use words like enlightenment or persistently awakened.

(P.S. thanks for writing this up and really happy that you got so much from the loving-kindness meditation!)

Note that the people Martin studied were systematically wrong about what they looked like to the external observers. They sound disassociated from their bodies. This sound bad, and, in fact, the opposite of enlightened: suffering more, noticing it less.

Over the course of a week, his father died, followed very rapidly by his sister. He was also going through a significant issue with one of his children. Over dinner I asked him about his internal state, which he reported as deeply peaceful and positive despite everything that was happening. Having known that the participant was bringing his longtime girlfriend, I’d taken an associate researcher with me to the meeting to independently collect the observations from her. My fellow researcher isolated the participant’s girlfriend at the bar and interviewed her about any signs of stress that the participant might be exhibiting. I casually asked the same questions to the participant as we continued our dinner conversation. Their answers couldn’t have been more different. While the participant reported no stress, his partner had been observing many telltale signs: he wasn’t sleeping well, his appetite was off, his mood was noticeably different, his muscles were much tenser than normal, his sex drive was reduced, his health was suffering, and so forth.

Note that the people Martin studied were systematically wrong about what they looked like to the external observers.

That's not what your quote is saying, though - it specifically says that the interviewer asked the person about his internal state, not what he looked like to external observers. The person's report is consistent with the hypothesis that while he is still experiencing the physical symptoms of stress, those have stopped causing him suffering. 

Also it's not clear for how many other people this was the case; Martin's paper says that 

The same was observed in a total of three participants and I went on to conduct other experiments into this. The overall suggestion from the data was a disconnect between the internal subjective experience in these participants and other parts of their psychology and physiology. While this was especially pronounced during times of high stress it seemed more broadly measurable. Two examples illustrate aspects of this.

This wording is ambiguous for exactly how many participants the "claims to be stress-free even when they are exhibiting physical signs of stress" was observed. "The same was observed in a total of three participants" suggests that this specific thing was only observed in 3/50 of the participants and that for the rest, other things were observed that Martin decided to lump into the same category. 

The "two examples" mentioned say that the participants thought they had more bodily awareness than they did, and that they said they couldn't be racist while still showing signs of implicit racism. These examples seem to be about overconfidence of what their internal experience implies, rather than about them being mistaken of what their internal experience is. The "bodily awareness" example is also ambiguous:

I arranged and observed private yoga sessions with a series of participants as part of a larger inquiry into their bodily awareness. During these sessions it became clear that participants believed they were far more aware of their body than they actually were. For example, the instructor would often put her hand on part of the body asking the participant to relax the tense muscles there, only to have the participant insist that s/he was totally relaxed in that area and did not feel any muscle tension.

In that example, are the participants really claiming that they have complete bodily awareness, or are they just reporting that they cannot find any tension? If someone were to tell me to relax tense muscles in a part of my body that felt totally relaxed to me, I might also say that I feel totally relaxed and can't find any muscle tension. Not because I thought I had perfect bodily awareness, but because I can't relax the tension if I can't feel it, so I want to explain why I can't follow the instruction that I'm given.

Also the implicit racism was measured using the Implicit Association Test, whose reliability is rather dubious, but I'm more willing to let that one slide. I've met enough advanced meditators who are very visibly overconfident about their unbiasedness that my stance here is "yeah that definitely happens". :-) In general I do find it easy to believe that people who've reached various states of enlightenment are often overconfident about what that gets them, but that feels like a weaker claim than "they are suffering more and noticing it less". 

It is also possible that the participants for which something like this was observed - again, 3/50 so only 6% - thought they were enlightened while actually being dissociated... since descriptions of "enlightenment" and dissociation sound very similar and can be hard to distinguish from the outside. (The difference is very apparent if you've personally experienced both, though.) I can't resist the opportunity to drop in one of my favorite quotes from meditation, from a meditation teacher I went to a retreat with:

There’s no way to tell enlightenment and delusion apart from the inside, so you should have feedback and you should have friends who think that Buddhism is stupid. They are willing to listen to you talk about it because you're their friend and it's one of your interests, but if you start talking about how you've become enlightened, they'll tell you how you're full of shit.

Tucker jumps from outside feedback to feedback from skeptics. Why isn't feedback from a meditation community sufficient? Martin's subjects were certified enlightened, so apparently it isn't, but a meditation community should have a lot more experience with failure modes.

In part he was probably just expressing the point humorously as is his style, in part for most Westerners it's probably easier to be friends with skeptics than with meditators with the right competencies. (Especially since even knowing who would have the right competencies is highly nontrivial question.)

This sounds like enlightenment to me. Enlightenment is the absence of suffering, not the absence of pain or bodily reactions. If both reports are true, then the person was reacting normally in terms of observable symptoms but not experiencing any suffering as a result.

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The usual claim about enlightenment is that it doesn't reduce the pain, but that it makes pain less distracting. Trouble sleeping doesn't match that. I think that people usually imply that acknowledging pain reduces stress responses. The guy didn't just say that he was peaceful, he said he wasn't stressed. It would be one thing if he acknowledged his tense muscles and said that his enlightenment helped him function despite them, but the implication is that he simply denied them. We don't have a transcript of such a question, but the article talks about lots of participants having false beliefs about muscle tension and appearing serene. Richard linked to excerpts about that and other negative quotes, not all of which I see as dissociation.

Ok, you're probably right. The one thing that confuses me about it is that I tend to think people's reports of their degree of suffering are reliable, but maybe that's not true. Or maybe the course created exceptions.

Sorry, I should have been clearer: I'm not talking about the course. I'm talking about the people Martin studied before creating the course. These results are already common. I doubt that Martin is promoting special techniques more likely to produce them than other methods. 

If dissociation is the opposite of enlightenment, maybe the same mind-hacking techniques that can produce enlightenment can produce dissociation. 

Thanks Kat for writing this! I'll give the finder's course a go in the next iteration starting in April. I'll follow your example, and I hereby precommit to write at least a few sentences of review about the course in the comments here, even if I end up quitting it.

Can't wait to hear how it goes! 

There is value in the techniques taught and there are also serious concerns about the methodology, marketing, and psychological safety of the course. It's messy to talk about because it's simultaneously problematic and can be helpful so participants tend to come out on a particular side. I'd encourage anyone considering purchasing/supporting the course to read this review from an ex-participant or DIY the course with the techniques here.

TLDR of the review

While Finders Course advertises itself as a scientific research protocol on awakening/enlightenment, it's more close to a wellness product sold by an online business (Willow Inc.).

It is a get-enlightened-quick scheme, that uses an appearance of science as a marketing tool, sells dubious forms of new-age spirituality (i.e. law of attraction, synchronicities), and adopt psychological conditioning in many forms to 1) attract customers 2) sell them an expensive product 3) convince them they reached some sort of spiritual awakening.

Many people come out of the course believing they have achieved some type of awakening, and while we can't deny that possibility, the main secret ingredient of Finders Course seems to be encouraging self-delusion. Most importantly, and as I'd try to demonstrate in the rest of the review, there seems to be a deliberate intent behind Finders Course to deceive people.

All FC alumni I interacted with seem to be honest believers, that end up even volunteering their free time to support the organization, unaware that they are supporting a scam. To them I extend my compassion.

Previously on LessWrong. (See the PNSE paper and the comment thread.)

Just a quick note for anyone considering this course based on this review: I'm currently taking this course and am almost finished (I'll write my own report later). I too haven't become "awakened" or even had any nondual experiences, but I've nevertheless had benefits (somatic, awareness, positive valence).

However, if you are looking for something that is more loving-kindness/metta focused, 45DaysToAwakening (it's no longer called the Finder's Course) no longer makes that a big focus; indeed, it's one of the few optional parts of the course, and it doesn't emphasize as much as the "nose exercises" OP mentions.

If you are looking for something more along those lines, TWIM (Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation) is probably better, as it is pretty much entirely focused on metta. It regularly seems to have the highest success rate and the most benefits according to people on r/streamentry, which is a subreddit of fairly serious meditation practitioners. The materials are also free:

One of the most powerful exercises for me in TWIM was similar in flavor to what OP describes. One simply repeats the mantra "I forgive myself for not understanding," and as things come to mind (and they will) it can become incredibly powerful in terms of generating things you have judged yourself for, releasing those, building self-love, and also developing a new, regenerated desire to live according to what you value.

Thanks, that one sentence  "I can forgive myself.. "  in essence its about non-judgment and ultimately if you can accept yourself you can accept others.   I did a course coaching that emphasis developmental psychology  in self actualisation . Whilst that didn't reach FW in that course, I did find FW by myself which I will touch on briefly at the end.  After the coaching course, I felt genuinely happier all round. I all released expectations, they are after all disappointments waiting to happen. I released unhelpful meaning making, I take am aware of my unhelpful thinking patterns (cognitive distortions.)  and cultivate flexibility or choose not to run them, I try as much as I can not to judge myself accept myself as simply human the good and the bad, set intentions to just have a good morning, lunch and afternoon. They just are moments after moment. 
Most importantly to see that there is nothing missing inside of me,  that I am looking externally for, especially validation or love. I am whole. And all of that I believe is a recipie for being  contented.  

I just accept life as it is, changed my perception of reality (life looks rosier, despite it being the same) 

So how did I reach FW? I did it with the help of my own Higher Consciousness,   I figured if we came from source, we can get back there by merging with source again, you know that bright light? ...  thats what I focused my meditations on. Consciousness is trying to reach you as much as you are trying to reach it.. you'll find it...  I can always recommend a merging MP3 for you. 

Two clicks away I read this: "Once this cohort fills, we do not expect to be accepting registrations and this price again."

This changes my odds that this is a scam by a factor of 10-or-so or maybe even 100 (it's something I'd rarely if ever expect to see on a legit course pitch). I still have to decide on what a reasonable prior should be.  Any suggestions?

Looks like the new class Dec 2022 is now 495$. Would you say that's worth it?

Depends on your financial situation, but I'd say if you have anything like a regular first world income, yes. 

I also think that the cost makes you actually follow through and do it. 

Of note, if you work full-time in longtermism and make less than $100,000 per year, you will most likely qualify for the Nonlinear Support Fund to pay for it.  

It's clearly mantra meditation that does it for Martin. Look at how red in the face he suddenly goes at 47:38 - 47:55.

I'm always curious to understand how people with very low confidence can end up doing such amazing stuff or in very high positions in organisations. How do you even think in going for it? (I know it is a very personal question. Please, don't feel obliged to answer!)

Thank you very much for this write-up and I'm very curious about this course. I'm glad to see multiple approaches to mindfulness being researched rather than the entire research community going all-in on mindfulness alone. This in particular -- "[d]on’t just try the same technique for months or years and hope you’ll eventually 'get it'" -- resonated with me.

The way he did this was to find over 1,000 people saying that they had achieved fundamental well-being, and he went and interviewed all of them. The interviews would often last up to twelve hours. He asked them what their experiences were, what had gotten them there, and ran them through batteries of psychological tests. 

From this exploratory research, he started pulling out patterns.

That being said, I do want to call out one thing that I found questionable about the above. This is textbook [selection on the dependent variable](, or more colloquially, violates the rule that for a relationship between two variables (i.e., achieving FWB and some other attribute), both variables have to vary. 

That being said, I do want to call out one thing that I found questionable about the above. 

It's generally questionable to judge research projects based on a paragraph of text instead of engaging with the published papers.

are papers he published about his research.

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