What is the Magic of Three?

Have you ever wondered about the significance of the number three? I will give you three minutes to think about it and you can describe your answer for me in three words.

When a friend suggested that I join an online course on mindfulness I thought it would be a great idea. Having spent much of my lockdown doing online technical courses on social media as well as Zoom catchups for yoga, book club and sign language, I thought it would be an opportunity to focus on “being” rather than constantly “doing”. Besides, the doctor who was running the course was donating the proceeds to provide clean drinking water for those in poorer countries overseas.

When I looked at the course requirements, I wanted to make sure there was not too much homework. I already had plenty of that from my Master Class for Bloggers. Quickly scanning through the notes, I saw that there were pages for self-reflection to record one’s thoughts and feelings. I decided that would be manageable until I saw the last sentence which read, “in three words describe how you feel about the course Mindful in May.” It was those three words which set me off on a whole new journey and thought path.

The first memory it triggered for me was when I was travelling around India on a bus with a group of fellow tourists.  For daily entertainment I suggested that everyone should think of three words to describe each place we visited.  It helped us remember place names and was a good exercise to delay dementia. Sometimes travelling up to twelve hours a day, it also provided light entertainment. While green, colonial, thrilling were my initial words to describe Delhi, my friend’s words were mad, rich, humanity. When I later wrote my book Chasing Marigolds, the words I recorded jogged my memory of where we had been.

Having been interested in numerology for some years, I learned that the number three is my life path or ruling number and represents creative expression. Being the first number on the mental plane, it is about thinking. This irony was not lost on me when I realized my purpose of signing up for Mindful in May was to escape my busy monkey brain.

Thinking of “three words” to describe this course prompted me to reflect on why it is that we use “three” words and not two or four to describe our feelings. We are told to take three deep breaths to relax while meditating and in yoga we chant Om three times. In fact, many rituals are performed three times. Under Muslim law a man can divorce his wife by repeating the phrase “I divorce thee” three times.

When playing with children we tell them to count to three before running or throwing a ball and remember that the third time is always lucky when attempting to do anything. Children’s stories are full of number three. We have all read “The Three Little Pigs”, “The Three Bears” and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”. I am sure you can think of many more.

In fairy tales (if you are good) you will be granted three wishes. In mythology heroes and heroines are given three choices or tests that they need to fulfill (see my blog on The Hero’s Journey). They usually overcome their difficulties on the third try. We are indebted to the Japanese for teaching us about the three wise monkeys, “Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.”

Pythagoras taught that the number three was the first true number. It is the first number to form a geometrical figure, the triangle. Three is the number of times, described as past, present and future. There are also birth, life and death or the beginning, middle and end of time. There are also three primary colours, red, blue and yellow.

But where does this fascination with number three originate? In Christianity, the significance of the number three seems to stem from the Holy Trinity which represents divine wholeness, completeness and perfection. Number three was used to put a divine stamp of completion on any important event or idea mentioned in the bible. You will find no shortage of examples. Starting with “On the third day…” to the “Three Wise Men”. God is given three attributes: omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. Those who study yoga may recognise that all these words begin with Om.

It is not just Christianity where the number three is significant. Three is the holy number for the Trimurti in Hinduism which is the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. We also find the number three in the Buddhist Tiratana. Known as the Three Jewels of Buddhism, the three circles are symbolic for The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings) and Sangha (his followers).

I would love to hear your comments and feedback as I am sure you will all think of many more examples than those I have mentioned here. You have no doubt heard the latest news. Our Prime Minister has just announced changes he wishes to implement to lift restrictions for COVID-19 and get Australia’s economy back on track. You will not be surprised to learn that his plans of course will be carried out in a “Three Step Process”. In the meantime, I am going to leave you with a question to contemplate. There are three words which are indisputably the most valuable words of all. What are they?

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