2. Cause and Effect

1. Mind and Body   |  3. The Three Characteristics

In the stage of Cause and Effect, the relationships between mental and physical phenomena become very clear and sometimes ratchet-like. There is a cause, such as intention, and then an effect, such as movement. There is a cause, such as a sensation, and there is an effect, namely a mental impression. The joy and wonder of Mind and Body have left, and now the interactions between the mind and body start to seem somewhat mechanical. Motions such as walking or breathing may begin to get jerky, as there is the intention and the motion, the sensation and the mental impression of it, the cause and the effect, all occurring in a way that can seem sort of tight and robot-like. You note, the breath moves just a bit. You stop noting, the breath stops. You note quickly, the breath jerks quickly. You note slowly, the breath follows. You note smoothly, the breath is smooth. The same thing can happen with our feet during walking meditation if we are noting our steps.

Some will stop noting quickly or stop noting completely, thinking that they are “messing up the breath”. The advice here is as before—note quickly, and don’t worry about what the breath does. It may do crazy things—keep practicing regardless, as this is just one phase, and in later phases attention won’t modify the breath in this way, so just keep going. Avoid having some idealized notion of how meditative breathing must be, as it will just confuse, frustrate, and slow you down at this stage. Do not pathologize this stage and the fact that attention, intention, and movement interact in unusual ways, as this is a sign of progress, not problems.

Remember how I recommended trying to experience one to ten sensations per second, noting which were mental and which were physical? At this stage, the technical meditator is finally able to do this with a fair degree of skill, confidence, and consistency. Even meditators who are not particularly technical will generally notice that they are able to observe many more sensations than they could before.

Those with stronger concentration tendencies or a bent towards more visionary aspects of life and practice may notice thoughts and perhaps even visions of insight into Cause and Effect on a macroscopic scale, where past action or circumstances led to various consequences, some event led to some rebirth, some previous life led to something today, and in general may get a sense that they are able to intuit aspects of the workings of karma in a way they did not before. As the meditator becomes clearer about the beginnings and endings of mental and physical sensations, of the irritation caused by this jerkiness, and notices the fact that all of this seems to be happening on its own, they come to directly perceive for themselves …

1. Mind and Body   |  3. The Three Characteristics