The Third Force

Posted by Bonnie Rose on Jun 10, 2020
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Sweet are the uses of adversity. – William Shakespeare

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. – Rumi

Reality goes by many names – God, Spirit, The Absolute, Love, The Tao, Awareness, The Universe. Reality is perfect, meaning inclusive of everything. Reality is an unfettered field “out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing.”

Opposites arise in the field – good, bad, darkness, light, joy, sorrow. These qualities arise in concert, each a complement to the other. But the human brain struggles with opposites. We attach to one side of an equation and call it Reality. Our point of view is never the whole picture.

Fortunately, the Universe is maintained by scientific/spiritual laws. We’re familiar with laws of science. The laws of physics get us where we need to go. The laws of gravity help us stay where we need to stay. A spiritual law, the Law of Three known as The Third Force, helps us reconcile opposites and find new possibilities in seemingly impossible conditions.

The Third Force teaches that a conflict contains both an affirming and denying factor – a yes and a no. Our typical response to “yes vs. no,” is to struggle. We try and get the other side to change. We hope to achieve a win for our side, meaning that the other must lose. Even a compromise involves both sides making concessions. The Third Force is a reconciling factor that offers something greater.

We invite the Third Force, by first identifying the affirming and denying factors. Then we surrender to the tension of opposites. It may be uncomfortable; but we wait, watch, pray, observe, and cultivate faith. We stop looking for answers in the limits of our knowing and trust a vastness that is both infinite and intimate. We abide as the perimeter of the yin/yang symbol, a circle that holds both darkness and light. Newness emerges through our willingness. A “Fourth” way arises as a mystical, often deceptively simple win/win.

My husband, an avid gardener, uses a plant metaphor to explain the third force. Water and the plant’s innate urge to grow are the affirming factors. The plant begins to ramble, so the gardener applies the denying factor of pruning. The interplay of affirming and denying invites the third factor, the Force of reconciliation. The natural order of reconciliation moves the plant to exuberant fullness that ultimately produces more seeds, plants, and compost.

The Third Force helps us navigate relationship conflicts. Several years ago, we had an ongoing challenge with homeless people gathering on the church grounds. For the leadership, the affirming factor was our right to a clean, sanitary environment. The homeless people were denying what we wanted. I felt frustrated and guilty. “What would Jesus, Buddha, or Rumi do?” I asked.

Something inspired me to flip the affirming and denying factors. I saw that our homeless friends had needs. We were denying the fulfillment of these needs. Guilt made me want to let them do whatever they wanted, but that wouldn’t have been a win/win. With a little more Third Force-time, I realized that the source of my frustration was not “undesirable” behaviors; it was my own sense of helplessness. What if we could transform helplessness into help-fullness? This insight led to an expansive practice of distributing blankets, food, water, and toiletries while politely asking our friends to respect our property.

The third force can be used to address social/political issues as well. Even in heated political discussions, we trust that a perceived enemy is an opportunity for deep practice. This perspective invites listening. We surrender the false certainty of old patterns and make space for the better yet to be.

In these pandemic times, the Third Force can help us re-imagine the world. The affirming factor could be impermanence, the inevitability of change. The denying factor could be our unconscious commitment to the status quo. Rest in the dynamic tension of “I want the world to change,” vs. “I don’t want things to change because I’ll have to let go.” Be honest about both sides of the equation. The Third Force will lead us to a Fourth that exceeds our current capacities for goodness. Trust the process, live like the truth of reconciliation is true, and await the new inspiration and growth.

It is important to remember that the reconciling Third Force arises not in spite of the tension between affirming and denying factors. It arises because of that tension. Natural resistance yields new growth in the way that weight-lifting builds muscles. This shift in awareness soothes the need to punish ourselves, others, and the world when things seem against us. Instead, we surrender to the nuances of divine perfection in imperfection and enjoy the process. We enter Rumi’s field, with lighthearted yet sincere intentions for the well-being of all. In this Infinite place, we move from miracle to miracle and everything becomes a blessing.

A few questions that I find interesting to reflect on:
  • Is there a place in your life where you can invoke the Third Force?
  • What will need to change in you, to enhance your receptivity?
  • How can you live like the Truth of reconciliation is true?

Note: This essay was inspired by Cynthia Bourgeault's book, The Holy Trinity and The Law of Three. She is a student of George Gurdjieff.

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Comments (10)

  • Monica Kapoor wrote ...

    This essay can lead to a place of releasing tension. And, the curiosity that lies right after. Thank you very much for posting this.

  • Trishna Shah wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing Bonnie, your church example was such a beautiful way to bring the third force to life. Respectful and loving all around both for the church community and the homeless folks who had gathered.

  • Ariel Nessel wrote ...

    This will definitely be a future reading for our awakin circle to reflect on Bonnie. It's wisdom reminds of a phrase Birju often shares when people are caught in binary thinking ; transcend and include. It's an invitation to move beyond a false choice of A or B, see the infinite possible responses, and include the wisdom that may have come from either of the two choices we felt stuck between as our options into our eventual response.

  • Raju wrote ...

    Third Force operates automatically when you experience "Essential Unity of Life!". We don't know what the life is, but it is something which expresses itself within all of us. It is said "Even the Matter shall remember God!". Respect your thing and things will respect you.

  • Manisha wrote ...

    Yes, with a personal issue, feel like the other side doesn't want to listen. But I can use this as an exercise to adopt the third force.

  • Leah wrote ...

    This reminds me of the paradox of opposites and even more delicious! I will be reflecting on this more deeply now and in the days ahead. I Thank you!

  • Jean Debrosse wrote ...

    Yes, the famous third force of Gurdjeff...Also "the immunity to change" from R. Kegan.... Thanks for this excellent article.

  • Karen Mondragon wrote ...

    Thank you Rev. Bonnie for introducing the Third Force into our practice. I must admit, at first I was resistant to this process but after much deliberation with myself I found it to be very helpful and could even relate to past experience of using this without really knowing what it was. Thank you again.

  • Patty Smitherman wrote ...

    I've been studying Cynthia's work for at least 4 years and am grateful to you, Bonnie, for the clarity of your essay. I get it! Now can I practice it? I use my imagination and my body to feel that I am sitting with someone on the opposite side of the political/social divide, in peace. Mostly it is that I am trying to exude peace and open my heart to the other. I ask them for their most basic needs - what is most important to them. We find that basically we are one in these concepts. It is a beautiful dream and I hope that I get the chance to live it.

  • Jesse Burson wrote ...

    I am a student of Cynthia Bourgeault, who teaches via the ancient tradition of Wisdom Schools, so I find this essay inspiring and illuminating! Holding the tension between aversion and attraction is also a Buddhist practice where allowing for the spaciousness and patience of 3rd force can move us toward an enlightened perspective. Thank you, Bonnie!