The Finders, by Jeffrey A Martin, Integration Press, 2019
Jeffrey Martin calls it a “persistent state of fundamental wellbeing”, but for 2500 years, the Buddhists have called it satori, Hindus say samadhi, Sufis speak of fana, Christian mystics refer to the light of Jesus Christ, while Americans speak generically of enlightenment, once Nirvana came to be inseparable from Kurt Cobain. (Taoism views enlightenment as the natural result of seeing past our conditioning; I’ve been unable to find references to a corresponding concept in Hasidic traditions or the Kabalah. Please comment below if I’m missing something.)
Martin and the religious mystics agree that enlightenment is founded in a shift in perspective to outside the separate self, and that it is accompanied by a loss of fear, particularly the fear of death. Most of us go through life with a background sense that something is deeply wrong, and we’re constantly solving problems, hoping eventually to address the Big Problem that is making us feel this way. But Finders, the enlightened ones, pass from moment to moment, day to day, knowing the world is perfect just as it is, that their lives are rich beyond measure; they are confident that their lives and the world will continue on their respective perfect paths, and they carry no fundamental anxiety.
In these religious traditions, enlightenment is granted via God’s grace, though practices of abstinence and focused attention may improve ones prospects. What is new in Martin’s approach is science. First he seeks to study the phenomenon of enlightenment in four subspecies, which he says characterizes about half a percent of Western people across lines of religion, class, and culture. More ambitious, he seeks to offer methods by which “anyone” can get there—or at least with a 70% success rate among those who stay to complete his $2,500 course. Oh yes—did I not mention? Martin is also a serial entrepreneur. Does he remind you of Werner Erhard?
The good news is that there’s been a sharp rise in the prevalence of Finders, accelerating over the last two decades. The good news is that this perspective outside the self is somewhat contagious and can be learned. Martin associates the rise in Finderhood with electronic connectivity.
The bad news is that enlightenment doesn’t necessarily make you a good person. Some Finders steal and kill. Some are addicted to alcohol, drugs or tobacco. Some deepen their personal relationships. Some report that they are committed to their friends and loved ones more than ever, but from the outside they appear detached and uncaring. Spouses of a newly Found partner may find that this is no longer someone they wish to live with. One (rare) Finder at Level Four looked across the breakfast table at his daughter and saw a specimen of humanity to whom he felt a loving connection, like all the others. Something in him felt this was wrong, and decided to retreat from Finderhood.
This is an extreme case, but Martin reports that many Finders are arrogant, have little patience for non-Finders, or even people whose path to enlightenment was was different and unfamiliar. He doesn’t offer statistics about how many Finders devote their newly-liberated capacities to world peace or to preservation of biodiversity. But he tells enough stories that we may wonder if more Finders in the world is an unmitigated good.
Finders can experience a deeper truth or sense of reality that makes the physical world seem less important. This certainly doesn’t make caring for it a higher priority…What about morality and core values? Does becoming a Finder insure that you cannot lie, cheat, steal, or even kill? It doesn’t. There were a number of occasions during the research where blatant lies were offered up during interviews…A tiny number of participants were also accused of participating in criminal activity after the project had interviewed them. This involved allegedly stealing, cheating people in business deals, and similar activities.
Sounds like, “I’m OK—You can be OK or not OK and I don’t give a rusty fuck”. Can enlightenment be akin to sociopathy? Mystics through the ages counsel a long course of moral purification before a novitiate is ready to be groomed for enlightenment. Milarepa’s life is a thousand-year-old cautionary tale from Tibet. As a young man, he acquired magical powers from a Buddhist sorceror, and used them to avenge an encroachment on his inheritance by an aunt and uncle. He killed at will, and wrought unnatural disaster on entire villages before he matured into a saint who devoted the last half of his life to atoning for the first.
I have never met Jeffrey Epstein, but I have second-hand reports from a friend that he could be charming, thoughtful, and generous in his presented self. I have never met Dick Cheney, but I have second-hand reports from a friend that he cared deeply for his family and went out of his way to be kind to people who worked for him, even cooks and housekeepers.
Martin sidesteps the whole arena of political implications, both in the familiar sense of organizing for the communal welfare and in R.D. Laing’s usage in The Politics of Experience. To what extent is our persistent feeling that there’s something deeply wrong connected to the fact that fascist warlords have taken over America, and our media are covering for them? And we might fairly wonder if escape into Fundamental Wellbeing is an irresponsible step with a global ecosystem on the brink of collapse. Perhaps Martin’s version of enlightenment is colored by our hyper-individualistic, capitalist culture, and other cultures might offer a version of wellbeing rooted in a welcoming communal family.
To Martin’s credit, he gives his How To book away free. The gist is that different techniques work for different people, that you should seek a teacher who feels sympatico and then try a variety of meditation and other practices, keeping what works and moving on from what doesn’t. The how-to book doesn’t address the question, “how do I know when I’m getting closer?” however, and Martin makes it clear that it’s not a linear path for most people.