Ever wondered how the Buddhist monks achieved that much calmness and stillness of mind? Truth is, they had to start from scratch. There are varying levels of meditation that indicate your different stages of transition from a beginner to a seasoned meditator.
The 5 main stages of meditation
Stage 1: awareness of the present moment
When we begin meditating, we first learn to reduce external distractions and interruptions. This means lessening our attachment to thoughts we harbor regardless of how important we may think they are. We also free ourselves of any judgments, perceptions and concerns that might hamper our progress. During meditation, you can try to view your body as an empty vessel with no history and no memory of the past. Think of this as adopting beginner’s mind, a mind that is open to whatever occurs, and not stuck in any habitual pattern or rut. So rather than lingering in the past, relax those thoughts and worries you’ve been carrying around. Only then will you be free to enjoy the current moment. Gaining awareness of the here and now takes some practice, so don’t give up till you get there.
Stage 2: silencing the mind
It’s one of those levels of meditation that requires a high degree of concentration. Do you sometimes here an inner voice talking to you about a variety of issues? This inner speech is really just ongoing emotional storylines and internal chatter, and can be quite destructive since it declares war with our enemies and even fosters toxic relationships with our loved ones. The “inner voice” is arguably the biggest source of all our woes and suffering. Meditators should therefore value silence and disregard the constant buzz in their minds if they really desire to progress in their practice. Developing your present-moment awareness is an effective technique of overcoming this incessant mind commentary. Another technique you can implement is to notice the gap between two successive thoughts. Attending mindfully to this silent pause, however minute, will allow you to develop silent awareness. Your mind will also get accustomed to the silence over time.
Stage 3: breath-control awareness
As you progress, you’ll want to transition from developing silent awareness of whatever pops into your mind to being silently aware of one single thing. This ‘thing’ is popularly referred to as the object of meditation. It can be the flame of a candle, a repeated word (chant) or your breath. The latter is the most common. By choosing to concentrate your attention onto one thing, you’re able to let go of distractions and embrace the present moment. Your mind starts to sustain its focus on one thing, your breath. Consequently, you start experiencing positive emotions of happiness, peace and calmness. The jumpiness of the mind is a huge burden because it causes anxiety, stress and other undesired emotions. Once you start focusing on your breath, your mind starts filtering out the noise allowing you to consider each thought that comes to mind.
Stage 4: full breath awareness
This is among those levels of meditation that exhibits your tremendous progress. Every single moment you breathe, your mind tunes its attention to the present. You start noticing all those individual moments between your in-breath and out-breath. Not a single moment escapes your attention. In this stage of meditation, your mind is completely conditioned to focus on your breath. This is how you develop mindfulness (the non-judgmental awareness of the present moment). You can only get to this meditation level after constantly letting go of all cares and thoughts you have, choosing instead to concentrate on that brief moment of silent breathing.
Stage 5: fully sustained attention
When you’ve been practicing meditation for very long, you naturally develop an awareness that you previously lacked. You constantly focus on your breath without forcing it. Therefore, this is the ultimate stage of meditation that marks your successful transition from an anxious individual to a calm meditator. Your mind happily watches your beautiful breath. Your role also changes from actively ‘doing’ to passively observing – all previous levels of meditation require some active participation in the process. It’s incredible how smooth and beautiful your breath can be with a bit of practice. At this level of meditation, you’ve passed the stage where you strive to inhale and exhale deeply.
There you have it, a list of the 5 stages of meditation that will help you understand your practice. There is no need, however, to pursue any stage, or be concerned about what you are experiencing. Many people experience these in different orders, and that is completely normal. Just let your practice be natural and truthful and you will have no problems. If you desire some help, try the Mindworks: Guided Meditation App. It contains all the resources you desire to develop your practice.