The Law of Three in Action
The Opposition Is Never the Problem
Sunday, March 19, 2017
This week Cynthia Bourgeault, one of CAC’s core faculty members, continues exploring how the Law of Three can be put into action to facilitate positive change in the world.
We’ve been exploring the Law of Three in a theoretical way, getting acquainted with its major precepts and a few of its peculiarities. But what do some concrete examples of Law of Three in action look like? Consider the following Law of Three triads:
seed/moist earth/sun = sprout
flour/water/fire = bread
plaintiff/defendant/judge = resolution
sails/keel/helmsperson = course made good
But these are only textbook examples, while the Law of Three is all about action. It is one thing to recognize a Law of Three configuration in a theoretical exploration; it is another thing altogether to recognize it in actual life and be able to work with it confidently and skillfully.
The single most liberating insight to come out of my work with the Law of Three was the realization that what appears to be the resisting or opposing force is never actually the problem to be overcome. Second force, or holy denying, is a legitimate and essential component in every new arising: no resistance, no new arising!
That realization in and of itself radically rearranges the playing field, shifting the focus away from trying to eliminate the opposition and toward working collaboratively for a more spacious solution. According to the Law of Three, once an impasse is reached, it can never be solved by going backward but only forward, into that new arising that honors all the players and brings them into a new relationship. (Einstein seems to have been on to this insight in his famous dictum that a problem can never be solved at the level at which it is created.) The three forces are like three strands in a braid; all three are required for the weaving.
One woman in a group I was working with was almost instantly able to turn around a very difficult standoff with an ultraconservative bishop when she realized that his resistance was not the problem to be solved but a given to be worked with. With an almost visceral “Aha!” she relaxed her sense of polarization and was stunned to learn the next day that he had miraculously softened his stance. While it was not clear to her who had actually been the broker of third force here, it was clear to her that the two relaxations were not unrelated.
One can only imagine how greatly the political and religious culture wars of our era could be eased by this simple courtesy of the Law of Three: (1) the enemy is never the problem but the opportunity; (2) the problem will never be solved through eliminating or silencing the opposition but by learning to hold the tension of the opposites and launch them in a new direction. Imagine what a different world it would be if these two simple precepts were internalized and enacted.
Gateway to Silence:
No resistance, no new arising!
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three (Shambhala Publications, Inc.: 2013), 38-40.