Deeper than Yin and Yang, Part 2: Playing the Field   Leave a comment

[Part 1]

willow-byardIt must have been early in its life that the 70 ft. trunk of the willow in our back yard split in three. In this picture I took yesterday, it almost looks like three separate trees. As an instance of the triads and triples and threes prominent in Druid tradition, the tree serves as a visual reminder every time I look out the bathroom window. (It’s also just a tree.) And whenever I’m there,  I can if I choose consider the willow. When I face a choice between two paths, often enough if I look patiently, a third option comes into focus, standing behind the two in front. Well, maybe not always as clear as these three trunks, but still …

As many others have before me, I find that looking for an “obscured third” factor or option is good discipline. While three no more constitute the whole field of the Possible than two do, seeking and finding a third is one step in a helpful direction. With bad math I can claim it’s 33% more accurate. At least it acknowledges complexity, and lets me read the contours of a moment or situation more fluidly, allowing for wider possibilities.

The ready tendency of human perception toward isolating pairs of opposites does of course simplify the messiness of the field. Of the universe, of life-as-we-know-it. As a preliminary take on what’s going on beyond our noses, it’s often not bad as a first approximation. But it’s only that. We all remember the crisis, the either-or, the hard call under stress, but far more often than we realize, the energies, potentials and tendencies in most situations are multiple rather than binary.

“I have to make more money or go into foreclosure. For here or to go? Either you’re with us or against us. If I don’t quit now, I never will. Yes or no? Soup or salad? Boy or girl? Either you believe in God or you don’t. Liberal or conservative? Thin crust or deep-dish?” We’ve all faced and heard these kinds of choices, possibly muttered — or shouted — some version of them to ourselves or others. “Paper or plastic?” “Left or right?”

How often have we’ve acted on one or the other, and not always to our advantage? I can feel my hackles rise, just thinking about it all. No one likes to be boxed in. Even “thinking outside the box” is still in or out. Still either-or, yes or no. Who makes their best decisions hassled, pressured, under the gun? Yes, some of us may be intermittent adrenalin junkies and love the high of danger, the thrill of risk, the seat-of-the-pants choice, the coin-toss of fate. But as a whole lifestyle, after a while it can start to look much less attractive.

“Left or right?” Well, we could turn around and go back the way we came. Or get out and walk straight ahead. Or park and wait for a bus or cab. Climb a tree and scope out the area. Or …

“Paper or plastic?” “Neither. I brought my own bag.” The relaxation that often follows seeing and feeling and acting from the richness of a third (or fourth or fifth) choice rather than from a false binary should tell me I’m onto something. (So should the occasional look of surprise on others’ faces as the moment breaks through habit, routine, semi-consciousness.) Maybe the choice itself matters less than I thought. Or maybe more — and so it shouldn’t be rushed, but savored. We love options, then deprive ourselves of them when they count most.

Part 3 to come.

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Updated 26 August 2015

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