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In the last article, we discussed what meditation was, and the three keys that provide the proper foundation for the meditative experience. We also briefly highlighted the seven stages of deepening into meditative clarity. These 7 Stages will not only allow us to get into a calm and relaxed state quicker, but provide proven and essential techniques fundamental to results and success in your meditation practice.
These 7 Stages exist in a very consistent form in nearly every spiritual tradition, to include Yoga, Taoism, Kabbalah, and Buddhism among many others. While in the beginning, we should become comfortable with each Stage in succession, try not to think of them as stages to ‘get through’, but rather as increasingly subtle tools in our toolbox, designed to be applied together as we progress in our practice in order to provide you with an effective and authentic meditative experience. Now, let’s explore them in more detail.
We first establish good meditative posture with appropriate asanas – seated positions – and stretches to help lessen the tension in the body and make it easier for the body to relax. A lot of people see the asanas in yoga as what yoga is all about, but they’re completely missing the point: yoga means union, and building and uniting the keys of Will, Intention and Vitality produces the state of meditation, not the number of Warrior poses or Downward Dogs you do. We will refer to the immortal words of Lu K’uan Yu in describing an example of an asana and mudra (hand posture) appropriate for meditation ::
The left leg should be placed outside and close to the right one; this means the positive embracing the negative. The thumb of the left hand should touch its middle finger and the right hand should be placed under it (palm upward) with its thumb bent over the left palm; this means the negative embracing the positive. This is what the ancients meant by forming a circuit of eight psychic channels. The linking of the four limbs shuts the four gates so that the centre can be held on to.
~Lu K’uan Yu, Taoist Yoga, Alchemy and Immortality, p.2
There is another mudra – Kechari Mudra – which is very useful for allowing the energy to flow through the body in a way that has many benefits, not the least of which being that it makes deepening and sensing the energy easier to do ::
The practiser should close his mouth and touch the palate with the tongue to immobilise spirit and vitality.
~ Lu K’uan Yu, Taoist Yoga, Alchemy and Immortality, p.5
Padmasana or half and full lotus, the hand mudra of the negative embracing the positive and Kechari Mudra are all essential physical techniques for the aspiring yogi / meditative practitioner. However, they are hardly the only asanas in existence, and many yoga postures and stretches exist as standalone positions or sets that supplement practice and a healthy lifestyle.
See an upcoming article detailing the 5 Tibetan Rites for an in-depth instruction on an easy and very impactful yogic exercise you can perform prior to starting your day in order to keep the body limber, the energy flowing, the mind calm, and the heart healthy. With the body relaxed and in a comfortable posture conducive to the flow of energy, we can feel the Vitality in our body flow and express itself in a more unimpeded way, and from here, we are ready to deepen.
In order to continue deepening, we must withdraw our senses from the outside environment to within the body boundary. To begin with, the sensation of the physical body boundary can be used as a point of reference for the Awareness as we’re getting used to the process of turning our attention inwards.
Sense withdrawal begins exercising Will, Intention and Vitality in unison. To draw the senses inward, we first relax the eyes and turn them slightly inward and downward to stare at the nose, and close our eyelids gently, without strain. It is okay if a little bit of light comes through the lids; what we want is to be neither outwardly attached to images in our environment, or inwardly attached to images in our mind ::
Therefore, during the training both eyes should turn inward to the centre (between and behind them) …
~ Lu K’uan Yu, Taoist Yoga, Alchemy and Immortality, p.5
Next, we place a focus within the body for our mind to not distract or disturb the deepening process. Any location may be used, but typically, instructions to focus on particular energy centers are given. As we sit with our attention held at a fixed point inwards, we begin to feel and sense the Vital current of energy flowing through the body.
Once we contact and connect to this energy through newly felt sensation, we cultivate our Intention, a desire and yearning to deepen into it. This is not an expectation or an anticipation coming from the mind, but a pure ‘diving’ into the sensation where you are focusing.
With energy activation, we learn how to use the breath at first to lure and build a relationship of experience with the energy directly. This process cultivates and builds sensitivity to our Vitality, focuses and further entrains our Will upon the energy and the breath, and deepens our Intention to touch and experience the energy on greater degrees and subtler levels. We learn how to balance our energy channels and increase our stability, sensitivity and connectedness to the great current of Prana flowing within and all around us.
In your quest for immortal breath, you should regulate post-natal (ordinary) breathing in order to find its source.
~ Lu K’uan Yu, Taoist Yoga, Alchemy and Immortality, p.4
Now that we’ve relaxed and deepened our connection to our internal energy or Vitality, we can utilize breathing techniques in order to further calm our mind, heart and body and drop our brain wave state to a calmer pattern with less undulation to make entering a state of meditation easier. This technique, called Anuloma Viloma or alternative nostril breathing, is described in detail here at theayurveda.org. The steps are as follows ::
Asana, Pratyahara, and Pranayama constitute preparatory phases prior to concentration and meditation; however, all the stages up to Dharana can be performed prior to establishing a strong connection to our inner Vitality. After performing Anuloma Viloma for 10-15 rounds or until you feel a state of deep, genuine calm in mind, emotions and body, as well as building our Intention to further deepen our connection with the current of energy sensation within, we can then turn our inward focus towards an object of concentration, and begin performing Dharana.
One-pointed concentration is the cornerstone Will practice, and is the state of pure focused Will without mental undulation. The tool of mind is stabilized and sharpened to produce clarity instead of erratic delusion, fixed like a laser beam in concentrated Awareness, and held to magnify that realized clarity with the Intention to deepen more into the object of focus.
The tool of a clear mind can be applied and practiced anywhere and on anything, but having a fun, reliable and disciplined process of cultivating Will is crucial if we’re seriously involved in developing this most effective and important tool to enhance the state of meditation. As with any skill, strengthening our Will depends on the quality and quantity of correct practice.
Our Will can go through many stages of refinement during the practice of Dharana, and the necessity of proper instruction is so great for the stage of one-pointed concentration and the further stages that general overviews – rather than precise method and application – will be discussed. However, the astute practitioner will be able to understand these concepts and find an authentic Teacher – rather than a fellow practitioner – to learn how to apply these methods correctly. That said, these methods are known, and one can practice Dharana on increasingly subtle focuses, or ‘anchors’ ::
The space between the observer and an external object;
An internal anchor;
An internal ‘cavity’ or ‘void’;
The origination, birth, life and death of thoughts;
The space between thoughts;
The natural state free of grasping
Dharana is designed to develop our Will into a stable platform and solid, unwavering foundation so that we can enter a relaxed and natural state without losing awareness or remaining too stimulated and awake to deepen. However, while Dharana specifically sharpens our Will, we should at the same time exercise our Intention to deepen and ‘penetrate into,’ merge or connect with the object of concentration. When our brain wave state dips enough that the discerning and logical mind shuts down, this union occurs in the state known as meditation.
When we’ve stabilized our mind to hold one-pointed focus, increased and connected with our Vital energy and cultivated an intense desire to deepen that connection through our Intention, the state of meditation blossoms naturally. This is Dhyana, a state beyond the undulation of mind where the observed and the observer unify in a blissful space.
In this utter stillness devoid of thoughts and feelings the practiser will awaken fully to the void that is not empty and to his (essential) nature.
~ Lu K’uan Yu, Taoist Yoga, Alchemy and Immortality, p.7
The meditative state of Dhyana is accompanied by unparalleled calm and peace which can be extremely blissful, a complete cessation of the noise of the mind’s disturbances and the pure, palpable and indescribable sensation of merging into the moment of one’s concentration.
If this sounds like a highly advanced state for someone to reach, you’re right, and this is why as discussed in our last article, it’s not accurate to suggest that anyone without the proper foundation can jump right into meditation. However, anyone who develops the right foundation and practice can reach the state of meditation, a state where the observing self merges with the object of concentration completely and all separation created by the mindstream ceases, and occurs as a natural result of fixed concentration combined with an Intention to deepen.
Samadhi is absorption in the clear light of bliss and a result of consistently held Dhyana, the inevitable product of successful meditation. Many practitioners get caught up in the bliss response of being absorbed in Samadhi, and understandably so, but if the practitioner understands how to continually apply the process of one-pointed concentration, absorption in meditation, and allowing the bliss experience, they are practicing Samyama.
When vitality returns to the original ocean (its source) life becomes boundless.
Through skillful means, the advanced practitioner holds one-pointed concentration in a deep meditation of Samadhi, not merely stabilizing in such a state, but continuing to apply Will, Intention and Vitality in order to deepen further. Samyama is also associated with the experience of Stream Entry, which is a joyful seeking and being in love with the experiencing in each moment.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey and deeper look into the 7 Stages of Deepening. We wish that we could go into more detail regarding the more advanced applications of Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi, and Samyama, but we hope that providing the foundational techniques and outlining the more advanced stages of meditation provide the means and encouragement for you to begin exploring your own Awareness and continue or establish a daily practice. If this sort of exploration and experience interests you, come check out more at Seeking the Seeker, where you’ll find on-demand, in-depth videos discussing practice and practical application, covering the process of authentic meditative method in far more detail. See you there ♥