“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
-But who is that on the other side of you?”
T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”
A few years ago, I had a most amazing conversation with a dear friend who also happens to be a monk living in a cloistered monastery. I was feeling very grateful for the kind of talks Sister Kate and I have—always deeply meaningful to me and filled with revelations—and also curious about the intense connection I felt with her, someone I only saw a few times a year, and someone with a vastly different vocation and lifestyle.
I asked her about this mystery, about what it was that made our friendship feel so unique, and her answer surprised me. “It’s the holy trinity.” I think I might have said “Huh?” because she’s the kind of person it’s okay to forget your manners with, and I heard for the first time this idea of a third entity.
She explained that because we both believed in something larger than ourselves, although we called it something different, the energy of a “third” joined us in our conversations. “We are the doorway,” she said. “And we can either block or receive that energy into our consciousness. It is always on offer, even if we can’t see it or hear it.” Kate went on to say that we can “tune” ourselves more fully to this invitation with openness and attention and with something called “intentio cordis,” the intention of the heart.
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’ve been experimenting with this idea of being in concert with, or aligning with, an energy that is bigger than me for the last few years. I’ve called it being “in the zone,” and I’ve learned over and over that my life flows much more smoothly when I take the time to link up with that energy that I call the divine (or the universe or source energy – depends on the day!), and that Sister Kate would simply call God.
Up to now, these experiments in alignment have been solitary. But, my monastery conversation has given me pause. It’s made me wonder what is available for two people who intentionally connect with that energy, with the purpose of creating something or doing something together—having a conversation, raising a child, starting a business, making love, writing a book.
T.S. Eliot talks about a third entity in his long poem, The Waste Land. In Eliot’s notes, he stated that the lines about “the third” were inspired by polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s harrowing trek to safety in 1915 after his boat became encased in ice and the entire crew was stranded. The nearest island was 300 miles away and the closest civilization was another 800 miles beyond that at a whaling station on the island of South Georgia. Shackleton, and the three men he chose to journey with him, survived polar hurricanes, frostbite, and starvation on their way. The last leg was an arduous 36-hour trek across South Georgia’s mountainous interior. Later, the four men shared that they had all experienced the uncanny feeling of another person – a silent, supportive presence who walked with them the whole way. This phenomenon has been reported many times since then, especially by adventurers or explorers, and is coined The Third Man Factor or The Third Man Syndrome.
In the arena of books, Napoleon Hill, back in the 1930s, wrote about a “third mind,” saying that humankind had the ability to directly communicate with infinite intelligence using what he called “creative imagination.” He went on to talk about the “master mind” that is created when two or more people work in tandem. “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.”
There are Mastermind groups (multiple people brainstorming for greater achievement) that have grown out of this concept, and are used for success in business, but I think the “infinite intelligence” part often goes missing. In these circles, “the third” becomes the collection of smart minds working on any project.
The third, to me, is the energy that exists in everything living, and that I believe, is not static. I actually think that the divine or God is extremely interested in what we’re up to, and, more than that, wants to be actively involved. I’ve felt this truth in my own life, through what I call “resounding yes’s and niggling no’s” and am intrigued by the idea of experiencing it with others. My “elevated,” soaring high conversations with Sister Kate, where every sentence seems to lead to a new and exciting place (and as you know, not all conversations are like this!) have left me wanting more.
In Shackleton’s experience, the unseen energy accompanied the four men as they dealt with a life or death experience. But did that energy do even more than accompany? Did that felt presence actually help the explorer and his men reach the whaling station safely?
I’ve long thought that there is much more on offer than most of us know or live in the course of a day, or even a lifetime. What are we capable of, collectively, if we let this “third” be part of the things we do in conjunction with others? Is there a potential to evolve and grow with each other, when the intentions of our hearts align, that we haven’t begun to really tap into?
If it’s true that we can either block or receive this energy, as Sister Kate said, what if more of us began to open ourselves? What if we all felt we could call on an entity, or a “third,” that could actively help us? Then, Shackleton’s experience would be more of the norm and less an unexplained mystery.