Every activity has three parts, whether it is an event, a creative project, a new job, a trip or giving birth. The trinity is the underlying principle that operates in the patterns and rhythms of human life.
In their classic text, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Riso and Russ Hudson claim that the Western concept of the trinity, not the Eastern concept of duality, is the underlying principle of the Universe.
Rather than two opposite forces of yin and yang, we have Man, Woman and Child; not good and evil but good, evil and complex ethical dilemmas. Christianity is based on the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The colour spectrum is made up of three primary colours, three secondary colours and three shades of black white and grey.
Pregnancy is divided into three trimesters.
In the Enneagram there are nine personality types divided into three triads. There are three core aspects of the human psyche; thinking, feeling and action.
And might I be so bold as to suggest there are really only three seasons in the growing cycle because winter is an in-between rest time when growth stops.
The Principle of Three is expressed in the natural rhythms of life. The process of conception, gestation and giving birth is played out in the creative process.
You go through a stage of exploring and researching and being receptive to information, then you become ‘pregnant’ with ideas and you don’t need any more inspiration. You just need to get on with gestating and growing the baby and giving birth to your creation.
When you are inspired with an idea, an inspiration, a dream for a story, a painting, a piece of music, a garden, a building, a business, this is the conception stage.
Then you put in the hard work of creating it. This is gestation. When you have finished your project, you give birth to your creation and show your ‘baby’ to the world.
In any activity there is a beginning, middle and end. If you go on a trip, put on an event such as a wedding, a party, a seminar or a concert, or if you undertake any kind of project, there is the planning stage leading up to the implementation, when you are actually doing it, experiencing it, living it, and then comes the completion, the post-event follow-up where you record and document what you have done.
Any one who has ever been on a holiday knows about the preparation required to organise a trip. It can be so involved it makes you wonder if the holiday is worth all the trouble! And after the holiday, comes the ‘follow-up’ of facing piles of laundry, compiling your photo collection and settling back into to your routine.
Everybody knows the key to giving a great speech is preparation, the key to giving a great musical performance is practice and rehearsal and the key to a great sporting performance is training. The performance itself doesn’t just happen. It requires the lead-up and then the follow-up to record what happened.
In media publicity, there are also three parts; pre-publicity, coverage of the event as it happens and follow-up records.
Movies are divided into three parts: the orientation, where viewers are introduced to character and issues, the complication in the middle, where it all goes haywire and the resolution, where an outcome is reached and in Hollywood movies, characters live happily ever after.
When you take on a new job you will go through a cycle of the initial learning curve, where it is challenging and possibly stressful where everything is new and unfamiliar. Then you will hit a plateau where you are competent in your job and can sail along smoothly and then inevitably you will hit a stage where the work becomes routine and stale and you might start looking for fresh challenges. You intuitively wind down and seek completion of that job. How long this cycle lasts can vary over a few months or a few years.
Some people don’t know when to end a cycle and gracefully let go. They hang on to a job way too long out of sense of security; staying in the comfortable plateau stage. They do not move to the completion stage, ready to seek new challenges, and boredom and stagnation sets in. Work then becomes repetitious and monotonous.
The same pattern happens when you move house or move to a new state or country. At first everything is strange and unfamiliar and you feel like an alien outsider, then as you get to know the neighbourhood and meet new friends you become comfortable with a sense of belonging. If you stay in one place too long, the surroundings and people become stale and boring; no matter how beautiful a place is. I believe humans need variety and change. Some people are more conservative than others and maybe small changes are enough for them, while others thrive on sweeping changes.
With every new project or stage of life, at the beginning comes uncertainty as you enter the unknown. It can also be exciting and invigorating. Only at the end of a project is there a semblance of certainty where you find yourself repeating the same old thing. Some people, with high anxiety, prefer the security of the familiar, even at the expense of boredom, rather than seizing the courage to step into the unknown of something new.
The pattern of three appears again in dealing with a traumatic event. There are three parts; prevention, intervention and post-treatment. Some medical and welfare specialists focus on prevention. We aim to educate or care for children, adults or families to prevent something traumatic happening; to stop it before it starts.
If a trauma, crisis or harmful action is underway, if someone is in the middle of abusing themselves or others, let’s say the alcoholic or drug addict, experts and family members can mount an intervention and attempt to stop the abuse continuing. Sometimes a timely intervention in someone’s life can come through an act of kindness, picking up the right book, wandering into a church or joining a life-changing club.
Many people ask: Why doesn’t God intervene to stop human suffering? I think God does intervene but only when He’s asked. Having given humans free will, God will not act to stop human suffering until we cry out for help. Divine intervention occurs when we are willing and receptive to hear and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Then there is the third approach to bad stuff that has already happened. It happens after the event and it’s called post-traumatic treatment. People suffering with Post Traumatic Stress experience symptoms long after an event, like the adult who continues to have nightmares after being sexually abused as a child or the returned soldier who suffers flashbacks to combat scenes from years ago. Post-traumatic treatment doesn’t change what happened but it helps a person heal and recover. This is the work of recovery. You are given the chance of renewal, of starting afresh.
What about seasons, you might say; there are FOUR season? However there are only three seasons of growth. In spring, we plant seeds and flowers bloom and trees blossom. In summer, crops are nourished by the warmth of the sun, the goodness of the earth and gentle summer rain and they grow and flourish. Then in Autumn, crops are ready for harvest. Winter is a time when the ground is fallow and some trees die off to be revived in Spring. As Ecclesiastes says: To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.
I like to see the human life cycle as following the seasons. The child and teenager is in the Spring of life, preparing for adulthood, planting seeds, some good, some bad. I see the 20s and 30s as the Summer of life; these are our glory days in the sun, where our efforts are nourished and grow and flourish.
Somewhere in the 40s or later, most of us hit some kind of crisis; a culmination of how we have spent our days in the sun; the time to reap what we have sown. The crisis can be in our relationships, our health, our career or finances. The hardship can be a catalyst for healing and growth or sliding deeper into further dysfunction. It is a real turning point and an opportunity for renewal and redemption.
If we choose growth, the mid to late 40s, the 50s and 60s and on into the 70s can be the gentle Autumn of life; a plateau of contentment, a time to harvest all the efforts of our earlier life, leading into the Winter of old age and a gracious closure and completion of the life cycle.
Life is meant to change. We are meant to wheel through these creative cycles. We are either growing or stagnating. We can not be neutral and static. We are wise to align with the unforced rhythms of grace and the powerful Principle of Three.