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The Seven Stages of a Lay Meditator

The process of spiritual evolution through meditation

First off, forgive the verbosity of this post. I am putting this here because my last post was on anxiety, and I failed to mention the case for mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation are excellent means of decreasing anxiety and yet for some people (like me), the thought of meditation can cause anxiety. I worked on meditation for seven weeks and found the process an evolution similar to the progress through a religious paradigm. As I grew up Catholic, I think the comparisons are rich and can help you see that meditation is a process and can be taken as slowly as you desire.

                                             The Seven Stages of a Lay Meditator

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I was not a meditator.

I did not pretend to be a meditator.

In this paper, I will examine stages of development of individual mindfulness and meditation as an experience in spiritual and psychological progression.  This paper will explore a staged process based on mindful spiritual development, and for spiritual comparison I have chosen the familiar framework of the Roman Catholic Church.  Also, as a part of building a comparison between developmental meditation and spiritual development, there will be usage of spatial and cosmological time and Eastern philosophical spirituality. 

The aspect of mindfulness and meditation as a framework towards spiritual development is dependent on the individual.  Individualism is a system of morals, feelings, ideas, and institutions in which individuals can be organized by their mutual isolation and defence (sic).  Therefore, this paper will look at man in the simplest of forms; individuals unattached to any natural community.  This isolation is necessary to focus on individual exploration of the personal interior and exterior.  The personal interior being psyche and the personal exterior being the exploration of mindfulness and the interaction of individuals such as I an Thou described by Buber.

It is because of my personal narrative and interaction with mindfulness and my distaste and simultaneous enjoyment of a mindful and meditative practice that I explored a definition of my self-described failures and successes.  The fundamental focus of this paper will be a hypothetical seven stages of personal mindful and meditative development as a comparison to the seven sacred sacraments in the development of a practicing Roman Catholic.  The seven stages compared to meditation, time, and psychological development are as follows:


 

Stage One—Baptism into the Body of Mindfulness

Baptism is a means of erasure.  In a sense, it is a point of starting over.  In the Roman Catholic Church, baptism is a means of preparation of the spirit to enter into the presence of God.  When one assumes they are being mindful this should be done based on practice and simply being around others who are mindful; nearness to the divine does not make one divine.  Discussions at residential retreats for Saybrook University  had as a key point whether or not someone could teach mindfulness meditation if they themselves did not participate in such an activity.  It is the admonition of mindfulness practitioners that it would be impossible for someone to teach a mindfully meditative practice without themselves having a dedicated practice (Dale-Miller, L., 2011).  While baptism in a spiritual sense it a sacred ceremony bringing someone into the practice and declaring them the newest member of a flock, it is a similar process when entering a meditative practice.  The process happens as the individual is attempting to move from a chronological time into a more infinite space.  This Chronos time is challenging as the individual moves from appointments, text messages, and children into the vast openness of meditation.  This baptism beginning and the difficulty it holds has been recognized in the training of medical professionals. Thoughts, random and unwanted are the greatest common difficulty during meditation (p.476).  I look at my own beginning, or this baptism into meditation on a level consistent with survival.  This is the struggle with ones own needs and how to fit this practice in to life without the specter of self-sabotage.  The practice of mindfulness and meditation brings forth the essence of being with one's self, and while you are entering into a new practice you are essentially alone.  Beginning meditation brings up inner dialogue and aspects of fear deep in the psyche of individuals.  Once the bonds of baptism have been formed and one enters the waters of meditation this allows for a communion with emotions and a deeper enrichment of the practice.

Step Two—Mindful Communion with Emotions

Communion is generally believed to be a sharing.  In Catholicism, communion is not simply communing with God or the Divine; it is also a communion with other people of shared faith and belief.  When one is set to take communion in the church they are prepared and placed into the mindset of communion by the clergy.  With a simple prayer, "the body of Christ", the sacrament is placed in the mouth or the hands and the participant returns to their seat to reflect on their relationship with the Divine.  This step moves in the same form of Chronos time as baptism, but moves you from the inactive baptism to the active mindfulness of communing.  Reflecting in the sacred while taking Holy communion increases intimacy with the Divine and similarly couples exercising mindful awareness towards each other experience greater emotional bonding through developmental of deeper emotional repertoires.  It is in this second stage of mindful development that one comes face to face with their own emotional struggles, however facing these struggles can lead to greater symptom relief and personal growth.  Stepping through the first two stages of this proposed meditative practice are similar to baptism and communion in spiritual progression in the Catholic church because they are both involved with beginning and coming to grips with struggles.  There is also communion with others who are participating this practice.  For some, as with religion, there may be a search for a guru or leader in the field, while some will decide to proceed solo.  Mindful communion with others and with oneself is a progressive strep towards oneness or discovery of enlightenment.  The progression from baptism and communion, or through the mindful struggles with survival and emotion give way to the third stage of development and spiritual progression called confirmation.  This is the last step in a Chronos or linear timeframe

Step Three—Mindful Confirmation and the Ego of the Holy Ghost

This is my hypothetical final step in the linear time-frame and is that point where Catholics are brought into the fold as an adult practitioner; a point when the powers that be feel the individual is ready to accept the vestiges of responsibility.  In a mindful meditation practice, this would be that point where the individual practitioner discovers a wavering in the ego. As individual progress through the emotional struggles of meditation this insight may provide trouble in interpretation as the ego and defense mechanisms begin to change.  This place is on the cusp of linear and Kairos times because it is between the steps of verbalization and silence.  The ego builds its strength on the ability to describe its place in the world and the confirmed mindfulness mediator is learning to remain silent.  With such treatments as psychoanalysis built around the ego and the strength of verbalization, the significance of silence in meditation to quell the external ego has yet to be appreciated.  This dissolution or confrontation with the ego is a necessary step in meditative practice because it brings the ego closer to that which it yearns to become.  Comparatively, in my own spiritual background I found this stage of the ego to be where I discovered that I did not want to go to church or support an organized religion.  I discovered this as well in my meditative practice as I found a structured format or having to follow a certain structure to be unappealing.  Certain suggestions were very helpful in deepening my practice, but like a teenager I needed to discover this practice on my own and not simply follow what was handed down to me from a mentor or teacher.  With this third stage we leave the linear time frame to entire Kairos or rhetorical time of the right now.  Where Chronos moves linear regardless of situation, Kairos is spatially dependent upon person, place, and surroundings.  This is a marriage of mind, mindfulness, and time.

Step Four—Marriage of the Mind and Loving Kindness

Marriage is a sacred sacrament of which we all have some basic understanding. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes marriage as one of the seven sacred sacraments and places it as a strict section of canon or law.  In my life I entered the covenant of marriage on two separate occasions and thus I saw how not treating the marriage as sacred can lead to a destitute practice.  In the hypothetical model of comparison I have compared this level of marriage with that of loving kindness meditation.  We don not have to look at marriage as the communion of two people but more of a marriage of mind and body.  The loving kindness can be for others or it can be for one's self.  This can also be taken out of time and moved into the "right here. right now" Kairos time period.  This mindfulness practice of loving kindness was shown to build personal resources like purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.  On a human level this stage of development takes us out of the body and into the realm of social connection.  The confusion for some is that mindfulness meditation is a solitary practice and fear arises from this supposed isolation.  In actuality, those participating in loving-kindness meditation demonstrated increased positive emotions and decreased social isolation.  The Dali Lama has said, "my religion is kindness" and this is why this particular stage is in the middle of the ladder on the way to Divinity.  This is a crucial step in spiritual progression because it requires a significant contribution from the participant.  This is the step where the mindfulness practitioner must become fully dedicated to the practice and not simply accept they enjoy meditation but they are married to their practice and understand that like a marriage there will be good times and bad, yet it will always be there for you and you for it.  Like a marriage, a meditation practice is something that will eventually need to be worked on; the shine will wear off.  The next stage of development for meditation practice and its Catholic counterpart is that of Confession or that time when one divests sin or enters the meditative therapy.

Step Five—Confession and Personal Mindful Therapy

Continuation through the meditative process through the emotional and egoic needs, one eventually comes to loving kindness and then reaches the cliff of forgiveness.  This process is not an easy one, but it is necessary for the practitioner to utilize the meditative process as therapy.  My Catholic background was one steeped in tradition, of which confession was a yearly expectation.  Again, time was not linear once one entered the confessional with the curtain closed.  You were shrouded in the dark of your own sin until the priest opened the partition and you were asked to speak.  Even in the loneliness of the confessional the darkness was a safe and protected environment and the feeling was one of relief.  One of the most famous mindful confessions in the Catholic Church are those of St. Augustine.  The thirteen books in Augustine's confessions represent his attachment to the world and his eventual conversion to the trinity.  The stages of his conversion and progression mirror his understanding and mindfulness of the process of Divinity.  In a mindful practice, the practitioner can now release the lessons from emotions and ego and use the meditative practice as therapy.  This personal practice can now be utilized as a space where things can be released and remembered as an essential part of life, but one that can now be allowed to leave.  In this process for me as practitioner I found increased elements of anger with myself for not being able to go deeper into my meditation or for not being able to be mindful when I felt I should.  I discovered this anger came from a much deeper place than the superficial pinning's I had described.  This depth brought more to my meditative practice because it allowed me to let these memories go as I would any other aspect of mind that comes into my meditation.  I learned to release these memories of anger during meditation just as I would the thoughts of needing to wash my car.  Confession is an emptying of the souls' cup.  This emptiness brings the practitioner one step closer to oneness, by introducing the concept of self-actualization or self-fulfillment and the pleasures of operating in cosmic time.

Step Six—Cosmic Time, Ordination, and Self-Actualization

The sixth sacrament of the Catholic Church is Ordination, whereby special rites are granted to the deacon or priest giving them authority to perform absolutions or anointing.  On a personal level, this is similar to the meditative practitioner moving into a mentor or self-actualized role.  The ordained minister or meditative practitioner has now been granted privilege to confirm knowledge unto others.  The ordained minister can lay hands to heal while the mindful practitioner may either find healing within themselves or teach the process of healing to others.  One need not be a medical practitioner to heal.  One need not practice mindfulness meditation to heal, however if one has reached a self-actualized state and recognizes the ability of mindfulness to heal then one can foster the inner calmness and nonreactivity of the mind that allows others to deal with the stresses of daily life .  This stage of development for both the meditative practitioner and Catholic alike is opened to a cosmic time.  Cosmic time is the time since time started.  It is the one and all the alpha and the omega in religious sectors.  This stage of development, this self-actualized state is a temporary end to suffering.  The power of cosmic time and self-actualization in a meditative practice is the potential to reduce suffering and promote healing individually and within others. Mindful practitioners attend in a nonjudgmental way to their own physical and mental processes during ordinary, everyday tasks.  A self-actualized practitioner can heal because the goal of mindfulness is informed compassionate action incorporating relevant information, making correct decisions, and empathizing with the patient as a means of relieving suffering. The self-actualized mindful meditator can use their practice to heal themselves by increasing coping mechanisms for dealing with stress (Grossman, Ludger, Schmidt, & Walach, 2004).   This healing process and the power to realize the self makes way for the final stage of meditative practice; being and nonduality.

Step Seven—The Extreme Unction of Nothing

In the Catholic Church, this form of divine healing or anointing of the sick is performed with blessed oils.  The oils are blessed with all five senses and are placed on the head or the Third Eye of the sickened individual.  Those performing these healings are themselves considered the most holy of Bishops, being anointed to perform this sacred ritual.  The beauty of unction is that it is part of performing of the last rites before someone dies.  This can be synonymous in meditation with death of the ego and nonduality for the practitioner.  The previous six stages of development being a distinct preparatory for the practitioner's ego.  Honestly, this stage is a place few may obtain and those that do may only be able to stay for a short period of time.  In my own meditative practice I fear I look towards this stage as a goal rather than a progression.  In looking at this as a goal designates the possibility of failure, which should not enter into a meditative practice.  Part of my battle is treating my meditative practice as more of a natural progression and less of an assignment where there are grades for success or failure. 

Conclusions

In this paper I have described a set of stages in the progression of a meditative or mindful practitioner.  These stages were also compared to the seven sacred sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church to give them a comparison to spiritual progression and a comparison of Eastern spirituality and time were also incorporated.  The proposed stages of meditative practice were described as body, feelings, awareness, loving-kindness, release, self-fulfillment, and nonduality.  In placing a framework for meditative progression in place it is then possible to compare this practice to religious customs.  Roman Catholicism was chosen as this is a comfortable practice for the author and it has definitive stages of progression described as baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage, confession, ordination, and extreme unction.  No progression or practice continues in a void and thus time was woven into the paper as a template for each stage.  The first three stages were described as occurring in a Chronos time, or the familiarity of appointments, schedules, and clocks.  The fourth and fifth stages occur in Kairos time which is the "right here, right now" timeframe obtainable by the more advanced practitioner, and the six and seventh stages occur in God's time.  The final comparison was that of a psychological development one deals with as they progress through their spiritual and mindful/meditative.  The psychological stages are survival needs, emotional needs, egoic needs, personal love, therapy, self-actualization, and divinity or divine healing.  While these stages of meditative practice fit my own practice and make it easier for me understand why there are struggles and how to deal with these struggles as I mature into my practice.


                                                               References

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Shawn Tassone, M.D., is a board certified OB-GYN, Ph.D. candidate in mind-body medicine, and author of two books.

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