There are a lot of different classifications in different traditions, this one is based on my personal experience but, probably, can be shared by many other people. Roughly, I could see 3 experiential stages or variable depth:
- Personal Benefits
- Mind expansion or Mystical
- Existential or Awakening to your True Nature
These stages are not necessarily sequential in time, and not everyone will get any mystical glimpses or be even interested in the Existential, and yet for the others, they might be the primary focus of interest.
I started practicing meditation at the age of 19, my first method was transcendental meditation. Over the years I have tried various Tibetan Buddhism methods, different types of Vipassana and, finally, Zen (both Koan and Shikantaza). My primary motivation was escaping intense emotional suffering and also the burning questions “What is the meaning of it all?”, but it changed with time…
Stage 1. Personal benefits
I have written about the beginning stage in my previous post 26 years of meditation: Beginning. Basically, at this stage, we are looking to improve our daily life. To feel better, to become more productive, more successful, more creative, more peaceful, more whatever…
It is about personal benefits, at least on the apparent level of our consciousness. And meditation (if you actually doing it consistently) definitely does help, I can totally vouch for it! You will feel more balanced emotionally, very likely it will improve your memory, problem-solving power, ability to come up with interesting “out of the box” solutions, help you with insomnia and stress.
The main difficulty at this stage is establishing meditation routine, as the results will not be apparent initially (for at least a few months, maybe longer) and it might feel that meditation doesn’t work and “there is no point”.
It takes time, just like learning any other skill, be very clear that most likely you will NOT experience anything significant in the beginning, changes will be very gradual and you might NOT actually notice them for a while.