Ten stages of mystical insight.
There is one account of stages with which I do feel in full accord: the Zen ox-herding pictures (From THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN, by Philip Kapleau.)These pictures don't come out of speculation but rather out of the experience of many mystics. They depict ten stages of mystical insight in a series of paintings of a person and an ox. The person is the spiritual seeker; the ox is the Divine in a wild, unknown, untamed form. Some may find it surprising that the Lord is represented here as an ox.
Well, at first it is as though you are in the woods (1), and now and then you find the footprints of some heavy beast (2). You would like to see it, so you track it. Finally you catch a glimpse of it (3). Many are at this stage, having caught only a glimpse of the beast! Finally you catch him but he's a tough one (4). He once stepped on me and I can testify he is heavy. Finally the ox starts to work with you (5). Finally you two are in accord and you can ride the ox home (6).
This whole book is about the first six stages, in which one reaches friendship with the Divine; one can contact the Divine and learn from it. But there is still some dualism, that of the rider versus the ox, though now there is enough friendship and understanding that there is no longer opposition.
I have felt little need to describe the last four stages because the person who has reached stage six is well on their way, and will be shown the last four stages in time. In the seventh picture the ox is forgotten. The monk came to realize he could reflect on the very Life in himself. Ox and self are now the same thing. There is no other. The life one sees and feels within is the One life. The cut-off self never existed. There always was only Life. The repeated experience of the eternal, of coming back to the Divine, gradually weakens the ego sense of "I am a separate entity." Finding the One in so many people and contexts overcomes the sense of separateness. Finally we experience separateness and ego as illusion (Maya). Just as we repeatedly stepped from time to the eternal and back, we can also step from separateness to no separation and back again. Let us look at the last three stages, but realize that only direct experience makes these stages real. In the eighth picture we see just a circle drawn on the page. Even the seeker has vanished. This is the ultimate illumination. There is only this unity. In the ninth picture the world and all its beauty returns, but this is the world transfigured, permeated with the One. There is nothing to seek. It is obvious the One is everywhere. In the tenth picture the adept returns to the marketplace with helping hands, doing what he/she can. What was given is multiplied by being shared. The Zen ox-herding series represents the experience of many, and they are in a nearly universal language. You may have some sense of where you are in this series.
Wilson van Dusen, Returning to the Source, Ch14 Some Questions Answered