Buddhist Psychology: Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta

Last month I took a mindful meditation course taught by Dr. Ron Siegel, Psy.D. This class was designed for psychologists looking to integrate mindfulness practices with their clients. I thought this would be a great course for me to learn more about mindfulness and a good way to use it with my craniosacral therapy and yoga clientele.

As I have discussed in past blogs, mindful meditation is a type or a practice of meditation where one observes their thoughts with non-judgment, acceptance, and kindness. With practice, one learns to observe and witness their thoughts vs. be and feel their thoughts and emotions. It is being aware of the present moment for what it is, not thinking about yesterday or what we will do next. The goal is not to have a blank mind, but to shift the relationship with the thoughts to have an awareness of them and your actions.     

In his introduction Dr. Siegel presented us with Buddhist Psychology. To research mindfulness one must understand that Buddhism is not a religion in the Western sense that we think of religion. Rather it is the results of 2500 year old tradition of introspection. Most Buddhist Psychology is the compilation of insights derived from the Buddha’s mindful meditation practice and his teachings.

There are three main insights from mindful practice as taught by Buddha, also known as the three marks of existence: Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta. Anicca means impermanence, or inconsistency. Everything is in a state of change or flux, all beings and non-beings change over time, all circumstances change, nothing is permanent. Dukkha means dissatisfaction, disease, stress, and/or suffering. Nothing in the physical world can bring permanent satisfaction. Some of this is due to the fact that everything changes. Dukkha is felt by all beings that are not enlightened, because we are often dissatisfied. Anatta means “not self” or a separate self. We see ourselves as separate vs. a whole, or a part of the universe or other people.     

In application, insight to the three marks of existence can help us be more mindful and decrease our overall suffering. For example, when stressed due to a changing job, family situation, or illness we can realize those are all manifestations of Anicca: everything changes. The only permanent thing is change itself. Rather then becoming upset and wishing things were different, be more mindful and observe the change, realize change is part of the process of life.

Often we are dissatisfied with our relationships, our bosses, or jobs. This dissatisfaction is also not permanent, and with changes, there can also be changes in the level of satisfaction. Again, if we can realize Dukkha is the manifestation of dissatisfaction we can step back, observe, and realize satisfaction levels will change as well.

Lastly Anatta: when I go through something difficult I am convinced I am the only one who has ever felt this way. No one knows what it is like and I often disconnect myself from others, I practice Anatta. However, I should realize we are all connected and my “suffering” can affect another is some way. Realizing I am connected to those around me, including non-living objects, helps me realize that I do not suffer alone.   

These practices are not easy, and I often forget to be mindful, especially when I am angry or sad. It is difficult to be the person that observes vs. the person that is attached to  the feeling or emotion. Yet somehow better understanding Anicca, Dukkah, and Anatta has helped me look at difficult situations in my life, observe them, try to become unattached to the outcome, and move on. May this happen for you as well!     

More information on Dr. Siegel here

More information on my meditation retreat here

Listening to Answers