September 17, 2021
Nathaniel

Meditation is a natural skill that anyone can learn to develop. And while there’s plenty of information out there about why we should meditate, there’s not nearly as much about how we should, especially when it comes to improving our practice. Which aside from getting started, is what we really want, isn’t it?

It’s totally normal to want to get better at something that you’re dedicating time and energy to. In fact, I think the lack of structure within most meditative circles is what causes so many people to burn out or struggle with developing consistency in their practice. Progressing through a structured model not only helps us to see how far we’ve come, but it helps build excitement and enthusiasm that motivates us to continue.

But in order to see how we can improve our meditation, we need to have a map that provides us a progressive model that shows us how to advance. Something that we can refer back to in order to see where we’re at, where we’ve come from, and where we’d like to go.

Enter, The Meditative Path. Through my own research, experience, and understanding I’ve structured how to learn meditation into 4 progressive categories. Identifying where you’re at will give you clear areas to focus on within your practice so you can move forward and experience some of the wonderful and uplifting states meditation has to offer.

This is such a useful model to work with, that I’ve structured my coaching process around it. If you find yourself stuck or need some help working with your practice, you can get in touch with me through my coaching page and book a free consultation!

But before we dive in, a couple of important points:

  • The Meditative Path refers to the journey as a whole…the bigger picture
  • It’s really a continuum of development instead of 4 isolated categories (so if you find yourself identifying somewhere in-between stages, that’s completely normal!)
  • You can move as far along the path as you’d like given your personal goals, but the assumption is that you’d like to experience the wonders of advanced practice

With that said, let’s jump in and check it out!

nathaniel epting

-author-

An advanced practitioner begins to see meditation not just as a skill (The Novice & The Beginner), or an art (The Intermediate), but as a life practice that deeply affects all areas of their life.

The Meditative Path


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The Novice

The Novice meditator is pretty easy to identify, because for the most part, they’re just starting out with meditation. It’s the very beginning of The Meditative Path.

If you’re a novice, there’s a desire to learn how to meditate, lots of curiosity, and excitement about cultivating this new skill. You’re not only seeking a way to learn how to meditate, but how to make this a consistent practice.

But there might also be some fear, uncertainty, or doubt around it as well, particularly around techniques and how meditation can fit into your busy life. This is completely normal and to be expected!

There will be plenty of misconceptions and lack of knowledge and experience, because you’re new to this. But that’s great, because you have a clean slate to work from! With clear instruction and focused goals, you’ll be able to advance very quickly!

It’s possible some novices will have dabbled with meditation before, know a thing or two from past experiences or research, or even practice meditation already (though very inconsistently). But despite all of this, there’s still a sense of just starting out and getting familiar with meditation that unites all novices in this phase of practice.

How To Progress

For The Novice, just getting started and building a proper foundation of experience and knowledge is most important.

When it comes to experience, it’s about finding out what works for you and learning how to troubleshoot your practice. Right now, how you practice doesn’t matter nearly as much as you practicing and starting to build the habit. The less constraints you can put on yourself, the better.

In fact, this is a stage of experimentation! Things like: “when should I practice?” or “should I be sitting up or lying down?” or “is it ok to have some coffee first?” are all examples of little nuances to experiment with in your practice. You’ll learn more about what does and doesn’t work for you, why that is, and how to build your practice around these things.

When it comes to meditation technique, it’s about finding at least one suitable method that works for you and your goals. Not all methods are created equal, but there’s always plenty of options no matter your interests. Finding a core practice that you can consistently return to and work with is important to progress along The Meditative Path.

When it comes to the knowledge portion, working through initial concerns and misconceptions, learning about the benefits meditation can provide, and understanding your motivational goals and how you can achieve them, are the main focus of this stage.

Ultimately, this can be a really fun and exciting stage! With clear guidance, you’ll begin to see progress as you nurture the practice and develop the habit through positive reinforcement, as well as approach meditation with a healthy level of curiosity and experimentation.

(Side Note: If you identify with this stage, then my free online meditation course, “You CAN Meditate!” is perfect for you! It’s designed to give you everything you need to progress you into The Beginner stage.)

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The Beginner

The easiest way to describe The Beginner, is that they’re still new to meditation, just not AS new as The Novice. If you’ve meditated before, this part of The Meditative Path is where you’ll most likely identify, even if there’s some aspects of The Novice you’d still benefit from going over.

Your practice might not always be clear, structured, or consistent, but you ARE meditating! Maybe you have a preferred meditation technique. Maybe you dabble with a few different things. But regardless, you are meditating! It’s no longer just a desire.

There’s still an excitement and desire to meditate, but developing your consistency and building that habit can be hard. Life tends to get in the way and makes practicing difficult. You mean to meditate, it just doesn’t happen as much as you want it to yet.

When you practice, you might not always be sure if you’re doing things right, and you’ll struggle with distractions like sounds, thoughts, body discomfort and/or fidgeting. Without knowing how to work with these, practicing can feel frustrating at times! You may even find yourself trying to control your environment for better results. Things like headphones, music, practicing when you’re the only one home, etc. are all common responses.

Another likely possibility at this stage is that you tend to do a lot of guided meditations. You’re learning a lot from the practice you’re doing, and relying on a structured practice makes meditation easier and more consistent for you! 

As far as knowledge goes, you’re no longer concerned with start-up questions like “when should I meditate?” or “how should my posture be?” Instead, the majority of questions come from your actual practice, particularly technical “how to” questions like: “am I focusing too hard?” or “why do I keep getting distracted?” or “how do I tell if I’m doing this right?”

Ultimately, the defining factor of The Beginner is that you know more about meditation than someone who isn’t familiar with it, and you’re beginning to practice. You’ve taken your first steps as a meditator, so your practice has gone from just a desire to meditate to actually meditating. But there’s still room to develop consistency, improve your technique, and learn to work with common distractions.

How To Progress

For The Beginner, there’s a few major practice goals that will allow them to progress along The Meditative Path. But as you’ll see, almost all of them have to do with helping The Beginner cultivate more consistency and confidence with their practice.

First off, for any beginners who didn’t go through The Novice phase, you’ll need to address anything you might have missed. There’s some really important foundational information in that phase, like finding your motivational goals and learning how to positively work with your circumstances, that are crucial for your long-term success.

(If this applies to you, then you should check out my free meditation course, “You CAN Meditate!” which will help get you up to speed for the rest of this phase of practice.)

It’s also of utmost importance that you find at least one suitable solo-practice that you can continue to develop and make your core practice. At this stage, guided meditations and exploring different styles aren’t going to help you develop the skill of meditation, or see many benefits that will inspire you to practice more. Fortunately, there are plenty of techniques that qualify! It’s just a matter of finding the right one for you and sticking with it.

It’s also important to work on your technique and make sure you’re confident and know how to practice correctly. There’s a balance between “trying too hard” and “relaxing” that needs to be found, that will help you feel confident that you’re doing things correctly. 

You’ll also need to learn how to work with distractions, thoughts, body discomfort and/or fidgeting. All of these are common challenges at this stage as you begin to practice more. Learning how to work with them, without controlling your environment, will give you the tools needed to keep progressing.

From there, it’s all about improving your consistency of practice so you can benefit from the positive momentum. Not only does this make progressing easier, but you learn to apply everything you learned to a wide variety of circumstances. As you do so, you’ll gain more confidence and actually want to meditate more frequently and longer, as you’ll start seeing it benefit your life in positive ways!

Ultimately, this is a very important stage that can’t be missed. There’s still plenty to learn and focus on, and that will take a bit of time to familiarize yourself with. But with a willingness to adapt to your practice and a dedication to improve, you’ll find yourself progressing to The Intermediate stages in no time.

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The Intermediate

The Intermediate is much easier to distinguish from the proceeding stages. There’s a confidence and consistency that has been developed, and there may even be some exciting meditative phenomena beginning to happen (more on that below)!

You’ll identify as an intermediate meditator when you have a clear practice of solo-meditation in place, and for the most part, you know what you’re doing. As far as practice goes, it’ll vary for everyone. But we can break it down into 2 categories: frequency and duration.

Frequency:

You might be meditating daily, or have a set 5-day schedule when you meditate and take weekends off. Regardless of how it looks, you will have made time to meditate, and do so fairly consistently. Sure, you might miss some practice here and there when things come up. But ultimately, when the dust settles, you’ll find yourself returning to your structured practice.

Duration:

I’m very hesitant to set time goals for each of the stages, because it’s one of the easiest ways to put negative pressure on your practice and stifle it before it has a chance to take off. With that said, by this stage of development, meditation isn’t an afterthought. You’re no longer taking 10-15 minutes to meditate. You’re going through your process, working with distractions, letting your mind settle, and putting in some real effort. How long that takes, you’ll have to feel out for yourself. But anything less than 20-30 mins and you’re probably not there yet.

Consequently, because of your dedication to cultivating your practice, there’s an interesting range of experiences that begins to develop in this stage: 

  • At one end of the spectrum, some meditations are wonderful, easy, and feel like they just clicked into place effortlessly! You leave feeling on top of the world, and it all just makes sense and flows!
  • But at the other end, you find yourself struggling and having to “knuckle down” more. Distractions are higher, your mind doesn’t want to settle, and it feels like it’s just not working out for you. 

Of course, the majority of times will be somewhere in between. But you get the idea of the range of experiences that can happen in this phase.

Also unusual, is that on the “good days” meditative phenomena are likely to show up as a result of skillful practice! This will vary from person to person, but there’s some consistent ones worth noting: 

  • Your thoughts and mental distractions will become faint, light, or wispy in the background and won’t be as enticing or forceful as they usually are
  • You may start to see balls or clouds of colored light behind your eyelids
  • There may be a sense of brightness that shows up as if the sun came out from behind the clouds, or someone turned up some lights on a dimmer switch
  • There may also be various types of energy sensations felt in the body like buzzing, tingling, twitching, movement of some kind, etc.
  • You may have a pleasant feeling of being bright, open, and expanded yet calm, clear, and steady

If you haven’t felt any of these yet, it doesn’t mean you’re not an intermediate. But it’s not uncommon to show up as you near this stage of practice, so it’s worth noting.

As a whole, The Intermediate has come a long way from where they began. They have a clearly established practice. But they have a whole range of experiences within their practice that makes it hard to know how to continue.

How To Progress

Because The Intermediate has already put in considerable time developing consistency in their practice, the best way to help them progress is by turning their focus to the QUALITY of their practice.

(As a side note, this is a wonderful time for meditation coaching, because each person will be unique in what they need to improve their quality. It’s really easy to get lost in self-assessing what you think you need, when a third-party perspective could be much more clear.)

With that said, there is still an objective aspect to improving the quality of meditation. Remember all those meditative phenomena that might happen? If not, go back and read the end of “The Intermediate” real quick.

Despite what the internet will tell you, all of those meditative phenomena aren’t related to kundalini, energy (qi/chi/prana), astral projection, trance, etc. Instead, they are a direct result of skillful practice.

The meditative phenomena are clear indicators you’ve achieved your first uplifting state of mind via meditation. You can think of this as a natural altered state of consciousness, but please don’t confuse it with anything you’d experience from substances. This is an entirely sober practice!

You achieve this state by learning to “let go” and free yourself from hindering mental traps, while maintaining proper technique (not losing alertness, over-efforting, or mind wandering).

There are clear and consistent hindering mental traps that all meditators will face, but how they manifest for you will be unique.

By working in this phase, you’ll start to see the artform behind meditation. It’s not just a process-based and objective skill to learn, but a subjective and unique path that unfolds each and every time.

In essence, this is the bulk of The Intermediate phase of practice: learning about these hindering mental traps, working with them appropriately, and learning to access your first uplifting state of mind, since it’s necessary to progress to The Advance stage of practice.

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The Advanced

There’s not an easy way to describe The Advanced phase of practice without an understanding of the previous stages, particularly The Intermediate phase. But rest assured, this is a very exciting phase to be in!

While you’ll have seen many benefits in your life from meditation as early as The Novice stage, it only gets more transformative as you go on.

As an advanced practitioner, you’ve now progressively built a foundation of knowledge and experience, developed a consistency of practice, and have refined the quality of your meditation.

As a result, you’re regularly achieving your first uplifted state of mind. And you’re not just quickly achieving it, but staying with it consistently and letting it become the focus of your meditation!

There’s an exciting, uplifting, and open, yet calm, clear, and expanded state of mind you regularly achieve as a result, that might linger when you finish practicing.

But this state of mind is only the beginning of what’s to come! And that will be the focus of “progression” within The Advance stage.

It’s not so much about progressing any more, but refining your practice further and further to experience even more uplifting mental states that clearly and unmistakably give you access to happiness, contentment, peace, and immaterial states of being.

In this sense, an advanced practitioner begins to see meditation not just as a skill (The Novice & The Beginner), or an art (The Intermediate), but as a life practice that deeply affects all areas of your life.

How To Progress

While you learned to access your first uplifting mental state in The Intermediate phase, The Advance phase of practice has you regularly achieving it. And that’s because it’s a prerequisite to continue on to more refined and natural states of being.

Again, it’s important to think of these as naturally occurring altered states of consciousness. In fact, you can probably relate to many of these states from other times in your life! The main difference is that these are all dependent on your practice and are born within, instead of on external conditions.

(In case it isn’t clear…this is an entirely natural and sober practice that doesn’t condone the use of substances.)

It’s a far too complex process to go into great detail about here, but to give you an idea of what the progression through these states looks like:

  • Once you navigate your way to your first uplifting state of mind, you’ll eventually notice an energetic type of sensation in the body. By focusing on this, surrendering to it, and emotionally opening up to it, it will build in intensity until your mind and body is so bright and full of energy! It’s a hard state to maintain, and can be overwhelming at first, but it’s the next uplifting state.
  • From there, when you “let go” and release the energy of that bright and energetic state of mind, it’ll get refined into a more stable and wholesome state that most practitioners experience as happiness. Some might even feel it as something akin to hopefulness! It can be very bubbly and effervescent, or smooth and blissful. Either way, what makes this state so unique is that the “happiness” of it is truly born within. It’s dependent on your skillful practice, not achieving or getting something externally.
  • Eventually, that happiness will calm down and turn into an even more stable state where you’ll feel deeply content. Because the intensity of the happiness is much more calm and steady, the body and mind has a chance to really relax and further “let go.”
  • When the time is right, you’ll even “let go” of whatever remains of that happiness. And as a result you’ll experience a deep, quiet peace. One that’s fully engaged and not tranced out, but still peaceful, calm, and still. It’s a beautiful state that will naturally rejuvenate your body and mind.

When an advanced practitioner has learned to maintain that peaceful state of being, it’s a great launch pad for further exploration. This can take many forms, from contemplating areas of your life and philosophical themes to have transformative insights, or to immaterial exploration (realms that defy what we experience physically in reality, such as a sense of space, infinite consciousness, and out-of-body exploration).

Like I said, The Advance stage is a very exciting phase of practice and there’s lots of avenues you can explore. But one thing’s for sure, meditation will have become a life practice for you at this point, and the possibilities are truly endless!

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