There are moments when you realize it’s impossible for your brain to “forget” to breathe, even when you are not aware of the act of breathing. To put it another way, you recognize that you’re not able to intentionally control your brain’s respiratory functions.
This unconscious need turns your attention to your breathing. This is the difference between intending to maintain your focus on the breath and attempting to do so through pure willpower and conscious effort.
There are lots of similarities in what people feel as they develop their meditation skills. A lot of it has been mapped out by meditators in the past, and hundreds of meditators have confirmed these observations. Let’s talk about the stages of Meditation.
As we begin any meditation session, we move our attention away from the world and turn it inwards to our thoughts. Some of us may have never tried this before, and we’re surprised to discover that the “interior” is just as busy as the “exterior.” The mind is like a crowded subway station and we wonder how we would even begin to quiet the continuous chaos.
There is a certain humility to be acquired from confronting the noise in our minds and acknowledging that we are not as “in control” as we like to believe. The natural difficulty of concentrating during meditation illustrates how little control we have over our impulses.
Meditation is a challenging yet important task as we learn to reflect on how we manage stressful and chaotic moments. Recognizing that other people’s minds are also battling states of chaos allows us to feel empathy, compassion, and even forgiveness.
If we attempt to practice meditation, it won’t be long until we experience short moments of relative calm during which our minds begin to slow down and focus on the meditation subject. We continue to observe as our minds wander to different thoughts and bring our attention back to the target.
The important thing to remember at this stage is that frustration with the process will fill your mind with negative energy, making meditation more difficult. So even if you are trying so hard to keep the mind still, the key here is to learn to be satisfied with bringing it back time and time again.
Meditation allows us to recognize that anger and frustration feed negative energy into any circumstance. Sometimes, we are triggered by little events and our responses are often out of proportion with the severity of the situation, signaling that we are tapping into other unresolved issues.
Through the process of finding stillness, we learn to become patient with our emotions. We begin to recognize the negative energy they may be carrying to cause harm to ourselves and others.
If we continue to practice for a few weeks or months, we may be able to focus our minds on the meditation subject for roughly half the time. External distractions are less likely to drag us away from the act of meditation because we have learned that the energy for a distraction comes from within.
Even if someone performs a disruptive activity in front of us, we see that the distractions are caused by the scenario we create in our heads, not the disruptions themselves. In fact, by Stage 3, we begin to abandon the belief that distractions are our enemies and instead consider them to be our companions.
Meditation empowers our minds to become so flexible that we begin to realize that whether something is positive or negative depends on our own perception. Feeling sick, losing a job, or having conflict with others can all have hidden positives, one of which is that they encourage us to improve the stillness in our minds.
Most of us can achieve Stage 4 of the meditation cycle by attending retreats and maintaining long-term regular practice. In this stage, things are beginning to take on a whole new meaning for us here. The same distractions will always occur, but now we are able to catch them early on in their development, when they are still at the level of cognition rather than emotion.
As a result, our emotions are subtle and immediate, as opposed to letting negative thoughts consume us until we reach the point of anger before trying to calm down. We also devote a significant amount of time to dealing with boredom and excitement.
Although this excitement is the opposite of melancholy, it is still a barrier to higher levels of happiness or mental energy. Apart from the ability to recharge our mental and physical health, the experience of feeling rewarded in meditation teaches us that happiness comes from within, not from the outside world.
We no longer become concerned about the “empty” sensations that we may experience since we have so much potential pleasure, love, and wisdom to tap into inside us. We also see the same potential in everyone else, encouraging us to deepen our compassion and empathy for others.
STAGE 5, 6 AND 7
Our mindfulness practice is almost complete at this time. We hardly lose sight of the subject of meditation. It’s now a matter of changing the distracting mental patterns that keep showing up. To change the gnawing that still exists inside us, we must bring ever-increasing insight and knowledge into meditation.
We start to realize that everything in our reality is just a label that our mind has imposed onto it. It’s a narrative made up entirely of “thought stuff,” even though it is pleasant at its origin. Our meditation practices have progressed to the point that we are meditating 24 hours a day, in whatever mental state we find ourselves in.
STAGE 8 AND 9
These are the final phases of meditation, where we allow the last few corners of our brains to rest themselves. This stage leads us to a total single-pointed meditation session, like ripples in a pond.
Even if you’re new to meditation, knowing these stages will help you look at where you are in the process in a completely new light and prepare you for future challenges as your practice progresses. Each described level comes with its own set of joys and challenges.
To advance in your practice, find out what stage you are in now and work towards mastering each stage before moving on to the next. Working with the goals that are best suited for your needs is key.