I want to describe the ‘stages’ or ‘states’ of meditation that I have gone through. To do so, I won’t be relying upon doctrine, only on lived experience and on metaphorical language (such as ‘states’ or ‘stages’). The latter is necessary since any non-discursive experience will have to enter into language in order to be intelligible. Drawing on metaphorical language, therefore, enables me to make sense of such an experience. In addition, it may assist as well as enhance my practice.
I will argue that I have experienced three ‘states’ or ‘stages’ of non-ordinary consciousness, and I have had intimations of a fourth. In what follows, I will be especially interested in the transitions from one state to another.
1. Preliminary Struggles. Posture is uncomfortable, breathing irregular, the perceptible world quite present to awareness, and thoughts angled toward memories, anticipations, and interests. One feels strain, effort, struggle, fight. Typically, some technique has as its aim that of moving one beyond these preliminary struggles.
Transition: One comes to–and quietly affirms–a weak metaphysical view according to which there is a real elsewhere that is other than and distinct from the ordinary reality of the perceptible world. This ‘elsewhere’ is at once an ‘other than…’ and a ‘more than…’ One senses that this ‘elsewhere’ is worth exploring to find out what it is and what it is like. What it is = what it is like.
2. Steady Calmness. Breathing is regular, the sensations associated with one’s posture (one’s body) is mostly absent, and one’s thoughts have become more well-ordered. The mind still thinks, but the thoughts seem distant, farther off. One could say that it is ataraxia (on one translation, the absence of mental disturbance.) One simply feels that there are no disturbances, disruptions, ruptures as if all of these ceased to exist, to be possible. Here there is peacefulness of a kind that goes beyond what one would say if one were to say in ordinary life that one felt peaceful.
Transition: Now that one is aware of an ‘elsewhere,’ one can begin to make a second turn. This turn, in my experience, requires losing an interest in one’s thoughts. I believe this to be an axiological claim: these thoughts are no longer of interest to me. What I have come to put first–logically first–is this elsewhere.
Note that the first transition involved a weak metaphysical claim about a fact. Now we are going much further, insisting that this elsewhere must come first. This new valuation will feel very strange, though also very natural.
3. Euphoric Sweetness. Now the breathing is natural, the perceptible world like some vague background only, the body virtually forgotten. Sounds do not matter. Thoughts do not matter. Stretches of (clock) time will feel thoughtless. Yet it won’t matter whether there are or are not thoughts; it won’t matter what the content of the thoughts is; none of it will matter. These thoughts, whatever they are, could just as well be musical notes, sounds, tree branches, paper. Meanwhile, one feels euphoria. There could be a buzzing in the ears, a sweetness, a heaviness (or lightness). It could be intoxicating yet without the dizziness or spinning: like a controlled intoxication. It is home-like as if one would never want to be anywhere else. If one were to open one’s eyes, the eyes would want to be shut, to return. When one goes to others, one wants to hug them, to be in love with them.
Transition? I have felt (or heard?), ‘Something could happen,’ and that is all. My hunch is that it is only possible with a kind of absolute self-surrender: whatever happens is what one wants to happen. Whatever happens is, rather, pure happening. Utter receptivity (or utter creative effulgence).
The Fourth? What is it = what is it like? It is possible that euphoric sweetness gains in intensity and duration. I have felt euphoric sweetness sometimes for hours, even longer. It is also possible that a higher state of consciousness would feel like something else entirely. I do not know.