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The Science of Enlightenment – Jonathan Robinson

by Jonathan Robinson: As a graduate student at UCSB in the 1980’s, I became interested in a scientific approach to the study 

scientific-revolution-awakenof awakening or enlightenment. To my surprise, I found that almost no research existed.

Fortunately, recent research has shown that a scientific approach to enlightenment can give rise to truly practical knowledge.  In addition, a lot of the data that has been gathered in the last decade has revealed quite surprising information. While I am aware of various “enlightenment” researchers, I’ll mostly be discussing the work of Dr. Jeffery Martin, a Harvard trained psychologist. I focus on Dr. Martin’s work because it is cutting edge, scientifically rigorous, and has profound implications on how a person might attempt to become more fully enlightened.

Dr. Martin’s Striking Conclusions

Dr. Martin began his research by doing extensive in-person interviews with over 1200 people who claimed to be fully “awake” to their true nature.  He collected a lot of data in these interviews, including what each participant felt was the biggest “trigger” or help in their awakening.  After poring through the data, Dr. Martin saw various patterns emerge. One pattern that surfaced was the highly limited number of techniques that seemed to help trigger enlightenment, or what he called Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience (PNSE).

Eventually, Dr. Martin created an online course, called the Finder’s Course ( in which he taught the dozen or so methods that he saw frequently led to persistent shifts to enlightenment in the people he interviewed.  I took the course.  It was intense and very effective.  For me, the shift in my consciousness after doing the various methods was rather profound. If I wasn’t busy doing something, I found I could immediately relax into deep peace and bliss. However, if I failed to do the practices each day, I would soon return to my more normal level of consciousness.  Yet, many people who take the course do experience a dramatic shift in consciousness that never goes away.  It’s a pretty impressive transformation for a relatively short course.

To Dr. Martin’s amazement, while the course affected most people rather profoundly, the resultant effect of the course was clearly different for different people.  In his book, “The Finders,” he describes four different types of awakening experiences that he termed “Four Locations.” In the following section, I’ll be giving excerpts from his book that describe each of these four locations.  By doing so, I hope you’ll get a better understanding of what different awakenings are like, and perhaps identify yourself as having experienced each of them at some moment in your life.

Location One

Location 1 individuals are on the earliest portion of the continuum. They might have experienced a dramatic, instantaneous shift into Fundamental Wellbeing, or have transitioned more gradually.  The shift into Location 1 can be so subtle that, remarkably, sometimes it isn’t detected until a while after it has occurred.  This is especially the case if the person was already happy.

The most telltale sign of Fundamental Wellbeing at Location 1 is a newfound sense of that everything is fundamentally fine.  This sense of “fundamental okayness” is usually in the background of experience at Location 1, which is how it can go unnoticed in people who already had high wellbeing.  The transition doesn’t prevent negative emotions from arising, but it does change an individual’s relationship with these emotions.

The transition of Fundamental Wellbeing also brings a reduction in the influence of the Narrative-Self, or the feeling that it has been lost altogether.  After the transition, Finders’ minds seem quieter because of a reduction in the quantity, emotional strength, and /or “stickiness” of Narrative-Self related thoughts. This can make their mind, and the world around them, seem like it has an underlying “silence” and “stillness” that was not previously noticed.

One of the things most Finders notice first is a reduction in their interest in nearly all stories.  This can manifest in a number of ways.  Perhaps most importantly, Location 1 Finders often become much less interested in the stories the people around them tell. They may notice less interest in their friends, co-workers, and even their family members, and try to get them to interact in ways that are more interesting to Finders.

The peace and contentment that accompanies Fundamental Wellbeing can be suppressed by psychological triggers, but usually it recovers rapidly once the stimulus is removed. Location 1 Finders still experience a range of positive and negative emotions.  However, the negative emotions are much more transient and do not have the power over them that they once did. Past psychological conditioning can still trigger thought streams and strong emotional responses, but these usually pass in a matter of moments.

Location Two

In Location 2 Finders experience a further reduction in their Narrative-Self related thoughts, and in the emotional content of most of the ones that remain. The deep sense that everything is fundamentally okay regardless of current circumstances moves more into the foreground the deeper someone moves into Location 2.  Towards the further reaches of this location, it infuses experience most of the time.

Location 2 individuals also have fewer and less powerful conditioned psychological responses.  Conditioning around needing the approval of others is dissolving, and may result in less social, and socially desirable behavior. The range of emotions these individuals experience becomes increasingly positive, and negative emotions become less frequent.

In Location 2, the boundaries between what feels like you and what feels like outside of you increasingly soften or disappear entirely.  One popular term for this change in perception is nonduality, or “not two.”  When this is experienced, there is a sense that everything is truly just one thing.  This significant change in what it feels like to be ‘you’ can arrive with a shift in agency. It may feel as if actions are part of a larger universal order, rather than personal. It might even feel as if something larger than ‘you’ is making decisions and taking action through you.

Location Three:

Location 3 Finders have been freed from a considerable amount of their psychological conditioning and negative emotions.  The experience of present moment awareness, inner peace, and wellbeing continues to grow and deepen. In most of Location 3, only one dominant emotion is experienced.  It feels like a mixture of various highly positive emotions and feelings such as compassion, joy, and love.  These feel like facets of a single meta-emotion.

Though some facets are more active at times than others, this single meta-emotion itself is a near constant experience and companion at Location 3.  The emotion is not personal.  Facets such as love are felt as divine or universal, or at a minimum, impersonal.  Parts of negative emotions are still occasionally felt but only rarely fully form.

As one deepens into Location 3, a sense of deep connectedness and union enter the picture. For example, Christian Finders often feel strongly united or merged with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity depending on their sect. A panpsychist-oriented Finder may feel this same deep union involving all-pervasive consciousness.  This location and the sense of union that accompanies it feels amazing, and it is viewed as the pinnacle of spiritual or religious experience in many traditions.

Location 4

A much more comprehensive form of nonduality occurs at this stage. For example, to Location 4 Finders, the words that come out of their mouth and the words that come from the person they are speaking with all seem to originate from the same source. They paradoxically describe a distinct return to their bodies while also feeling as if they are everything, including the unknown source of those words.

These individuals typically report having no sense of agency, nor any ability to make a decision.  Most report a complete and unwavering immersion in the present moment. It feels as if life is simply unfolding and they are watching the process happen. Location 4 Finders often report that they cannot plan what they are going to say,and are often surprised by the words that come out of their mouths.  Despite these reports, none of this seems to impact their ability to perform at high levels.

Location 4 Finders report an even deeper sense of peace and wellbeing. These seem to be an order of magnitude greater than previous locations on the continuum. Location 4 individuals often use the word ‘freedom’ to refer to their dominant ongoing experience.  While it is safe to say that all locations bring a feeling of tremendous freedom, the amount of it experienced at Location 4 appears to be far more significant.

Other Discoveries

There were other interesting discoveries hidden within Dr. Martin’s data.  For one thing he noticed that, contrary to some people’s ideas about enlightenment, such an experience does not automatically solve all your problems. Awakened people can still (and often do) have money troubles, relationship issues, problems with kids, and all the stuff everyone else deals with. Despite such troubles, highly awake people suffer much less than other folks, and generally have a lot more joy and peace in their lives.

My transition to Location One and beyond was rather gradual.  In fact, my wife and friends noticed it more dramatically than I did.  They started to see that I was more present, more caring, and less reactive.  Some people that adhere to the strict non-duality philosophy will say that there is nothing to do, nothing to “find,” and you are already enlightened.

While all that may be true on one level of reality, on a very practical level of one’s direct experience, there is always more wakefulness to be had.  Like you, I am in the process of trying to realize more and more of my potential.  What I find interesting is that the next step on one’s awakening path seems to always be different than the previous steps.   In my bestselling book, The Enlightenment Project, I describe the most effective methods that lead to awakening, as well lessons I’ve learned from interviewing everyone from the late Mother Teresa and Ram Dass, to current teachers such as Adyashanti, Byron Katie, and Deepak Chopra.

For a free ebook and audio meditation on the 5 Quickest Ways to Awaken, go to and put in your email address.  You can also buy the audio, kindle, or print version of The Enlightenment Project on that site.

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