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For the Week of May 12 - 18: Three-Centered Conflict and Resolution

Image: Integral Christian Network

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
- Matthew 5:9

This week we continue with the third of five emails exploring "Relating Body." Last week we focused on three-centered communication. Today, we focus on the experience of three-centered conflict and its resolution. 

The Law of Three and Conflict 

It is our experience in the Work that conflict or friction in life or relationships can be usefully understood and transformed through the Work idea of the Law of Three. For further background on this topic, see our class email from April 28th and the glossary

As we begin, take a moment to think of an example of first force, second force and third force. 

Here's a hypothetical example from the field of real estate, which we can all understand: 

John wants to sell high (first force). 

Jane wants to buy low (second force). 

Jill the realtor negotiates a mutually agreeable deal (third force).

For a more precise definition, let's turn to Maurice Nicoll, who sums up the idea of the Law of Three very aptly: "First force can be defined as initiating force, second force as force of resistance … and third force as balancing or relating principle or connecting force or point of application. These three forces are found in nature and in man.  Throughout the universe, on every plane, these three forces are at work.  They are the creative forces.  Nothing is produced without the conjunction of these three forces. … Every manifestation, every creation, results from the meeting together of these three forces, active, passive and neutralizing” (Commentaries, "Law of Three," January 25, 1942, Vol. 1, p. 109).

It seems that the lead takeaway for our exploration of conflict and conflict resolution is to notice the universal, lawful, useful role second force plays in all manifestation and relationality. We can conclude from this that the lawful existence of second force necessitates some level of conflict, and if not conflict, then a certain friction or resistance. And that this conflict or friction is vital and valuable, though sometimes uncomfortable.  

Second force is like gravity. It opposes. It regulates. It resists. It constricts. The Work teaches that second force is crucial in the realm of creative endeavor and in the expression of all that we will and wish for. It is first force that makes second force appear. If we want nothing, there is no second force.

What we will and wish for is often resisted, not so much to annoy us, but to purify the will and perfect the wish and allow manifestation of something new by way of the introduction of third force – the lawful integration and synthesis between the opposites of yes and no, longing and reality, desire and resistance, attraction and aversion, masculine and feminine, and so on. 

Perhaps the more interesting question isn't why there is second force in the first place, but what useful third force will come to our aid for the sake of the highest manifestation? How will third force speak peace to the confluence of first and second forces? What will the third force show-up  and truly be that is holy-reconciling to that fecund and creative imaginal place where first force and second force merge and wait for the grace that unties knots and calms the storm wind raging against our sails? 

What these questions reveal is that we are not left alone in conflict or friction. We are to ask, seek and knock for the miracle of third force, and to request the highest good and most conscious expression of third force possible for us and for others. In this regard, when we pray for peace, we are really praying for the third force of the Holy Spirit to bring the spiritual fruit of peace that is grounded first in forgiveness and second in reconciliation. Which brings us to the issue of anger.

Conflict and the Negative Emotion of Anger 

First, we begin with a presupposition that conflict is not the same as violence. Although to be sure, very often violence, either emotional or physical, does erupt from conflict. But as we are discovering, the Work intuits that conflict, rightly understood, has a lawful and useful place in the manifestation of all things living and relating to each other. 

Put simply, conflict on its own isn't the problem. When conflict stirs and conscripts the negative emotion of anger, conflict can become damaging and deadly. Thus, conflict plus the negative emotion of anger often equals violence (C + A = V).

The Roman philosopher Seneca said that anger is a temporary form of insanity. In Work terms, anger is a chief way to forget oneself. It is a primary result of giving in to the spell of identification with a thought, belief, story and imagination, or judgment(s), prejudices, irritations, dislikes, and so on. 

In his essay On Anger, a certain pre-cursor to the Work, Seneca taught that anger is a negative emotion, one of the passions. Passions were different than the human feelings or emotions which could be positive, good, or simply neutral. Not so for negative emotions or the passions. For Seneca and in later Christian monastic teachings, anger, as a passion, is a tyrant that enslaves, disturbing one's peace of mind. Anger is often the reason conflict morphs into violence, thus missing the creative possibilities conflict can spark. Anger, and all flooding of the thalamus, makes us third-force blind. 

So, our Work in responding to second force is in neutralizing or minimizing our negative emotions, especially anger. Going passive to them. This requires the skillfulness and practice of self-observation and non-identifying, of inner separation from the emotion, of reminding oneself: This anger is not I. It is just a powerful emotion I can witness now and not obey its voice or impulses. 

We will need our bodies to do this well. Seneca taught that the first response to reducing our anger and limiting conflict is to take a breath and delay reacting. Delay is key, because in that delay, we can begin to access our higher-brain functions as well as the strength of our body, and seek to simply respond from a higher, deeper place instead of reacting from the same level from which the anger is generated. 

There are many other calming practices that can support us in making this shift from reaction to responding, such as placing our hand on our heart, placing our tongue on the soft palate of our upper mouth and slowly breathing in with our nostrils, holding the breath briefly, and then breathing out with our mouth. 

Resolving Conflict

The important practical aspect of this teaching is clearly articulated by the following question: 

What is your preferred third force?

When in conflict, we have multiple different options to choose as our relating, third force. Some choices of third force are more loving, conscious, and capable of transforming the situation in unexpected ways that bless all involved. Some are less so. We are free to choose the third force of forgiveness or the third force of a lawsuit. The choice is ours. What is your third force? Is it loving, conscious, kind or is it dominating, lower-brain stemmed and unkind? Is your third force from above or below? 

One of the most powerful and conscious places we can turn to for our third-force influence is our treasure trove of specific Work ideas. For instance:

transforming incoming impressions

externally considering

making personality passive and

remembering I have a right not to be negative

These ideas and practices are powerful reconciling forces that can transform any place of conflict and liberate it to become free from emotional negativity and more imbued with possibility. These Work ideas come from above us, transcending our world-level 48. Make this personal. Don't leave it in the conceptual realm. Ask yourself: What Work ideas come to mind as useful ways of being third force for my life, in this situation? 

Finally, the spiritual practice of meditation or Centering Prayer is also a boon to help one develop a reservoir of peace that lengthens our emotional-center fuse. While meditation won't exempt us from conflict, it will equip us to navigate through our conflicts more peacefully. That is one very practical reason to practice 20 minutes of Centering Prayer twice a day. 

Conscious Communication

In conclusion, one of the most important and practical ways of resolving conflict is by increasing our skillfulness and capacity to listen and speak more consciously. Pairing the Work with the practical tool of conscious communication is certainly one way to be a good Work student in life. If increasing conscious listening and speaking intrigues you, do consult the work of Marshall Rosenberg, especially his book Nonviolent Communication. It is a practical master class in how conscious listening and speaking can become a profoundly important and enlightened third force. 


  • Take five minutes in the silence and stillness, and then aim to recall an experience of conflict. Can you observe how the conflict was created? Can you see first and second force in the conflict? Can you observe how the conflict resolved or not? What was the third force? What did you learn about yourself from observing this conflict?

May Practice: Writing Letters – love through words

Unlike the rapid-fire of one-or-two-finger texting to message another, writing a letter necessitates full embodiment: crafting the thoughts with directed attention, choosing paper or a card of beauty, symbol of our feelings, touching the paper to express our sentiments. A happy surprise, perhaps, to receive. A conscious act to manifest. Try this little practice this month. See what is evoked by doing so – both in the sending and in the receiving.

Attend The Journey School Thursday night class tonight: 

7:00 pm Central Daylight Time via Zoom only.

  1. Click on this link and Zoom should open automatically on your laptop or tablet:, or

  2. Open Zoom, click on Join Meeting and enter this meeting ID: 996-101-9778, passcode: CCH

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