Change, Trinity, and the Law of Three

A couple of years ago, I felt stuck in place. I had been teaching in the inner city for a number of years, and along with administrative duties, tutoring, and coaching, my well was simply dry. And I also had a nagging sense I wasn’t living out my true vocation. Unconsciously, a deep inner resistance set in. I hit the level of the perpetual malcontent.

Growth, Trinity, and the Law of Three

On the other hand, this was a profession I was improving in, with the stability of pay, vacation, benefits, overtime, community, and so on. Jumping into anything else seemed like starting over at the bottom. But even more deeply, to leave felt like some kind of abandonment, dereliction of duty, a failure, giving up.

Eventually, though, I began to implement practices that changed my thinking. I wasn’t caught in the bind of miserable success vs. abject failure. When a new opportunity arose, I was able to embrace the process without hang-ups and inner struggle.

A book I picked up last week by modern mystic and Episcopalian priest Cynthia Bourgeault sheds some light on this dynamic.

Drawing on the teaching and writing of G.I. Gurdjieff, Jakob Boehme, and Teilhard de Chardin, Bourgeault makes a connection between The Law of Three as outlined by Gurdjieff, a fundamental building block of reality, the idea of the Trinity, and de Chardin’s idea that after the Christ event, Cosmogenesis, or the development of life through processes like evolution, becomes Christogenesis – Christ interwoven into the very fabric of ongoing creation.

Essentially, for Bourgeault this means for things to develop, whether in the cosmos or in our lives, there have to be three forces at work: affirming, denying, and reconciling. Two forces create opposition, but the third leads to a new reality altogether.

OK, that’s a bit to chew on. But to bring it back into concrete terms, think of a living plant. There’s the affirming energy (a seed), there’s the denying or resisting force (moist soil), and there’s the reconciling force (sunlight). All three are needed for the growth. This holds for, say, baking bread. Flour and water don’t make bread until we heat it in the fire. The fire is the reconciling force.

Obviously, for change to take place in any meaningful way, we have to make changes to our life rhythms, step into some new experience, open ourselves to the possibility of change first. But Bourgeault is after something different here. We tend to get stuck thinking in twos, but dynamic life happens in threes.

Einstein said we can’t solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. So much of the time, we frame our thinking in binaries, in opposites. This keeps us trapped at the current level of consciousness. This insight of change requiring all three forces (or ternary thinking) has all sorts of implications. For starters, to encounter resistance is absolutely necessary for growth and change. We can be grateful for resistance because it forces us to expand our thinking beyond the existing categories to create inclusive solutions. This holds true in our own lives and for our bitterly divisive national discourse.

In fact, one way to think of the kind of love described in spiritual texts is as an unwavering commitment to bringing about this kind of dynamic change, helping to facilitate or “midwife” new forms into the world, new ways of being that move oneself and others ever more toward wholeness.

For Bourgeault, in a sense, to “search for Christ” is to look for this reconciling force in any and every situation where there are two forces in tension, and to facilitate or “midwife” a new order of reality into being. When we identify that reconciling force and unleash it, new life emerges, new horizons open up, new possibilities. One way contemplative practice helps here is to quiet the mind enough that we can see our situations more clearly, our intuitive capacity grows and we become more sensitive to subtle insights about how to proceed.

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