Bourgeault: Third Force, a New Way of Seeing

Bourgeault: Third force, A New Way of Seeing

“Humans tend to be third-force blind. “Either/or” thinking is the most obvious manifestation of this…An example of this third force midwifing comes from a member of our Canadian Wisdom circle. As the director of a small government-subsidized service agency, she had to appear before a provincial board to orally defend her budget…She threw away her prepared speech, smiled warmly, and began, ‘I want to thank you all for the generous funding we received from you last year. Here’s how we spent it.’ She then went on to detail all the good work they had managed to accomplish on what was actually a very small subsidy. As she spoke, she could sense the board members visibly relaxing and her colleagues staring in amazement. She concluded, ‘We are not asking you for a single additional penny this year, and if we need to cut back, this is the strategy we’ve put in place to do so with minimal impact on our service.’ By introducing gratitude as the missing third force, she managed to shift the energetic field from a sense of scarcity to a sense of abundance.”  Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three (Shambhala Publications, Inc.: 2013), 44-47, from Center for Action and Contemplation Richard Rohr Meditation


Cynthia Bourgeault’s writing of a third force is an “out of the box” spiritual practice for our daily life which presently seems to be so polarized now more than ever. This can change the way we deal with any interaction personally, publicly, internally and externally. It  brings into a situation another diminution, a third side rather than just two sides, pros and cons, them and us, for and against, either/or. It must be as void as possible of attachment or judgment. It is more than compromise or consensus.

A major component is  gratitude which can change a situation from scarcity to abundance, away from a zero-sum view.  It involves seeing similarities, being as objective as possible, being open to the present moment, not being combative, trying not to take sides, trying not to win an argument.

Gratitude is the corner stone  of so many other spiritual disciplines as well. In 12 step programs, gratitude is a major factor keeping people clean and sober. Whenever those in recovery are in difficulty, they are told to write a gratitude list daily. Again, it moves them from scarcity to abundance.

 In some ways, using a third force seems also to involve practicing the family systems principle of being the “least anxious presence.”  This brings the energy of a situation to a whole new level. It involves the mystery of what can happen when we live in the present moment, not the past or future, which makes me believe we are in some way inviting and bringing the divine into the situation, for God most often connects to us in the present moment.