It is known that the restless mind cannot immediately enter into a state of thoughtlessness. That is why meditation is practised in stages. A 2005 paper “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness” by Antoine Lutz and his colleagues contains a very succinct description of this graded process accompanied by a concise table, which we highlight in this post.
The following table is from page 40 of the paper.
Stages of meditation table: From the paper "Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness" by Antoine Lutz, John Dunne, Richard Davidson
In their paper, Lutz et al. describe the four stages in the Buddhist practice of Open presence or Rig-pa Chôg-zhag.
Stage 1: One strengthens the vacillating mind by building concentration on some chosen external object (e.g. candle, sky, etc) for long periods of time until the mind is unperturbed by external distractions, the recall of past events, and thoughts about the future.
Stage 2: One then employs techniques that cultivate an awareness of subjectivity in a manner that de-emphasizes the object. One observes the mind and the senses while they are contemplating the external object. In doing so, one gains phenomenal access to the reflexive awareness that is immutable (i.e. the Spirit or soul within).
Stage 3: One then de-emphasizes subjectivity as well, so as to further enhance that access to reflexivity. At this point, one has developed the strength to stand back and reject the thoughts as they seek to enter the mind.
Stage 4: Finally, as the consciousness recedes inward, one loses awareness of subjectivity as well. One becomes fixed in the bliss of the Presence within.
This is a quick summary from pages 39-45 of the paper, which is worth reading. Click hereto read the full paper.