A Chair by the Side of the Road

The Three Musketeers’ motto–“All for one and one for all”—is more than an expression of loyalty to companions-in-arms. It expresses a fundamental truth of the universe: namely that all seemingly separate things are a single presence. Accordingly, the world religions exhort us to treat others with the concern we give to our own affairs—not a trivial task in a world where brother takes up arms against brother.

Buddhism urges us to feel compassion for all beings so that we can find the light that draws us forth from isolation into freedom. Christianity and other forms of monotheism bid us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, so that we can recognize the wholeness that unites us all–even when we stray from the fold.

Treating the thousand things as if they are waves on the ocean (each fundamentally the same water) doesn’t guarantee that we won’t still act as if we are at the center of our universe. Deafened by the urgency of our own needs, the heartbeat of organic wholeness becomes too dim to hear. Perhaps that’s why the world’s religions also offer another way of looking at all-encompassing wholeness.

George Gurdjieff’s “Law of Three” identifies a universal process in which three forces (active, passive and reconciling) dynamically interact in everything that occurs. In Christianity, there are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In Buddhism: the Buddha, Dharma, and Sanga. In Taoism: the Yin, the Yang, and the Way.

If we have trouble feeling that a greater wholeness is in our corner, embracing us and our concerns, we may find it easier to see ourselves engaged in a dynamic dance in which initiating and yielding forces are joined through forces of reconciliation. When viewing everything that arises as the manifestation of a coordinated process, we may feel less alone in the sweep of events that ceaselessly rise and fall in our lives, like waves on the face of the sea. But, if these three facets are always present, shouldn’t we be as familiar with them as we are with the regular events of our daily lives?

A three-legged stool stands upright on the floor, thanks to the stable foundation provided by its three legs. But consider how stable a stool would be if its three legs were positioned in a straight line (O O O). Of course, a carpenter always distributes the legs in a triangle, precisely so that together they provide stability in every direction.

However, as the state of the world attests, this depth dimension doesn’t always exist. It requires forethought and reflection on the needs of the wider situation if a hastily devised solution isn’t to topple like a chair with its three legs lined up like ducks in a row. As a species, which is constantly responding to situations as problems that need to be solved as quickly as possible, the greater harmony keeps washing over us unnoticed.

We often feel like the odd-leg out, unconnected to other pillars of support with which we could collaborate to achieve goals and values that we share. But problems persist and our community is driven by forces toward an unknown future that we all inwardly dread.

That’s one reason that I like children’s stories. Their simple visions of life feature lively interactions among interesting characters; and some stories invite us to contemplate the more complex world to which we must return.

In “Winnie the Pooh” there are many active characters with Pooh and Tigger leading the way; there is the passive character Eeyore who lacks the energy to even notice a sunny day; and when daily life gets too overwhelming, there is the invisible Christopher Robin who steps in and reconciles the situation.

In “Wind in the Willows”, there are Totalitarian Weasels who actively invade Toad’s mansion while passive Toad is off crashing his new automobile. This requires the community, led by Badger, to save democracy (the spirit of reconciliation at work).

Then there are a few stories, such as “The Missing Piece”, which delve into deep existential questions such as how do we fit in when we don’t know which parts are us and which the world? For those who may not be familiar with this slim picture book, a circular being has a gap in its body, where a wedge has been cut out, and has to limp around the countryside. We join the story as it heads off in search of its “missing piece”.

Until we open this book, we may wonder who the protagonist is going to be. Is it the circle looking for what might help it to feel complete? Or is the missing piece, searching for its absent home? It’s the circle. We won’t mistake this story for an epic poem, where the hero is trying to get home. The Missing Piece is not Odysseus or Aeneas struggling to return home after a long military engagement. Perhaps we’re dealing with the Biblical story of the shepherd looking for a lost sheep? But that doesn’t work either. The broken circle is not a shepherd caring for his flock. It’s more like a person who feels incomplete and who hopes they can be healed, if only they can find the right thing to shove inside. But (spoiler alert), when the circle finally tracks down the piece that fits perfectly and that piece agrees to climb on board–so that it can now spin around like a Ferrari at Monte Carlo–it starts to miss the old days, when–because it had no choice—it noticed the world through which it was slowly passing.

Could it be that, if we really look, the challenges that make us feel incomplete are like the third leg of a chair, which magically appears at the side of the roadway? And when–wearied and weakened in our lonely journeying through the wilderness—we pause to rest, we may realize that we no longer have to keep searching for something that is already here.

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