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The Five Stages of Meditation Practice from Beginners to Advanced

Dear Integral Meditors,

With so many different types of meditation practice around, how do you identify what the stages of meditation training common to all systems really are? This weeks article is an attempt to answer that.

At Integral Meditation Asia I am trying to develop systems of meditation that are easy to follow and practice, and yet include ways of developing these five stages in authentic ways. This article is basically a map that, if you have it in your head as a template you can learn to recognize these stages as your practice develops.



The Five Stages of Meditation Practice from Beginners to Advanced

Meditation and mindfulness practice covers a large and diverse spectrum of activity, from simple stress management to the quest for spiritual enlightenment. What I want to do in this article is outline five stages of meditation practice that covers this whole spectrum of meditative activity in a summarized but hopefully practical format.
These five stages are perennial in nature. That is to say that they are common to all traditions of meditation, eastern or western. In any particular tradition (Buddhist, Kaballistic, Hundu, Christian etc..) the particular form and explanation differs, but these stages exist just the same.

Stage 1: Balancing the gross body-mind
When we begin meditation the first task is to bring our everyday body and mind into a state of balance and focus, so that they can function effectively in daily life to give us greater happiness, enhanced focus in our tasks, greater appreciation of our enjoyments, as well as improve our awareness of emotions and relationships.
Even at this first stage there are many levels, but they are all centered around developing calmness, focus and self-knowledge on an everyday level (for more info on this stage see my article “The First Task of Meditation”)

Stage 2: Balancing and activating the subtle body-mind
After meditating for a while we start to become more and more aware that there exists within us a subtle level of bodily and mental energy that lies behind our physical body and everyday thinking-mind. Working with awareness of this subtle, deeper level of our body-mind leads gradually over time to the  activation of  the abilities of our subtle body-mind, such as greatly enhanced intuition, greater empathy and compassion, psychic sensitivity, capacity for energetic healing and so on…

Stage 3: Recognizing and resting in the formless-timeless dimension of existence
After developing competency at stages 1&2 we start to become increasingly aware of a formless-timeless dimension of awareness that lies behind, around and within our body, mind and world.
Initially we sense this as a kind of witnessing awareness. Then, over time as we move deeper and deeper into this formless-timeless dimension it acts more and more as a state which we identify as our deeper self, or true self; a place where we can go to rest and regenerate our energies at any time, and that is a source of both deep inner peace and almost infinite creativity.

Stage 4: Developing ones inner-world communication skills
The “inner worlds” are the subtle worlds of energy and intelligence that lie beyond the physical, everyday world. Having developed stages 2&3 in our meditation practice we start to develop greater conscious awareness of how we are interacting with this inner world.
In our outer word we have work colleagues, friends, places we visit to relax and so forth. In a similar way at this level of meditation practice we start to build a network of working partners, friends and connections that are the equivalent on the inner world level.

Stage 5: Developing and integrating a non-dual experience of stages 1-4.
Having built our experience of stages 1-4 in our meditation practice eventually when we sit down to meditate we experience all four dimensions of our meditation as an organic and integrated whole. For example as we rest in the formless-timeless dimension (stage 3) we may be aware of how our gross and subtle body-minds are coming into a state of energetic balance and harmony (stages 1&2). Occasionally we may have flashes of insight and creativity that arises in our mind stimulated by some form of inner world communication (stage 4).
At the level of stage 5 we are comfortable with all the preceding stages, and our meditation mostly “does itself”. As the Thai teacher Ajahn Chah said, our mind becomes “Like still water that moves, and like moving water that is still”.

A martial arts analogy:
If you think about progressing to basic mastery of levels 1-4 in meditation as being like becoming a black-belt at Aikido, you become a basic level meditation master.
After you achieve your black-belt in Aikido there are a further seven “dans” or advanced levels that you then start to work on. So if you imagine stage 5 is the meditation training equivalent of working on your “dans”; you are focusing on turning your basic mastery into a fully integrated, fluent functional whole.

© Toby Ouvry 2014, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website