What Are the Three Marks of Existence? Cultivating Meaning Through Mindfulness Meditation Practice

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According to Buddhist teachings, as we become more aware of ourselves and our surroundings through mindfulness meditation practice, we develop a clearer understanding of the ‘Three Marks of Existence.’

    We are joined together in our mutual hardships that arise through the natural course of living.

-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

These three ‘spiritual laws’ pervade all facets of human life and include:

1.Dukkha (Suffering).

Dukkha involves an acknowledgement that life is stressful and unsatisfactory in many ways. This suffering isn’t the fault of any particular person or group. Rather, we are joined together in our mutual hardships that arise through the natural course of living.    

Anicca (Impermanence).

Nothing stays the same from moment to moment. Everything is impermanent and constantly in a state of flux, including our own suffering. From our human vantage point, we primarily observe these changes through the passage of time and the aging process.

Anattā (Not-Self).

Nothing happens in a vacuum. All of our experience is embedded within a larger context, upon which it depends. And perceptions of ourselves as separate and independent from this context are an illusion. As explained by Matthew and Elizabeth Sockolov of One Mind Dharma, “The mind is similar to a mirror, just reflecting whatever experience is occurring. Think of a mirror sitting in a hallway, and numerous people walking past it. The mirror stays a mirror, but its content changes.”

Whether you call yourself a Buddhist or not, the three marks of existence cut to the heart of what it means to be alive.

And there’s evidence to suggest that they may have special relevance for people who have recently experienced unwelcome change in their lives, such as the loss of a loved one.

In one study led by grief and loss expert, Dr. Robert Neimeyer, bereaved individuals who attended a 2-day workshop focusing on these themes (through the use of poetry, expressive arts, and group discussion) were found to show less despair and panic afterward, in addition to an enhanced sense of growth and understanding of their loss experience.     

Though more work needs to be done to demonstrate the efficacy of such an approach, Neimeyer expressed optimism for the potential of these teachings to help people coping with unwelcome changes in their lives. “We believe that a deep awareness of the…impermanence of life and its imperfections will open a new perspective on what human life is about in its challenge to create meaning in the midst of change.”

This week, we focus on cultivating mindfulness in your life and developing a deeper appreciation of these 3 marks of existence.

Tuesday’s piece provides a beginners guide to mindfulness practice and helps you troubleshoot some of the problems that can get in the way. And if you have a free Lifespark Exclusive subscription, you can also listen to our mindfulness meditation audio guide.  

Then on Wednesday, you can take our quiz and find out how mindful you are in your everyday life compared to others in the Lifespark community.

On Thursday, learn about starting a meditation practice: 5 Weeks with Live and Dare’s Online Meditation Course for Beginners.

We then end the week on Friday by discussing the benefits of mindfulness meditation for mental flexibility.

So, join us everyday this week for more on cultivating mindfulness. And tell us in the comments below, how has being more mindful and aware prompted new insights in your life?  


Further Reading:















Neimeyer, R. A., & Young-Eisendrath, P. (2015). Assessing a Buddhist treatment for bereavement and loss: The Mustard Seed Project. Death Studies, 39, 263-273.


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