Some 2,500 years ago, the Buddha presented meditation training as a sequence of developmental stages in a series of verses known as the Ānāpānasati Sutta. Each verse describes one step in a progressive method for training the mind. – Culadasa (John Yates)
I am currently reading, The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness by Culadasa (John Yates). He outlines the stages of progression in meditation in a logical and achievable way based on the Tibetan training the elephant picture.
This framework helps to understand the process, understand your place on the journey and also act as a kind of mental satnav to bring you back on course when you make a wrong turn.
The framework is split into four main milestones with their sub-stages that focus on the goal, obstacles, skills and have an indicator that will show when that stage or milestone has been reached, and the next stage can be started.
One of the critical points is that you can move forwards and backwards on the stages as part of the natural flow of life, but that the framework gives a quick route back to making progress.
The Novice Meditator
1. Establishing a practice.
2. Interrupted attention and overcoming mind wandering.
3. Extended attention and overcoming forgetting.
Milestone 1: Continuous attention to the meditation object
The Skilled Meditator
4. Continuous attention and overcoming gross distractions and strong dullness
5. Overcoming subtle dullness and increasing mindfulness
6. Subduing subtle distractions
Milestone 2: Sustained exclusive focus of attention.
7. Exclusive attention and unifying the mind
Milestone 3: Effortless Stability of Attention
The Adept Meditator
8. Mental pliancy and pacifying the senses
9. Mental and physical pliancy and claiming the intensity of meditative joy
10. Tranquility and equanimity
Milestone 4: Persistence of the mental qualities of an adept
The levels and the milestones will be explained in more detail in this series of articles.