What Is The Seven-Step Approach for Mastering Meditation?

Article 5 mins Meditation & Mindfulness
This progressive approach to linking body, breath, energy, and mind leads to a state of effortless relaxation and ease.
What Is The Seven-Step Approach for Mastering Meditation?

When we first begin to practice meditation, we often start with methods intended to cultivate a deep, intentional state of relaxation. Because "relaxing the mind" is a difficult concept for a beginning meditator, we typically begin with foundational practices that work on more external, physical aspects of practice such as our bodily postures, gazes, and physical energies. 

With some experience, we begin to work with inner phenomena such as our breath and internal energies. As our practice progresses, we increasingly work with deeper and more subtle levels of mind. This natural progression from outer to inner to the deepest and most subtle levels of awareness is a time-tested approach used by many who travel the path of meditation.

Off The Cushion

Experienced meditators who are developing familiarity with their inner levels of mind can work with reversing this process and opening their refined awareness back up to the outside world. For example, many beginning meditators will practice in a secluded place with their eyes closed in order to block out sensory stimulation, hence quiet the mind. These meditators may feel that they need sensory deprivation to experience the natural stillness of subtle levels of awareness.

Beginning meditators may need a quiet location and sensory deprivation in order to meditate. Photo: Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images

However, a more experienced meditator who has developed some stability at deeper levels of practice can literally (and figuratively) open their eyes and other sense faculties to the outside world. This enables them to practice bringing that state of deep calm back into the outside world of everyday life. With practice, such a meditator can carry their meditation "off the cushion" and maintain a stable, calm awareness at all times and under any circumstances. At the least, they can return to it when they perhaps need it the most — in the middle of everyday, stressful, "eyes open" experiences such as traffic, work, and family.

Until recently, it would have been difficult to find a single clear and concise Western-oriented approach to this entire path of meditation. It was simply not available without the student of meditation taking a deep dive into the nuances of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and practice. For this reason, the seven-step approach to learning meditation was created.

The Seven-Step Approach

The seven-step method was developed by Dza Kilung Rinpoche — a Tibetan Buddhist reincarnate lama — as a result of many years of teaching meditation to Western students. The approach is presented in his book, The Relaxed Mind: A Seven-Step Method for Deepening Meditation Practice (Shambhala Publications). The essence of the approach is a relaxation-oriented progression from the outer, body-oriented practices through the inner practices of breath and attention, and ultimately proceeding to an exploration of the most subtle levels of mind and awareness. 

Step One: Basic Sitting Meditation

To begin our meditative journey, we establish a comfortable meditation posture. We discover how to integrate physical and mental awareness with energy as we sit. Finally, we practice bringing mind and body together in relaxation as a preparation for calm abiding meditation.

Step Two: Calm Abiding Meditation

Now that we’ve practiced relaxing and connecting with our bodies and energy, we learn the techniques of calm abiding meditation to cultivate relaxed focus. We work with various objects of attention to free ourselves from the disturbances of thoughts and reach a deep state of calm.

Step Three: Arriving at Clarity

As our body and energies become calm and relaxed, we can experience the natural clarity of our mind. Our attention shifts from an external object to single‐pointedness itself — the unity between our mind and the environment. As our practice deepens, clarity and inspiration arise naturally.

Step Four: Insight Meditation

As we move beyond the urge to manipulate our experience, less and less effort is required to explore the subtle qualities of mind and uncover our true inner nature. As our insight develops, we learn to rest in the clarity and stillness of our innate wisdom, without dullness or agitation.

Step Five: Open Heart-Mind

As our practice of insight stabilizes, we begin to open our meditation to the external world, creating a foundation for the experience of unbiased compassion. Instead of grasping at the duality of self and other, we cultivate boundless equanimity, which leads to an experience of wide-open, spacious mind.

Step Six: Pure Mind Meditation

We discover that the true nature of mind is vast, uncontrived, and free of thoughts and worries. Through this practice, we open to the space between dualities, transcend habitual patterns, and achieve a deep state of resting wakefulness.

Step Seven: Non-Conceptual Meditation

Finally, we are introduced to our profound innermost nature of non-conceptual awareness, the naturally perfect state of spontaneous arising and primordial purity. We allow the mind to rest effortlessly beyond fixation and manipulation in our authentic natural condition — the true nature of mind.

By learning and diligently practicing these methods under the guidance of a skillful instructor, meditators at all levels of experience can progressively travel the entire path of awareness and cultivate genuine realization of the true nature of their mind.

Header Photo: mapodile/Getty Images

Republished with permission by DiscoveringMind.com